Lemieux, Bure and 7 Other Players Who Would Have Been Unstoppable in Today's NHL

Franklin Steele@FranklinSteeleAnalyst IIMay 19, 2011

Lemieux, Bure and 7 Other Players Who Would Have Been Unstoppable in Today's NHL

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    Coming out the the lockout the NHL made some drastic rule changes, as we all know. The shifts were meant to open up the game for the talented players, while leaving the masters of the hook n' hold in the dust.

    With guys like Marty St. Louis and Pavel Datsyuk wowing us nightly with their skill while—for the most part—not constantly having a hook in their side or a hand on their shoulder, one has to wonder what the guys who played in the dead puck era could have done under the same set of rules.

    All the players on this list had stellar careers, to say the least. And a few of them went on after the lockout to continue to play, but not in their primes.

    The question I want to answer is this: Which players, while young and at their best, would have been monstrous under these rules? Again, I am not detracting from the outstanding careers these men had, only wondering how much more outstanding they could have been without defenders dangling from them every time they touched the puck.

    In no particular order, here are nine players that would have further dominated play post-lockout.

Peter Forsberg

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    Peter Forsberg is arguably one of the top 10 or 15 players to ever lace up a pair of skates, and undoubtedly would have benefited from the rule changes.

    This guy was Alex Ovechkin before we'd all seen AO play. Gobs of talent on display nightly, played with a physical edge and had some of the best hands ever. The guy could stickhandle around other pylons ... er ... players with ease, rifle off a shot faster than most people can blink and dish out more pain on the late body check than he would receive.

    Growing up a Wings fan, I still shake a bit at the mention of Foppa, the hockey boogieman that lived to haunt the dreams of his foes. Seriously, those poor defenders. What else was there to do but hook and hold the guy?

    It was either do that, or turn into a spectator on shifts against him.

    Few players in recent memory could take over a shift like No. 21 could. For the most part, he blew past those trying to illegally obstruct him, but how much better would he have been without the interference? If he had been free to skate and create at will?

Pavel Bure

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    Imagine Pavel Bure being allowed to skate as he pleased around an ice surface during his prime, free of all the hooks and holds that he had to deal with nightly. He parlayed dealing with these interferences into an outstanding career, taking home the Calder and two Rocket Richard trophies (and would have won a third in '94, but the trophy had not been created yet).

    With one of the fastest first three steps of all time, catching Bure was never an option.  Nicknamed the Russian Rocket for his speed, he was constantly a scoring threat with his uncanny ability to make plays at a full-speed onlookers couldn't comprehend.

    His career was littered with knee and head injuries, though he still played well above a point-per-game average (779 points in 702 games played), and the third highest goals per game total of all time (an astounding .623).

    While Bure always seemed to be a lightning rod for media attention and speculation, it was the dead puck era that drained his totals the most. Four hundred thirty seven goals is nothing to shake a stick at, to say the least. How many more goals could he have scored per season in the League today?  An extra five goals per year? Ten? That would put him over 500 goals, and into one of the most highly regarded clubs in the sport.

    Considered one of the most electrifying players to play the game, Bure's famous end to end rushes would certainly have been more effective sans the hooks.

Jaromir Jagr

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    Jaromir Jagr reminded us fans in North America of his talent level when he scored a hat trick against the US to eliminate them from the World Championships just over a week ago, again igniting the "Jagr will sign with (insert team name here)" rumors in the days that followed.

    Jagr may be the oddest player to add to this list, because he did play after the lockout, and did so with quite a lot of success. In his first 10 post-lockout games he became only the fourth player to ever score 10 or more goals through the first 10 games of a season—clearly a sign of things to come.

    And while Jags may have played through the tail-end of his prime without the hooking and holding to great results, could you imagine what he could have done with a little more youth in the tank?  He was one of the most consistent offensive players to play the game, minus the Capitals experiment, and could have done a lot more damage to the record books had these rules been in place in the late 90's and early 2000's.

    He still finished second overall in scoring and goals in the first year back from the lockout, showing all of us what a player of his caliber could do when unobstructed by lesser players. 

Ziggy Palffy

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    Ziggy Palffy and his knack for getting behind defenders for the breakout pass would have only improved with the removal of the two line pass rule after the lockout.

    Playing through the prime of his career on hapless versions of the Islanders, Palffy still managed to put up outstanding numbers. His first offensively impressive season came in the '95-'96 campaign, netting 87 points that year. Palffy followed up that effort with 90 points and 87 points respectively the following two seasons.

    His greatest attribute are his hands in close, scoring a majority of his goals within a few feet of the net. Elevating the puck from in tight, and finding holes from odd angles also served Ziggy well through out his career. All these attributes would be magnified in the NHL these days.

    Palffy is still playing hockey at a competitive level, currently skating for HK 36 Skalica in the highest pro Slovak league, and putting up pretty excellent numbers. Looking at his play internationally, as well as his late play with the Kings, it is clear that Pallfy would have been able to play at a higher level under the rules of today.

Peter Bondra

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    Peter Bondra may sit in the collective conciseness of hockey fans for his late stints with the Senators, Thrashers and Blackhawks, but it was his seasons as a Capital that he should be remembered for.

    Bondra was a wonderfully explosive skater, and exploited even the smallest seam in coverage. He had a nose for the net, and wasn't afraid to go to the dirty areas, but where he really excelled was in the open ice—something he was frequently not allowed to get to due to hooks and holds.  If a player looked up and saw him whizzing by, you can bet a hand or a stick was going out.

    His numbers may not impress as much as some of the other players on this list, and I think that is because the dead puck era hampered this type of game the most. Bondra was a goal scorer, plain and simple. Of his 892 career points, 503 of those were goals.

    He is a recent addition to the 500 goal club, netting his 500th tally in 2006.

    Bondra hasn't played terribly during his journeyman years. Age and fatigue just finally caught up with him. A Peter Bondra cruising around freely on the ice would have lead to more than two 50-goal campaigns.

Sergei Fedorov

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    Sergei Fedorov is one of the most talented, lethal, well-rounded players to have skated in the NHL through the last two decades.

    While he played seasons across several other NHL teams, Fedorov will mostly be remembered for his 13 years spent skating for the Detroit Red Wings. A player who could play wing, center or defense at the NHL level (think about that for a second), he was a player who was as responsible with the puck as he was away from it.

    His list of accolades, awards and accomplishments are both dazzling and fitting for a player of Fedorov's caliber, which is to say, a once in a generation positional phenom.

    1,179 points in 1,248 games played, nearly 4,000 shots on goal, an alarming 12% shooting average,and an astonishing plus-262.

    What Fedorov could have done had his rookie season been within the last few years honestly gives me goosebumps. With one of the most outstanding hockey minds in recent memory, there is little doubt that he would be giving Sidney and AO a run for their money, season in and season out, across all scoring categories.

    His play during the 90's, and in flashes during the recent decade leaves little reason to think Fedorov wouldn't be consistently the best player in the League—something he arguably already was during the first ten or eleven years of his professional career.

Paul Kariya

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    Ah, Paul Kariya. The thinking man's hockey player. Before Sidney Crosby was notorious for obsessively tweaking parts of his game to get better, there was Kariya. We're talking about a guy  who, for every one-timer he scored on his forehand, wanted to score another from his backhand.

    Who takes backhanded one-timers?

    Never one for the spotlight, he played seasons for the Ducks, Predators and Blues without ever garnering as much national attention as players he was at least equal to. He has exactly as many points as he does games played (a rock solid 989), with his best years coming during his time with the Ducks, and later on with the Predators.

    A player that happened to get two helpings of heart to go along with his talent, Kariya would eventually buckle to a slew of injuries, deciding to take the entirety of the 2010-2011 season off due to post-concussion syndrome.

    Still technically a free agent, have we seen the last of Paul Kariya? It's hard to be sure. But one thing that is certain is that the 5-foot-10 water bug of a player would have been able to more thoroughly dominate games with his vision with the rules being what they are today.

Theo Fleury

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    The last few years have been rough for Theo Fleury, and the time for a discussion about what happened off the ice isn't now.

    What a stick of dynamite hockey player. Always dangerous and brimming with energy, Fleury's best years came with the Calgary Flames. One of the most popular players in the history of the franchise, he played a gritty style despite his small frame (5'6") while still possessing a large amount of talent.

    He wasn't expected to ever make it to the NHL, especially after arriving at training camp 20 lbs. overweight in his rookie season. Calgary struggled early while Theo piled on points in the IHL. The Flames eventually called up Fleury, where the player continued to score. He rattled off 11 more points to help the Flames win the Cup in 1989, the last time the franchise has done so.

    Perhaps more so than anyone else on this list, Fleury was hampered by the hooks and interference from other players due to the way he played the game. Not only would he be hauled in because of his wheels and finishers touch, but also because he probably insulted your mother on the last shift.

    I think his numbers would increase exponentially if he played under the adapted NHL rulebook.  He has dominated everywhere else with his abundant skill.  While he scored 455 goals in over 1,000 games played, it stands to reason that the total would be much higher had he not been under the thumbs of opposing blueliners through out his career.

Mario Lemieux

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    It's strange to put one of the top three or four best players of all time on a list of skaters who could have done more damage in the League today. But the fact is simple. Mario Lemieux scored a lot of goals while wearing a defenseman as a sweater.

    And he knew it too.

    Yet through a career riddled with injuries and dealing with the dead puck era at its very worst Lemieux put together one of the most impressive careers ever.

    He's the inspiration behind this slideshow, and as a fan I really have to wonder: If Mario Lemieux had been given the room and space that Crosby or Stamkos have today, what could he have done with it? I don't think in this case we're talking about a few extra goals tacked on here and there.

    I think we're talking about rewriting the history books.

    Few players had the presence of Lemieux on the ice, and defenders knew when he was out there. Yet there is a difference between a shadow and a sweater. He usually ended up with the latter as opposed to the former, because there was just no other way to contain the guy.

    A Jagr/Lemieux tandem in today's League would probably be outrageous, number wise. These guys were so good for so long, despite the League, for whatever reason, protecting a lesser talented player's right to hold onto a guy who was light years ahead of him, capability wise.

    Would The Great One's records have withstood the assault? We'll never be sure. But it would have been a lot closer if Lemieux was only a few years into his stellar career now.