Wayne Gretzky of the LA Kings
This is a look at the NHL players who were the best over the last 25 years. It covers seasons played from 1986/87 to last year: 2010/11. Best is a subjective term. To choose these players I looked at a combination of their talent and length and quality of their career in those last 25 years.
During this time you find two diametrically opposed eras of hockey. You see the last of the high flying, point prolific, post WHA adsorption, eighties, contrasted with the trap happy, defense first, Pillsbury Doughboy/Michelin Man goalie equipment of the late 90's and early 2000's.
Modern day hockey in a hard cap, interference light era has become almost an alloy of the two previous era's. Defensive play is still much more important than it was in the 80's, though the offensive play has bounced back from the dead-puck late nineties. It is tricky to compare players from two such different era's without including too many of the earlier players just because it was easier to score back then.
This is my attempt to compare and rank the players who I felt had the best careers and were the best players from the 1986/87 season until today.
Two Captains Meet
Despite the great careers they have had to date, these two players, perhaps the best players in the game today, haven't played long enough to make this list.
Crosby and Ovechkin have played six seasons in the NHL. They have managed great things in that short amount of time.
Alex Ovechkin has won two league MVP trophies and three players association MVP trophies in the six years he has been in the NHL. Only Lemieux has won more Hart trophies in the last 25 years. His three Ted Lindsay (formerly Lester B. Pearson) trophies tie him with Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr for the most in the past 25 years.
Ovechkin also won the Calder memorial trophy beating out the aforementioned Crosby. He has an Art Ross trophy and Rocket Richard trophy as the leading point and goal scorer in the 2007/08 season.
Sidney Crosby was on the cusp last season of being acknowledged as the best player in the NHL right now. Unfortunately a concussion cut his season in half and kept him out of the playoffs.
Still he has an Art Ross Trophy, Hart Memorial trophy and a players association MVP award all from 2006/07. He captained the Stanley Cup winning Pittsburgh Penguins in 2009.
Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin however to date have only played in 412 and 475 regular season NHL games respectively. They have 572 and 614 points. They are currently the third and fourth best points per game players that I looked at over the last 25 years behind only Lemieux and Gretzky.
They are currently ahead of prolific scorers like Petr Forsberg, Jaromir Jagr, Pat Lafontaine, Joe Sakic and Steve Yzerman in points per game.
However at this point in his career (435 games played after seven seasons) Eric Lindros was a better point per game player than either Crosby or Ovechkin is now. Lindros had one a Hart memorial trophy and and a Lester B. Pearson trophy and lost the scoring race in the 1994/95 season on goal differential to Jaromir Jagr. Lindros had 600 points in 431 regular season games after the 1988/89 season (1.392 PPG). Ovechkin is currently a 1.293 ppg player and Crosby to date is a 1.388 ppg player.
Lindros had suffered injuries before this but his career was beginning to start a quick downward spiral. By the end he wasn't one of the best players of the last quarter century. Crosby and Ovechkin's careers are still too new to evaluate them for this kind of list. If they had three or four more seasons at this level of play under their belts they would be worthy of inclusion. Right now I have to count them out or bring them in near the bottom with Eric Lindros. Neither of those solutions seemed reasonable to me.
In the same way Ilya Kovalchuk a point a game player for 702 NHL regular season games who has a Maurice Rocket Richard trophy to his credit doesn't even hit the radar in the search for the best 25 players over the last 25 years, despite having more total goals and points than either Crosby or Ovechkin.
Generally this list consists of players who have least scored 1000 points or played a thousand games in the last quarter century. Many of the great players on the list only played part of their careers in the last 25. Those players who made it still were good enough in that portion of their career to merit inclusion.
Following the the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary countries in the eastern bloc began to allow athletes in general and hockey players in particular to leave their countries and move to the western world to play their sports. A perestroika spirit allowed players from the Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia and Finland to come to North America for the first time to play in the NHL. High profile defections like that of World Junior star Alexander Mogilny in January 1989 from the world junior championships in Alaska, and Petr Nedved a Czechoslovakian who defected the same month from a midget tournament in Calgary pushed the Soviet Union into allowing any and all of their players to come to North America to play. With the crumbling of the Eastern Bloc the other member countries followed suit.
The famed Soviet Green unit, the number one five man unit from the Soviet National team: Igor Larionov, Vladimir Krutov,Sergei Makarov and defensemen Viacheslav Fetisov and Alexei Kasatonov, all came over to the NHL the next (1989/90) season. They ranged in age from 29 to 31 when they joined the league. These five were among the best Russian players ever to play hockey.
Krutov was considered by many at the time the most talented of the five. He was dangerously fast and tied with team-mate Makarov at the 1987 Canada Cup as the second leading tournament goal scorer with seven. Krutov though had the least successful NHL career playing a mere 61 games in one season for the very disappointed Vancouver Canucks.
Alexei Kasatonov played 383 career games in seven NHL seasons. He was a useful member on three Devil playoff runs in the early nineties.
Sergei Makarov was a more spectacular NHL player. He won the rookie of the year award in 1989-90. He scored 86 points in 80 games with the Calgary Flames at the age of 31. The NHL subsequently changed the rule for winning the Calder Memorial trophy. Now a player can only be eligible if they are 26 years old or younger by September 15th of their rookie season. That still seems a little unfair to late bloomers who take their time making the NHL.
Makorov was spectacular talent. He was unstoppable on a penalty shot, but again a veteran in the latter days of his career.
It was Igor Larionov and Viacheslav Fetisov who made the most of their NHL careers. Larionov played in over 1000 NHL games, regular season and playoffs combined, and was a member of Stanley Cup winning Detroit Red Wings teams in 2002, 1998, and 1997. Fetisov was a key member of the Red Wings from 1994 to 1998 and contributed to the two Stanley Cup victories in 1997 and 1998.
These were five of the best Russian players ever to play in the NHL. Unfortunately this group only had the opportunity to play half their career in North America. It prevents them from making the list as one of the best 25 NHL players of the last 25 years. They did herald an era that saw all the best Russian, Czechoslovakian and Finnish players play all or most of their careers in the NHL. This was a huge boost of talent for a league that had expanded too far, too fast.
Highly talented individuals like Pavel Bure, Sergei Gonchar, Alexei Zhamnov, Valeri Kamensky, Alexei Kovalev, Jaromir Jagr, Alexander Ovechkin, Jarri Kurri, Sergei Fedorov, Petr Bondra, Sandis Ozolnish, Viacheslav Kozlov, The Stasny's, Pavel Datsyuk, Ziggy Palffy, Dmitri Kristich, Zdeno Chara, Alexei Yashin, and Evgeni Malkin all get an opportunity to play in the NHL now thanks to the greater individual freedoms in the Soviet Union that grew out of Glasnost and Perestroika.
They changed the look of the league and the quality and manner of play over the past 25 years.
GP: 1524 G: 656 A: 698 PTS: 1354
GP: 184 G: 60 A: 74 PTS: 134
Stanley Cups: 3
Brendan Shanahan is the 13th leading scorer of the last 25 years. He was the third leading goal scorer behind only "Lucky" Luc Robitaille who had 668 goals and Brett Hull who put in 741 in the last quarter of a century.
Shanahan was a key member of three Stanley Cup championship teams in Detroit. Yet somehow I was not able to fit the power sniper onto a list of the top 25 players of the last 25 years.
Brendan Shanahan is considered by some the definitive power forward. He was certainly one of the most durable. He took on a job that often results in injury shortened careers. Contemporaries playing a similar role; like Keith Primeau, Kevin Stevens, Adam Deadmarsh and Eric Lindros found their careers ended prematurely by injury. Keith Tkachuk seems like one of the few other players who managed a long productive NHL career as a power forward.
GP: 1327 G: 138 A: 582 PTS: 720
GP: 207 G: 21 A: 75 PTS: 96
Stanley Cups: 3
Scott Stevens was a throw-back original six defensive defenseman playing in a post Bobby Orr, offensive defenseman's world. He had more in common with the likes of all time hitters Tim Horton, Elmer "Moose" Vasko and Emile "Butch" Bouchard than he ever had with contemporaries like Paul Coffey or Phil Housley.
Despite a 78 point season in 1993/94 offence was not the major component of Steven's game. He was frighteningly physical; one of the best body checkers in the game.
Stevens was a strong skater with a good shot and so still came with a considerable offensive game. However as the NHL tightened up defensively and Stevens coincidentally started playing with the trap happy New Jersey Devils, his skills seemed to become more and more appreciated.
Probably the biggest miscarriage of justice in his 22 year career was that he was never considered the best defenseman in the league during one of those seasons. Throughout his career he would lose the James Norris trophy to the Raymond Bourques, the Paul Coffeys and the Brian Leetchs of the league.
The only players to win the James Norris trophy who were similar to Stevens in style, while he played, were Rod Langway and Chris Pronger.
Stevens was an instant success as a hard-rock, shut-down defenseman, joining the league in his draft year.
He was team captain in New Jersey as they made it to the Stanley Cup Finals four times in nine years (1995-2003). He was the playoff MVP for their Stanley Cup win in 2000.
GP: 1248 G: 483 A: 696 PTS: 1179
GP: 183 G: 52 A: 124 PTS: 176
Stanley Cups: 3
Sergei Fedorov was one of the Russian born players who got to have a complete NHL career. He won three Stanley Cups as a member of the Detroit Red Wings.
He was one of the best skaters in the NHL. He won the All-star game faster skater competition in 1992 and 1994. He also had one of the league's hardest shots winning that competition in 2002. Throw that in with a player who could also be the NHL's best defensive forward (Frank J. Selke trophy in 1994 and 1996) and Sergei Fedorov may have been the most complete forward to play NHL hockey in the last 25 years.
Fedorov became the first Russian born player to win the league and players association MVP awards in 1994 (Hart and Lester B. Pearson trophies). He was the leading playoff scorer on the 1997 Detroit Stanley Cup winning team with 20 points. He outscored Brendan Shanahan (17 Points) and Steve Yzerman (13 points) as the Red Wings went on to sweep the Flyers in the final and win their first Stanley Cup since 1955. Mike Vernon beat him out for the Conn Smythe trophy that year.
GP: 1431 G: 668 A: 726 PTS: 1394
GP: 159 G: 58 A: 69 PTS: 127
Stanley Cups : 1
Luc Robitaille began his career 25 years ago. His 1394 points were the ninth most scored in the last quarter century in the NHL. His 668 goals scored were the second most in that interval behind only legendary sniper Brett Hull.
Robitaille won the Calder Memorial trophy as the NHL's rookie of the year for the 1986/87 season.
He had a career best season while playing with Wayne Gretzky in LA in 1992/93 when he scored 63 goals and 125 points. During the Kings run to the Stanley Cup finals that year he had 22 points in 24 games. He was third on the team that year in playoff scoring, behind Tomas Sandstrom (25) and of course Gretzky (40).
Luc Robitaille holds the record for most career goals and points by a left winger. He also holds the single season record for points by a left winger with 125, again from the aforementioned 1992/93 season.
Robitaille finally won his first Stanley Cup with, you guessed it, the Detroit Red Wings, in 2002. Though he scored 30 goals that season he was more of a supplementary offensive presence in the playoffs scoring four goals and nine points in 23 playoff games.
Luc Robitaille despite being an average skater at best was one of the best goal scorers in NHL history and certainly one of the best left wingers of all time.
GP: 1652 G: 577 A: 956 PTS: 1533
GP: 189 G: 61 A: 86 PTS: 147
Stanley Cups: 3
Mark Recchi is the NHL player who played in the most games in the last 25 years. His 1533 points are the fourth most scored in that time behind only Joe Sakic (1641), Jaromir Jagr (1599) and Steve Yzerman (1537). His 577 goals were a good total for any career and put him ninth among goal scorers from the last 25 years.
Recchi broke in with the Pittsburgh Penguins. He was a young, fast offensive talent who put up 40 goals and 113 points in his third year in the league. That was the 1990/91 season. At age 22 he was a huge part of Pittsburgh's first Stanley Cup ever. He lead the team in scoring while an injured Mario Lemieux only played in 26 regular season games. Come the playoffs he was second in team scoring with 34 points in 24 games. Only Lemieux with 44 points in 23 games had more.
The youngster was traded the next season before he could participate in Pittsburgh's second Stanley Cup win to the Philadelphia Flyers for Rick Tocchet, Kjell Samuelsson and Ken Wregget. he had another great year with 43 goals and 97 points.
He had a career best 53 goals and 123 points in his first full season with the Flyers and lead them in scoring.
A mere two years later though he was moved on to the Montreal Canadiens for John Leclair and Eric Desjardins. Injuries appeared to be slowing him down though in his last full season in Montreal he lead them in scoring before being dealt back to the Philadelphia Flyers for Danius Zubrus in a pretty dubious deal.
Recchi had five good years with the Flyers and then signed with the Penguins as a free agent in 2004. He was then dealt at the trade deadline to the Carolina Hurricanes and helped them to their first and only Stanley Cup in 2006. Recchi had 16 points in 25 playoff games as a 37 year old.
That wasn't enough for Mark Recchi. He hung on long enough to play for Pittsburgh again, Atlanta Tampa Bay and finally Boston. He went out of the NHL helping the Bruins win a Stanley Cup last year with 14 points in 25 games as a 42 year old.
Recchi was never the best player in the league but in his prime he was almost always the best player on his team.
GP: 1524 G: 168 A: 680 PTS: 848
GP: 222 G: 22 A: 87 PTS: 113
Stanley Cups: 2
Looking at Chris Chelios's career over the last 25 years you are forced to exclude what he managed in his first three seasons in Montreal including that surprising cup win back in the 1985/86 season. Still he had an outstanding career for 23 more NHL seasons.
Chris Chelios won three James Norris trophies during the last quarter century:1988/89, 1992/93, 1995/96. Known as a hard nosed defender who will mix it up with anyone he was a top quality offensive defenseman and puck mover at the start of his career. His three Norris trophy wins were hi-lighted by great offensive performances, 73 points in 1988/89 and 92/93 and 72 points in 1995/96.
Starting his career in Montreal he looked a lot like a current fast skating puck moving irritant, P.K. Subban. He scored 20 goals for Les Habitants during the 1987/88 season. The next year when they made it to the Stanley Cup finals only to lose against the Calgary Flames he was a team leader at the age of 27 with 19 points in 21 playoff games.
Chelios was then moved to Chicago in an ill-fated trade that saw the Montreal Canadiens bring in Denis Savard the man they should have taken first overall back in 1980. Chelios was born in Chicago and the nine years he played there produced some of the best hockey of his career.
He was again a key member of a team making an unsuccessful Stanley Cup run when Chicago was swept in the finals in 1992/93 by Mario Lemieux and the Pittsburgh Penguins. Chelios was not only a member of the chief Blackhawk shut-down pairing with Steve Smith he also scored 21 points in 18 playoff games that year to finish second in team scoring behind only Jeremy Roenick.
Chris Chelios joined the Red Wings at the end of the 1998/99 season. He was a key member of the Stanley Cup winning 2002 Red Wing team. By this time he was more of a defensive defenseman and puck mover but he still managed to put up 14 points in 23 playoff games at the age of 40. he was a member of the Red Wing team that lost in the western finals to Anaheim in 2007 and to the team that won the cup in 2008 though his contribution at this point was diminished. In 2009 when the Red Wings lost to the Penguins in the finals Chelios only played in six playoff games.
Even after removing those first three seasons Chris Chelios had one of the longest and most successful NHL careers of the last 25 years. His 1524 games played tie him with Brendan Shanahan for the second most games played, behind Mark Recchi, in that 25 year period.
GP: 1205 G: 303 A: 788 PTS: 1091
GP: 126 G: 32 A: 92 PTS: 124
Stanley Cups: 1
Al MacInnis was a late bloomer as an NHL player. He joined the NHL for two games in the 1981/82 season. It wasn't until 1984/85 that he had what amounted to almost a full NHL season.
The next year he played in 77 games and was a team leader in the Flames first trip to the Stanley Cup finals.
Still even if you remove those first five years you are still left with an amazing 18 season career by one of the greatest offensive defensemen in NHL history.
Al MacInnis was known early on for having one of the hardest shots in NHL history. Teams had to modify the way they played ,especially on the penalty kill, to try to neutralize MacInnis.
The native of Port Hood, Nova Scotia scored 20 goals or more in a season seven times. He broke the 100 point barrier once and was a point a game defenseman in six of his NHL seasons.
MacInnis lead the 1989 Stanley Cup winning Calgary Flames in playoff scoring with 31 points in 22 games. He was shoe-in for the Conn Smythe trophy that year.
MacInnis developed into an able, confident defender but it was always the shot that gave him and his offensive game that extra boost.
Al was the leading goal scorer among defensemen in the last 25 years and second only to Nicklas Lidstrom in total points. Lidstrom scored 17 more points than MacInnis while playing in 289 more regular season games.
Macinnis's offensive game improved in the playoffs.
He won the James Norris trophy as the league's best defenseman for the 1998/99 season. He was a first team end of season all-star four times and a second team end of season all-star three times.
Al retired in 2005 as one of greatest point men in NHL history.
GP: 1346 G: 564 A: 785 PTS: 1349
GP: 91 G: 38 A: 44 PTS: 82
Stanley Cups: 0
Mats Sundin was the first of a series of three in a row first overall draft picks by the Quebec Nordiques. He was the first overall pick in 1989, followed by Owen Nolan in 1990 and then Eric Lindros in 1991. It has always been my contention that this line of big physical, talented forwards could have formed a line in Quebec that would have dominated the NHL for a decade if only Lindros had deigned to stay.
Sundin was the first European ever chosen first overall in an NHL entry draft. The Nordiques traded him to Toronto in an ill-considered trade that saw Wendel Clark and Sylvain Lefebvre come to Quebec as principals in the deal back in 1994. Sundin went on to spend 13 great seasons in Toronto.
Toronto is a city that often complains the greatest player in hockey never plays there. Mats Sundin was one of the greatest players in hockey for the entire 13 years he spent there and yet never seemed to receive the appreciation he deserved.
Playing on a series of fair to poor Maple Leaf squads he was the model of consistency. He scored more than 30 goals in ten of his 13 seasons as a Leaf. He managed to help the Leafs into the conference finals in 1999 when he had eight goals and 16 points in 17 playoff games. He was the best player in Toronto for the entire time he was there.
He was a point a game player for his entire 17 season career. He scored the 14th most points in this era and the tenth most goals. Among the players who played at least 700 regular season games during the last quarter century he was 20th in points per game and 22nd in goals per game.
GP: 1205 G: 247 A: 781 PTS: 1028
GP: 95 G: 28 A: 69 PTS: 97
Stanley Cup: 1
Brian Leetch broke into the NHL as a point a game defenseman. His first full season he scored 71 points in 68 games and won the Calder Memorial trophy as the league's best rookie in 1988/89.
Leetch was an exceptional offensive defenseman. He was a point a game player for the first ten years of his career.
He won two James Norris Memorial trophies as the best defenseman in the NHL.
It was in the playoffs where he shone. Leetch was a career point a game playoff performer and scored goals much more often as well. His best performance came in the 1994 playoffs where he scored 11 goals and 34 points to lead the Rangers to their first Stanley Cup in more than 50 years. He won the Conn Smythe that year despite playing on a team that featured renowned playoff performer Mark Messier and clutch goaltender Mike Richter.
Leetch went on to captain the Rangers and is one of the best offensive defensemen in hockey history.
GP: 735 W: 389 L: 223 T/OT: 95 SA:20,220 Save Percentage: 922 GAA: 2.20 Shut-outs: 81
GP: 119 W: 65 L: 49 SA: 3283 Save Percentage: .925 GAA: 2.02 Shut-outs: 14
Dominik Hasek for eight of the nine years he spent in Buffalo was one of the most dominant goalies in NHL history. He lead the league in save percentage for six consecutive seasons from 1993/94 to 1998/99. he lead the league four times in shut-outs and twice in goals against average.
After the 1994/95 season he won the Hart Memorial as the league's most valuable player joining only Roy "Shrimp" Worters of the 1928/29 New York Americans, Chuck Rayner of the 1949/50 New York Rangers and Jacques Plante of the 1961/62 Montreal Canadiens as the only goalies to have won that trophy since it was first awarded in 1924. He then went on to win it the next year to become the only goalie ever to win it twice. Jose Theodore is the only goalie to have won the award after Hasek and has probably insured another goalie won't be picked as league MVP for decades.
Hasek also won the players association MVP trophy for the same two years joining Mike Liut (1980/81) as the only goalies to have won that honour since it started to be given out in 1971.
For a goalie who manages to win the league's MVP trophy six Vezina trophies in eight years in Buffalo seems almost like an afterthought on the resume. Only Jacques Plante has won more Vezina's with seven. Bill Durnan of the Montreal Canadiens has won six like Hasek, but both of them won the award when it was for the goalie on the team that had the lowest goals against average for the season.
Throw in three William M. Jennings trophies for being a goalie on the team with the lowest goals against average in the league the year and you can't help but be impressed.
Hasek never won the MVP award in the playoffs. He perhaps should have in 1999 when he dragged the Sabres into the Stanley Cup finals and finally lost in seven games to the Dallas Stars.
Dominik Hasek won his two Stanley cups in the end with the Detroit Red Wings (2001/02 and 2007/08). He was the primary goalie for the Red Wings in 2002 with Manny Legace getting in one game for 11 minutes. he had six shut-outs in the 23 playoff games he played in.
Come the 2008 playoffs the 43 year old Hasek played behind Chris Osgood getting in to only four playoff games.
Dominik Hasek is one of the greatest goalies in NHL history and certainly one of the greatest players of the last quarter century. For eight or nine seasons he may have been the best goalie ever.
GP: 1110 G :257 A: 803 PTS: 1060
GP: 164 G: 30 A: 109 PTS: 139
Stanley Cups: 1
Ray Bourque is one of the greatest defensemen ever to play the game. Now when you look at his career in the last 25 years you miss the first seven seasons in Boston including his career best 36 goal and 96 point season back in 1983/84. You also miss 1982/83 when the Bruins lead the league in the regular season and made it to the Eastern Final where they lost to the eventual Stanley Cup winning New York Islanders in six games. Bourque had 23 points in 17 playoff games that year to be third on the team in playoff scoring.
Most defensemen, if you carve 502 games played, 153 goals, 519 points and a Calder memorial trophy win off their record they don't have much left. Ray Bourque is still almost a point a game defenseman who played a key defensive role as well for thirteen and half seasons in Boston and a season and a half in Colorado.
Bourque was one of the great skaters of his era and used this to stay ahead of the play in his own zone and get the puck out in a hurry. Like a very few other first year players Bourque showed up NHL ready. While he didn't possess the top end talent that some other famous defenseman have had he was one of the most talented players ever to play the game. His greatest skill was his ability to maintain that high level of play consistently for as long as he did.
Bourque managed to maintain his point a game output from the blueline until the last five years of his career.
GP: 1299 G: 332 A: 1068 PTS: 1400
GP: 163 G: 42 A: 114 PTS: 156
Stanley Cups: 0
Adam Oates was a smaller, faster, better version of Joe Thornton. He carved out a career as one of the best set-up men in the history of hockey. He was signed after he finished at NCAA champion Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) in 1985. New Detroit Red Wings owner Mike Illitch and general manager Jimmy Devellano signed him, at the age of 23, to a four year $250,000 a year contract.
Oates lasted the four years in Detroit playing as the second line center behind Steve Yzerman. During the 1988 playoffs the rapidly improving Red Wings had won their first Norris division title ever. In the playoffs they beat the Toronto Maple Leafs in six games and the St Louis Blues in five before losing to the eventual Stanley Cup champions in five games in the Western Final.
Oates had a break-out playoff that year with 20 points in 16 games while the 22 year old Steve Yzerman was injured. Oates followed that playoff success up with a 62 assist and 78 point in 69 game season in 1988/89.
The Detroit Red Wings though were tying their fortunes, not surprisingly, to Steve Yzerman, who that same year scored 65 goals and 155 points.
It's hard to imagine how good an offensive team they would have been if they had run for the next ten years with Steve Yzerman as the number one center and Adam Oates as number two. Instead they made one of the worst trades in hockey history. The still young (27) Oates and Paul Maclean were shipped to division rival St Louis for aging star Bernie Federko (33) and plugger Tony McKegney. Federko only lasted one more year in the NHL while Oates went two and a half great seasons in St Louis as Brett Hull's set-up man. He continued to play in the NHL until he was 41.
Playing alongside Hull Oates had one of the great finishers in hockey to work with. He had suddenly become an hundred point a season player. In 1990/91 he had 115 points in 61 games and so was almost a two point a game player.
He was traded again to Boston where he had his best season in 1992/93 with 45 goals, 97 assists and 142 points in 84 games.
Adam Oates lead the league in assists three times in his career, was second twice and third another two times. He was third in total points scored three times.
Oates went on to play for the Washington Capitals and help them in their miracle Stanley Cup run in 1997/98. At the age of 35 he tied with Joe Juneau as the Capitals leading scorer in the playoffs with 17 points in 21 games. The Caps made it to the final but were swept in the end by the Steve Yzerman lead Detroit Red Wings. The 32 year old Stevie Y had 24 points in 22 playoff games that year and won the Conn Smythe trophy as the playoff MVP.
Adam Oates is a great player who makes a lot of greatest lists. He is one of the greatest undrafted players in the league since 1970. He is one of the greatest playmakers of all time. He was involved in one of the worst trades of all time and even the swap of him for Craig Janney wasn't as well considered as it might have been. He is also one of the greatest NHL players never to win a Stanley Cup. Adam Oates finally is one of the greatest players of the last quarter century in the NHL.
GP: 1242 G: 379 A: 872 PTS: 1251
GP: 149 G: 48 A: 106 PTS: 154
Stanley Cups: 1
Doug Gilmour's first three seasons in St Louis don't count for the purposes of this survey. He was a skinny little center who was chosen in the seventh round by the St Louis Blues in 1982. After another season in junior he made the big club and scored 25, 21 and 24 goals in those first three years.
It's 1986/87 when we start counting what players did in the last quarter century. That was the season Doug Gilmour broke out. He scored 42 goals and 105 points in a full season in St Louis, practically doubling his production from the previous year (25 G, 53 PTS).
One full season after that Doug Gilmour was dealt to the Calgary Flames in another of those worst trades of all time. Gilmour, Mark Hunter and Steve Bozek were dealt to Calgary for Mike Bullard, Craig Coxe and Tim Cokery.
Gilmour was the last piece of the puzzle in Calgary as they won their first and only Stanley Cup that season (1988/89) with Doug Gilmour getting 22 points in 22 playoff games.
The diminutive Gilmour played with an intensity that earned him the moniker 'Killer' in St Louis. He was one of those rare players who got better statistically when the games got tougher. He scored more points and goals per games in the playoffs than he did in the regular season.
He was involved in another one of those worst hockey trades of all time as he moved from Calgary to Toronto. Gilmour had his best statistical seasons in Toronto and dragged them on two long playoff runs in 1993 and 1994. Doug had 35 points in 21 playoff games in 1993 as they lost to the LA Kings and Wayne Gretzky in the conference finals. Next year the Leafs made it to the Western Conference finals again only to lose one more time to the eventual Stanley Cup loser, this time the Vancouver Canucks. Gilmour had 28 points in 18 playoff games that year as he dragged the Leafs through the playoffs by what seemed like force of will alone.
Gilmour never won another Stanley Cup after that first one in Calgary but he was always a killer in the playoffs.
GP: 1259 G: 637 A: 703 PTS: 1340
GP: 111 G: 41 A: 38 PTS: 79
Stanley Cups: 1
Teemu Selanne slammed into the NHL as a 22 year old back in 1992. During that record setting rookie season he scored 76 goals and 132 points with the struggling Winnipeg Jets. It was the first of three times he would lead the entire NHL in goal scoring for a season. Not surprisingly he won the Calder Memorial trophy as the best rookie that year.
The Finnish Flash was a skating scoring sensation. He was a key member on the Duck team that won the Stanley Cup in 2007. He had 15 points in 21 playoff games as a 36 year old.
It was major misfortune for Selanne and hockey that he only made it to the playoffs three times before he turned 30.
Injuries threatened to end the Finn's career in the early 2000's. As he regained his health he put up a pair of 90 + point seasons in Anaheim. With 80 points in 73 games played last year the 41 year old free agent is still considering his options.
Selanne is the fifth leading goal scorer during the last 25 years. His 1340 points put him 15th in scoring over that period. Selanne is one of the most talented snipers ever to join the NHL.
GP: 1499 G: 561 A: 813 PTS: 1374
GP: 176 G: 58 A: 88 PTS: 146
Stanley Cups: 1
Mike Modano was the first overall draft pick in the NHL in 1988, chosen by the then Minnesota North Stars. Modano spent another year in junior before joining the big club. He started strong with 75 points in 80 games as a rookie. He lost out to veteran (31) Soviet player Sergei Makarov in the Calder Memorial trophy voting.
His next season Modano was a 20 year old center playing a crucial role on a playoff team that made it to the Stanley Cup finals for the second time in the organization's history. Modano had 20 points in 23 playoff games as they finally lost to Mario Lemieux and the Pittsburgh Penguins in six games.
Mike Modano is a fast highly skilled offensive player who found himself part of a more controlled defensive minded organization when they moved to Dallas. That didn't stop him from scoring 50 goals in his first season in Dallas.
Modano scored more than 30 goals in a season nine times in his career. During another seven seasons he scored between 20 and 30 goals.
Modano has been a sniper and a playmaker throughout his career. he was a key member of the great Star teams of the late nineties that consistently challenged for the Stanley Cup. He finally won his cup as Dallas beat the Buffalo Sabres in six games in 1998/99. They made it to the Conference finals the year before and the Stanley Cup finals again the year after. Modano was a key member on all those playoff runs with 14 points in 17 games in 1997/98 and then 23 points in 23 games in each of the next two years.
GP: 1388 G: 422 A: 977 PTS: 1399
GP: 161 G:45 A: 95 PTS: 140
Stanley Cups: 2
Ron Francis had five better than a point a game seasons with the Hartford Whalers before 1986/87. He was the best player on a Hartford team that was never quite good enough to compete for the Stanley Cup.
The slick playmaking center was traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins with Ulf Samuelsson and Grant Jennings for center John Cullen, defenseman Zarley Zalapski and Jeff Parker. Hartford fans at the time seemed ambivalent about the deal but it turned out to be way more one-sided than it even looked at the time.
Francis and Samuelsson were key members of the the back to back Stanley Cup winning teams in Pittsburgh in 1991 and 1992. Francis was third in team scoring in the 1992 playoffs with 27 points in 21 games, behind Mario Lemieux (34 points) and power forward Kevin Stevens (28 Points).
The loss of Francis was practically the death knell for the Hartford Whaler franchise. After 1992 the Whalers missed the playoffs for five straight seasons. They then relocated to Greensboro, North Carolina to become the Carolina Hurricanes.
John Cullen had put together back to back 92 and 110 point seasons and was a year younger than Francis. Playing on a much more talent thin team in Hartford he couldn't carry them the same way Ron Francis had. He was only a point a game player in Hartford and was traded to the Maple Leafs after two years in Hartford.
Ron Francis spent the heart of his career from age 27 to 34 in Pittsburgh twice leading the league in assists and twice scoring 100 points or more.
Ron Francis joined his old organization in Carolina for the 1998/99 season at the age of 35. His offensive production had slowed but he still had some near point a game seasons with the Hurricanes.
During the 2001/02 season Francis lead Carolina in scoring. He then lead the team in the playoffs with 16 points in 23 games. They made it to the Stanley Cup final that year only to lose to the Detroit Red Wings in five games.
The clean playing Francis won three Lady Byng trophies (1995,1998,2002) as the leagues as the player in the league judged to have exhibited the best type of sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard of playing ability.
Francis was also the league's best defensive forward during the lock-out shortened 1994/95 season.
GP: 1355 G: 466 A: 892 PTS: 1358
GP: 157 G: 66 A: 134 PTS: 200
Stanley Cups: 4
When you limit Mark Messier's career to what he did in the last 25 years you immediately have to cut seven NHL seasons right off the top. You are taking out his only 50 goal season, in 1981/82. You remove the 1983/84 season when he broke the 100 point barrier for the second season in a row and then went on to win the Conn Smythe trophy as the Edmonton Oilers won their first Stanley Cup by defeating their hated rivals the New York Islanders. In fact you have to take two Stanley cup victories and one Stanley Cup loss right out of the mix.
Messier scored 228 goals in games in those first 493 games. That's a career that a lot of NHLers would love to have.
Now when you peel all that away from Mark Messier's career what are you left with? Well he still won four Stanley Cups, two without Wayne Gretzky at his side. He still scored the 12th most points of any player during the last 25 years. He was 21st in goal scoring for this quarter century.
Mark Messier won two Hart Memorial trophies as the league's most valuable player in the last twenty five years. That puts him behind only Mario Lemieux over that time. He's tied with Alex Ovechkin, Dominik Hasek, and Wayne Gretzky from this time period.
More impressive still is the fact that Messier was the second leading playoff scorer with 200 points in this time behind only Wayne Gretzky.
Messier was another one of those players who statistically improved in the playoffs. He was a better point per game player in the playoffs than in the regular season. He scored goals faster in the playoffs than in the regular season. He was a great player in the regular season. He was an unbeatable force in the playoffs.
Messier won three cups in four seasons with the Oilers between 1987 and 1990. Each year he was substantially better than a point a game playoff performer. He had 28 points in 21 games in 1987 and 34 points in in 19 games in 1988. During his last cup win in Edmonton he had 31 points in 22 games as he tied Craig Simpson for the team lead in playoff scoring and the Oilers won their first and only cup sans Gretzky.
Mark Messier was long known as not only one of the most talented players in hockey but also one of the nastiest. Nicknamed Moose he was more like a Gordie Howe than say a Steve Yzerman.
Messier was finally traded away from Edmonton as Peter Pocklington finished the demolition of his Oiler dynasty.
He lead the New York Rangers to their first Stanley Cup victory in 54 years in 1994. He captained the team and had 30 points in 23 playoff games. He became the first NHL player to captain two different teams to Stanley Cup victories.
GP: 1132 W:625 L:350 OT/T:137 SV:25976 SV PCT: .913 GAA: 2.22 SO:116
GP: 181 W:99 L:82 SV: 4253 SV PCT: .919 GAA: 2.01 SO:23
Stanley Cups: 3
Martin Brodeur's entire amazing 18 season career has been with one team, the New Jersey Devils. He broke in as a 19 year old playing four regular season games and one playoff game back in 1991/92. It was two years later that he became the New Jersey Devil starting goaltender. He won the league's Calder Memorial trophy that year as the best rookie that season beating out Edmonton's Jason Arnott (GP 78 G 33 A35 PTS 68).
Brodeur has yet to relinquish the starting job in New Jersey though the end is approaching.
His second "full" year in the NHL was the lock-out shortened 1994/95 season. He played in 40 of his team's 48 games.
The Devil's shocked the Detroit Red Wings, the number one seed that year, by sweeping them in the finals. That was their first Stanley Cup. Brodeur had an incredible .927 save percentage and 1.67 goals against average through the playoffs.
Martin Brodeur went on to win four Vezina trophies as the league's best goalie and played on five teams in New Jersey that gave up the fewest goals against in the league. Only Hasek won more in the same time frame.
Brodeur has lead the league in shut-outs on five occasions and in personal goals against average once. Always a workhorse he lead the league in games played for six seasons and in wins nine times.
He lost the Conn Smythe to Scott Stevens in 2000 and JS Giguere in 2003. His 1.65 GAA, seven shutouts, and .934 save percentage lost out to Giguere's 1.62 GAA, five shut-outs, and .945 save percentage. He could easily have been chosen the playoffs most valuable player in both circumstances.
Martin Brodeur was blessed by playing on a series of defensively responsible squads in Jersey. However his goaltending made it possible for New Jersey to win Stanley Cups by playing that tight defense first style. The symbiotic relationship lead to success for both of them.
Brodeur is the career NHL leader in regular season shut-outs and wins. He is a throw back to an era when the NHL season was 70 games long and a team's starting goalie was expected to play all those games. Martin Brodeur played 70 games in a season or more in 12 NHL seasons. He played 70 games or more in ten straight seasons from 1997/98 until 2007/2008. Brodeur has been one of the most durable and consistently good goalies in NHL history.
GP: 1269 G: 741 A: 650 PTS:1391
GP: 200 G: 103 A: 87 PTS: 190
Stanley Cups: 2
Brett Hull came into the league with the Calgary Flames in 1986/87. He was unpopular with defensive minded Flames coach "Badger" Bob Johnson. Struggling to get the talented Hull to back-check he limited his ice time.
Despite often playing five to ten minutes a game Hull scored 26 goals in 52 games with the Calgary Flames during the 1987/88 season. Interwoven with a couple of great deals that would bring Joe Mullen and Doug Gilmour and a Stanley Cup to Calgary was the Brett Hull trade, one of the worst in Flames history.
The Flames sent Hull and Steve Bozek to St Louis for back-up goalie Rick Wamsley and an aged defenseman Rob Ramage who played a depth role more than anything in Calgary.
Brett Hull was an instant success in St Louis where they didn't waste any time trying to make him back check. The deadly sniper had one of the best and hardest shots in hockey history. He had a penchant for getting open to take that shot.
He scored 70 goals or more for three seasons in a row in St Louis. The 86 goals he scored in 1990/91 is the third highest season total behind only Wayne Gretzky who scored 92 in 1981/82 and 87 in 1983/84.
Brett Hull teamed up with Adam Oates in St Louis for his best goal scoring seasons but when Oates was traded for Craig Janney in the middle of the 1991/92 season Hull kept ticking right along with Janney as his pivot and set-up man. Playing with Janney for the full 1992/93 season he certainly contributed what proved to be Craig's career best 106 point season.
Hull went on to sign with the Dallas Stars and was a key member in back to back Stanley Cup runs. In 1999 when they won the cup he chipped in with eight goals and 15 points in 23 games. The next year when they lost in the finals to the New Jersey Devils he lead the team in playoff scoring with 24 points in 23 games.
After three seasons in Dallas Brett signed with the Detroit Red Wings. He contributed (18 points in 23 games) at age 37 to their Stanley Cup win in 2002.
Hull scored more than 80 goals in a season once, 70 or more three times, 50 or more five times, 40 or more eight times and 30 or more 12 times in his career. He has scored the third most goals in NHL history behind only Wayne Gretzky (894) and Gordie Howe (801).
His 741 goals were by far the most scored in the last 25 years beating Lucky Luc Robitaille (668) and Brendan Shanahan (656) by a significant margin.
Brett won the league's and the player's association's most valuable player awards for the 1990/91 season when he scored his 86 goals. He was also the Lady Byng trophy winner the year before. He lead the league in goal scoring three seasons in a row (1989/90, 1990/91, 1991/92) but that was years before the NHL gave out a trophy for that.
Boosters of Brett Hull call him one of the best pure shooters to ever play the game while those who fault him call him a selfish gunner and a one dimensional player. Whatever the truth, and those may be two sides of the same coin, Brett Hull was one of the greatest NHL goal scorers of all time and one of the top players in the last 25 years in the NHL.
GP: 981 W: 527 L: 297 OT/T:128 SA:27166 SV:24768 SV PCT:.912 GAA: 2.50 SO: 65
GP: 231 W:132 L: 89 SA:6643 SV:6098 SV PCT:.918 GAA: 2.34 SO: 22
Stanley Cups: 3
Almost all of Patrick Roy's career happened in the last 25 years. All you miss is his exceptional Stanley Cup win as a rookie with the Montreal Canadiens in 1985/86. His .923 save percentage and 1.92 goals against average in the playoffs earned him the Conn Smythe trophy that year.
Even without that one amazing season Patrick Roy is still one of the greatest goalies ever to play the game. he was the principal winning goalie on three Stanley Cup championship teams, another in Montreal (1993) and two in Colorado (1996,2002). He also several long playoff runs to go with those victories.
Roy won three Vezina trophies as the NHL's best goalie (1988/89,1989/90 and 1991/92). he played on five teams that had the lowest goals against average in the season and won the William M.Jennings trophy as a result.
Roy lead the league in save percentage four times during his career, three times posted the most shut-outs in a season and three times lead in goals against average.
Roy was traded from the Montreal Canadiens along with Mike Keane to the Colorado Avalanche for Andrei Kovalenko, Martin Rucinsky and Jocelyn Thibault in December of 1995 in what is often considered one of the worst trades ever and certainly the worst in Montreal Canadiens' history.
The Canadiens have never made it back to the Stanley Cup finals after Roy left. They have been looking to fill the gap in nets ever since. Colorado won their first Stanley Cup the season they added Roy. They won another cup and were a cup contender with Roy in nets until he retired after the 2003 season.
Patrick Roy has always been a combative and competitive individual. He has never seemed entirely in command of that aspect of his personality. It's that drive that made him the great goalie he was.
GP: 1494 G: 253 A: 855 PTS: 1108
GP: 258 G: 54 A:129 PTS: 183
Stanley Cups: 4
Nicklas Lidstrom has been the consensus best defenseman in the NHL for the past decade. Last year he won his seventh James Norris trophy as the best defenseman in the league.
Nick has been a first team end of year all-star for 10 of his NHL seasons and a second team all-star for two more. For more than half his time in the league he has been considered one of the two best defenseman in the league and two other years he was in the top four.
He didn't start winning them until he turned 30. Coincidentally he's tied in Norris trophy wins with Doug Harvey who win his first until he turned 30 during the 1954 season. Of course they only started giving out the trophy for the 1953/54 season so Harvey didn't have the opportunity to win it at a younger age.
Both Harvey and and Lidstrom are one trophy behind the all-time leader the incomparable Bobby Orr who won Eight James Norris trophies in a row in his injury shortened 12 season career.
Nick Lidstrom has almost always seemed like one of the most complete defensemen ever to play the game. he broke in to the league in 1991/92 and scored 60 points in 80 games as a rookie defenseman with the Red Wings. Most years that would attract some Calder trophy talk but it was the Vancouver Canuck's Pavel Bure who won the trophy as rookie of the year with 34 goals and 60 points in 65 games. In retrospect you have to believe that Lidstrom was making a bigger contribution in Detroit that year than the much flashier Bure had for Vancouver.
Lidstrom has been one of the steadiest puck moving defenseman in the league for 20 years and 19 seasons. His career overlapped with that of the great Stevie Y in Detroit. They shared three Stanley Cup victories, the back to backs in 1997 and 1998 and then the championship in 2002 that came with a triumphant, emphatic game seven victory over Patrick Roy and the Colorado Avalanche and a victory lap cruise past the Carolina Hurricanes.
Nicklas Lidstrom won the Conn Smythe trophy as the playoffs most valuable player that year. he made an offensive contribution but his most important role came with moving the puck and keeping the puck away from the opposition. Lidstrom controlled games for the Red Wings by always making the right play and never, ever making a mistake.
Nick played on a series of Detroit teams that excelled, even won cups with average or worse goaltending. Detroit has always played a more puck control, attacking style than the strictly defensive teams like the New Jersey Devils. Lidstrom has been the perfect defenseman for that style always getting the puck and moving it forward.
Age is beginning to slow Nicklas Lidstrom down and you won't see him playing 31 minutes a night any more like he did during the 2002 Stanley Cup run but he still getting honoured like he is the best defenseman in the game.
GP: 1303 G: 609 A:928 PTS: 1537
GP: 189 G: 65 A: 111 PTS: 176
Stanley Cups: 3
To look at Steve Yzerman's career over the last 25 years you have to lop off his first three seasons in the league. Certainly that was none of his best work but he played 211 games and scored 83 goals and 218 points. As an 18 year old rookie he scored 39 goals and 87 points in 80 games. Still the bulk of his career happened in the last 25 years and it was a great one.
The drafting of Yzerman in 1983 signalled a sea change in the fortunes of an original six franchise in Detroit that had fallen into ill-repute. Mike Illitch bought the Detroit Red Wings from Bruce Norris in 1982 for $8 million. One of the first best things they did in his new regime was draft and sign the amazing Yzerman.
GP: 934 G: 413 A: 1107 PTS: 1520
GP:128 G:58 A:159 PTS: 217
Stanley Cups: 2
Wayne Gretzky obviously enough is the greatest player of all time. When you look at his record over the last 25 years however you have to lop off seven of the greatest seasons in hockey history. In those first seven years Gretzky scored 481 goals in a mere 553 games. That's a career for any player.
Gretzky won his first two cups in those seven years, his first Conn Smythe trophy, six Hart Memorial trophies as the league's MVP, four players association MVP awards, six Art Ross trophies as the leagues leading scorer, and a Lady Byng trophy.
Considered the leagues best playmaker and passer late in his career Gretzky lead the league in goal scoring four times in those first seven seasons. Two of those years he scored the most and second most goals ever scored in a single season: 92 in 1981/82 and 87 in 1983/84.
How with all this excised from what we're going to look at does Wayne have enough left even to make it on this list? Well it is because he's Wayne Gretzky.Even when you look at his career from age 26 on it's better than most players can boast of for a complete career.
Despite playing in only 934 games his 1520 points was the fifth highest total posted by anyone over the last 25 years. His 1107 assists were the most put up by any player in that time.
In his last thirteen seasons in the NHL Wayne Gretzky lead the league in scoring four times. he only the lead the league in goal scoring one more time in 1986/87 when he scored 62 goals.
He lead all scorers in the playoffs three more times, twice for his last two cup wins in Edmonton in 1987 and 1988 and once in 1993 when he took the LA Kings to the Stanley Cup finals.He won his second Conn Smythe trophy as the Oilers won the cup in 1988.
Gretzky won two more Hart trophies as the league's MVP and one as the player's association MVP. He won four more Lady Byng trophies.
Gretzky scored the second most points per game of anyone I looked at in the last 25 years. His playoff numbers were better than his regular season numbers and he was the best point per game playoff performer on the list. Gretzky while playing in a mere 128 playoff games in the last two thirds of his career still scored the most playoff points of anyone in the last quarter century. The second leading playoff scorer from this era is Mark Messier who scored 200 points in 157 games. The consummate playoff performer scored 17 fewer points in 29 more games than Gretzky.
The back end of his career was not as unremittingly amazing as the front third was but it was still an incredible run.
GP: 1273 G: 646 A: 953 PTS: 1599
GP: 169 G: 77 A: 104 PTS: 181
Stanley Cups: 2
Jaromir Jagr entered the NHL in the 1990/91 season and got to be part of two back to back Pittsburgh Penguin Stanley Cup championships. The second time he was a key contributor and the team's fourth leading scorer with 24 points in 21 games. It must have seemed to easy to the 19 year old Czechoslovakian as he was getting his name engraved on the Stanley Cup for the second and what might have been the last time.
Jagr won his first Art Ross trophy in the lockout shortened 1994/95 season with 70 points in 48 games. He tied Eric Lindros in points but won the trophy because he'd scored more goals than Eric that year.
As Mario Lemieux's health waned Jaromir Jagr's contribution in Pittsburgh waxed. Mario Junior no longer he won four consecutive Art Ross trophies after Lemieux retired in 1997.
Jagr only won the Hart memorial trophy once though the players association awarded him their MVP trophy three times. He was the NHL's first team right winger seven times in his 17 season career and was the second team all-star right winger once.
Jagr was the second leading scorer over the last 25 years and the fifth best PPG player over that time. He maintained that high level of offensive play over 1273 games and along with Joe Sakic is the only player in the top ten in PPG who played in at least 1000 NHL regular season games. Jagr was the fourth leading goal scorer of the era with 646.
Jagr was a bit of a bust in Washington after the decluttering Penguins moved him. He had a great year with the Rangers at age 33 with 54 goals and 123 points.
He is returning to the NHL this year with the Philadelphia Flyers. He can still move up the list with a couple more good seasons. He still has until 2014 to add on to his stats for the last 25 years.
GP: 1378 G: 625 A: 1016 PTS: 1641
GP: 172 G:84 A:104 PTS: 188
Stanley Cups: 2
Joe Sakic's entire 20 season career happened in the 25 years. He was a first round pick (15th overall) of the Quebec Nordiques in the 1987 NHL entry draft though they took defenseman Bryan Fogarty (9th overall) ahead of him.
Joe was to be the first of a series of high quality Quebec Nordique draft picks who would eventually form the core of Stanley Cup Championship teams in Colorado. At the start though it was mostly Joe on his own in Quebec.
After an injury shortened rookie season saw Joe score 62 points in 70 games he became a point a game player for the next eight seasons.
His best season was 1995/96 the first year in Colorado. He scored 51 goals and 120 points to a Pacific Division championship. He was third in league scoring behind Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr.
Joe went on to lead the talent stacked Avalanche to their first Stanley Cup. He lead all playoff scorers with 34 points. His 18 goals were the second highest total in NHL history behind the 19 that Reggie Leach scored in 1976 and Jari Kurri sniped in1985. His six game winning goals including two overtime winners set a new NHL record for the playoffs and assured his winning the Conn Smythe trophy as the most valuable player in the playoffs that season.
Joe scored the most points in the last quarter century and the sixth most goals. he had the ninth best point per game average in the last 25 years. He was also fourth in playoff scoring during that time.
Joe Sakic won the league's and player's association MVP award for the 2000/01 season. This would be the year the Avalanche won their second Stanley Cup. He also won the Lady Byng trophy that year. Joe was 31 when Colorado won their second cup he lead the playoffs in scoring despite missing two games while injured.
Sakic was able to maintain a high level of play almost to the end of his career. During the 2006/07 season at the age of 37 he scored 36 goals and had the sixth hundred point season of his career.
Injuries limited his two seasons in the NHL ( 59 total games played) and he retired as the Colorado Avalanche's greatest skater.
GP: 763 G: 599 A: 883 PTS: 1482
GP: 107 G: 76 A: 96 PTS: 172
Stanley Cups: 2
Mario Lemieux's first two seasons in the NHL didn't happen in the last 25 years. They were huge years where he scored 100 and then 141 points while averaging 45.5 goals per year. For some players the loss of that might not be significant but Lemieux had a career that was shortened by back troubles and a bout with Nodular Lymphocytic Hodgkin's disease.
Lemieux won the Calder trophy and the player's association MVP award in those first two years.
In between his medical problems Lemieux managed seasons where he scored 107 points in 63 games, 168 points in 77 games, an incredible 199 points and 85 goals in 76 games and 123 points in a mere 59 games.
Lemieux won the Art Ross trophy six times as the NHL's leading scorer. He lead the league in goal scoring three times. He scored 50 goals or more in six of his 17 seasons.
Lemieux literally translated means the best. The league thought Lemieux was the best player three times as they awarded him the Hart Memorial trophy on three occasions. The player's association also gave him three additional MVP awards.
Lemieux was the team and league leader as Pittsburgh won it's first two Stanley Cups in 1991 and 1992. He won the Conn Smythe trophy as "the best" in the playoffs both years.
Despite only playing in 763 games in last quarter century Lemieux scored 599 goals and was the sixth leading point man in that time ( 1.Joe Sakic 1641 2. Jaromir Jagr 1599 3.Steve Yzerman 1537 4.Mark Recchi 1533 5.Wayne Gretzky 1520 6. Mario Lemieux 1482)
His point per game totals were unmatched. he scored almost two points a game (1.9423) in that period also lead the league in goals per game ( .7851). His playoff averages weren't quite as magnificent as in the regular season. He was second behind Gretzky in playoff points per game. He was still the most proficient playoff goal scorer putting in an amazing .7103 goals per game.
Lemieux missed most of 1993/94 season and the entire lock-out shortened 1994/95 season and yet returned in 1995/96 to lead the league with 69 goals, 92 assists and 161 points. He got the Penguins into the Eastern Conference finals that year with 27 points in 18 games. They then lost to the upstart Florida Panthers.
Despite not making the finals Lemieux finished second in playoff scoring.
He retired for the first time after the 1996/97 season at age 31. He was forced to come out of retirement four years later in an attempt to help the failing Pittsburgh Penguin franchise and try to recover the money they still owed him.
He played five more seasons from age 35 to 40. He scored 76 points in 43 games in his first year back and then 17 points in 18 playoff games as he got the Penguins into the Eastern Conference finals again.
Lemieux managed to almost single-handedly save the Penguins for Pittsburgh. He stayed long enough to see Sidney Crosby safely in place as the team's next great star. However in those five extra years he barely played two seasons worth of games (170) as health issues prevented him from playing at his best.
Lemieux finally retired in 2006 as simply the best player in the last 25 years in the NHL.