The 20 Luckiest Players in the History of the NHL

Brad Kurtzberg@@sealshockeyContributor IFebruary 21, 2013

The 20 Luckiest Players in the History of the NHL

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    Luck is a funny thing in hockey. There are lucky bounces and lucky breaks, but this list features the 20 luckiest players in NHL history.

    Sometimes, players have fortunate situations like being on the ice with a superstar linemate or a very average player contributing to some very good hockey teams.

    In other situations, players appear in a small number of games and still manage to get their names on the Stanley Cup.

    Or players suffer bad injuries but avoid more serious injuries or even death. Sure, these situations are bad, but they could have certainly been a lot worse, thereby making the players quite lucky when you look at the big picture.

    Here are the NHL's 20 luckiest players. Feel free to add to the list but indicate why you feel your player belongs on the list.

20. Dallas Smith

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    How lucky was Dallas Smith? Lucky enough to be paired defensively with Bobby Orr, the most dynamic and talented hockey player of his day and arguably of all time.

    Smith was a solid defensive defenseman, but by playing alongside Orr, he was able to put up some legendary stats. In 1970-71, Smith had a plus/minus of plus-94 which still stands as the fourth-best single season mark of all time. That same year, Orr set the all-time record with a remarkable plus-124.

    Smith finished his career with two Stanley Cup rings and played in four consecutive All-Star Games. Part of the reason was he was lucky enough to be paired with the great Bobby Orr.

19. Billy Carroll

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    If you take a quick glance at Billy Carroll's career NHL statistics, nothing jumps out at you. The Toronto native scored 30 goals and 84 points in 322 career games. He spent most of his career as a fourth-line forward.

    But Carroll won four Stanley Cups during his career, three with the New York Islanders and one with the Edmonton Oilers.

    Sure, Carroll and was a role player, but he did his job well, checking opposing players, winning faceoffs and killing penalties while scoring the odd goal.

    He was lucky enough to to be a journeyman on some of the greatest dynasty clubs in NHL history, thus earning a spot on our list.

18. Gerry Heffernan

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    Gerry Heffernan was playing hockey in the Quebec Senior League with the Montreal Royals when he got the call from the Montreal Canadiens in 1943-44.

    With World War II in full swing and many players called into the service, NHL teams were looking for help. The 5'9", 154-pound Montreal native was only too happy to oblige, and he ended up scoring 28 goals and 48 points in 43 games for the Habs that year.

    Of course, Montreal went on to win the Stanley Cup that year which earned Heffernan a ring and got his name engraved on hockey's most famous trophy.

    The following season with the war winding down, Heffernan was back with the Royals. He would never play another NHL game, but he was in the right place at the right time to make a difference for the Canadiens when called upon.

17. Ted Green

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    Ted Green was an All-Star defenseman for the Boston Bruins when he got into an infamous stick swinging incident with Wayne Maki of the Blues in an exhibition game on September 21, 1969. Green was hit in the head with Maki's stick and suffered a fractured skull and brain damage which caused him to miss the entire 1969-70 season.

    But Green did recover and returned to action the following season for the Bruins. Green then won the Stanley Cup with the Bruins in 1972 before signing with the WHA's New England Whalers.

    Green won three championships in the WHA before becoming an assistant coach with the Edmonton Oilers in the 1980s where he won five more Stanley Cups.

    Green was fortunate to survive the Maki incident and had a golden touch for championships after that horrible day.

16. Gordie Howe

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    Gordie Howe is one of the best players ever to lace up a pair of skates, but just because he was darn good doesn't mean "Mr. Hockey" wasn't a little but lucky sometimes, too.

    In the 1950 playoffs, Howe was rushed to the hospital after trying to check Teeder Kennedy of Toronto into the boards. Howe missed Kennedy and suffered a fractured skull. He also required emergency surgery to relieve swelling on his brain.

    Fortunately, the operation was successful and Howe would not retire from hockey for good for another 30 years.

    The incident did leave him with a facial tick and his teammates jokingly called him "Blinky" as a result.

15. Aut Erickson

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    Aut Erickson played exactly one game for the 1966-67 Toronto Maple Leafs, but it was a game in the Stanley Cup Final and good enough to get Erickson's name on the Stanley Cup.

    The Lethbridge, Alberta, native spent the entire regular season with Victoria of the WHL but managed to play in one playoff game in which he received two penalty minutes.

    Erickson finished his NHL career with the Oakland Seals before becoming a coach. But he was lucky enough to get his name on the Stanley Cup after playing only one playoff game all year for the winning team.

14. Michel Larocque

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    Michel "Bunny" Larocque won four straight Stanley Cups with the Montreal Canadiens from 1976 to 1979.

    During that time, Larocque was the capable backup goalie to Hall of Famer Ken Dryden. He started no playoff games for the Habs during their streak, making him one of the luckiest goalies ever.

    Larocque did have a little bad luck along the way. He was actually supposed to start Game 2 of the 1979 Stanley Cup Final against the Rangers but was hit by a puck in pregame warm-ups and was replaced by Dryden who then went on to win four straight games and clinch another Cup win for Montreal.

    Still, to win four Stanley Cups without playing a playoff game in any of those years earns Larocque a place on our list.

13. Cristobal Huet

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    Cristobal Huet is another player who was lucky enough to win a Stanley Cup without doing much to actually earn it.

    The French goaltender lost the starting goaltending job in Chicago before the 2010 playoffs got under way. Huet played all of 20 minutes in the 2010 postseason for the Blackhawks but can be seen here celebrating with the Stanley Cup just the same.

12. Bobby Taylor

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    Bobby Taylor played in eight games for the Philadelphia Flyers in 1973-74 while serving as Bernie Parent's backup in goal. The following season, he played in all of three regular-season games.

    That was still good enough to earn the Calgary native two Stanley Cup rings as the Flyers became the first expansion team to win an NHL championship.

    Taylor only played six NHL games after that but went on to a productive career as an NHL broadcaster. Today he works for the Tampa Bay Lightning.

11. Al MacAdam

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    Al MacAdam played in five regular-season games and one playoff game for the 1974 Philadelphia Flyers without scoring a point or even visiting the penalty box.

    Still, the playoff game was the Cup clincher and that was enough to earn MacAdam a Stanley Cup ring for his efforts.

    MacAdam went on to play 11 more NHL seasons and had a solid career with the Seals, Barons, North Stars and Canucks, but he never won another Stanley Cup. But he was lucky enough to earn one his very first year in the NHL.

10. Bryan Berard

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    In 2000, defenseman Bryan Berard was accidentally hit in the eye by the stick of Ottawa's Marian Hossa. He suffered a torn retina and a detached retina among other injuries, and it was believed his hockey career was over.

    But Berard managed to overcome the injury and returned to action after missing one season. He played six more years in the NHL for the Rangers, Blackhawks, Bruins, Blue Jackets and Islanders.

    Berard was fortunate the injury didn't cause him to lose his vision entirely and that he was able to return to play in the NHL again.

9. Richard Zednik

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    Richard Zednik had his throat cut by a skate in a game between the Panthers and Buffalo Sabres.

    The blade cut his carotid artery and he nearly bled to death before reaching the Panthers bench to be treated by trainers.

    The Slovakian missed the rest of the 2007-08 season as a result of the injury but returned to action with the Panthers the following season.

8. Jiri Fischer

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    Former Red Wings defenseman Jiri Fischer is lucky to be alive.

    The Czech native actually went into cardiac arrest during a game between the Wings and the Predators in November 2005. Quick action by team doctors saved his life although his hockey career was over.

    Fischer went on to work in the Wings front office.

7. Travis Moen

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    Watching this video isn't easy but it shows how lucky Travis Moen actually was. Here the Canadiens forward was hit in the forehead by an errant skate in a game against Ottawa.

    He had to be rushed off the ice and was fortunate not to loose an eye or receive a more serious injury.

6. Adam Burish

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    Blackhawks forward Adam Burish was accidentally cut in the neck by a teammate's skate. Again, Burish is just lucky the injury wasn't more serious.

    After all, another inch or so in the wrong direction and Burish could have died.

5. Jamie Heward

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    Washington's Jamie Heward was struck in the face by a skate blade in a game against the Dallas Stars.

    Heward was fortunate not to lose an eye in the incident although you can see in this video how close the errant blade came to hitting him there.

    The Regina native was able to continue his NHL career after this incident before retiring after the 2008-09 season.

4. Trent McCleary

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    Trent McCleary is another player who nearly lost his life in a hockey game.

    The Canadiens forward saw his career end in 2000 when he took a slap shot to the throat. He had to be rushed to the hospital for emergency surgery to make sure he was able to breathe.

    The injury forced McClearly to retire the following fall. The Canadiens gave him a scouting job after he retired.

3. Mark Howe

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    Mark Howe is another NHL player who escaped potentially devastating and career-ending injuries during a hockey game.

    On December 27, 1980, Howe was impaled on the post that held the goal in place on the ice and it cut a five-inch gash in his thigh. As a result, Howe lost 35 pounds after being forced to go on an all liquid diet to prevent infection. His father Gordie was in attendance that night and rushed to be by his son's side.

    "I thought I had punctured my intestines," Howe said in a subsequent interview (h/t "The trainer came out and I'm yelling, 'Cut off my pants!' I lost three and a half pints of blood that night."

    The result was a trade from the Hartford Whalers to Philadelphia where he went on to have a Hall of Fame career.

2. Warren Young

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    Warren Young was a very lucky hockey player in 1984-85. In his first NHL season, the 28-year-old Toronto native played on a line with rookie Mario Lemieux.

    The result was a 40-goal season for Young and the former Michigan Tech star was named to the NHL All-Rookie Team.

    The following year, Young signed with Detroit and scored only 22 goals. After that, he never hit double digits again in his brief NHL career.

    By 1988, Young was out of hockey, the ultimate one-year wonder. He was lucky enough to play one season with Mario Lemieux and it gave him his one shot at NHL stardom.

1. Clint Malarchuk

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    In 1989, goalie Clint Malarchuk suffered one of the most grisly injuries in NHL history, but he was lucky to be alive.

    The skate of Steve Tuttle slashed Malarchuk's neck and cut his carotid artery. If you're squeamish, don't watch this video which shows the rapid and massive blood loss Malarchuk suffered.

    It took more than 300 stitches to close Malarchuk's wounds, but he he lived and managed to continue his NHL career.