NHL: 50 Most Clutch Players in History
It's time for playoff hockey, and time for a look through NHL history at the most clutch performers of all time.
There are single-occasion clutch performances that didn't quite make the list—like Bill Barilko's Stanley Cup-winning goal in 1951, after which he mysteriously disappeared in a plane crash. His story was immortalized in the Tragically hip song Fifty Mission Cap.
Bobby Baun is another player with a one-time clutch performance that doesn't quite make the list. In 1964, Baun broke his leg in Game Six of the Stanley Cup finals, but returned to score the overtime winner. His Toronto Maple Leafs won the following game to claim the Cup.
A third incredibly clutch moment is one that's familiar to every Canadian hockey fan: Paul Henderson's overtime goal to win the 1972 Summit Series. "Here's another shot, right in front. He scores! Henderson!"
So, who does make the top 50 most clutch players in NHL history?
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50. Brad Richards
Brad Richards isn't a player who immediately pops to mind when thinking of clutch players, but his performance in the 2004 playoffs was the stuff of legends.
Richards set an NHL record with seven game-winning goals during Tampa Bay's run to the Stanley Cup. He was deservedly rewarded with the Conn Smythe Trophy.
49. Mel Hill
Mel Hill was a right winger for the Boston Bruins in the 1930s and 1940s. He earned the nickname "Sudden Death" by scoring three overtime winners in a series in 1939, en route to a Cup win by the Bruins.
48. Tom Barrasso
Goalie Tom Barrasso anchored the Pittsburgh Penguins through back-to-back Stanley Cup wins in 1991 and 1992. During the 1992 and 1993 playoffs, Barrasso set an NHL record that still stands with 14 consecutive playoff wins.
Barrasso was also clutch as a rookie in 1984, winning the Calder and Vezina trophies.
47. Sidney Crosby
The Pittsburgh Penguins' captain already has a trophy case boasting an Art Ross, Hart, Rocket Richard, Lester B. Pearson and a Stanley Cup. He is the youngest captain to ever win a Stanley Cup.
He's fourth all-time in playoff points per game, behind only Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux and Barry Pederson.
To top it off, Crosby scored the "Golden Goal" in sudden death overtime to give Canada the Olympic Gold medal in Vancouver in 2010.
Watch for Crosby to move well up this list as his career continues.
46. Cam Ward
In his first career trip to the Stanley Cup Playoffs, Cam Ward led the Carolina Hurricanes to their first Cup victory with a Conn Smythe-winning performance.
In his only other trip to the playoffs, Ward helped the Canes upset the heavily-favorited New Jersey Devils and Boston Bruins to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals.
45. Grant Fuhr
As the backbone of the 1980s Edmonton Oilers, Grant Fuhr was often left to fend for himself while everyone else played offense.
Fuhr was famous for making the big save at the right time, which allowed the Oilers' potent offense to take over the game/series.
44. Jonathan Toews
When the Chicago Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup last season, Jonathan Toews became the second-youngest captain to ever win the Stanley Cup.
Toews also won the Conn Smythe as playoff MVP. Earlier that season, Toews was named the Olympic tournament's top forward.
In 2007, Toews became famous for scoring three times in three chances in a shootout in the World Junior Hockey Championship.
43. Raymond Bourque
For 21 years, Raymond Bourque and the Boston Bruins were one and the same. He led the Bruins to the Stanley Cup finals in 1988 and 1990, but they were beaten by the Edmonton Oilers dynasty both years.
Bourque was traded to Colorado in 2000, and in 2001, he won his first Stanley Cup in his final NHL game.
42. Johnny Bucyk
Johnny Bucyk is another player who represented the black-and-gold for more than 20 years. Bucyk was a key component of the Boston Bruins' Stanley Cup victories in 1970 and 1972, scoring 39 points in 29 games.
Bucyk still owns the Bruins' all-time record for goals scored with 545.
41. Glenn Anderson
Glenn Anderson was an instrumental supporting player in the Edmonton Oilers' five Stanley Cup wins. He then went on to win a sixth Stanley Cup with the New York Rangers in 1994.
Anderson scored five career playoff overtime winning goals, third all-time (behind Joe Sakic and Rocket Richard). He also had 17 playoff game-winning goals, good for fifth all-time.
40. Henrik Zetterberg
Henrik Zetterberg is one of the most clutch players in the game today. In the last four playoff seasons, Zetterberg has 80 points in 75 games, including a Conn Smythe Trophy.
Zetterberg's also part of the Triple Gold Club, having won a Stanley Cup, Olympic Gold and a World Championship.
39. Brian Leetch
Defenseman Brian Leetch is one of the best offensive defensemen ever. He's one of five D-men to ever score 100 points in a season.
What makes him clutch, though, is his performance in 1994. Leetch scored 34 points in 23 games, en route to helping the New York Rangers break a 54 year Stanley Cup drought. Leetch was given the Conn Smythe Trophy for his performance.
Leetch finished his career with a playoff points-per-game above one.
38. Jean-Sebastien Giguere
Jean-Sebastien Giguere was fantastic in 2007 when he won his first career Stanley Cup, but what gets him on this list is his performance in 2003.
Giguere led the Western Conference's seventh-seeded Mighty Ducks of Anaheim (before the name lost the "Mighty") within a game of the Stanley Cup, despite not having a single player post eight goals or 14 points.
Giguere had 1.62 goals-against-average and a .945 save percentage, along with five shutouts, in one of the most impressive playoff goaltending performances ever.
37. Yvan Cournoyer
Yvan "The Roadrunner" Cournoyer is tied for second in NHL history with 10 Stanley Cup wins. 1973 was his best year in the playoffs. He scored 15 goals and 10 assists in 17 games to win a Conn Smythe Trophy.
Cournoyer is also one of only two Montreal Canadiens to win the Stanley Cup in every season in which he was captain.
36. Larry Robinson
"Big Bird" made the playoffs in 20 consecutive seasons as a player, which included him winning six Stanley Cups and one Conn Smythe Trophy.
Larry Robinson's Conn Smythe Trophy came in 1978 when he scored 21 points in 15 games.
Robinson also played well in several Canada Cups.
35. Jaromir Jagr
"Mini Mario" was picked in the 1990 NHL Entry Draft. He had an immediate impact, posting 13 and 24 playoff points while winning back-to-back Stanley Cups.
Jaromir Jagr hasn't won another Stanley Cup since then, but he has become a member of the Triple Gold Club (Stanley Cup, Olympics, World Championship) and has moved to 11th place in all-time playoff points.
34. Phil Esposito
Phil Esposito was instrumental to the Boston Bruins' Stanley Cup victories in 1970 and 1972, as well as to Canada's 1972 Summit Series win.
Esposito put up 137 career playoff points in 130 games.
33. Martin Brodeur
Martin Brodeur just wins, plain and simple. He's won three Stanley Cups, two Olympic gold medals and four Vezina Trophies.
Brodeur is second in NHL history in playoff wins and is tied for first in career playoff shutouts.
32. Jacques Lemaire
Jacques Lemaire won eight Stanley Cups in 12 seasons with the Montreal Canadiens, including four straight in his final four NHL seasons.
Lemaire is one of only six players in NHL history to score two Stanley Cup-winning goals.
31. Scott Stevens
Scott Stevens wasn't clutch in the prototypical way of scoring a big goal at an important time. It was his style of play that made him clutch.
Stevens' monstrous hits would change the momentum of a game and a series. The most remembered one was on Eric Lindros, and essentially destroyed his career.
Stevens captained three Stanley Cup-winning teams, and was awarded one Conn Smythe.
30. Dominik Hasek
If you could choose only one goaltender in history for a single game, it might well be Dominik Hasek. Hasek only won one Stanley Cup as a starter, but it could have easily been more if he hadn't spent his prime with the Buffalo Sabres.
Hasek did win six Vezinas and two Hart Trophies (only goalie to ever do that). He also had one of the great performances ever in the 1998 Winter Olympics, posting a 0.97 goals-against-average and a .961 save percentage while helping the Czech Republic claim an unexpected gold medal.
29. Billy Smith
Billy Smith starred as the goalie of the New York Islanders during their dynasty in the early 1980s.
During the Isles' final Cup win in the 1982-1983 season, he allowed only six goals in a four-game sweep of the Edmonton Oilers—a team that included Wayne Gretzky, Jari Kurri, Mark Messier and Paul Coffey.
He won the Conn Smythe Trophy for his efforts.
28. Jacques Plante
Jacques Plante led the Montreal Canadiens to five straight Stanley Cups from 1956 to 1960, and he's arguably the greatest goalie in Canadiens' history.
Plante was the first goalie to wear a mask, the first to play the puck outside his crease and the first to yell to his defensemen as a warning of tight coverage. He revolutionized the way the position is played.
27. Jari Kurri
Many consider Jari Kurri as "Wayne Gretzky's wingman," but he was much more than that. Kurri was one of the best defensive forwards in the NHL, while still scoring at a ridiculous rate.
In the 1985 playoffs, Kurri scored 19 goals, tying the all-time record for goals in a playoff season. He set another record that playoff season, scoring four hat-tricks en route to his second of five career Stanley Cup wins.
26. Al MacInnis
Al MacInnis' performances in the 1986 and 1989 playoffs are almost the only reasons that the 1980s Edmonton Oilers aren't considered the best team ever, outright.
MacInnis led the Calgary Flames past the Oilers in both seasons, with 1986 resulting in a Cup Finals loss to Montreal, and 1989 resulting in the Flames' only Stanley Cup in franchise history.
MacInnis became the first defenseman to ever lead the playoffs in scoring with 31 points, and was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy.
MacInnis didn't win another Cup, but was a central figure on the blueline for Team Canada's Olympic gold medal-winning team in 2002.
25. Joe Nieuwendyk
Joe Nieuwendyk is one of only 10 players to ever win a Stanley Cup on three different teams. He's also in an extremely small sample of players to win the Cup in three different decades.
Nieuwendyk also won a Conn Smythe as a member of the Dallas Stars in 1999.
24. Jack Darragh
If you don't know who Jack Darragh is, don't be surprised. The farthest-back player on this list, Darragh played for the Ottawa Senators from 1910 to 1924.
Darragh won four Stanley Cups overall, including three in four years from 1920 to 1923. Most impressively, Darragh had back-to-back Cup-winning goals in 1920 and 1921.
Unfortunately, he died shortly after the end of the 1923-24 season due to a ruptured appendix.
23. Brett Hull
Brett Hull could almost always find a way to score when he needed to. His most famous goal was, arguably, the most disputed Stanley Cup-winning goal in NHL history.
In Game 6 of the Stanley Cup finals in 1999, Hull scored in triple overtime to give the Dallas Stars the Cup, but replays showed his skate in the crease. At the time, a skate in the crease should have nullified the goal unless the player entered the crease with control of the puck, which is debatable.
The goal counted, and Hull got his first Cup. He won a second Cup in 2002 with Detroit, as part of the "Two Kids and a Goat" line, comprising he, Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg.
22. Guy Lafleur
Guy "Flower"/"Le Demon Blond" Lafleur was one of the greatest players in Montreal Canadiens history. He led the Habs to five Stanley Cups in eight years, including four straight from 1976 to 1979.
Lafleur won a Conn Smythe Trophy in 1977, and finished his career with over a point-per-game in the playoffs.
21. Terry Sawchuk
Terry Sawchuk is arguably the greatest goalie to ever play in the NHL. Sawchuk won four career Stanley Cups (three with Detroit, one with Toronto), and was incredible in the victories.
In his first Cup-winning playoffs, Sawchuk allowed only five goals in eight games.
20. Steve Yzerman
Referred to in Detroit as simply "The Captain," Steve Yzerman is one of the greatest players of all time. He led the Red Wings to three Stanley Cups in six years, including winning a Conn Smythe Trophy in 1998. Yzerman ranks ninth all-time in playoff points with 185.
Yzerman also played a key role on gold medal-winning Team Canada at the 2002 Winter Olympics.
19. Bryan Trottier
Bryan Trottier won six career Stanley Cups–four with the New York Islanders dynasty and two with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
While with the Islanders, Trottier was often considered the best player in the world. Trottier won a Conn Smythe in the Islanders' first Cup win in 1980 for posting 29 points in 21 games.
Trottier's 184 career playoff points put him 10th-best in NHL history.
18. Reggie Leach
Reggie Leach was part of the "LCB" line in Philadelphia, where he won his only Stanley Cup championship in 1975.
However, it was Leach's playoff performance the following season that truly solidified him as one of the most clutch players ever. Leach set an NHL record by scoring 19 goals in the playoffs that season, and he became the only non-goalie to ever receive the Conn Smythe Trophy in a losing effort.
Leach's 19 goal record still stands today, although it's been matched by Jari Kurri.
17. Denis Potvin
Denis Potvin was the captain and driving force behind the New York Islanders four consecutive Stanley Cups from 1980 to 1983. Potvin scored 85 points in 78 playoff games over the four seasons while playing very physical and sound defense.
Potvin still sits 19th in NHL history in playoff points.
16. Toe Blake
Toe Blake is often thought of as a coach more so than a player, but it was his greatness as a player that helped him become one of the best coaches of all-time.
Blake won the Hart and Art Ross trophies in 1938-39, and scored the Stanley Cup-winning goals in 1944 and 1946. He ended his career with 62 points in 57 playoff games, in an era where goals were hard to come by.
15. Henri Richard
Henri Richard wasn't the dominant force that some of the Montreal Canadiens greats have been, but he did one thing better than any of them–winning.
"The Pocket Rocket" owns the record for most Stanley Cup victories with 11. He's tied with Bill Russell of the Boston Celtics for the most championships of any player in any North American professional sport.
14. Claude Lemieux
Claude Lemieux will never be involved in a discussion about the best player ever, but his name comes up in almost any talk about the most clutch players ever.
Lemieux was the definition of clutch: "dependable in crucial situations." He only topped 70 points twice in 20 seasons, but when playoffs began, he elevated his game like few others ever could.
Lemieux won four Stanley Cups with three different teams in three different decades. He earned a Conn Smythe for his performance in New Jersey's win in 1995. Lemieux finished ninth in all-time playoff goal-scoring leaders.
13. Ken Dryden
Ken Dryden won five Stanley Cups in eight tries. He's the only NHL player to ever win the Conn Smythe Trophy prior to winning the Calder Trophy as best rookie.
Dryden only played seven full seasons in the NHL, but his dominance was virtually unparalleled. He won five Vezina Trophies in seven seasons, and was the backbone of the Montreal Canadiens dynasty in the 1970s.
Also, Dryden was in net for Canada in the 1972 Summit Series victory.
12. Howie Morenz
Howie Morenz was the first true superstar of the NHL. Morenz had two Stanley Cup-winning goals, three Cups and was the first player to ever win three Hart Trophies.
Sadly, Morenz's leg was shattered in four places in 1937, ending his career suddenly and tragically. He died six weeks later due to a coronary embolism caused by blood clots in his broken leg.
He was the first player to ever have his number retired by the Montreal Canadiens.
11. Bernie Parent
Bernie Parent was the first NHL player to ever win back-to-back Conn Smythe Trophies. His performances in the playoffs in 1974 and 1975 helped the Philadelphia Flyers claim their only two Stanley Cups in franchise history.
He won the Vezina Trophy both years as well, and in 1973-74, set a record for most wins in a season (47) that would stand until Martin Brodeur posted 48 in 2006-07.
10. Jean Beliveau
Jean Beliveau's combination of size and skill made him nearly unstoppable. He won 10 Stanley Cups in his 20 seasons in the NHL, including five as a captain.
Beliveau was also the first player to ever receive the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP. If the trophy had existed earlier in his career, he almost certainly would have won it more than once.
9. Gordie Howe
"Mr. Hockey" won four Stanley Cups in six years in the early 1950s. If the Conn Smythe Trophy had existed, he surely would have won it in 1955, when he posted nine goals and 20 points in 11 games.
Gordie Howe could, and would, do anything possible to win—whether it was scoring, hitting, passing or fighting—and he was one of the best at everything.
8. Joe Sakic
Joe Sakic is known as one of the classiest players to ever play the game, but he was also one of the most clutch. In the 1996 playoffs, Sakic scored 18 goals (one short of the record) and 34 points, en route to winning his first career Stanley Cup and Conn Smythe Trophy. He also scored six game-winning goals in those playoffs, which set a record at the time.
Sakic has also been extremely clutch in international play, winning a gold medal and being named MVP of the 2002 Winter Olympics. He's one of only two players to ever win a Stanley Cup, Olympic gold, World Championships, World Junior Championships and the World Cup of Hockey.
Perhaps the most telling moment of Sakic's career was immediately after winning his second Stanley Cup in 2001. As captain, Sakic was presented with the Cup by Gary Bettman, but rather than lifting it, he passed it directly to Ray Bourque. It further showed the class and dignity that represented Joe Sakic.
7. Mike Bossy
Mike Bossy was an absolutely dominant scoring machine for the New York Islanders' dynasty in the early 1980s. He posted 61 goals and 111 points in just 71 games while claiming four straight Stanley Cups.
Bossy earned a Conn Smythe Trophy in 1982 when he scored 17 goals and 18 assists in just 18 playoff games. It was his second of three consecutive playoffs with 17 goals—a feat no one else has ever accomplished.
Bossy sits second all-time in playoff goals-per-game, amongst all players with 30 or more games played.
6. Maurice Richard
Maurice "Rocket" Richard could score almost at will. The first player to score 50 goals in 50 games was also the first to score 500 career goals, but the Rocket got it done in the playoffs even better.
Richard won eight Stanley Cups, and would have won three or four Conn Smythe Trophies if it had existed. Richard was the biggest star of the 1956-60 Montreal Canadiens team that won five consecutive Stanley Cups.
Richard still sits eighth all-time in playoff goals, 51 years after his last game.
5. Mark Messier
Mark Messier's most famous moment of clutch came in before Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals in 1994. Down 3-2 in the series, Messier publicly guaranteed his New York Rangers would win that game. He backed it up with a natural hat trick that overcame a two-goal deficit and forced a deciding Game 7.
The Rangers won Game 7, advancing to the Stanley Cup finals where Messier scored the Cup-winning goal, making him the only player to ever captain two different teams to the Stanley Cup.
Messier also won five Cups with the Edmonton Oilers, including a Conn Smythe Trophy-winning performance in 1983-84.
4. Mario Lemieux
Arguably the most naturally talented player ever, Mario Lemieux was as clutch as they come. Lemieux put up 78 points in 38 games in the playoffs in 1991 and 1992, helping the Pittsburgh Penguins win back-to-back Stanley Cups.
Mario is one of only two players to ever win back-to-back Conn Smythe Trophies (the other is Bernie Parent). Lemieux also has the highest playoff goals-per-game in NHL history (of anyone with more than 30 games played) with an astounding 0.710.
Lemieux is also second all-time in playoff points-per-game with 1.607, behind only Wayne Gretzky. Lemieux's 44-point performance in 1991 is the second-best single season playoff scoring performance ever.
In addition to Lemieux's Stanley Cups, one of his most clutch moments came when he scored the tournament-winning goal in the 1987 Canada Cup. He also captained Canada to gold medals at the 2002 Winter Olympics and the 2004 World Cup of Hockey.
3. Wayne Gretzky
"The Great One" didn't become great just because of his regular season scoring. Wayne Gretzky is the greatest scorer in NHL history—regular season and playoffs.
Gretzky has 87 points more than the next highest point-getter in playoff history. He has four Stanley Cups and two Conn Smythe Trophies to go along with his bounty of regular season accolades. Gretzky has the highest playoff points-per-game of anyone in NHL history at 1.837. Wayne holds 15 official NHL playoff records.
The Great One also led Team Canada to victories in the 1984, 1987 and 1991 Canada Cups.
Finally, he's got a Stanley Cup-winning goal to top it all off.
2. Bobby Orr
Bobby Orr forever changed the game of hockey. He revolutionized the way defensemen play in terms of joining the play offensively.
Orr was unbelievably clutch as well. He only won two career Stanley Cups, but on both occasions, he scored the Cup-winning goals. Orr won two Conn Smythe Trophies to accompany each of his Stanley Cup wins, and he was the first player to ever win it twice.
Orr also dominated the inaugural Canada Cup, leading Canada to victory and being named tournament MVP, while scoring nine points in seven games.
Orr's Cup-winning goal shown in the picture has become one of the most iconic images in NHL history.
1. Patrick Roy
While this list was difficult to make, putting Patrick Roy at the top was the easiest decision of the entire process. Roy is far-and-away the most clutch player in NHL history.
Roy is the only player to ever win the Conn Smythe Trophy three times. He's won four Stanley Cups, and is the only goalie to win a Cup in three different decades. Roy has won the most playoff games of any goalie in NHL history with 151. In second place is Martin Brodeur with 99. Roy also leads in career playoff shutouts.
Roy's most impressive performance came with the Montreal Canadiens in 1993. The Canadiens team wasn't expected to win the first round, let alone the Stanley Cup. The Canadiens were often outplayed, but Roy kept the team alive, forcing overtime on several occasions. The Canadiens set a record that still stands today, posting 10 consecutive overtime wins during the 1993 playoffs.
In the Stanley Cup finals, Roy was incredible. He shut down Wayne Gretzky and the Los Angeles Kings, needing only five games to help the Canadiens claim the 24th Stanley Cup in franchise history.
Follow Erik on Twitter: @ekpaul87