Why I’m Leaving Leafs Nation

Why I’m leaving Leafs Nation

Dear MLSE,

I am writing this letter to inform you I am officially leaving “Leafs Nation”. I have been a Toronto Maple Leafs fan for nearly 25 years, since the acquisition of Grant Fuhr convinced me to shed my allegiance with my grandfather’s team (the Montreal Canadiens). Although there have been some rewarding moments as a Leafs’ fan, these moments have been far outnumbered (and outweighed) by my experiences of heartache, disappointment, confusion and frustration.

Your franchise has consistently shown either a disinterest or an inability towards establishing a strong on-ice product. Part of this issue is a function of basic supply and demand, as well as competition. No matter how badly the franchise performed, the team would always sell out every home gate and continue to turn over massive amounts of merchandise and memorabilia. This was proven during the 1980s, a decade in which the Maple Leafs won just 266 out of 800 games between 1980-81 and 1989-90 (and yet suffered no measurable drop-off in attendance). Furthermore, despite multiple attempts to facilitate NHL expansion in South-Western Ontario, the closest competition is two hours away in Buffalo, NY; there is no local competition for Maple Leafs’ fans’ NHL dollars. This is in stark contrast to the Greater New York area, where three teams operate within 30-40 miles of one another (each of whom have won at least once Stanley Cup in the past 25 years).

The last time the Toronto Maple Leafs had a clear leadership structure and organizational philosophy was the early 1990s. Cliff Fletcher was entrusted as the guardian of the on-ice product, with Pat Burns as his field marshal. Astute trading and a veteran team that bought into Burns’ team- and defense-first philosophy allowed the team to capture lightning in a bottle, making it within one game of the Stanley Cup Finals in 1993. However, in the 20 years since, the team has failed to build any sustainable momentum. The Leafs have continued to try to simply add veteran players in several failed attempts to “get over the hump”, whether that hump was becoming a true Stanley Cup contender or simply squeezing into a playoff spot to get a few lucrative playoff gates. There has never been a focus on establishing a dynamic core of players in (or on the verge of) their prime playing years at the same time, supplemented by veteran/character/role players. The closest the franchise has come to this pivot point was the acquisition of Mats Sundin, a brilliant move despite the cries of outrage from a fanbase at the loss of Wendel Clark. But Sundin was never surrounded with a quality supporting cast, and his talents were largely squandered.

For a franchise with limitless resources, there has been virtually no investment in the infrastructure that develops and reinforces the team’s talent pipeline. As a result, the team has a track record that demonstrates its inability to identify and develop high-calibre talent. Since 1992, the Maple Leafs have had 17 first-round draft choices. Just five have played in at least 400 NHL games: Kenny Jonsson, Nik Antropov, Brad Boyes, Alex Steen and Luke Schenn. Of those five, just two (Antropov and Schenn) have spent the bulk of their playing careers with the Maple Leafs. And that ignores the six seasons where the team didn’t even have a first round pick (including three where Toronto didn’t make a selection until the third round).

It would be one thing if, despite the lack of sustained team success, that there was at least the entertainment of having top-flight NHL talent to rally around. Mats Sundin was arguably the most talented Maple Leaf player of this generation, and is the franchise’s all-time leading scorer. But he did this DESPITE the talent around him, not because of it. The list of Sundin’s sub-par wingers could fill a book: Jonas Hoglund, Mikael Renberg, Sergei Berezin, etc. He never once had another player of his calibre on the team at the same time. Alexander Mogilny came the closest, but was unfortunately at the tail end of his career when he arrived in Toronto; his productivity and playing time were both limited as a result. Even sad-sack franchises like the Atlanta Thrashers, New York Islanders and Florida Panthers have at some point had elite-level talent that their fan bases could cheer: Kovalchuk/Heatley, Tavares, Bure/Luongo.

While the team seems aware of its limited success at the Entry Draft, the solution in the past has largely been to paper over any gaps with veteran free agents, rather than reinvesting in scouting and development. While this has worked occasionally (see Curtis Joseph, Steve Thomas), there have been far more misses than hits. Especially in the Salary Cap era, these ill-conceived deals have hamstrung the Leafs’ ability to acquire and retain core talent. The signings of Unrestricted Free Agents David Clarkson, Mike Komisarek, Jeff Finger and Jason Blake were all ineffective and all ate up valuable cap space that prevented the team from improving. Furthermore, expensive extensions to players who no longer fit at the start of the Salary Cap era (such as Ed Belfour and Darcy Tucker) immediately put the team in a poor position to capitalize on the new fiscal realities of the new NHL. I believe Darcy Tucker’s buyout is STILL on the team’s books, and he hasn’t played for Toronto since 2008 (or in the NHL since 2010). By comparison, the Boston Bruins only had nine players under contract when the 2004-05 lockout ended, and they have won nine playoff series in the past eight seasons (including a Stanley Cup victory in 2010).

Since the 2004-05 lockout, the Toronto Maple Leafs have had two major failings. The first has been its goaltending. The Maple Leafs had an embarrassment of riches in net for many years: Grant Fuhr, Felix Potvin, Curtis Joseph and Ed Belfour. But when Belfour’s time as an elite goaltender wound down, there was no successions planning. Andrew Raycroft was acquired from Boston in a terrible trade that cost the team Tuuka Rask. The trade looks even worse in light of later revelations that the Bruins originally wanted Justin Pogge, and were on the verge of releasing Raycroft.  Raycroft’s failings then led to a panicked pick-up of Vesa Toskala from San Jose, costing the team a first round pick that could have been 30-goal scorer Logan Couture. Toronto doubled down and signed Toskala to a contract extension before he even played a single game for Toronto. He spent just two-and-a-half seasons in Toronto, with his lasting legacy being a 200-foot goal allowed against the Islanders in 2008.  The end result of Toronto’s failings in the evaluation of goaltending talent is that 18 different goaltenders have worn the Maple Leaf jersey since the 2004-05 lockout (vs. 12 for the Bruins).

Toronto’s other major failing has been a misguided faith in players to be more than what they are. Some players are signed to lengthy contracts to keep them in Toronto despite their not being a long-term fit. Others are given clauses to limit or outright prohibit Toronto’s ability to move them despite a lack of a pedigree indicating these players deserve such clauses (see Bryan McCabe, Pavel Kubina and Darcy Tucker). Toronto has suffered from over-enthusiasm about its players, both in terms of its management and its fanbase. Players are signed to contract extensions before their talents (and fit) have been properly evaluated (e.g. Toskala, John-Michael Liles). Others are held onto long after their trade value has peaked, or re-acquired to satiate fan demands to see past-their-prime favourites return for another tour of duty (e.g. Wendel Clark, Curtis Joseph). While sentimentality has a time and a place, that time and place is on a winning franchise that can afford to bend its rules when the situation allows.

The Toronto Maple Leafs are not the Detroit Red Wings, the class of the NHL over the past 20 years. They are not the Chicago Blackhawks or Boston Bruins, former Original Six rivals who have built cores of sublime talent and are able to adjust to the confines of the salary cap efficiently and effectively. They are not the Pittsburgh Penguins or Tampa Bay Lightning, with world-class talent to entertain the fan base even when Stanley Cup success isn’t forthcoming. The Toronto Maple Leafs are a franchise that has not won a Stanley Cup since there were just six NHL teams. The Leafs are a team that hasn’t won a playoff series since 2004, and has only made it to the Stanley Cup Semi-Finals five times since 1967 (never making it to the Finals).

I want to make a comparison to help better explain my sentiment here. Let’s assume the Maple Leafs manufactured cars. These cars have a style that makes them timeless, but they get poor mileage and are unreliable, often breaking down on long trips. They certainly don’t run as long or as well as our neighbours’ cars (i.e. Montreal, Detroit). And yet I keep buying and driving these cars because it’s what I’ve always used; because my family used these cars; and because everyone I know drive these cars, even though no one really ENJOYS driving these cars. And the manufacturer has no interest in improving these cars, because they always sell well, especially when it comes to merchandising. So why in the world should I buy this car again?

Your franchise has failed in every measure as a hockey team except for the one that has mattered most to every Maple Leafs’ owner, from Ballard to Stavro to MLSE: profits. The on-ice product is irrelevant, and cash is king; this mindset has been proven time and again, never more than when ownership declined to sign Wayne Gretzky in the late 1990s because they didn’t want to add his salary and ticket sales were already at capacity. But the most maddening aspect of all is that everyone in this franchise from the top down on through to the fanbase is willing to accept mediocrity with a shrug and “well, we’ll try again next year”. The team has collapsed in epic and ugly fashion three years in a row, and yet its players are celebrated as celebrities and heroes.

I am done with this perpetual cycle of disappointment and failure. I am done investing my emotions, my time and my money in a team that fails to reward this investment in any measurable fashion. And I will not subject my four-year-old son to a lifetime of defending himself as a Leafs fan, when the team does NOTHING to provide him with on-ice success or an individual player’s glory to grab hold of. I am officially terminating my membership in Leafs’ Nation. Don’t worry, I won’t cheer for the Canadiens… that wouldn’t be fair to either of us. But I will begin searching for another team to cheer for. I’ll look you up the next time you make the playoffs to see how you are doing, but otherwise I will no longer be a supporter of your team until you are able to give me a reason to be.

Thank you,
Jason Taylor

NHL All-Decade Team: 1990s Ottawa Senators

This is part of a series detailing the all-decade team for every NHL franchise for the 1990s.  The all-time teams were compiled using a mix of skill, longevity and statistics; it is not necessarily the best, most memorably or most talented players.  Instead, this is the list of players by each position who had the best numbers over a prolonged period (i.e. at least three full seasons between 1990-91 and 1999-00) during the regular season.

90s - Ottawa

Team: Ottawa Senators (1992-93 to 1999-00)
01-346-79, .384 WIN PCT, 1,613 GF, 2,080 GA, -467 Diff, 4/8 Playoff Appearances, 0 Stanley Cups
There is only one way to summarize Ottawa during their first four years in the NHL: they STUNK.  They lost 70 games in ’92-93, and then followed that up with 61 the following year.  They won just 51 games out of 298 between ’92-93 and ’95-96: their 125 points gave them a paltry win percentage of just 21.0%.  Their goal differential was a horrid -546.  They improved over the next four seasons (’96-97 to ’99-00), posting 103 points in ’98-99.   During that four-year stretch, they had a record of 150-120-56, good for a win percentage of 54.6% and a +79 goal differential.  Overall though, their growing pains dragged them down: Ottawa’s win percentage for the decade was 38.4%, ranking 24th out of 26 teams that played at least four seasons during the 1990s.  Only San Jose and Tampa Bay were worse.  Ottawa’s offense was brutal: they scored just 2.58 goals per game, ranking 25th (ahead of Tampa Bay).  Their defense was marginally better, allowing 3.32 goals against per game (ranking 22nd).  And their goal differential of -467 also ranked 24th in the NHL.  They definitely improved, cutting their goals allowed almost in half from seasons 1-4 (~4.22) through to seasons 5-8 (~2.51).  And by the end of the decade, they had set themselves up as a perennial contender.  But boy oh boy did they ever STINK early on!

90s OTT LW Shawn McEachern

Left Wing: Shawn McEachern (292 GP, 95-91-186, +6, 130 PIM, 14 GWG)
Shawn McEachern was a brilliant acquisition by the Ottawa Senators.  At a rather modest cost of Trent McCleary and a 3rd Round Pick, Ottawa gained their true offensive threat on the left wing: a three-time 20-goal scorer who was just entering his prime playing years.  He started slowly, posting 11 goals and 31 points with a -5 rating in 65 games during ’96-97.  But in each of the next three seasons he averaged 28 goals and 52 points, including a high mark of 31 goals in ’98-99.  What’s more, his +/- rating was positive in each season.  He also chipped in 25 powerplay goals during that time, and had at least 200 shots on goal for three straight seasons.  Of his 95 goals for Ottawa in the 90s, a healthy 15% (14 goals) were game-winners.

90s OTT C Alexei Yashin

Centre: Alexei Yashin (422 GP, 178-225-403, -69, 192 PIM, 21 GWG)
While his departure from Ottawa was overwhelmingly negative, and his contract squabbles were a constant headache for the organization, he was (and arguably still remains) the best pure offensive talent the Senators have ever had.  I wouldn’t call him the greatest player in Senators’ history, that honour belongs to Daniel Alfredsson: but Yashin is likely the most talented.  Yashin played six seasons for Ottawa during the 1990s, four of them full seasons.  During those four, he scored at least 30 goals and 72 points per year, hitting highs of 44 goals and 94 points in ’99-00.  Between the lockout and injuries, he played 93 games between ’94-95 and ’95-96, but still scored 36 goals and 83 points.  So he was remarkably consistent for the entire decade.  His +/- was an ugly -49 in ’93-94, but he improve each season after that by at least +5, going from -20 in ’94-95 to +16 in ’98-99. He was a constant threat in the offensive zone, firing 290 or more shots three times, and scoring 64 powerplay goals.  However, his 21 game-winning goals account for just 9% of his total, a fact only partially explained by the early/weak Senators squads he played for.  While the relationship between Yashin and the Senators’ (both the team and fanbase) went south, there is no denying he was the team’s first impact player, and an offensive dynamo.

90s OTT RW Daniel Alfredsson

Right Wing: Daniel Alfredsson (328 GP, 99-170-269, +13, 118 PIM, 16 GWG)
While Yashin was arguably more talented, “Alfie” was inarguably the team’s heart-and-soul.   He scored an impressive 26 goals and 61 points as a rookie, then added 24 goals and 71 points in ’96-’97.  Injuries limited his playing time and slowed his productivity: he played 113 games over the next two years, scoring 28 goals and 78 points.  Injuries kept coming in ’99-00, but he still rebounded to score 21 goals and 59 points in 51 games.  His +/- was positive four times in five years, he had a fair amount of powerplay goals (33), and hit 200+ shots on net in his two full seasons.  He was also clutch, with his 16 game-winning goals representing 16% of his total during the 1990s.  And the best was yet to come, as Ottawa fans saw during the 2000s.

90s OTT D Wade Redden

Defense: Wade Redden (315 GP, 32-85-117, +24, 171 PIM, 6 GWG)
Wade Redden was a remarkably consistent and talented two-way defenseman for Ottawa.  He scored 6-10 goals in each of his four seasons during the 90s, and had 29-36 points three times (the only outlier being 22 points in ’97-98).  His +/- was a little up and down, but he was positive three times in four years.  He also fired 100+ shots on goal each season, chipping in 2-3 powerplay markers each year.  He still remains one of the best defenders in Senators’ history.

90s OTT D Jason York

Defense: Jason York (306 GP, 19-83-102, +14, 237 PIM, 1 GWG)
Honourable Mention to Steve Duchesne, Norm Maciver
Norm Maciver was a terrific offensive talent; he even led the Senators in scoring in ’92-93.  But his +/- was horrendous, and I don’t think he had much of a physical game.  Steve Duchesne was the single best acquisition the Senators made in their first decade: he immediately provided Ottawa with a steady veteran presence and tremendous offensive skills.  It is no coincidence that Ottawa began making the playoffs after he arrived.  However, Ottawa dealt him after just two seasons (for Igor Kravchuk), meaning I can’t include him on the list (players had to have a 3+ season run to qualify).  So Jason York gets the nod.  York started out so-so for Ottawa, with a 21-point, -8 +/- season in ’96-97.  He scored 16 points the next year, but improved to +8.  Then he really found his groove: he scored 35 and 30 points respectively over the next two seasons, going +17 in ’98-99 (although he was -3 in ’99-00).  He was a responsible defenseman who could chip in offensively, as attested to by his long NHL career.

90s OTT G Ron Tugnutt

Goalie: Ron Tugnutt (166 GP, 72-51-25, 13 SO, 2.32 GAA, 0.906 PCT)
Ron Tugnutt was a fan favourite in Ottawa.  He had the misfortune of largely playing for poor teams (the Quebec Nordiques and Edmonton Oilers in the early 90s, the freshly-created Anaheim Mighty Ducks), but always managed to prove he was an NHL-calibre netminder.  He arrived in Ottawa and split the goaltending duties with Damien Rhodes for three seasons, but Tugnutt’s stats stood out more than Rhodes’.  Tugnutt was .500 or better in each of his four seasons, he twice posted a save percentage above .900 (with a high of .925 in ’98-99), and his GAA was 2.25 or better twice (including 1.79 in ’98-99).  He also added 3-4 shutouts a year.

NHL All-Decade Team: 1990s New York Rangers

This is part of a series detailing the all-decade team for every NHL franchise for the 1990s.  The all-time teams were compiled using a mix of skill, longevity and statistics; it is not necessarily the best, most memorably or most talented players.  Instead, this is the list of players by each position who had the best numbers over a prolonged period (i.e. at least three full seasons between 1990-91 and 1999-00) during the regular season.

Team: New York Rangers (1990-91 to 1999-00)
360-321-105, .525 WIN PCT, 2,522 GF vs. 2,356 GA, +166 Diff, 6/10 Playoff Appearances, 1 Stanley Cup

The 1994 New York Rangers are one of the most fondly remembered hockey teams of the decade.  The NHL’s popularity was (arguably) at an all-time high, the game had yet to descend into the Dead Puck Era, Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux were still playing incredible hockey, and the Rangers were led by Mark Messier and his famous playoff guarantee.  That one season alone helped make up for more than 50 years of wandering the desert (and 20 years since).  The Rangers opened the decade with a decent 85-point season, losing in the first round.  And then Mark Messier was brought to the Big Apple from the Edmonton Oilers.  Messier led the team to a 105-point season in ’91-92, finishing first overall: Messier won the Hart as league MVP and Brian Leetch won the Norris as the league’s best defenseman.  But the team lost in the second round to Lemieux’s Penguins.  The Rangers stumbled and missed the playoffs the following year, but then rebounded with a 112-point season that saw them finish first overall and win the Stanley Cup in a thrilling seven-game series with the Vancouver Canucks.  Overall during Messier’s run with the team in the 1990s, the team had a 57.1% win percentage and +206 goal differential.  They made the playoffs five times in six years, and made it to at least the second round each time: they won nine playoff series during those five appearances.  But after Messier left (going to Vancouver as a free agent), the Rangers regressed, posting a 44.3% win percentage and -72 differential, missing the playoffs all three seasons.  Overall during the 1990s, the Rangers’ 52.5% win percentage was middle-of-the-pack: they ranked 12th out of 26 teams that played at least four seasons during the 1990s.  The Rangers were strong offensively: they averaged 3.21 goals for per game, which ranked 6th in the league.  However, their defense was quite average: they allowed 3.00 goals against per game, ranked 12th.  Their goal differential of +166 ranked well though, putting them 9th for the decade.  The NHL always seems to be healthier when the Rangers are a team to be reckoned with, which was definitely the case for most of the decade.  And the fanbase will always have memories of the 1994 Cup win to keep them happy.

Left Wing: Adam Graves (690 GP, 270-211-481, +22, 733 PIM, 35 GWG)
I don’t think there is another player in the modern history of the NHL who is as tied to a single successful season as Adam Graves.  In ’93-94, Graves tallied 52 goals and 79 points along with a +27 rating, 20 PPG, 4 SHG and 4 GWG on 291 shots.  He was a key contributor as the Rangers won the cup, and he played in that year’s All-Star game.  He also made the NHL’s Second All-Star Team, and won the King Clancy Memorial Trophy for exemplifying leadership on and off the ice.  He was a solid winger in the rest of the 1990s for New York, but certainly not an All-Star (he never played in another All-Star game).  Aside from his 52-goal effort, he had three seasons of 30+ goals, and four seasons of 20+ (he also had 17 in 47 games during the shortened ’94-95 season).  He had three 60+ point seasons (including his 79-point effort), and three others of 50+.  His worst full season was a 23-goal, 35-point season in ’97-98.  He was always a special teams threat: he scored 9+ powerplay goals eight seasons in a row, totally 99 overall.  He also hit the 4 shorthanded-goal mark three times, scoring 16 in total.  And he had 4+ game-winning goals five times, finishing with 24 (13% of his total).  On top of his offensive skills (he had 200+ shots on goal seven times, and had two others in the 185-194 range), he was also a physical player: he posted 100+ PIM four times in five years to open the decade.  He then became more disciplined, falling from 66 to the 40s to 14 in the final year of the 90s (’99-00).  Graves was a fan favourite and a talented power forward, who will always be immortalized by his (and the team’s) success in the ’93-94 season.

Centre: Mark Messier (421 GP, 183-335-518, +99, 474 PIM, 29 GWG)
Mark Messier is arguably the most popular New York Rangers player of all-time.  He was acquired from the Edmonton Oilers prior to the ’91-92 season in a steal of a deal: the Rangers got Messier and future considerations for Bernie Nicholls, Steven Rice and Louie DeBrusk… and the future considerations became Jeff Beukeboom (in exchange for Edmonton getting David Shaw) six weeks later.  Messier was an instant smash in New York: he scored 35 goals and 107 points along with a +31 rating in ’91-92.  He won the Hart Trophy (as league MVP) and Lester B. Pearson Award (MVP as voted by the players), and finished on the First All-Star Team.  While those would be the last individual awards he would win, he remained the premier impact player on the Rangers in the 1990s.  During his six-year run, he scored 35+ goals three times, including a high of 47 in ’95-96.  He scored 90+ points four three times, and had a pair of 84 point seasons.  His low was 53 points; but that was over 46 games in the shortened ’94-95 season, which translates into 94 points over an 82-game schedule.  His +/- was only negative once (-6 in ’92-93), and +25 or better three times.  He scored an impressive 49 powerplay goals, with two seasons in the 12-14 range.  He also contributed 17 shorthanded markers, with a high of 5 in ’96-97.  And he was clutch, scoring 5+ game-winning goals four times (maxing out at 9 in ’96-97).  In total, his 29 GWG represented a healthy 16% of his goal total.  He also had 200+ shots on goal in each of his five full seasons (and his 126 in ’94-95 is a 200+ pace as well).  He played in four of five possible All-Star games: ’92, ’94, ’96 and ’97 (there was no All-Star game in ’95, so the only one he missed was ’93).  And of course he captained the Rangers to the 1994 Stanley Cup, with his famous guaranteed win over the New Jersey Devils in the Conference Finals.  Unfortunately, Messier left New York after the ’96-97 season as a free agent; both Messier (with the Vancouver Canucks) and the Rangers suffered, missing the playoffs in each of the next three seasons.  Messier returned to New York prior to the ’00-01 season, but failed to make the playoffs in any of his final four NHL season, and he retired after the ’04-05 lockout (just before the ’05-06 season).

I personally believe his reputation as the greatest Captain in league history is overblown: he was unable to lead Vancouver to any measurable success in the late 90s, and the Rangers failed both after his departure and after his return.  However, I do acknowledge that he played an instrumental role in the Rangers becoming a league powerhouse in the early 1990s, and he captained one of the most memorable Stanley Cup championship teams in the modern era.  And there is no debating Messier’s Hall of Fame credentials: he is one of the all-time greats, and bar none the greatest forward New York had in the 1990s.

Right Wing: Mike Gartner (310 GP, 162-108-270, +9, 225 PIM, 17 GWG)
Mike Gartner spent his NHL career doing one thing: scoring lots and lots of goals.  He unfortunately JUST missed out on a Stanley Cup ring with the Rangers in 1994: he was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs in a deal that reunited Glenn Anderson with many ex-Oilers on the Rangers (including Messier, Graves and Beukeboom).  Gartner scored 40+ goals in each of ’90-91, ’91-92 and ’92-93.  His production was down slightly in ’93-94, but he still managed 28 goals in 71 games.  He wasn’t a huge point-producer: he only once had more than 24 assists in a season, and only once had more than 70 points (81 in ’91-92).  But he was a blazingly fast skater with a cannon of a shot: he averaged 279 shots on goal per season with New York in the 1990s.  His 17 game-winning goals were a decent 10% of his goal total, but he was killer on the powerplay: he had 10+ PPG each year (topping out at 22 in ’90-91), and he finished with 60 PPG.  One of the great offensive right wingers of his era: he scored 30+ goals fifteen seasons in a row, interrupted only by the ’94-95 lockout: he then added two more 30+ goal seasons afterwards.  He never won a Cup, but there is no doubting his abilities as one of the best pure goal scorers in NHL history.

Defense: Brian Leetch (700 GP, 148-492-640, +41, 343 PIM, 24 GWG)
Brian Leetch was born to play for the New York Rangers.  Never mind the 1990s, Brian Leetch might be the greatest defenseman in Rangers’ history.  He played the entire decade in New York, and only had two seasons where he missed more than six games.  He won the Norris as the league’s Best Defenseman in ’92 and ’97, finishing on the First All-Star Team in each of those seasons.  He also placed on the Second All-Star Team in ’91, ’94 and ’96, meaning he was one of the four best defensemen in the NHL five times in seven seasons.  That is elite-level status.  He also won the Conn Smythe as Playoff MVP when the Rangers won the Stanley Cup in 1994.

On top of that, he played in six of a possible nine All-Star games with the Rangers, and two of his missed years coincided with significant time lost due to injury.  Leetch was a premier offensive defenseman: he had five seasons of at least 78 points, including a high of 102 in ’91-92 (he was on pace for 70 points if he played a full season in ’94-95).  He scored 20+ goals three times, and had 13-17 on four other occasions.  He fired a TON of pucks on net: he had 200+ shots six times, and had two others seasons just over 180.  He was tremendously effective with the man advantage: half of his goals (72 out of 148) came on the powerplay.  He was also solid in the clutch, with his 24 game-winning goals accounting for 16% of his total.  He was a disciplined player, only once posting more than 42 penalty minutes in a season (67 in ’93-94).  He was also defensively responsible, posting a +25 or better +/- rating three times.  He DID struggle as the team slid in the late 1990s though: he was an ugly -36 in ’97-98, and was -59 overall ‘from ’97-98 to ’99-00 (after going +100 from ’90-91 to ’96-97).  He was one of the best defenseman in the league during the 1990s, and deserves every accolade and award that came his way.

Defense: Jeff Beukeboom (520 GP, 18-72-90, +63, 1,157 PIM, 1 GWG)
Honourable Mention to James Patrick and Sergei Zubov
James Patrick was a solid two-way defenseman: his best Rangers’ season in the 90s saw him record 71 points and a +34 rating in ’91-92.  He was traded in the deal that brought Steve Larmer to New York, a key move that contributed to their Cup win in 1994.  Sergei Zubov  was a sophomore on the Cup-winning team: he scored 89 points and had a +20 rating.  But Patrick and Zubov both had one fantastic season, and two decent ones.  Jeff Beukeboom spent eight seasons with the Rangers in the 1990s, and he was a force to be reckoned with.  Beukeboom had a positive +/- rating six straight seasons, four times finishing in the +18 to +22 range.  He didn’t score much (he only had one seasons with more than 3 goals, and his high was 19 points), but that wasn’t his role.  His role was to clear the net and punish opposing forwards, and he did that with aplomb.  He had five seasons of 150+ PIM, including a high of 220 in ’95-96.  His physical presence allowed the Rangers’ more skilled defensemen to take risks and join the rush.  Beukeboom was a vital part of New York’s blueline for most of the decade.

Goalie: Mike Richter (530 GP, 240-200-60, 22 SO, 2.85 GAA, 0.905 PCT)
Honourable Mention to John Vanbiesbrouck
Mike Richter is possibly the most popular goaltender in Rangers’ history: he spent his entire 666-game NHL career in New York, with 530 of those games coming in the 1990s.  He was a key component of their Cup-winning team, and his penalty shot save on Pavel Bure might be his most memorable highlight.

He was on absolute fire in the mid-1990s: he also backed the U.S. to a victory over Canada in the finals of 1996 World Cup, where he was named MVP and made the All-Star team.  He also played in three NHL All-Star games during the decade (’92, ’94 and ’00).  Richter won 20+ games eight times, including a high of 42 in ’93-94.  He was also a workhorse, playing 61+ games five times.  His goals-against average was decent: from ’93-94 to ’99-00, it was typically in the 2.57 to 2.69 range.  His save percentage was weaker to open the decade, but he consistently finished above .900, and had three seasons in the .910 to .917 range.  He also chipped in a very health 22 shut-outs during his decade-long run.  His only competition during the decade was John Vanbiesbrouck, with whom he shared the crease for the first three seasons of the until “Beezer” moved to Florida (via Vancouver).  Richter is definitely the best Rangers’ goalie of the 1990s, and possibly their best of all time.

NHL All-Decade Team: 1990s New York Islanders

This is part of a series detailing the all-decade team for every NHL franchise for the 1990s.  The all-time teams were compiled using a mix of skill, longevity and statistics; it is not necessarily the best, most memorably or most talented players.  Instead, this is the list of players by each position who had the best numbers over a prolonged period (i.e. at least three full seasons between 1990-91 and 1999-00) during the regular season.

90s - New York Islanders A 90s - New York Islanders B

Team: New York Islanders (1990-91 to 1999-00)
279-410-97, .417 WIN PCT, 2,326 GF vs. 2,617 GA, -291 Diff, 2/10 Playoff Appearances, 0 Stanley Cups
The New York Islanders went through the 1980s a powerhouse and a dynasty… and they went through the 1990s as the league’s whipping boy.  They had one .500 season, and one 40-win (.518 PCT) season in ’92-93.  Otherwise, every year was below .500.  In fact, they had five seasons below .400, bottoming out with three 50-point seasons in a five-year span.  They made the playoffs just twice: they had a great run to the Conference Finals in 1993, and lost in the first round in 1994.  And as of the end of the 2012-13 season, their second-round victory over Mario Lemieux and the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1993 remains their most recent playoff victory.  Since then they have made the playoffs just six times in 19 years, and lost in the first round all six times (their best performance being a seven-game loss to the Maple Leafs in 2002).  No wonder the team is moving to Brooklyn… they’ve killed their fan base.  No fans should be expected to root for a team with such extensive mediocrity.  The Islanders sound slightly better than they were: their win percentage of 41.7% ranked 23rd out of 26 teams that played at least four seasons during the 1990s.  But the sad truth is the three teams behind them were expansion teams (San Ottawa, San Jose and Tampa Bay).  The Islanders the worst non-expansion team in the NHL by a fairly wide margin: the next-worst team (Carolina/Hartford) had a 44.4% win percentage.  The Islanders lost a staggering 410 out of 786 games: San Jose lost 399, but played one less season than New York.  The Islanders stunk at both ends of the ice.  Their offense averaged 2.96 goals for per game, ranking 20th during the decade.  And their defense allowed 3.33 goals against per game, ranked 23rd.  Ultimately their goal differential of -291 ranked 22nd, and was only marginally better than the Hurricanes/Whalers’ -296 (saving them the distinction of being the worst non-expansion team for goal differential as well).  It must have been tough watching the Islanders slide further and further into mediocrity as the glory days of the early 1980s became a more and more distant memory.  And to add insult to injury, the team is moving to Brooklyn in the near future… and yet they’ll still be called the Islanders.

 

Left Wing: Benoit Hogue (258 GP, 105-124-229, +36, 282 PIM, 14 GWG)
Honourable Mention to Derek King
Benoit Hogue came over as part of the blockbuster Pat LaFontaine-Pierre Turgeon trade with the Buffalo Sabres, and Hogue was arguably the third-best player in a deal that involved seven players (not bad at all).  Hogue immediately fit in on the left wing for the Isles, contributing three straight 30+ goal seasons (two 75-point efforts and a 69-point season in 93-94).  He also scored 22 powerplay and an impressive 13 game-winning goals during this time, but his +/- fell from +30 to +13 to -7.  He slumped badly in ’94-95, scoring just 6 goals and 10 points in 33 games before being traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs.  Whatever happened to him in ’94-95, it killed his effectiveness as an NHL player: he never again scored more than 19 goals or 43 points in an NHL season.  But three straight 30-goal seasons, with 13% of his goals counting for game-winning goals, is pretty solid.  He also had a bit of a mean streak: he had three straight seasons of at least 67 PIM, including 108 in ’92-93.  Honourable mention to Derek King, who spent seven years with New York.  He had three straight seasons of 30+ goal seasons (with a high of 40 in ’91-92) and 70+ points.  But his other four seasons were much weaker, he was heavily dependent on the powerplay (72 of his 172 goals came with the man advantage), and he was -16 (he was positive for +/- just twice in seven seasons), so Hogue gets the nod.

 

Centre: Pierre Turgeon (255 GP, 147-193-340, +9, 70 PIM, 24 GWG)
Pierre Turgeon had the misfortune of being Pat LaFontaine’s replacement, but he managed to post some great numbers and was a fantastic player for the Islanders.  He scored 38 goals and 87 points in 69 games after coming over from Buffalo.  He then exploded for 58 goals and 132 points in ’92-93, but unfortunately missed part of the ’93-94 with (if memory serves) complications from injuries suffered in an infamous cheap shot by Dale Hunter in the 1993 playoffs.  But even with missed time, he still had a 38-goal, 94-point season in ’93-94.  He slowed as the team struggled in ’94-95, scoring 27 points in 34 games before being traded to the Montreal Canadiens in a deal that netted Kirk Muller for the Islanders… who was soon traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs in a deal that ended the Islanders’ run of top-notch centres on their first line.  Turgeon scored 50 powerplay markers, including an impressive 24 PPG in ’92-93 alone.  He also had 24 game-winning goals, 16% of his total.  He had a fantastic year in ’92-93, scoring 10 game-winners alone: meaning one-quarter of the team’s 40 wins came as a result of Turgeon’s goal.  Turgeon wasn’t physical (never more than 26 PIM in a season), but he played an exciting and clean game: he won the Lady Byng as the league’s most gentlemanly player in 1993.  He also represented the Islanders at the 1993 and 1994 All-Star games.  Turgeon was always a threat on the ice, and he fired an incredible 555 shots on goal between ’92-93 and ’93-94.  His +/- was up-and-down (+8, -1, +14 and -12), but he was a consistent scorer who was always dangerous (even on the penalty kill, where he scored 6 SHG).  Turgeon was a class act and a fun player to watch.

Right Wing: Zigmund “Ziggy” Palffy (331 GP, 168-163-331, -7, 173 PIM, 19 GWG)
Honourable Mention to Steve Thomas.
Palffy is the only positional player on this list who played for the Islanders after 1995.  He had 5-game audition in ’93-94 (0 points), and a decent 10-goal, 17-point showing in ’94-95.  Then he hit his stride as the team’s offensive star.  From ’95-96 to ’97-98, he had three straight seasons of 43-48 goals and 87-90 points.  During that stretch he had 40 powerplay goals, 7 shorthanded goals and 17 game-winning goals.  He played just 50 games in ’98-99; he held out, and didn’t sign a deal until December 1998.  But he still managed to score 22 goals and 50 points.  He was dealt to the Los Angeles Kings in the offseason in a fairly blatant salary dump.  Palffy ended his tenure with a -7 rating overall: he had one good year (+21) and one bad year (-17), and his three other full seasons were all in the -6 to +3 range (not bad considering how terrible the team was).  He fired 250+ shots on goal three times, with a high of 292 in ’96-97.  He wasn’t an overly physical player, never posting more than 56 PIM in a season.  But he was exciting and able to play on all special teams: 46 PPG, 9 SHG.  Also, his 19 game-winning goals accounted for 11% of his total.  Impressive considering how bad the teams he played on were.  Plus he was one of the lone bright spots for the team offensively during the late 1990s, especially with that glorious mullet.

Honourable mention to Steve Thomas; “Stumpy” had three seasons of 70+ points, including a high of 87 in ’92-93.  He also improved his goal totals three straight seasons from 28 to 37 to 42 from ’91-92 to ’93-94.  He slumped in ’94-95, finishing with 26 points in 47 games before being dealt to New Jersey in a three-way deal that brought Wendel Clark to the Islanders.  But Palffy had better totals with weaker linemates, so Ziggy gets the spot on the list.

 

Defense: Vladimir Malakhov (166 GP, 27-98-125, +42, 171 PIM, 2 GWG)
Vladimir Malakhov spent just two-and-a-half seasons with the Islanders, but he was incredibly productive during that time.  He made the NHL All-Rookie team in 1993 on the strength of a 14-goal, 52-point effort (in just 64 games) and +14 rating.  He followed that up with a strong 10-goal, 57-point season with a +29 rating in ’93-94.  He was struggling but still performing somewhat well in ’94-95, scoring 16 points along with a -1 rating in 26 games before he was traded to Montreal in the Turgeon-Muller deal.  Malakhov was strong with the man advantage, scoring 12 of his 27 goals on the powerplay.  He also appeared to be developing an edge to his play: he went from 59 PIM in ’92-93 to 80 PIM in ’93-94.  Coupled with his ability to put pucks on net (178 in ’92-93, 235 in ’93-94) and you have a fantastic young offensive defenseman who deserves his spot on this list.

 

Defense: Uwe Krupp (180 GP, 22-72-94, +30, 140 PIM, 2 GWG)
Honourable Mention to Tom Kurvers
Tom Kurvers (who gets an honourable mention here) seems to get a lot of flack (largely from Leafs’ fans still bitter about New Jersey fleecing the Leafs for a 1st round pick, which became Scott Niedermayer, in exchange for Kurvers).  However, Kurvers was a quality offensive defenseman: he scored 56 points in ’91-92, 38 points in 55 games in ’92-93 and 40 points in 66 games in ’93-94.  He also had a positive +/- twice in three seasons (-2 overall) and 14 powerplay goals.  But Uwe Krupp, while not as adept at playing the puck, provided the Islanders with massive physical presence and a fair amount of offensive skill.  After coming over with Hogue and Turgeon from Buffalo, Krupp scored 35 points in 59 games.  He followed that up with 38 points in 80 games in ’92-93, and then 21 points in 41 games during a (presumably injury-)shortened ’93-94 season.  He had a positive +/- each year between +6 and +13, and was +30 overall.  He was physical, but disciplined: he had 140 PIM total, and never more than 67 in a single season.  Considering his size (6’6”, 235 pounds), that combination of offensive skill and defensive prowess is quite impressive.

 

Goalie: Tommy Salo (187 GP, 62-94-21, 14 SO, 2.77 GAA, 0.902 PCT)
It frightens me a little to say this… but I wonder just how bad the Islanders would have been without Tommy Salo in net.  I’m thinking late 80s/early 90s Quebec Nordiques bad.  Salo had an inauspicious start as the Isles’ backup, going 2-12-1 between ’94-95 and ’95-96.  But from ’96-97 to ’98-99 he was a solid goaltender for them.  His record wasn’t great, but it could have been much worse: he was 60-82-20, but he somehow managed 14 shut-outs.  So in nearly one-quarter of his victories, he had to allow zero goals to get the win.  He also had a solid 2.69 goals-against average and a .905 save percentage.  I don’t know why Mike Milbury felt compelled to make this man cry at his arbitration hearing… Salo was pretty much the team’s MVP in the late 1990s.  He was traded to the Edmonton Oilers prior at the 1999 Entry Draft, but his three-year run for the Isles was solid, especially considering the quality of his supporting cast.

NHL All-Decade Team: 1990s New Jersey Devils

This is part of a series detailing the all-decade team for every NHL franchise for the 1990s.  The all-time teams were compiled using a mix of skill, longevity and statistics; it is not necessarily the best, most memorably or most talented players.  Instead, this is the list of players by each position who had the best numbers over a prolonged period (i.e. at least three full seasons between 1990-91 and 1999-00) during the regular season.

Team: New Jersey Devils (1990-91 to 1999-00)
401-276-109, .580 WIN PCT, 2,481 GF vs. 2,112 GA, +369 Diff, 9/10 Playoff Appearances, 2 Stanley Cups

Stanley Cup 1995 Stanley Cup 2000

Simply put, the New Jersey Devils were one of the most successful teams in hockey during the 1990s (and specifically during an 8-year run from 1995 to 2003).  The Devils opened the decade with a 32-33-15 effort in ’90-91, “good” for a 49.4% win percentage: they would not post a sub-.500 record again.  They had a win percentage above .600 five times, and won two Stanley Cups (1995 and 2000; they won another in 2003).  They made the playoffs nine times, with their lone miss coming in ’95-96 when they had the dubious distinction of missing the playoffs despite being the Stanley Cup champions.  They were knocked out in the first round five times, but they still won a total eleven playoff series (between 1994 and 2000).  Their 58.0% win percentage for the decade ranked 3rd out of 26 teams that played at least four seasons during the 1990s.  The only two teams to perform better than New Jersey were the Detroit Red Wings and the Pittsburgh Penguins.  The Devils were middle-3.16 goals for per game, ranked 11th.  But their defense was top-notch, allowing 2.69 goals against per game: the best defense of any team during the 1990s.  Ultimately their goal differential of +369 ranked 2nd in the league (behind only Detroit).  The Devils spent the 80s being one of the league’s whipping boys, and they definitely made up for lost time in the 90s.

 

Left Wing: Patrik Elias (238 GP, 72-92-164, +48, 122 PIM, 17 GWG)
Honourable Mention to Dave Andreychuk
For all their success in the 1990s, the Devils were not terribly deep at left wing.  Patrik Elias was developing into a quality player: he played 1 game in ’95-96, then 17 games (with 5 points).  In his first full season (’97-98), he recorded 18 goals and 37 points.  He improved to 50 points (17 goals) the following year, and finished the decade with an outstanding 35-goal, 72-point effort in ’99-00.  His +/- was +16 to +19 in his three full seasons.  He scored as many game-winning goals as powerplay goals (17 each), an impressive feat: his game-winning goals represented 24% of his total, and he had 9 in ’99-00 alone.  Dave Andreychuk also merited a look: he had 13 points in 15 games after being acquired from Toronto in ’95-96 in the Devils’ failed bid to repeat as Stanley Cup Champions.  He had a 27-goal, 61-point season in ’96-97, then fell to 14 goals and 48 points the following year.  He struggled through an injury-shortened ’98-99 season, scoring just 15 goals and 28 points.  He left for Boston as a free agent.  He had 14 powerplay goals and 7 game-winning goals, along with solid +/- throughout (including +38 in ‘-96-97).  But Elias had a better top season and improved each year, whereas Andreychuk was moving into the player-coach stage of his career.  Still, the fact that these two stretches are the cream of the crop at left wing for New Jersey in the 1990s is rather surprising.

 

Centre: Bobby Holik (563 GP, 158-201-359, +110, 603 PIM, 36 GWG)
Bobby Holik had a great eight-year run with New Jersey.  He was acquired in the Sean Burke trade with the Hartford Whalers.  Over the next four seasons he scored 10+ goals and 30+ points three times (and had 20 points in 48 games during the shortened ’94-95 season).  He improved tremendously towards the end of the decade into a skilled two-way forward: he had four straight 20+ goal seasons, and three straight 60+ point seasons.  His +/- was positive seven straight years: his only negative was a -6 in ’92-93, and he had three seasons in the +23 to +28 range.  He didn’t score a tremendous amount of powerplay goals, but he had five seasons in the 5-8 PPG range.  He was also clutch for New Jersey, scoring 4+ game-winning goals five times (good for 23% of his total; he twice hit 8 GWG in a season).  He had 180+ shots on goal six times.  Holik certainly didn’t lack a physical game: he had three straight 100+ PIM seasons, and four others in the 54-75 range.  He was a solid contributor to the Devils for a very long time, and represented them at the 1998 and 1999 All-Star games.  It’s a shame he left for the Rangers (for what was a wildly overpaid sum) in 2002, but that shouldn’t detract from the quality decade+ of hockey he spent in New Jersey.

Right Wing: Stephane Richer (350 GP, 146-134-280, +29, 125 PIM, 30 GWG)
Honourable Mention to John MacLean
Stephane Richer took over as the go-to offensive player of the New Jersey Devils in the post-Kirk Muller era.  Muller led the Habs to a Stanley Cup in 1993, while Richer was a solid contributor when the Devils won in 1995.  Richer scored 29 goals and 64 points in ’91-92.  He then improved, scoring 38 goals and 73 points in ’92-93, and then 36 goals and 72 points in ’93-94.  He was still a point-per-game player in ’94-95, scoring 23 goals and 39 points in 45 games.  He slowed in ’95-96 though, scoring just 20 goals and 32 points in ’95-96.  The Devils believed a change of scenery might be best, and flipped him back to the Montreal Canadiens in exchange for Lyle Odelein.  Richer was clearly done as an impact NHLer, and the deal was very one-sided for New Jersey.  But Richer still gave five 20+ goal seasons and two 70+ point seasons.  He was never an all-star, but he was effective on special teams, scoring 23 powerplay goals and 11 shorthanded markers.  What’s more, he chipped in a very impressive 30 game-winning goals (21% of his total).  He had four seasons of 190+ shots on goal as well.  John MacLean was a more heart-and-soul type player.  He had a solid 45-goal, 78-point effort in ’90-91, and a 37-goal, 70-point year in ’93-94.  Otherwise he tended to be a 20-goal, 50-point player (finishing around those totals three times, and scoring at that pace in ’94-95).  He had 45 PPG, but scored fewer GWG than Richer (despite playing with the Devils from ’90-91 until early into the ’97-98 season).   I wouldn’t argue THAT strongly against MacLean, but I feel Richer’s consistent offensive skills on such a defensively-oriented team give him the nod over MacLean.

 

Defense: Scott Stevens (674 GP, 76-274-350, +206, 829 PIM, 13 GWG)
Without a doubt (in my mind), the single most important player the New Jersey Devils had in the 1990s (the only debate is whether he was more important than Martin Brodeur, but that’s an argument for another time).  Stevens joined the Devils in September of 1991.  Over the next nine years, he played at least 68 games (the only exception being ’94-95, where he played in all 48 games the team played).  Stevens shockingly didn’t win many individual awards in the 1990s: he represented the Devils at the All-Star game in 1992 and 1997, and he made the NHL’s First All-Star Team in 1994.  But he won two Stanley Cups (’95 and ’00), and he won the Conn Smythe Trophy in 2000 as the Playoff MVP.   Stevens was one of the most feared open-ice hitters of all-time, but people forget how strong he was a s a two-way defenseman.  Stevens scored 59, 58 and 78 points in his first three seasons with New Jersey, scoring 20 powerplay goals and 7 game-winning goals in the process.  He began transitioning into more of a stay-at-home role, posting 22 points in 48 games in ’94-95 (a 38-point pace).  He then posted five straight seasons in the 24-29 points range.  His +/- was never negative: in fact, he only had two seasons below +14, and he was +24 or better five times (including a high of +53 in ’93-94).  His 13 game-winning goals also represented 17% of his total.

Steven’s toughness was unquestionable: he had 100+ PIM five times, and never had less than 56 in a season (in 48 games in ’94-95).  He was a leader, a game-changer, a physical force and an offensive threat.  He was to New Jersey what Zdeno Chara is to the Boston Bruins, except with (arguably) a better offensive game.  He even sacrificed personal glory and offensive totals in the name of team success.  What more could you ask for?

 

Defense: Scott Niedermayer (597 GP, 70-245-315, +103, 320 PIM, 9 GWG)
Honourable Mention to Bruce Driver
What Scott Stevens provided in strength and power, Scott Niedermayer provided in skill and finesse.  They were the equivalent of the Hart Foundation: Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart and Bret “The Hitman” Hart.  Niedermayer had four 40+ point seasons, with a high of 57 in ’97-98.  He also had three others with 30+, and a 19-point, 48-game season in ’94-95 that translates into a 30-point pace.  Niedermayer scored 10+ goals four times, and had 30+ assists five times (plus another season with 29 assists).  His +/- was positive seven times in eight full seasons: his low was -4, and he was +16 or better four times (including +34 in ’93-94).  He was always a threat on the powerplay, scoring 43 of his 87 goals with the man advantage (including 11 in ’97-98).  He even chipped in 9 game-winning goals, and had 130+ shots on goal six times.  His individual accolades included making the All-Rookie Team in 1993, and the Second All-Star Team in 1998.  He also played in the 1998 All-Star Game.  It wasn’t until the 2000’s that Niedermayer’s individual abilities gained more post-season recognition.  Niedermayer was one of the finest two-way defensemen in the NHL; had he played for Detroit or Pittsburgh, his offensive totals would have been significantly higher.  But he was still an integral part of New Jersey’s success in their most successful decade.  Honourable mention to longtime Devils’ defenseman Bruce Driver.  Driver had three 40+ point seasons (with a high of 54 in ’92-93) in five seasons, a high of +29 in ’93-94 and a +34 in 341 games.

 

Goalie: Martin Brodeur (447 GP, 244-125-65, 42 SO, 2.20 GAA, 0.913 PCT)
Honourable Mention to Chris Terreri
Chris Terreri was the #1 goalie for the Devils in the 1990s until Martin Brodeur’s ascension in ’93-94.  Terreri had a record just above .500 from ’90-91 to ’92-93, going 65-64-20 with 4 shutouts, a 3.15 GAA and .889 PCT.  Not stellar, but decent for the era.  He was strong in ’93-94, going 20-11-4 with a 2.72 GAA and .907 PCT.  But Brodeur’s play forced Terreri into the understudy role from that point on, playing 15 games in ’94-95 and 4 in ’95-96 before he traded to the San Jose Sharks.  Brodeur seized the reigns in ’93-94 and never looked back: here we are twenty years later (in the midst of the 2013-14 NHL season) and not only is Brodeur still going, but he was the cover artist for NHL ’14.

 

Brodeur had a four-game audition in ’91-92, and didn’t appear in the ’92-93 season.  But in ’93-94, he went 27-11-8 with a 2.40 GAA and .915 PCT in a performance that won him the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s best rookie, as well as a spot on the 1994 All-Star Team.  He then followed that up by playing in 40 of 48 games in ’94-95, going 19-11-6 with a 2.44 GAA and .902 PCT as the Devils won the Stanley Cup.  He played in 67-77 games per seasons over the next five years, winning 34 or more games each season (including twice winning 43 games).  He posted 10+ shutouts twice, and had five others in the 3-6 range.  His goals-against average was 1.88 to 1.89 from ’96-97 to ’98-98, and in the 2.24-2.34 range in every other 60+ game season.  His save percentage reached a high of .927 in ’96-97, and was only below .910 twice in seven seasons (and never below .902).  Brodeur was a world-class goaltender: he played in every All-Star game from 1996-2000, placed on the Second All-Star Team in 1997 and 1998.  He also won the William Jennings Trophy when the Devils had the NHL’s best defense in 1997 and 1998.  Had he not been rising to prominence at the same time that Dominik Hasek, Patrick Roy and Ed Belfour were in their primes, Brodeur would likely have won even more individual accolades (as he did during the 2000’s, where he won four out of five Vezina awards as the NHL’s best goaltender between 2003 and 2008).  Brodeur is definitely in the conversation for greatest goaltender of all-time, and is inarguably the best goaltender the Devils had during the 1990s.

NHL All-Decade Team: 1990s Montreal Canadiens

This is part of a series detailing the all-decade team for every NHL franchise for the 1990s. The all-time teams were compiled using a mix of skill, longevity and statistics; it is not necessarily the best, most memorably or most talented players. Instead, this is the list of players by each position who had the best numbers over a prolonged period (i.e. at least three full seasons between 1990-91 and 1999-00) during the regular season.

Team: Montreal Canadiens (1990-91 to 1999-00)
362-317-107, .529 WIN PCT, 2,403 GF vs. 2,267 GA, +136 Diff, 7/10 Playoff Appearances, 1 Stanley Cups

The Canadiens were a powerhouse during the early 1990s, but they kept running into the Boston Bruins: the Bruins knocked the Habs out in the second round in 1991 and 1992. The Canadiens rebounded for a magical run as 1993 Stanley Cup Champions. They had a strong showing the following regular season, but lost to (whom else?) the Boston Bruins in the first round. During a four-year run from ’90-91 to ’93-94, the Habs had a 57.9% win percentage and +165 goal differential. But they slumped badly in ’94-95, and began making a series of trades the gutted the team’s core: they traded away Patrick Roy, Eric Desjardins, John LeClair, Kirk Muller and Pierre Turgeon between February 1995 and October 1996. As a result, the team slumped, posting sub-.500 record three times in six years (and winning just one playoff series between 1994 and 2000). From ’94-95 to ’99-00, the Canadiens had a 49.7% win percentage and a -29 goal differential. Which isn’t awful, but compared to how the team had been in the 70s and 80s, it was a massive let-down for Habs fans. Overall, the Canadiens had a 52.9% win percentage, which ranked 11th out of 26 teams that played at least four seasons during the 1990s. The Canadiens were middling offensively, scoring 3.06 goals for per game (ranked 15th). They were fairly solid defensively, allowing 2.88 goals against per game (ranked 8th). The resulting +136 goal differential ranked them 11th in the league during the 1990s. They were no longer Les Glorieux by the end of the decade, but they still have the 1993 Stanley Cup (which, as of 2013, is still the most recent Stanley Cup victory by a Canadian NHL franchise).

Left Wing: Kirk Muller (267 GP, 104-143-247, +1, 292 PIM, 15 GWG)
Honourable Mention to Martin Rucinsky
Kirk Muller was an absolutely fantastic acquisition by the Canadiens. He couldn’t match the pure skill of Stephane Richer (whom the Habs gave up for Muller), but Muller gave them leadership and a physical edge they had been lacking. He had 36 goals and 77 points in his first season (’91-92), and then a monster 37-goal, 94-poitn season in ’92-93. He was +23 during this time. He did slow, however; he had 23 goals and 57 points along with a -1 rating in ’93-94, and in ’94-95 he was brutal: 19 points in 33 games with an UGLY -21 rating before he was traded to the New York Islanders. Still, he had two fantastic seasons and one competent one, not to mention being arguably the team’s best skater when they won the 1993 Stanley Cup. During his first three seasons in Montreal, he scored an impressive 36 powerplay goals, and a stellar 14 game-winning goals. He had 7 game-winners alone in ’91-92, and overall 14% of his goals won the game for Montreal. An honourable mention to Martin Rucinsky, who unfortunately has the distinction of coming to Montreal as part of the ill-fated Patrick Roy trade. Rucinsky spent five seasons in Montreal, hitting the 20-goal mark four times and the 50-point mark three times (his best year saw him score 60 points in 56 games after being acquired early in the ’95-96) season). Rucinsky also had a positive +/- rating four times, with the lone exception being an ugly -25 in ’98-99. But Muller had a greater impact and was a more valuable player, so Rucinsky is relegated to honourable mention.

Centre: Vincent Damphousse (519 GP, 184-314-498, +26, 559 PIM, 35 GWG)
Vincent Damphousse was acquired from the Edmonton Oilers in an absolute steal of a deal (costing the team Shayne Corson, Brent Gilchrist and Vladimir Vujtek). Damphousse went on to play in parts of seven seasons with the Habs; he didn’t miss more than 6 games in any of his first six seasons, and he was dealt to San Jose late in the ’98-99 season. He had three seasons in the 38-40 goal range, and another with 27 goals. He hid the 90-point mark three times, and had another with 81 points. He also had a productive lockout-shortened season in ’94-95, scoring 10 goals and 40 points with a +15 rating despite the team falling below .500. Damphousse managed to have a positive +/- rating four times (and was even on another occasion), and he was never worse than -7 (leading to a +26 rating overall). Damphousse was also the definition of clutch: he had 35 game-winning goals, an amazing 19% of his goal total for Montreal. Between ’92-93 and ’93-94 alone, he had 18 game-winners. He was also a constant threat on special teams: he had four seasons in the 7-13 PPG range, and scored 12 shorthanded goals (including 4 SHG in ’95-96). He also cleared the 240 shots-on-goal mark four times. A fantastic talent and terrific leader, as well as one of the finest French-Canadian talents to play for Montreal in the past 30 years.

Right Wing: Mark Recchi (346 GP, 120-202-322, +23, 222 PIM, 18 GWG)
Mark Recchi gets a lot of flak for costing the Canadiens Eric Desjardins and John LeClair. But he has no say in what a team gives up for him; he can only control his own play. And he did that quite well. For four straight seasons, he was a point-per-game threat for Montreal. He had 43 points in 39 games after being picked up by Montreal in ’94-95, and then followed that up with three straight season in the 28-34 goal range and 74-80 points range. He had three seasons in -1 to -4 territory for his +/- rating, but had two seasons of +20 (’95-96) and +11 (’97-98). He was a strong threat on the powerplay, scoring 35 PPG between ’94-95 and ’97-98. He also had a pair of seasons where he scored 6 game-winning goals, and had 18 overall (15% of his total). He had three seasons where he fired between 191 and 216 shots on goal. He was a constant threat to score when he was on the ice. His final season in Montreal wasn’t his strongest (12 goals and 47 points in 61 games before he was traded back to Philadelphia), but he had a solid four-year run as an excellent offensive player for Montreal.

Defense: Mathieu Schneider (312 GP, 56-122-178, +37, 337 PIM, 10 GWG)
Mathieu Schneider developed into an excellent two-way defenseman for the Canadiens. His points totals steadily improved from 30 to 32 to 44 to 52 from ’90-91 to ’93-94. He also scored a high of 20 goals in’93-94, and scored 8-13 in the previous three seasons. During that four-year run, he also had 10 game-winning goals, and 21 powerplay markers (including 11 in ’93-94). His +/- was between +7 and +15 each season. He struggled along with the rest of the team in ’94-95, posting 20 points in 30 games with a -3 rating (and just 2 PPG) before he was traded to the New York Islanders in the Kirk Muller-Pierre Turgeon swap. He was a constant threat (164-193 shots on goal over a four-year span) from the point, solid in his own zone, and he could play a physical game (he had four straight seasons of 60+ PIM, with a high of 91 in ’92-93. And he was a core contributor to their 1993 Stanley Cup championship.

Defense: Eric Desjardins (314 GP, 38-111-149, +45, 274 PIM, 7 GWG)
Eric Desjardins has a story similar to Schneider. Four solid seasons showing largely steady improvement. He went from 25 to 38 to 45 points, posting +/- in the +7 to +20 range. He slowed slightly in ’93-94, dropping to 35 points and a -1 rating. He played just 9 games for the Habs in ’94-95 (6 points, +2) before being traded to Philadelphia along with John LeClair for Mark Recchi. Desjardins had a solid run as a key contributor on Montreal’s powerplay, scoring 17 PPG between ’91-92 and ’93-94. He also chipped in 7 game-winning goals, and increased his shots-on-goal total each year from 114 in ’90-91 to 193 in ’93-94. He will be best remembered as a hero in the 1993 Finals, where he became the first (and to date, only) defenseman to score a hat-trick in a Stanley Cup Finals game.

Goalie: Patrick Roy (310 PG, 156-108-37, 17 SO, 2.74 GAA, 0.908 PCT)
Honourable Mention to Jocelyn Thibault
Jocelyn Thibault actually had a decent run in net for the Canadiens. He went 23-13-3 in his first partial season with the Habs, and then posted a 44-43-21 record over the next 2+ seasons. In his first two seasons his GAA was 2.87, and his save percentage was .911. He slowed a bit his next season and change (he was dealt early in ’98-99) with a .903 PCT, but still had a 2.49 GAA. But unfortunately for Thibault, he was both traded for and following behind the most popular Habs player since Guy Lafleur: Patrick Roy.

Roy played 48 games in ’90-91, going 25-15-7 with a 2.71 GAA and .906 PCT. He then played 60+ games the next three seasons, winning 30+ games each year. He then played in 43 of 48 games in ’94-95. Roy could be a little up-and-down; his GAA from ’91-92 to ’94-95 went from 2.36 to 3.20 to 2.50 to 2.97, and his PCT read .914, .894, .918, .906. But what was undeniable was his ability to perform in the clutch. Roy rose to stardom as a rookie, helping the Canadiens win the 1986, winning the Conn Smythe Trophy as Playoff MVP in 1986. He repeated the feat in 1993, winning the Conn Smythe as the Canadiens defeated Wayne Gretzky’s Los Angeles Kings in the finals. Roy posted 17 shutouts, with 7 coming in ’93-94. His overall win percentage was 56.3%, and he only had one sub-.500 season (17-20-6 in ’94-95). It’s a shame he left Montreal so abruptly, both because Habs fans didn’t have the chance to say goodbye and because a hurried trade resulted in poor returns that contributed to the Canadiens’ descent into mediocrity in the late 1990s. But Roy deservedly has a reputation as one of the greatest goaltenders in NHL history, and “St. Patrick” will always be beloved by Habs fans.

NHL All-Decade Team: 1990s Los Angeles Kings

This is part of a series detailing the all-decade team for every NHL franchise for the 1990s. The all-time teams were compiled using a mix of skill, longevity and statistics; it is not necessarily the best, most memorably or most talented players. Instead, this is the list of players by each position who had the best numbers over a prolonged period (i.e. at least three full seasons between 1990-91 and 1999-00) during the regular season.

Team: Los Angeles Kings (1990-91 to 1999-00)
324-350-112, .483 WIN PCT, 2,532 GF vs. 2,631 GA, -99 Diff, 5/10 Playoff Appearances, 0 Stanley Cups
Despite a herculean effort, Wayne Gretzky simply wasn’t able to elevate the Los Angeles Kings to the status of a true contender. They opened the decade with a fantastic 46-win, 102-point effort. They then had two seasons just above .500, concluding with a magical run to the 1993 Stanley Cup Finals. But the wheels fell off, and the team struggled for the next four seasons: they went 95-151-50 for a 40.5% win percentage (and -160 goal differential) from ’93-94 to ’96-97, missing the playoffs all four seasons (Gretzky himself was traded to St. Louis late in the ’95-96 season). The Kings rebounded towards the end of the decade, posting 87 points in ’97-98 and 94 points in ’99-00. But they missed the playoffs five times in seven seasons to close the decade, and didn’t win a playoff series after 1993. Overall, the Kings had a 48.3% win percentage, ranking them 17th out of 26 teams that played at least four seasons during the 1990s. It should come as no surprise that a team with Wayne Gretzky could score: they ranked 5th in the league in goals, averaging 3.22 goals for per game. Unfortunately, their defense was brutal, ranking second-last (25th, ahead of only their cross-state rival San Jose Sharks) while allowing an average of 3.35 goals against per game. Their goal differential of -99 ultimately ranked 17th for the decade. It would take the team to find its identity (and some success) in the post-Gretzky era. But whatever their struggles and inconsistencies, they were always a popular draw with #99 on the roster.

Left Wing: Luc Robitaille (533 GP, 287-310-597, +37, 537 PIM, 43 GWG)
Lucky Luc was born to be an L.A. King. In the first four seasons of the 1990s, Robitaille was a beast on the left wing: he had three seasons in the 44-45 goal and 86-107 points range, and a fourth season that was an absolute monster: 63 goals (8 game-winners), 125 points and a +18 rating in ’92-93. He had 24-26 PPG three straight seasons from ’91-92 to ’93-94. His +/- varied wildly (+28, -4, +18 and -20), but he scored 22 game-winning goals during that stretch, which helped make up for any defensive deficiencies. He was traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins, and after one season there he went to the New York Rangers for two years. The Kings got him back just before the ’97-98 season, and he returned to L.A. for the final three seasons of the 1990s. He started his second stint a little slowly (40 points in 57 games), but rebounded for a pair of 74-point seasons with 39 and 36 goals respectively. All told, Robitaille scored an impressive 114 powerplay markers, and also contributed 43 game-winning goals (15% of his total). He had 220 or more shots on goal six times in seven seasons, and is one of the best left wingers in modern NHL history. He represented the Kings at the All-Star Game from 1991-1993 and again in 1999, and he was made the NHL’s First (’91 and ’93) or Second (’92) All-Star Team the first three seasons in the decade.

Centre: Wayne Gretzky (388 GP, 152-456-608, -28, 114 PIM, 11 GWG)
“The Great One” kind of says it all, doesn’t it? He opened the decade with a 163-point effort that included an amazing 122 assists, along with a +30 rating. He followed that up with 121 points in ’91-92. Injuries held him to 45 games in ’92-93, but he still scored 65 points. He had one final Gretzky-type season in ’93-94, scoring 130 points… but the Kings still missed the playoffs. He slowed to 48 points in 48 games during the lockout-shortened ’94-95 season, and then had 81 points in 62 games before being traded to the St. Louis Blues. His +/- was pretty bad, going negative four times (including twice in the -20 to -25 range). But he had three seasons of 90+ assists, and three season of 30+ goals. He was more concerned with getting the puck to his teammates late in the game, knowing that he would draw off defenders; as a result, he only had 11 game-winning goals (a fairly low 7% of his total). Wayne Gretzky was the greatest playmaker the NHL has ever seen, and he was a threat whenever he was on the ice (42 PPG, 8 SHG). It’s a shame he was never able to bring the team up to Stanley Cup Champion status, but it’s hard to do that when you’re playing for one of the worst defensive outfits in the league. But man, was he ever exciting to watch!

Right Wing: Tomas Sandstrom (207 GP, 104-117-221, +25, 292 PIM, 15 GWG)
Honourable Mention to Tony Granato
Sandstrom had major durability issues: during four years in the early 1990s, he only once played more than 51 games in a season. Still, he was an offensive dynamo. He scored 45 goals and 89 points in 68 games, along with a +27 rating. Over the next three seasons his production was up-and-down, likely in line with his health: 39 points in 49 games, 52 points in 39 games and 41 points in 52 games over a three-year stretch. Had he played a full 82-game season each year, he would have had two 50-goal, 100-point seasons, and two 27-goal, 65-point seasons. As it was, he still managed a +25 rating overall, chipped in 33 powerplay goals, and scored an impressive 15 game-winning goals (14% of his total). Honourable mention to Tony Granato who was more durable, but not by much: he had two seasons with 80+ games, and then another four where he missed at least 14 games per year. He open the decade with three 30+ goal, 60+ point seasons (including a high of 82 points in ’92-93). But over the next three years, he was held to 80 points in 132 games. During that first three-year stretch he scored 32 powerplay goals, 5 shorthanded markers and 17 game-winners. But Sandstrom, despite the shorter tenure, was a more dynamic player, and from ’93-94 to ’95-96 Granato was a shadow of the player he had been from ’90-91 to ’92-93. So Granato gets the Honourable Mention.

Defense: Rob Blake (604 GP, 121-259-380, -35, 978 PIM, 25 GWG)
A world-class player who spent the entire decade in L.A., Blake (as was the case with many Kings’ stars) had some durability issues: he played 30 games total between ’94-95 and ’95-96, and had three other seasons in the 57-62 game range. He only played 75+ games five times in ten seasons. During those five full seasons, he averaged 17 goals, 56 points, 123 PIM and a +4 rating. Very healthy stats. Overall he hit the double-digit goal plateau six times, including twice scoring 20+. He had four 50+ point seasons, including a high of 68 in ’93-94. And he had six seasons of 100+ PIM. He was amazing on special teams, with over half (67) of his goals coming on the powerplay. He was also strong in the clutch, contributing 25 game-winning goals (an astounding 21% of his goal total). And he managed a pair of seasons with 300+ shots on goal (as well as two others of 200+). Blake was a world-class player, one whom I believe is destined for the Hall of Fame one day.

Defense: Marty McSorely (331 GP, 46-125-171, +5, 1,174 PIM, 3 GWG)
Honourable Mention to Mattias Norstrom and Alexei Zhitnik
The Kings had a few options here. Mattias Norstrom was a fantastic leader and a key contributor to the Kings’ resurgence in the late 1990s. He wasn’t a major offensive force (he scored 22 points in ’96-97, but his other three seasons were in the 7-14 range), and his +/- fluctuated with the team’s success. But he was strong in his own end, a hard hitter and a strong leader. Another option was Alexei Zhitnik; he was exciting, but fell just shy of the cut-off for tenure. Zhitnik scored 48 and 52 points respectively in ’92-93 and ’93-94, but was traded after 11 games in ’94-95. There was another player who, frankly, shocked me with his offensive totals in addition to his physical game, and that was Marty McSorely. McSorely (as is par for the course for this list) had durability issues: he missed at least 10 games three times in six years. But he managed three seasons of 30+ points, including a high of 15 goals and 41 points in ’92-93. He was an amazing +48 in ’90-91, but an ugly -43 over the next five seasons. Still, he was a major physical force when he was on the ice: he had 399 penalty minutes in ’92-93, and two other seasons over the 200 PIM mark. He could contribute offensively, while also driving his opponents insane. Plus he could take on all customers, as he was one of the most feared enforcers in the league. It is tough to ignore a skill set like that. McSorely was traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins for Shawn McEachern in August of 1993. The trade clearly did not fit, to the point where the Kings undid the mistake in February 1994: McEachern was sent back to Pittsburgh for McSorely. The Kings even gave up Tomas Sandstrom for Jim Paek to complete the deal. McSorely had a unique skill set that fit nicely with the Kings in the early-to-mid 1990s.

Goalie: Kelly Hrudey (292 GP, 113-110-47, 7 SO, 3.40 GAA, 0.899 PCT)
Honourable Mention to Stephane Fiset
As bad as the Kings could be defensively, they would have been a lot worse had it not been for Kelly Hrudey. He gave the Kings a level of respectability in net they hadn’t had since Rogie Vachon. Hrudey had two great seasons to open the 1990s, going 52-30-19 with a .898 PCT and 3.16 GAA. The next two seasons were less than kind, though: he was below .500 (40-52-13) with an ugly 3.75 GAA and .893 PCT. He rebounded slightly, although the entire NHL’s offense was drying up during this time: from ’94-95 to ’95-96 he was 21-28-15 with a 3.20 GAA and .908 PCT. Hrudey didn’t win any individual accolades, and the Kings allowed him to leave for the San Jose Sharks as a free agent following the ’95-96 season. But Hrudey’s acrobatic style and ability to come up big in clutch games allowed the Kings to play their run-and-gun style. Plus he backstopped them to the 1993 Finals, which definitely counts for something. Stephane Fiset (Hrudey’s replacement in ’96-97) had better stats, with a 2.80 GAA and .908 PCT, along with a respectable 77-85-21 record. But he didn’t win a playoff series; heck, he didn’t even win a playoff GAME, going 0-5 in six appearances between the 1998 and 2000 playoffs. Hrudey was a critical piece of what were arguably some of Los Angeles’ best hockey teams until their recent run of success (2012-2013), so he gets the spot on this list.