Markus Naslund and Trevor Linden are considered legends in Vancouver. The Montreal Canadiens would not be historic without Howie Morenz, Maurice Richard, Doug Harvey, Ken Dryden or Guy Lafleur.
The Toronto Maple Leafs would be nowhere without studs from their dynasties in the ’40s and ’50s like Syl Apps, Ted Kennedy, Bill Barilko, Howie Meeker, and Gaye Stewart. How about those 1989 Cup-winning Calgary Flames with Theoren Fleury, Lanny McDonald, Joe Nieuwendyk, and Gary Roberts? Don’t make me bring up the ’80s Edmonton Oilers dynasty squad, loaded with future Hall of Famers.
As you can tell, a handful of NHL players forever changed the history and culture of the Canadian NHL franchises they played for. But on the other hand, some other franchises had the misfortunes of carrying players that were, well, as useless as a pacifier for Donald Trump.
Each NHL Canadian franchise has had legends and players who couldn’t account for much of anything. Here is a look at the best and worst player of all seven current NHL Canadian franchises, and for good measure the Quebec Nordiques.
We hope you have a nice Canada Day!
Best Calgary Flame: Jarome Iginla
Some may have thought the Flames made a big mistake by trading the beloved Joe Nieuwendyk for a little-known star-in-the-making named Jarome Iginla, but the trade did wonders for the Flames, even if they couldn’t win a Cup with him.
Iginla is the Flames all-time leading scorer with 1,095 points in 1,219 games. His 525 goals trumps second-place Theo Fleury (364). Iginla scored 30-plus goals every year from 2000-01 to 2011-12. He won the Rocket Richard Trophy as the league’s leading goal scorer in 2002 and shared the honour in 2004 with Rick Nash and Ilya Kovalchuk.
His leadership led the Flames to a 2004 Western Conference Championship, before bowing out to the Tampa Bay Lightning in seven games for the Stanley Cup. The franchise traded him to Pittsburgh in 2013, but nobody ever forgot what he did to change the franchise for good.
All that was missing for him in Calgary was a Cup, but he didn’t go without trying.
Worst Calgary Flame: Blake Sloan
Though Blake Sloan won a Stanley Cup as an undrafted player with the Dallas Stars in 1999, it was not a sign of special things to come. It was a sign of him peaking too early in his career.
Sloan bounced around from the Stars to the Columbus Blue Jackets before landing with the Flames. He played 74 games with the team, and managed just two goals and 12 points with the team. In 290 NHL games, he had just 11 goals and 43 points. He last played in the DEL in 2012-13, where his best season saw him score 26 points. He was a right winger who just couldn’t find his touch, even though the Flames had plenty of talented forwards to work with him.
Maybe more playing time with Iginla could have helped, or if the team simply had a star centre (something Iginla never had the luxury of while in Calgary). It’s nice for Sloan that he won a Cup, but he was a quick afterthought in Calgary.
Best Edmonton Oiler: Wayne Gretzky
Duh. Like it was going to be anyone else.
The man who came from the WHA to the NHL made an impact right away. He was the heart and soul of the Oilers’ four Stanley Cups during the 80s while paving a way for them to win another in 1990 when he was long gone.
Gretzky scored a ridiculous 583 goals and 1,669 points in 696 games in Oil Country. That’s over two points per game. He set the record for most goals in a season with 92 in 1981-82. He also set the record with most points in a season with 215 in 1985-86. Just remember that it’s incredibly difficult for players to even score 100 in a season today.
He won the Hart Trophy every year with Edmonton from 1980-87 and won seven scoring titles with them. The Great One also took the 1985 and 1988 Conn Smythe Trophy honours. There’s no doubt he’s the best hockey player to ever live and hockey was forever changed with what No. 99 did to impact the game.
Worst Edmonton Oiler: Zack Stortini
If Zack Stortini was the guy protecting Wayne Gretzky (and not Marty McSorley) or simply protecting a star that had half the talents of Gretzky, then Stortini would have been a bit more useful for the team.
However, Stortini just didn’t fit as an NHLer. Yes, he was an enforcer that most teams need, but the Oil weren’t as undersized then as they are now. He was just a goon with a stick in his hands. He played 257 total NHL games, and notched just 14 goals and 41 points. He also notched 725 penalty minutes. And yes, taking that many penalties is simply not going to ever help a team.
Stortini’s best season with the Oilers was a 4-9-13 campaign in 2009-10, while he put up 155 penalty minutes. The Oilers kept putting him in the lineup for reasons unexplained, but he simply was not a helpful player. At least he has sweet hair.
Best Montreal Canadien: Maurice Richard
Yes, Guy Lafleur scored more goals and points than any other Hab. But Maurice Richard completely changed everything about the Canadiens. With Howie Morenz’s untimely death during his playing career, the Habs struggled and didn’t have that one icon to carry and represent the team any more.
Richard stepped right in and never looked back. He became the first player to score 50 goals (doing so in 50 games) in a season and led the Habs to eight Stanley Cups, including a dynasty in the ’50s. He scored 544 career goals and 965 points. He won the Hart Trophy and was an eight-time First Team All-Star. After Richard, countless other future Hall of Famers joined the Habs.
There would be no legacy of Guy Lafleur, Larry Robinson, Henri Richard, Ken Dryden, Steve Shutt, Jacques Lemaire or Yvon Cournoyer without Richard. He simply made the Canadiens the most dominant hockey team in history.
Worst Montreal Canadien: Scott Gomez
For a guy making over $7 million a season, Gomez should have been putting up 20-30 goals and 70-plus points a season with the Habs. That, of course, did not happen. Actually, what if we told you that he didn’t even come close to 20 goals or 70 points a season while with the Canadiens?
In one of the worst trades ever, which rivals the consequences of the infamous Patrick Roy one in 1995, the Habs gave up future franchise defenceman Ryan McDonagh and talented top-six forward Chris Higgins to get Gomez. By the way, Gomez went over a full calendar year without scoring a goal at one point. Not something you want from a top-six forward.
In three seasons with the Habs, Gomez notched just 108 points. The team was lucky that the new CBA for the 2013 season allowed compliance buyouts for players. Montreal happily bought out the remainder of his contract, ending the reign of arguably the worst player in Canadiens history.
Best Ottawa Senator: Daniel Alfredsson
Much like Wayne Gretzky being the best Oiler, there’s no questioning this one. Daniel Alfredsson is the best Senator ever.
The 133rd-overall pick of the 1994 draft took a young franchise and made them a consistent playoff squad right away. Alfie had 13 seasons where he scored 20-plus goals, including a pair of 40-goal seasons. The 2006 Olympic Gold winner for Team Sweden was a six-time All Star and won the King Clancy and Mark Messier Leadership Award once each.
Under Alfie’s watch, the Sens were one of hockey’s most dominant teams, winning the President’s Trophy in 2003 and winning the Eastern Conference in 2007 before falling to the Anaheim Ducks in the Stanley Cup Final. Ottawa became a powerhouse with Alfredsson and became the icon of their fanchise.
Worst Ottawa Senator: Denis Hamel
It was tempting to put Alexandre Daigle, the infamous first-overall pick of the 1993 draft and major draft bust first on this list, but he did have a 20-goal season, so he was good for some time.
Denis Hamel was a different case, however. He spent time with Ottawa and their AHL team, the Binghamton Senators. He was called up during the 2003-04, 2005-06 and 2006-07 seasons, but obviously couldn’t account for much. He played in 52 games and notched just five goals and eight points. Hamel spent time with the Philadelphia Flyers and found himself back with Ottawa’s AHL team.
Hamel just didn’t pan out as an NHL player with a talented Senators squad that really had no purpose to play him. They were loaded with speedy superstars and other young talents. Then again, on the bright side, he wasn’t a high draft pick that didn’t end up being a complete bust. Expectations were never high for him in the nation’s capital to begin with.
Best Quebec Nordique: Peter Stastny
It’s a shame that many people have forgotten the great legacy of Peter Stastny, but that’s life when the team you carried on your back for years struggled and eventually relocated to become the Colorado Avalanche. That’s where the old Nordiques have been settled for the past 20 years.
But enough of that. Stastny was simply a legend. He spent 10 years with Nordiques In just 737 games, he scored 380 goals and 1,048 points, making him the highest-scoring Nordique of all-time (not in franchise history). He won the Calder Trophy in 1981 and played in six All-Star Games. The Hockey News ranked him as the 56th-best player ever.
The Nordiques never reached a Stanley Cup Final, but during their time in Quebec, they became an exciting squad and brought the fans to their feet. It’s a shame they had to move, but when they get their team back, it’ll be thanks in large part to what Stastny had previously accomplished for the Nordiques.
Worst Quebec Nordique: Craig Wolanin
Craig Wolanin was supposed to be one of the greats, being selected third-overall in the 1985 NHL Draft. For what it’s worth, NHL greats like Dave Manson, Sean Burke, Mike Richter and Joe Nieuwendyk, Steve Chiasson and Bill Ranford were taken much later than Wolanin.
After being a complete bust with the New Jersey Devils for five years, he spent six seasons with the Nordiques for a chance to revive his career, but it wasn’t meant to be. His best season was five goals and 18 points during the 1990-91 season. In 289 games with the Nordiques (before the move to Colorado), he had 17 goals and 64 points.
Wolanin just couldn’t muster much of anything. We’re talking about a Nordiques squad that had Owen Nolan, Peter Forsberg, Mats Sundin and Joe Sakic. There was no excuse for Wolanin to not produce in Quebec. But he did manage to avoid doing enough to take this spot on our list.
Best Toronto Maple Leaf: Mats Sundin
Mats Sundin did fail to do one thing that the legends like Dave Keon, Frank Mahovlich, Howie Meeker and Johnny Bower did for Toronto: Win a Stanley Cup. But that was far from his fault. He did more than enough throughout his career to put them in position. The team just never took advantage enough of having an all-time great.
The former Swedish star is the highest-scoring Leaf ever, with 420 goals and 987 points in 981 games. While the Leafs struggled during the ’80s and parts of the ’90s, Sundin made them one of the top dogs in the Eastern Conference for nearly a decade. He scored plenty of clutch goals, but never got to play in the Final.
Sundin just didn’t have the superstar teammate that Leaf players from the ’40s and ’50s dynasty days had. He had to carry most of the team himself (at least offensively) and couldn’t get the supporting cast needed. But it didn’t matter in the fact he became the greatest Leaf ever.
Worst Toronto Maple Leaf: Vesa Toskala
I mean, it is disappointing when your biggest moment was giving up a goal from the opposite end of the ice, especially when it was a bad bouncer you should have played easily.
To say Vesa Toskala was a disappointment in Toronto would be an understatement. Toskala was a very frustrating netminder in Toronto. In two of his three seasons, his save percentage was under .900. His best goals against average was 2.74. He posted a 62-52-20 record. They traded three draft picks to get him, but he never found his feet in Toronto.
It didn’t help that he was trying to fill the shoes of past great Leaf netminders like Ed Belfour and Curtis Joseph. If it makes Toskala feel any better, the Leafs still have not found a reliable netminder, though they’ll hope that will change with Frederik Anderson. Failure to provide the team with good defense and all-around talent didn’t give Toskala a chance to produce.
Best Vancouver Canuck: Henrik Sedin
One half of the Sedin Twins has been the franchise icon. That would be the man who went third-overall in the 1999 NHL Draft. Along with his brother Daniel, Henrik turned around a frustrating organization and made them one of the top teams (in the regular season) for a decade.
Through 1,166 games, he has 222 goals and 970 points, and has added 78 playoff points in 105 games. Henrik helped Sweden win Gold at the 2006 Olympics. He also led the league in scoring during the 2009-10 season (without his brother for a quarter of the season), while winning the Hart Trophy. His efforts led the Canucks to the Stanley Cup in 2011, before falling to the Boston Bruins. The Canucks would simply be a mess for two decades if they didn’t have Henrik.
At 35 years of age, there’s plenty of time for him to add more stats and trophies to the trophy room, though there’s a good chance the Stanley Cup isn’t one of them.
Worst Vancouver Canuck: Keith Ballard
Remember when Mike Gillis said at the 2010 Draft that his goal was to upgrade the team’s defence, so he traded future 30-goal man Michael Grabner, their first-round pick and a solid roster player in Steve Bernier to get Keith Ballard? And he was supposed to lead them to greatness?
Ballard became one of the biggest toxic contracts in NHL history. He made over $4 million a season in three years with Vancouver. Noted for his scoring abilities, he only scored three goals and 16 points with the Canucks. His defensive talents were also lacking in Vancouver and they bought him out after the 2013 season.
The reason Ballard earned our spot on the list was his huge and heavy contract that deprived them of valuable cap space. He simply did not even play like he was worth $1 million a season. The Canucks, loaded with quality defenceman, just couldn’t get on the same page with him.
Best Winnipeg Jet: Dale Hawerchuk
There’s no debating this one, either.
Dale Hawerchuk will probably go down as the best Jet ever. It’s incredibly difficult to imagine any modern Jet finding a way to catch up to him in his career totals. In just 713 games, Hawerchuk scored 379 goals and 929 points. For what it’s worth, the second highest-scoring Jet ever, Tom Steen, had 264 goals and 817 points in 950 games.
A two-time winner of the Canada Cup (with Canada by the way), Hawerchuk notched seven 40-plus goal seasons, including a 53-goal outburst in 1984-85. He reached the 100-point plateau every year from 1984-1988. Hawerchuk instantly put the Jets on the hockey map and, without his contributions, who knows if the city would get their team back two decades after he left?
Hawerchuk was inducted in the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2001 and is 19th all-time in scoring. That’s better than Brett Hull, Guy Lafleur, Mats Sundin and Peter Stastny, for what it’s worth.
Worst Winnipeg Jet: Jimmy Mann
The great professional wrestler, Ric Flair, once said to be the man, you’ve got to beat the man. Unfortunately for Jimmy Mann, he wasn’t a man that could beat most of his opponents on the ice…at least with his skills and all-around talent.
Mann, who was probably cooler for his moustache than his actual play on the ice, managed just 10 goals and 30 points in 293 NHL games. He played five seasons with the Jets, scoring nine goals and 21 points. He did manage 895 penalty minutes, which also hurt the team.
Keep in mind, he was on a Jets team that had Hawerchuk, so there was reason to believe he could have done better. Then again, with his slick flow and facial hair, he was probably better off just being a rock star.
The 19th-overall pick in the 1979 Draft just couldn’t find his groove in the NHL, making him the worst player in Jets history.
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