Playing in the NHL is a privilege only a small percentage of the population gets to experience. For every bottom-six forward or fringe player, there are thousands of players grinding it out in lower semi-professional leagues throughout the world. Players finish a four-year college or junior career and take jobs in the East Coast Hockey League or go to Europe in hopes of continuing their careers and eventually earning an NHL contract. Unfortunately for most, that dream is a long shot that never comes to fruition. That’s why you always hear former players telling those still playing to enjoy their time in the league. Being in the NHL is, in a sense, like being a rock star. That’s even more accurate if you’re playing in a Canadian market.
Make no mistake, there are some incredible markets in the United States, but most of those also have professional basketball, football, or baseball teams, not to mention prominent colleges. Outside of Toronto, which is primarily a hockey market to begin with, there’s no competing with teams in Canadian markets. Stars in Montreal, Vancouver, Calgary, etc. are vaulted to legend status, whereas if they played in New Jersey they’d be able to walk the streets without being recognized.
16. Nordiques Best: Joe Sakic
Joe Sakic earned his reputation as a tremendous leader and prolific point producer with the Colorado Avalanche, so it’s easy to forget that he spent much time with the team when it was the Quebec Nordiques. However, Sakic spent the first seven years of his career with the Nordiques, debuting with the team for the 1988-89 season after a dominant junior career with the Western Hockey League’s Swift Current Broncos.
As a rookie, Sakic recorded 62 points in 70 games, but lost out on the Calder Trophy to Sergei Makarov. The Nordiques were an offensive powerhouse during that period and it was a higher-scoring era in the league, but that shouldn’t discredit the fact that Sakic recorded at least 92 points in each of the next six seasons with Quebec. He played 13 seasons in Colorado and ended his career with 1,641 points in 1,378 games for the franchise.
15. Nordiques Worst: Tony Twist
There have been some forgettable players in the history of the Quebec Nordiques, which, along with dwindling attendance and other factors, might have attributed to the team’s move to Colorado. If we’re talking all-time worst players however, you have to include Tony Twist, who was a useful fourth line player in an enforcer role, but could hardly skate and certainly couldn’t put the puck in the net.
In fact, Twist literally didn’t put the puck in the net through his 171 games with the franchise between 1990-94. Mind you, he probably spent more time in the penalty box than on the ice during his time with the team, but it’s pretty pathetic that he only had seven assists in 171 games. Quite simply, there’s no way a player like Twist is playing in today’s NHL.
14. Canucks Best: Pavel Bure
Despite the fact the Canucks have never won a Stanley Cup, the franchise has had its share of impressive players. You can’t have a best player conversation without including the Sedins, Trevor Linden, or even Roberto Luongo, but if we’re talking the most skilled player in franchise history it’s Pavel Bure. The Russian Rocket only played seven seasons with the Canucks, and was unfortunately limited to just 702 career games in the league, but he had game-breaking speed and talent.
In his first year with the Canucks, Bure recorded 60 points in 65 games. He exploded the following two seasons, however, recording a combined 217 points in 159 games, including back-to-back 60-goal seasons. During the team’s Stanley Cup Finals run in 1994, Bure led the Canucks in scoring with 31 points in 24 games.
13. Canucks Worst: Mathieu Schneider
Keep in mind this list is detailing the best and worst player in each Canadian franchise’s history. For instance, as good as Pavel Bure was with the Canucks, it would be ridiculous to count him as the best Florida Panther in the franchise’s history. Likewise, Mathieu Schneider was an excellent defenseman who finished top-ten in Norris Trophy voting twice during his career. The defenseman played for ten different teams and recorded 743 points in 1,289 games. He was at his best with the Montreal Canadiens, Los Angeles Kings, and Detroit Red Wings, but his one-year stint with the Canucks, if not for the controversy, would have been incredibly forgettable.
The Canucks are partly to blame here as they signed Schneider as a 40-year-old, expecting him to provide valuable minutes from the backend. Instead, he played just 17 games with the team before being sent down to the Manitoba Moose of the AHL after butting heads with the team’s coaching staff.
12. Jets Best: Teemu Selanne
Technically, the current version of the Winnipeg Jets includes players from the Atlanta Thrashers and not the former Jets franchise, which is now in Arizona. By that logic, we would have to choose from players like Ilya Kovalchuk and Dany Heatley, or maybe even Patrick Laine or Mark Schiefele as the team’s best-ever players. And while that may be how the league does business, it’s certainly not how fans feel about the franchises. In Winnipeg, there is no player more beloved than Teemu Selanne.
The Finnish Flash won the Calder Trophy as Rookie of the Year in 1992-93 after scoring what held up as a career-high 76 goals in 84 games. He was just over a point-per-game player in the following three seasons with the team before being dealt to the expansion Anaheim Ducks, but Jets fans will forever remember his legendary rookie season.
11. Jets Worst: Chris Thorburn
There was some brutal players on the original incarnation of the Winnipeg Jets, but few have had the undeserved longevity as Chris Thorburn, who has spent the last season years with the team, despite scoring a combined 24 goals. Sure, the 6-foot-3, 235-pound forward provides more than offense, but it’s not as though he’s a dominant – or even average – shutdown forward. In fact, he’s likely blocked the path of impressive offensive-minded prospects in recent years as he has continued to get steady playing time.
In addition to the past six seasons, Thorburn also played the previous four years when the team was in Atlanta. He might be one of the worst players in league history to compile over 700 games. Fortunately for the Jets, his three-year contract expired at the end of the 2016-17 regular season and he has yet to be re-signed.
10. Senators Best: Erik Karlsson
It’s hard to discredit what Daniel Alfredsson did for the Ottawa Senators, but there has been no player like Erik Karlsson in Ottawa – or the league for that matter. The puck-moving Swedish blueliner is in a league of his own when it comes to offensive ability, vision, and skating stride. Not only is he the best player on the Senators, for our money he’s among the league’s top three players alongside Sidney Crosby and Connor McDavid.
Drafted 15th overall in the 2008 NHL Draft, Karlsson has since accumulated 456 points in 556 games, which is unbelievable for a defenseman. He has two Norris Trophies as the league’s best defenseman but should have at least three. If there was any doubt of his dominance, he proved himself in the recent postseason with 18 points in 19 games, while playing injured.
9. Senators Worst: Radek Bonk
We have to give context when giving these picks, because you can certainly argue there was worse players than Radek Bonk to play for the Ottawa Senators. That guy who played two games during the 1994-95 season or the call-up who lasted just one game in 2000-01 doesn’t exactly make for a sexy headline. Radek Bonk, however, as a former third overall pick who was expected to help carry the Senators to prominence through early expansion years. Aside from one 70-point season in which he was vaulted by playing alongside Daniel Alfredsson and Marian Hossa, that just didn’t happen for Bonk.
In his first four seasons with the team, he was unable to generate much offense at all, topping 30 points in just two seasons. And following the 70-point campaign, he had a steep decline in production. Making matters worse, Bonk was perhaps one of the slowest players in the NHL, or at least it seemed that way. Fewer players moved with less energy and pace than Bonk, which always made it look as though he didn’t give a damn. Maybe he just wasn’t good.
8. Flames Best: Jarome Iginla
Typically, it might be controversial to name a player the best in franchise history when he hasn’t won a Stanley Cup, especially when others have won a Cup with the team. However, it’s hard to fault Jarome Iginla for not winning a championship with the Calgary Flames. The former captain did all he could during the 2004 playoffs, taking the team to the finals on the strength of 13 goals in 26 games, but the Flames were ultimately bested by the Tampa Bay Lightning.
It was as close as Iginla would ever get in his 16-year career with the Flames, but he’s easily the best player to skate for the team. Although he never reached the 100-point plateau, he was a consistent scorer for the franchise and topped 90 points in three different seasons. In 2001-02, Iginla won the Art Ross Trophy, Rocket Richard Trophy, and Lester B. Pearson as the MVP voted by the players.
7. Flames Worst: Rico Fata
This entry is a little similar to Radek Bonk with Ottawa except amplified. After years of bouncing around the league, Fata eventually found brief success with the Pittsburgh Penguins, but aside from that season and a half, his career was forgettable. Drafted sixth overall by the Flames in the 1998 NHL Draft following a 76-point season with the OHL’s London Knights, Fata played just 27 games with the Flames in parts of three seasons and recorded just one assist.
What’s so frustrating about Fata is that he was a prolific scorer in the AHL. In his first full year with the Saint John Flames, he recorded 58 points in 76 games and later, with the Hartford Wolf Pack, he had 71 points in 61 games. He finished his NHL career with just 63 points in 230 games.
6. Oilers Best: Wayne Gretzky
Surprise, surprise. As if we even need to go into details here. If you’re for some reason reading this without ever having followed hockey, you would be interested to know that Wayne Gretzky essentially owns every major offensive record in the NHL. That’s not even an exaggeration. NHL.com, for instance, has an article about Gretzky’s 23 unbreakable records, not to mention the others that, perhaps by some miracle, might be broken one day.
The Great One debuted for the Oilers in 1978-79 with a 104-point season. Decent numbers, sure, but just awful compared to his following nine seasons with the team; during that stretch, Gretzky’s season low points total was 149, which he recorded in his tenth and final year with the team. He retired with 2,857 points in 1,487 career games.
5. Oilers Worst: Nail Yakupov
As obvious as Gretzky was in the best player entry, it might have been just as obvious to see Russian Nail Yakupov in the worst player entry. The former first overall pick in 2012 is likely already on his way out of the NHL after a nine-point season with the St. Louis Blues. In four prior seasons with the Oilers, Yakopov combined for just 111 points in 252 games. Those numbers are decent, if not great, for a checking-line forward, but Yakupov is anything but. At times it looked as though he wasn’t even trying with the Oilers.
You can’t blame the Oilers for taking Yakupov first overall when they did; the winger had 101 points in the OHL as a 17-year-old and, in his draft year, recorded 69 points in 42 games. He wasn’t able to withstand the rigors of the pro game, however, and it’s become quite clear he simply doesn’t have the knowledge of the game needed to become a decent player in the league.
4. Maple Leafs Best: Mats Sundin
Again, it’s tough to choose a player who hasn’t won a Stanley Cup with his team, especially when it’s the Maple Leafs, a franchise that has won 13 in its 100-year history. But who are we to compare Hall of Famers of recent years like Sundin to greats who have been retired for decades. Is there a chance Dave Keon is better than Mats Sundin? Sure. But did Keon benefit from playing lesser competition? Definitely.
Regardless of who else you might think is worthy, there’s no denying Mats Sundin deserves recognition among the best Maple Leafs of all-time. The Maple Leafs presented its own list of its top 100 players in franchise history prior to this season and it was topped by Keon, with Sundin being ranked fifth. It’s important to note the team considered Stanley Cup success, however, which seems unfair to guys who played in an era with more than six teams. For his part, Sundin recorded at least 70 points in 12 consecutive seasons for the Maple Leafs.
3. Maple Leafs Worst: Aki Berg
While Toronto fans are known for celebrating the team’s best players like Sundin or Doug Gilmour, they also have a long history of running great players out of town. They did so with Hall of Fame defenseman Larry Murphy, who went on to win a couple Stanley Cups with the Detroit Red Wings. Finnish defenseman Aki Berg was the target of frustration for fans during the early 2000s, but nobody ever confused him as a great player.
A slow-skating, oversized blueliner, Berg was routinely beat by opposing forwards in his own zone, which was problematic considering he was brought in from Los Angeles to serve as a shutdown defenseman. Offensively, he could barely make a tape-to-tape pass and scored just 10 goals in 315 games. Although he left the Leafs – and the NHL – following the 2005-06 season, he’s still the butt-end of jokes among fans of both the Leafs and rival teams.
2. Canadiens Best: Maurice Richard
We know. We just said it’s tough to compare players of the past to accomplishments of players in a much tougher post-80s league. But there was simply no player more beloved, dominant, or feared in Montreal Canadiens history than Maurice “Rocket” Richard. Although Richard won only one Hart Trophy as the league’s MVP, he was a consistent scoring threat for the team during its dominant championship runs in the 1940s and 50s. He retired following the 1959-60 season with 965 points in 978 games. As much as the 70s and 80s were high-scoring eras, it’s important to remember how low-scoring the 40s and 50s were, which makes Richard’s numbers that much more impressive.
The Rocket was defined by much more than just offensive ability, however. In a sense, he changed the game with his power-forward-type role, becoming one of the first premier goal-scorers to regularly engage with the opposition’s top enforcers; he recorded 1,285 penalty minutes throughout his career.
1. Canadiens Worst: Scott Gomez
With the New Jersey Devils, Scott Gomez was among the league’s best players. The diminutive Alaskan won the Calder Trophy in 1999-00 with a 70-point season and he later went on to record a career-high 84 points in 2005-06. He enjoyed a decent two-year stint with the New York Rangers, but was a complete disaster with the Montreal Canadiens, aside from a 59-point season in his first year with the team.
The following year, however, Gomez scored just seven goals and added 31 assists in 80 games. The scoring completely dried up in the second half of the season and carried over into the 2011-12 season; in fact, Gomez endured a year-long goal drought from February 5th, 2011 to February 9th, 2012. Making matters worse, Gomez was making $7.5 million per season during that stretch, meaning the Canadiens essentially paid $7.5 million for one goal.
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