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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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