McDavid, Eichel, Generational Players, Really?

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Generational Players: Overused or misunderstood or just out to lunch? –

The 2015 NHL Entry Draft was one of the more interesting drafts in recent years thanks to Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel.

There have been many adjectives to describe the top two prizes at last June’s annual yearling sale but the one that gets used the most by the talking heads, sports writers and fans is “generational players”.  That is very lofty praise for players that haven’t even played in a NHL game yet.  Personally I think there is ZERO chance either of them reach that height but that’s just me!

What makes a generational player?

What I find quite interesting is that a lot of the pundits are comparing Sidney Crosby’s and Connor McDavid’s junior statistics.  They are very comparable but if that’s the parameters for calling Connor McDavid a “generational player”, I’m afraid they are barking up the wrong tree.  Sidney Crosby is a fine player, a franchise player, a superstar BUT he’s NOT a “generational player”.  Hell, he’s not even the best player in the NHL!

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Is Sidney Crosby a “generational player”? 

There have been many great players in the “modern era” starting with Gordie Howe and Maurice Richard and ending today with Sidney Crosby and Steven Stamkos.  In between that were probably another forty or fifty franchise players and superstars that made their mark as some of the game’s greats but in my opinion I have only seen three players that have transcended the greats and played the game at a different level than anybody else.

#1 – Bobby Orr:

Games: 657   G: 270   A: 645   Pts: 915

The debate starts and finishes with the Boston Bruin defenceman.  Mr. Orr revolutionized the defence position.  He won the scoring title TWO times!  In 1969-70 Orr won his first scoring championship.  In a season where there were no other players over 100 points and only two players between 80 and 100 points, Orr had 33 goals and 87 assists for 120 points in 76 games!  This wasn’t even his highest scoring season.

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Orr’s second scoring title was in 1974-75 during an 80 game season where he scored 46 goals and 89 assists for 135 points.  Very Impressive!  Bobby Orr scored 9 hat tricks and had 100 points six times in his career with an amazing 102 assists in the 1970-71 season.  Orr won the Calder Trophy (top rookie), the Norris Trophy (top defenceman) eight times, the Hart Trophy (MVP) three times along with two Conn Smythe’s (playoff MVP) and two Stanley Cups.  All of these impressive achievements were accomplished during an injury shortened career between the 1966-67 and 1974-75 seasons.

Bobby Orr’s career was cut short due to multiple knee injuries and he retired at the early age of thirty.  Orr had a remarkable but shorter career than expected and unfortunately his legacy might be “what could have been”.

#2 – Wayne Gretzky

Games: 1487   G: 894   A: 1963   Pts: 2857

Wayne Gretzky played in the highest scoring era in NHL history and rewrote the record books like no other player in NHL history.

There is not enough room on this page to list Gretzky’s many records and accomplishments but this one really sticks with me; in 1983-84 season, Mr. Gretzky scored his 100th point in game #34.  Think about that, 100 points in 34 games.  Another memorable accomplishment was in 1981-82 he reached the 50 goal plateau in game #39.  Later on that season he smashed the goal scoring record by finishing with 92 goals.  Not bad for a player not considered a “goal scorer”.

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Gretzky averaged 2 points per game ten times in his career, he had four 200 point seasons, and he also had ten 100 point seasons.

Wayne “the great one” Gretzky won the Hart Trophy (MVP) 9 times, the Art Ross Trophy (leading scorer) 10 times, along with 4 Stanley Cups and the Conn Smythe Trophy (playoff MVP) 2 times plus multiple All-Star Selections.  He also had an impressive “International Hockey” resume that included the Olympics and Canada Cups.

Gretzky wasn’t a very big player, he wasn’t the greatest skater and he didn’t have the hardest shot but he “thought” the game light years ahead of his competition. In my opinion he was the most cerebral hockey player in hockey history.

If you took Wayne Gretzky’s 894 goals away from his NHL career points total he would still be the leading scorer of all time based on his 1963 assists.

#3 – Mario Lemieux

Games: 915   G: 690   A: 1033   Pts: 1723

Mario Lemieux also played during the Gretzky era and the two of them put up video game numbers that will never be seen again.  Super Mario had ten 100 point seasons including a 199 point season in 1988-89.  There were eight other players that recorded 100 plus points in 1988-89 including Wayne Gretzky who finished 31 points behind Mario with 168 points.

Like Bobby Orr, before him, Lemieux’s legacy might also be “what could have been”.  He was plagued by health problems that saw him miss 513 games over his career.  He had spinal disc problems, Hodgkin’s lymphoma, chronic tendonitis of a hip flexor muscle, along with chronic back pain. Mario actually retired two different times over the course of his career due to these health issues.

He missed the entire 1994-95 season due to Hodgkin’s lymphoma.  The following season he won the Hart Trophy (MVP) and Art Ross Trophy (scoring title).  His first official retirement was in 1997 after battling lymphoma, he made a successful comeback after missing three full seasons but he never played a full season again.  He retired for a second and final time in 2006, after being diagnosed with an atrial fibrillation.  Mario Lemieux had many lengthy absences during his career but it was uncanny how his play didn’t seem to suffer after being away for long stretches.  It was remarkable how he always seemed to pick up where he left off.

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Super Mario won the Hart Trophy (MVP) 3 times, the Art Ross Trophy (leading scorer) 6 times, 2 Stanley Cups and the Conn Smythe Trophy (playoff MVP) 2 times.  Mario Lemieux also had multiple All-Star Selections and had an impressive “International Hockey” resume.  Who knows how great and what kind of numbers Mario could have put up if he was able to stay healthy.  He was a remarkably skilled player that was heads and shoulders above the rest of his peers in that era.

Final thought 

In the fifty plus years I’ve been watching hockey, I have had the pleasure to see some of the greatest players in history.  It would be wonderful if a Connor McDavid or a Jack Eichel could take their game to a level that hasn’t been seen in decades BUT I think calling them “generational players” before they’ve accomplished anything is a disservice to the greats that have come before them. Today’s media have a tendency to over-hype and over-sell young athletes before they’ve earned it and I’m afraid this may be the case again here.  

Sorry Connor and Jack, I hope you can prove me wrong.

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