top of page
  • Writer's pictureDerek Ochej

Unlikely Conn Smythe winners

The NHL playoffs have no equivalent when it comes to pro sports in North America. Football, by its physical nature, can only afford a maximum of three games before you get to the Super Bowl. Baseball allows surprisingly few teams into the playoffs, and only the final two series' are a best of seven. Basketball comes close in that there are four seven-game series', but the superstar-based nature of basketball, combined with the smaller number of players means the Stanley Cup playoffs provide significant opportunities for unsung heroes to emerge.

This post features one of those players, the infamous Claude Lemieux. Perhaps best known for his at best questionable, if not more accurately, dirty, playing style, Lemieux was also one of the best playoff performers of all-time. While never a superstar during his career, Lemieux could amplify his game in the post-season, as evident by his Conn Smythe Trophy win in 1995, and his four career Stanley Cups. In honour of Lemieux, let's look at some other Conn Smythe winners that while terrific players, were never considered superstars:

  • Ron Hextall, 1987 Smythe winner. The first player is perhaps the toughest call. Hextall was a very good goaltender, and a personality to boot. He makes this list due to his meteoric rise, winning the Smythe as a rookie in the 1987 playoffs, all in a losing cause to boot, as the Flyers dropped the Cup Finals to Edmonton. Hextall's first season is also arguably the best of his career.

  • Jean-Sebastien Giguere, 2003 Smythe winner. Like Hextall, Giguere won the Smythe in a losing cause, as the Mighty Ducks dropped the Finals in seven games to New Jersey. In his first NHL playoffs, Giguere posted a .945 save percentage and 1.62 goals against, leading the seventh-seeded Ducks to a sweep of second-seed Detroit, and first-seed Dallas before beating eight-seed Minnesota to make the Finals.

  • Cam Ward, 2006 Smythe winner. Yet another goalie, Ward was a rookie with 28 games of regular season experience when he took over for an ineffective Martin Gerber part way through Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Quarter-Finals against Montreal. Made starter in Game 3, Ward and the Hurricanes won 4 in a row to take the series, then defeated New Jersey, Buffalo and Edmonton to win the Stanley Cup. The only other playoffs Ward would appear in would be in 2009, with the Hurricanes being swept by Pittsburgh in the Eastern Conference Finals.

  • Justin Williams, 2014 Smythe winner. A forward, Williams is much like Lemieux in that he was a solid player in the regular season who stepped up his game in the playoffs. In 2014 with Los Angeles, Williams scored 25 points in 26 games, after scoring only 43 points in 80 games in the regular season. The eight-seed Kings upset San Jose, Anaheim and Chicago before defeating the New York Rangers in the Cup Finals. Williams is known as Mr. Game 7, as he holds the record for most career points in elimination games, with 15.

290 Doug Lidster - Vancouver Canucks

A defenceman, Lidster was drafted 133rd overall by Vancouver in 1980. He played four seasons at Colorado College, then joined the Canadian National Team for the 1983-84 season, playing in the 1984 Olympics in Sarajevo. Lidster would also play his first pro games that season, getting into eight games with the Canucks.

His first full pro season was in 1984-85, playing in 78 games, scoring six goals and 30 points. In 1986-87 Lidster broke out offensively, scoring 12 goals and 63 points, ranking seventh in scoring for defenceman. Despite his offensive prowess that season, Lidster tied for the fourth-worst plus/minus rating in the league at -32. Over the next six seasons with the Canucks his statistics trended more modestly, averaging five-to-eight goals and in the mid-30s for points. After 10 seasons with the Canucks, Lidster was traded in the 1993 off-season to the New York Rangers, completing an earlier trade that had sent John Vanbiesbrouck to the Canucks.

Lidster played only 34 games in the regular season and nine in the playoffs for the Rangers, but that was enough to win his first Stanley Cup as the Rangers defeated his former team, Vancouver, in seven games. In the 1994 off-season he was traded to St. Louis with Esa Tikkanen for Petr Nedved; after one season in St. Louis Lidster was traded back to the Rangers for Jay Wells. He played three seasons in his second term with the Rangers, appearing in less than 59 games each season.

In February 1999 Lidster signed a late-season deal with the Dallas Stars. He played 17 regular and four playoff games, winning his second Stanley Cup before retiring. In 16 seasons Lidster played 897 games, scoring 75 goals and 343 points. From 1987 to 1993 he was an assistant captain with the Canucks, holding the role of captain during the 1990-91 season.

Since 2002 Lidster has coached at various levels including Canadian junior (Medicine Hat and Saginaw), the AHL (Texas), the NHL (an assistant with Vancouver from 2014-17) and internationally (the Spengler Cup and Canada’s women’s international teams). He currently coaches elite youth hockey in Plymouth, Michigan.

YouTube clip: opening the scoring on a nice individual effort in Game 2 of 1994 Stanley Cup Finals.

291 Kay Whitmore - Hartford Whalers

A goaltender, Whitmore was drafted 26th overall by Hartford in 1985. He had played two seasons with Peterborough in the OHL, and played another two before turning pro in 1987-88 with Binghamton. Whitmore played three seasons with Binghamton, winning the Calder Cup, and playoffs MVP in 1991. During these three seasons he played in 30 games for the Whalers, winning nine.

For the 1991-92 season Whitmore was promoted to the NHL, appearing in 45 games, posting a 14-21-6 record. Just over a year after cracking the Whalers’ roster, he was traded to Vancouver for a prospect and cash. Over the next two seasons Whitmore would appear in 31 and 32 games, respectively, as Kirk McLean’s back up. He won 18 games each season, even earning Vezina votes in the 1992-93 season.

1994-95 was Whitmore’s last season with the Canucks, spending the 1995-96 season in the IHL with Detroit and Los Angeles. In March 1995 he was traded to the New York Rangers for Joey Kocur. From 1997 to 2000 Whitmore was part of five different NHL teams (San Jose, Buffalo, New York Rangers, Boston and Edmonton), playing in the AHL and IHL, save the 1996-97 season when he played in Sweden.

In 2000-01 Whitmore played with Providence in the AHL, and appeared in five games with the Bruins, six seasons after he last suited up in the NHL. In July 2001 he signed with Calgary, playing one game with the Flames before retiring.

In nine NHL seasons Whitmore appeared in 155 games, posting a 60-64-13 record, 3.55 goals against average and .875 save percentage. From 2004-06 he worked as an analyst on the NHL Network before leaving to work for the NHL, where he is currently the senior director of hockey operations.

YouTube clip: fighting the Red Wings’ Dino Ciccarelli during a March 1995 game between Vancouver and Detroit.

292 Bruce Driver - New Jersey Devils

A defenceman, Driver was drafted 108th overall by New Jersey in 1981. He played two seasons of college hockey with Wisconsin following the draft, captaining the team in his junior season. For the 1983-84 season he joined the Canadian National Team, playing in the 1984 Olympics. After his Olympic appearance, Driver turned pro, playing in the AHL and in four games with the Devils.

1984-85 was Driver’s first full NHL season, playing in 67 games, scoring nine goals and 32 points. He spent the following season in the AHL, returning to the NHL for good in 1986-87. Driver was a consistent offensive presence on the Devils’ blueline from 1987 to 1995, recording five seasons of 40+ points, with 3 seasons of 50+ points. He scored double-digit goals in 1987-88 (15) and 1992-93 (14).

In Driver’s final season with the Devils, he helped guide the franchise to its first Stanley Cup, scoring seven points in 17 games, while recording a +13 rating during the 1994 playoffs. In September 1995 he signed as a free agent with the rival New York Rangers, playing three seasons on Broadway before retiring after the 1997-98 season.

In 15 NHL seasons, Driver played in 922 games, scoring 96 goals and 486 points. He ranks third all-time in points for Devils’ defencemen, and was captain in the 1991-92 season and assistant captain from 1992-95.

Driver currently coaches girls’ high school hockey in New Jersey while also acting as president and general manager for Twin Oaks Ice Rink.

YouTube clip: scoring the opening goal in Game 3 of the 1995 Stanley Cup Finals versus Detroit.

293 Bobby Smith - Minnesota North Stars

A centre, Smith was the first overall pick in the 1978 draft, selected by the Minnesota North Stars. He had played three seasons of junior hockey with Ottawa before being drafted, scoring 69 goals and 192 points in his final season. This would be the single-season scoring record for the OHL, however the Ottawa 67s were part of the breakaway Ontario Major Junior Hockey League, which separated from the OHL’s predecessor, the Ontario Hockey Association. While he did not get the scoring record, Smith did win CHL and OMJHL player of the year honours.

Smith jumped immediately to the NHL for the 1978-79 season, scoring 30 goals and 74 points, winning the Calder Trophy. His scoring steadily increased over the next three seasons, recording points totals of 83, 93 and 114, leading the North Stars in scoring each of those seasons. In 1981-82 Smith also recorded a career-high 43 goals.

In the 1981 playoffs the North Stars surprised the league by making it to the Cup Finals, before losing in five games to the New York Islanders. Smith scored eight goals and 25 points in those playoffs, second on the team.

Early in the 1983-84 season Smith was traded to Montreal for Keith Acton, Mark Napier and a draft pick. He had two below average seasons for the Habs before returning to form in 1985-86, scoring 31 goals and 86 points. The Habs won the Stanley Cup that spring, with Smith scoring 15 points in 20 games, including the Cup-clinching goal.

Over four additional seasons in Montreal (1987-1990), Smith scored 27 or more goals and 75 or more points three times. In 1989 he made his third Cup Finals appearance, contributing 19 points in 21 games. In the summer of 1990 he was traded back to Minnesota for a draft pick, and in his first season back made his fourth Cup Finals appearance, scoring 16 points as the North Stars would lose to Pittsburgh. Smith played in 45 games during the 1992-93 season before retiring.

In 15 NHL seasons, Smith played 1077 games, scoring 357 goals and 1036 points and played in four all-star games (1981, 82, 89 and 91). In 1995-96 he became the executive vice-president of hockey operations for the Winnipeg Jets, moving with the franchise to Phoenix and becoming their general manager. Smith was fired during the 2000-01 season, and in 2003 purchased a stake in the ownership of the Halifax Mooseheads of the QMJHL, which he still maintains today.

YouTube clip: scoring the Stanley Cup clinching goal in the 1986 Finals against Calgary.

294 Claude Lemieux - New Jersey Devils

A right winger, Lemieux was drafted 26th overall by Montreal in the 1983 draft. Following his selection, he played two seasons with Verdun in the QMJHL and one with Sherbrooke in the AHL. During those three seasons Lemieux appeared in 19 NHL games, scoring six points.

The 1986 playoffs was where Lemieux began to make a name for himself, scoring ten goals and 15 points as the Habs won the Stanley Cup, with Lemieux leading the playoffs with four game-winning goals. The four following seasons (1986-90) saw him score 27+ goals in three seasons, and make a second Cup Finals appearance in 1989.

Lemieux was traded to New Jersey for Sylvain Turgeon prior to the 1990-91 season; with the Devils he reached his offensive peak, scoring 30+ goals in each of his first three seasons, setting career highs for goals (41) and points (88). In 1995 Lemieux led the Devils to their first Stanley Cup in franchise history, leading the playoffs in scoring with 13 goals and capturing the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP.

Despite his playoff heroics, Lemieux was shipped away the following season in a three-way deal that saw him land in Colorado, the Devils get Steve Thomas and the New York Islanders acquire Wendel Clark. In his first season with the Avalanche Lemieux scored 39 goals and 71 points, finishing sixth in Selke Trophy voting. He also won his third Cup with his third team, recording 12 points. His play in the 1996 playoffs is infamously remembered for a hit from behind on Detroit’s Kris Draper, resulting in Lemieux being suspended for the first two games of the Cup Finals versus Florida. The following playoffs Detroit would get their revenge, defeating Colorado in the Western Conference Finals; Lemieux would still lead the playoffs in scoring, with 13 goals in 17 games.

Lemieux played parts of three additional seasons in Colorado before a trade back to New Jersey in November 1999 for a swap of first round picks, and Brian Rolston. That spring he would win his fourth Stanley Cup, contributing 10 points in 23 games. His second stint with the Devils was short, as he signed as a free agent with Phoenix in December 2000. Lemieux played parts of three seasons in the desert before a January 2003 trade to Dallas. He finished the season in Dallas, then played seven games in Switzerland during the 2003-04 season before retiring.

Five years later, at the age of 43, Lemieux made a comeback to pro hockey, first playing two weeks in China, followed by 23 games with Worcester in the AHL before signing with San Jose, playing 18 games and recording one assist. He retired for good at the end of the 2008-09 season.

In 21 NHL seasons, Lemieux played 1215 games, scoring 379 goals and 786 points. 10 times in his career he recorded 100+ penalty minutes in a season, finishing with a career total of 1777 minutes. Lemieux was a clutch playoff performer, and sits fourth all-time in career playoff games at 234. Three times in the regular season he finished top four in game winning goals. Despite his prowess in scoring at key times, Lemieux is probably best known as one of the dirtiest players in the game, having been suspended multiple times, and alleged to have bitten the Calgary Flames’ Jim Peplinski in the 1986 Cup Finals.

Perhaps not surprisingly, he has elected to keep a low profile since retiring, competing on CBC’s Battle of the Blades, and working as the president of the ECHL’s Phoenix Road Runners from 2005-2007.

YouTube clip: from the 1987 Canada Cup, ‘punching’ Czechoslovakian goaltender Dominik Hasek. While not much more than a glancing blow, Hasek acts as if he were shot, a glimpse of things to come when Hasek made his way to NHL in early 1990s.

295 Mark Tinordi - Minnesota North Stars

Tinordi, a defenceman, played five seasons in the WHL and was into his first pro season in the IHL with Colorado when he signed a free agent contract with the New York Rangers in January 1987. He played 23 games with the Rangers that season, scoring three points.

In October 1988 he was traded to Minnesota in a six player swap. Tinordi’s role with the North Stars expanded over his first two seasons, culminating in a trip to the 1991 Stanley Cup Finals, while leading the North Stars in scoring for defencemen with five goals and 11 points. In 1992-93 he set career-highs for regular season scoring, with 15 goals and 42 points, and played in the mid-season all-star game. To that point in his career Tinordi was known as more of an enforcer, having averaged 175 penalty minutes per season, including a career-high 240 in 1989-90.

Tinordi was captain of the North Stars during their final two seasons in Minnesota and for their first season in Dallas. In January 1995 he was traded to Washington with a prospect for Kevin Hatcher. His rough style of play caught up with Tinordi during his time with the Capitals, as he appeared in more than 60 games only once during five seasons. In the one season he played more than 60 games (1995-96), Tinordi earned some Norris Trophy votes; in 1998 he made his second Cup Finals appearance as the Capitals were swept by Detroit.

In June 1999 Tinordi was selected by the Atlanta Thrashers in the expansion draft, although he never dressed for the team as he had suffered an ankle injury in February 1999 that would prove to be career-ending.

In 12 NHL seasons Tinordi played in 663 games, scoring 52 goals and 200 points. His son Jarred was a first round pick of Montreal in 2010 and is currently playing for his dad’s former team, the New York Rangers.

YouTube clip: holding his own in a toe-to-toe battle with Bob Probert during his rookie season.

1 view0 comments


bottom of page