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  • Writer's pictureDerek Ochej

Winning Cups quickly, frequently and not at all

This week's post contains only four player profiles and that is because we are profiling some of the most memorable players from the 1990s. We have two Hall of Famers in Mark Messier and Mike Gartner, one player that should be in the Hall in Theo Fleury, and a two-time 50 goal scorer in Stephane Richer.

In researching the individual players, I came across a few connecting threads. Both Messier and Gartner were drafted in the famous 1979 draft, the first draft that took place after the WHA folded. In fact, Messier and Gartner were briefly teammates with the Cincinnati Stingers of the WHA.

There is also a connection between Stephane Richer and Theo Fleury, as both players won the Stanley Cup in their rookie seasons: Richer in 1986 with Montreal and Fleury in 1989 with Calgary. And in both cases, each player was also on the losing side of the others respective Cup wins!

While Richer and Fleury experienced instant Cup glory, and we are well familiar with Mark Messier and his six Stanley Cups, Mike Gartner played over 1400 games and never once even played in the Cup Finals! In terms of most games played in the NHL without winning a Cup, Gartner ranks fifth behind the following players:

  1. Patrick Marleau - 1657 games

  2. Joe Thornton - 1566 games

  3. Jarome Iginla - 1544 games

  4. Shane Doan - 1540 games

  5. Mike Gartner - 1432 games

Of the four player above Gartner on the list, three at least played in a Stanley Cup Finals (Thornton and Marleau with San Jose in 2016 and Iginla with Calgary in 2004). The furthest Shane Doan ever advanced in the playoffs with the Winnipeg/Arizona organization was the 2012 Western Conference Finals, the only time he ever played outside the first round! Gartner did make one trip to a Conference Finals, in 1994 with Toronto.

Card 244 - Stephane Richer

A right winger, Richer was drafted 29th overall by Montreal in 1984. He would play one final year of junior before making his pro debut at the conclusion of the 1984-85 season. Richer would appear in one game with the Habs, then join AHL Sherbrooke on their run to a Calder Cup victory.

In his rookie NHL season Richer would score 21 goals and 37 points and continue his winning ways, winning the Stanley Cup in 1986. His offensive totals would skyrocket in the 1987-88 season, scoring 50 goals and leading the league with 11 game winners. Two seasons later Richer would again crack the 50 goal mark, this time scoring a career-high 51 goals and 91 points. He would also finish second in the league with a +35 rating and play in the 1990 all-star game.

Prior to the start of the 1991-92 season, Richer would be traded to New Jersey with Tom Chorske in exchange for Kirk Muller and Rollie Melanson. In five seasons with the Devils he would score 30+ goals twice and win his second Stanley Cup in 1995, contributing 21 points in 19 playoff games.

The summer of 1996 would see Richer shipped back to Montreal for defenceman Lyle Odelein. In the first season of his return, Richer scored 22 goals, the 12th consecutive (and final) time he would crack that barrier. After a season and a half with the Habs, he would be on the move again, this time to Tampa Bay in a five-player swap. Richer played parts of three seasons with the Lightning, two as assistant captain, before a January 2000 trade to St. Louis.

Over the final two seasons of his NHL career Richer would suit up with Pittsburgh and return to New Jersey, playing his final 10 NHL games with the Devils before retiring in 2002.

In 17 NHL seasons Richer played in 1054 games, scoring 421 goals and 819 points. He briefly returned to the game in 2004-05, playing in eight games of semi-pro in the LNAH in his home province of Quebec.

YouTube clip: scoring four goals versus the Kings, including the overtime winner, in a March 1988 game. Three years later, he would be involved in a trade with the goalie he beat four times that night, Rollie Melanson.

Card 245 - Theoren Fleury

Fleury, the diminutive right winger, was drafted 166th overall by Calgary in the 1987 draft. Perhaps because of his size (5’6”), he was returned to junior for a fourth season, scoring 68 goals and 160 points before turning pro with Salt Lake City of the IHL.

Fleury would make his NHL debut in the 1988-89 season, playing in 36 games with Calgary, scoring 14 goals and 34 points. The Flames would go on to win the franchise’s first Stanley Cup that spring, with Fleury contributing 11 points in 22 games.

In his third season (1990-91), Fleury scored 51 goals and 104 points, finishing fifth in both Hart and Selke Trophy voting. He would also tie for the league lead with a +48 rating. In the five following seasons Fleury would score 30+ goals four times, and eclipse the 90 points mark twice. During the lockout shortened 1994-95 season he would be a second team all star and finish sixth in league scoring with 67 points.

Throughout the late 1990s Fleury continued to produce at a point-per-game pace for Calgary, but the Flames struggled as a team. During the 1998-99 season Fleury would be sent to Colorado for a package of players and draft picks. He caught on immediately with the Avalanche, scoring 10 goals and 24 points in 15 regular season games and 17 points in 18 playoff games as the Avs lost the Western Conference Finals to eventual Cup champs Dallas.

As an unrestricted free agent, Fleury signed a massive contract with the New York Rangers. In his three years with the Rangers, the team missed the playoffs each season despite Fleury’s best efforts. He scored 30 goals and 74 points in 2001-02, while also recording a career-high 216 penalty minutes, fifth in the league.

In June 2002 Fleury’s rights were traded to San Jose, and he signed with Chicago less than three weeks later. He was suspended by the league to start the 2002-03 season due to violating the NHL substance abuse policy. Fleury returned later that season to play 54 games for Chicago, scoring 33 points. In April of 2003 he would again be suspended for violating the substance abuse policy, effectively ending his NHL career.

In a 15 season career, Fleury played in 1084 games, scoring 455 goals and 1088 points. He ranks ninth all-time in shorthanded goals with 35 and played in seven all-star games. Since leaving the NHL Fleury has played senior hockey in Canada and played one season with Belfast in the EIHL, winning a league title and leading the league in scoring.

In October 2009 Fleury revealed in his autobiography that he was sexually abused by former junior coach Graham James. Fleury now works as an advocate for sexual abuse victims and runs hockey camps for youth. He has also dabbled in various business ventures as well as a country music career.

YouTube clip: career highlights courtesy of Sportsnet.

Card 246 - Mark Messier

Originally a left winger, Messier was drafted 48th overall by Edmonton in the 1979 draft. He had previously played one season of pro hockey in the WHA, split between Indianapolis and Cincinnati.

Messier would make his NHL debut during the Oilers’ first season in the league in 1979-80, scoring 33 points in 75 games. He would break out during his third NHL season, scoring 50 goals (a career-high) and 88 points while being named a first team all-star. Messier would be Wayne Gretzky’s number two on the dynastic Oilers teams of the 1980s; between 1982 and 1991 Messier:

  • Scored 30+ goals seven times and 100+ points five times, including a career-high 111 in 1987-88. He would finish top five in the league scoring three times;

  • Be named an all star two additional times at left wing (one first team and one second team), and be named a first team all star centre in 1989-90;

  • Won the Hart and Pearson Trophies in 1990;

  • Won the Conn Smythe Trophy in 1984;

  • Won five Stanley Cups while averaging well over a point-per-game in the playoffs, including leading the 1990s playoffs in assists and points.

Messier’s final season with the Oilers would come in the 1990-91, one season after leading the team to its first and only Stanley Cup win in the post-Gretzky era. During the 1991 Canada Cup, he would make public his desire to leave behind the Oilers organization. Less than a month later Messier would be traded to the New York Rangers for Bernie Nicholls, Louie DeBrusk and Steven Rice. He was an instant hit with the Rangers, scoring 35 goals and 107 points, being named a first team all-star and winning his second Hart and Pearson Trophies.

Three seasons after being acquired, Messier would lead the Rangers to their first Stanley Cup victory in 54 years, forever cementing his legacy as a pro sports legend. With the Rangers down 3-2 in games to the New Jersey Devils in the Eastern Conference Finals, Messier guaranteed that the Rangers would win game six. Backing up his words, the Moose would score a natural hat trick in the third period to pace the Rangers to a 4-2 victory. New York would go on to win the series in seven games, and eventually the Stanley Cup.

The 1994 Cup victory would be a tough act to follow for any team, and the Rangers were no exception. Messier continued to perform well individually, scoring 47 goals and 99 points in 1995-96, finishing second in Hart Trophy voting. In the 1997 playoffs the Rangers would make the Eastern Conference Finals, losing in five games to Eric Lindros’ Philadelphia Flyers. This would be the Rangers’ final conference finals appearance until 2012.

In the summer of 1997 Messier signed with the Vancouver Canucks as a free agent. His three seasons in Vancouver would be marked by controversy, beginning with popular team captain Trevor Linden seceding the ‘C’ to Messier, and the Canucks taking Wayne Maki’s # 11 out of retirement. Messier’s individual performance would decline, only once surpassing 20 goals and 60 points as the Canucks missed the playoffs each of his three seasons.

In 2000, again a free agent, Messier would return to New York. In his first season back on Broadway, he would score 24 goals and 67 points. Unfortunately during Messier’s final four years in the NHL, the Rangers would miss the playoffs each season; Messier would retire at the end of the 2003-04 season at age 43. During his second stint with the Rangers, Messier’s rights were actually traded to San Jose in exchange for a draft pick. Messier would re-sign with New York just days after the trade, but the pick acquired by the Rangers would be used to select Ryan Callahan, a future Rangers captain.

In a 25-year NHL career, Messier played in 1756 games (3rd all-time), scoring 694 goals (9th), 1193 assists (3rd) and 1887 points (3rd). He also ranks second all-time in shorthanded goals (63) and 16th in game winners (92). Messier played in 15 all star games, was inducted in the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2007 and received the Lester Patrick Trophy in 2009.

Messier became synonymous with leadership during his 25 year NHL career, as was captain for all three teams he played for and was the first player to captain multiple teams to Stanley Cup victories. In 2006-07 the Mark Messier Leadership Trophy was awarded for the first time to an NHL player ‘recognized as a superior leader within the sport and a contributing member of society.’ In retirement Messier has been a senior advisor with the Rangers (2009-2013) and coached Canada at the Spengler and Deutschland Cup tournaments. We also cannot forget his memorable Lay’s Chips commercials.

YouTube clip: highlight video from being selected one of the NHL's 100 Greatest Players.

Card 247 - Mike Gartner

A right winger, Gartner was drafted fourth overall by Washington in the 1979 draft. Much like Mark Messier, Gartner had played the previous season in the WHA, spending time as Messier’s teammate with Cincinnati. Gartner would also make his NHL debut in the 1979-80 season, scoring 36 goals and 68 points.

In nine seasons in Washington, Gartner would become an elite goal scorer, scoring 40+ goals five times, including a career-high 50 in 1984-85. Not only was he elite, but he was also consistent, never scoring less than 35 goals during his time as a Capital. Unfortunately the team was never very successful in the playoffs during his time, and in March 1989 Gartner was traded with teammate Larry Murphy to Minnesota for Dino Ciccarelli and Bob Rouse.

Gartner would play one year less a day with the North Stars, scoring 41 goals in 89 games, before he was shipped to the New York Rangers for Ulf Dahlen and a draft pick. Reunited with former WHA teammate Messier, Gartner would put up seasons of 49, 40 and 45 goals with the Rangers.

Playoff success would continue to elude Gartner, as he would be traded to Toronto in March 1994 for a package of players including Glenn Anderson. As we all know, the Rangers would go on to end their 54 year Cup drought that season, with Gartner’s new team, Toronto, losing to Vancouver in the Prince of Wales Conference Finals; Gartner would put up 11 points in 18 games that playoff season.

The 1994-95 lockout shortened season would be the first of Gartner’s career where he did not score 20 or more goals, but he would rebound the following season, scoring 35. In the 1996 off-season he would be traded to Phoenix, where that season he would score 32 goals, the 17th and final season of his career scoring 20+ goals. During his final season of 1997-98, Gartner would manage to score his 700th career goal, becoming only the fifth player in NHL history to score 700 in a career.

In 19 NHL seasons Gartner played in 1432 games (30th all-time), scoring 708 goals (8th) and 1335 points (31st). He also ranks fifth all time in even-strength goals with 467. Gartner played in seven all-star games, and won the game MVP in 1993. Known for his blazing speed, he also won the fastest skater competition three times, and his record lap of 13.386 seconds in 1996 was the fastest in league history for 20 years. In retirement, Gartner has worked for the NHL Players’ Association and currently owns and operates three hockey training centres in the Greater Toronto Area.

YouTube clip: highlight video from being named one of the NHL's 100 Greatest Players.

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