by Ron Spence
It’s been going on a month since Detroit hoisted the Stanley Cup, a week since the Kings hired a new coach, and the Islanders are now looking for one of their own.
Thinking of these three teams, reminds me of one of hockey’s finest gentlemen, Dave Lewis.
Dave played with the Islanders from 1973-74 until 1979-80, when he was traded to the Kings. He played in L.A. from 1979-80 until 1982-83, then to New Jersey for three years, and finally a season and a bit in Detroit, before retiring during the 1987-88 season.
Dave was an assistant coach in Detroit for 15 seasons, under three coaches, and had his name engraved on the Cup twice as an assistant. He succeeded Scotty Bowman in 2002, a month after Bowman had won a record-ninth Stanley Cup. Lewis had 48-victory seasons in 2002-03 and 2003-04, but his contract wasn’t renewed when his teams didn’t advance beyond the second round. Lewis coached the Bruins during the 2006-07 season, and was fired when Boston didn’t reach the post-season. And last season, he was named an assistant by Marc Crawford, but when Crawford left, so did Dave.
Dave Lewis has thus been in the NHL for well over three and a half decades, and has coached and played with some of the best players in the game’s history.
A few years back I talked to him about some of these stars.
The following is an excerpt from an article which I wrote, and was published by Vancouver’s Sports Vue magazine:
On bottom-feeding teams, Marcel Dionne still accumulated a remarkable 1771 points in 1348 games. He played in Detroit, Los Angeles and New York from 1971 to 1989. He won the Art Ross Trophy once and was the runner up three times.
“The first thing,” Lewis says, “Marcel was very exciting. He was quick, skilled, and very dangerous in the offensive zone. Marcel wasn’t a big guy but he had very outstanding lateral movement. He could beat a defenseman or two just going laterally. And I think Charlie Simmer and Dave Taylor really complimented Marcel in his offensive production. Charlie Simmer was just a natural goal scorer from 10 or 12 feet in. It seemed any time he had the puck close to the goalie he could find a way to get it in. Dave Taylor on the other hand was the ultimate worker. He was the guy to go in and forecheck, hit players, digging pucks out for Marcel. But, Marcel had great vision. All these players have a tremendous vision of the ice.”
Mike Bossy entered the league a half a decade after Dionne. He played from 1977-78 to 1986-87. His career was hampered by a back injury, but he tallied 1126 points in 752 games. Bossy won four Stanley Cups and the Conn Smythe Trophy with the Islanders.
”My analogy of him,” Lewis explains, “is a shark just waiting to feed on other teams’ goaltenders. Very dangerous. Outstanding shot. He always knew where the goal was from the marks on the ice. He knew if the goalie was a standup goalie or a flopping goalie and would shoot accordingly. He never missed the net. He didn’t have the lateral movement like Marcel. He’d put the puck through you and slip by you. He was a very slippery-type player. Marcel used the ice more, but Mike would patrol down the right side and rarely get on the other side of the rink.”
Bryan Trottier was Bossy’s linemate. He played from 1975-76 to 1993-94 and accumulated 1410 points in 1238 games. He won the Art Ross Trophy once and was the runnerup a second year. Like Bossy, Trottier won both the Calder and Conn Smythe Trophies. Because of his aggressive play, Trottier never won the Lady Byng like Dionne and Bossy. But, he was the runnerup for the Frank J. Selke Trophy. And as Dionne had been nominated for the Hart Trophy (for the value to his team), Trottier won the award once and was a runner-up twice.
”Bryan was more of a bulldog type,” Lewis continues, “where he’d go right through you. He’d challenge you physically. He would go to the net and defy you to move him. He would get into traffic and make plays. He’d draw two players to him and feed Bossy. That was more his style. He was more a strong, bull-headed player who would challenge the other team to stop him.
“Try ‘n stop me!” was his attitude.
As Trottier and Bossy were Calder winners, Stevie Yzerman and Sergei Fedorov were runners-up. Yzerman entered the NHL in 1983-84 and accumulated 1755 points in 1514 games before retiring after the 2005-06 campaign. Fedorov joined Detroit in 1990-91, has played on three other teams to date, and had 1146 points in 1196 games by last April.
According to Lewis, Yzerman is ”kind of a cross between Marcel and Brian. Stevie is highly-skilled. Has tremendous vision of the ice. And he also has that determination. But, he has that ability to beat you one-on-one. He doesn’t go through you as much as around you like a Bossy. But, he also challenges you.
He says, ‘Try and stop me!’
That’s been his strength. His skating is something when he’s going. He’s just dancing on the ice. He has Marcel’s lateral movement. He can beat you one-on-one. The puck finds a way to go in for him.”
Like Trottier, Fedorov has been rewarded for both his defense and offense. He has been a runner-up for the Art Ross Trophy and has won, and been the runner-up for, the Frank J. Selke Trophy. And like Dionne, he has won the Lester B. Pearson Award.
“Federov is a tremendously skilled skater, a power skater,” Lewis concludes. “And tremendous hands. He can go through you. He can go around you. He can beat you one-on-one. He can take the puck from behind your net to the other end. He’s one of the few guys who can do it now, in today’s game with such great skaters as there are. He’s one of the best skaters is the league.”
So, who’s the best of these legends? Lewis won’t say.
He just smiles that, “They’re all great players and all of them will be in the Hall of Fame.”
But, he’ll admit who was the best he played against.
“I remember playing against Bobby Orr,” he grins, “and I was on the left side and he went around me like I was standing still.”