Tag Archives: Mario Lemieux


by Ron Spence

A team falters all season – mired in controversy – gets it together, squeaks into the playoffs, and then makes a run for the Stanley Cup….

A player improves, flourishes, falters, and then gains redemption, when he returns to his roots – to the team where he started his career – as he makes a comeback….

Most of us love these stories. They remind us of different elements of our own lives.

The NHL is playing out variations on the second plot line.

Jeff Friesen is trying to resurrect his career in San Jose, and Jeff O’Neil is attempting to return to the NHL, with Carolina.

Friesen was chosen 11th overall, in the 1994 Draft. He played part of the 1994-95 season with the Sharks, and full seasons until 2000-01, when he was part of the Selanne trade, with the Ducks. During his time in San Jose, he scored 22, 26, 28 and 31 goals.

Friesen played one season in Anaheim, and two in New Jersey, where he helped to win the Stanley Cup – by scoring 10 playoff goals. He played two part seasons for the Capitals and Ducks –  following the lockout – and one full year for the Flames.

Last season, he played in only five games in the AHL, before hanging up his skates due to injury.

Jeff O’Neil was selected 5th overall by Hartford, in 1994.

He started playing for the Whalers in 1995-96, and scored 8, 14 and 19 goals, before 25 goals, and 41 goals in 2000-01. He helped Carolina to win the Cup, and by 2002-03, he had his third consecutive 30 goal season.

O’Neil was injured and had a subpar year, there was the lockout, and then he was traded to the Leafs. In Toronto, he played for two seasons, and his production slowly fell off, largely due to personal problems.

Petr Nedved’s colourful NHL career has been well documented. Sportsillustrated.cnn.com wrote.

The Sports Illustrated highlights didn’t mention Nedved’s unpopularity in New York – after he’d been sent there from St. Louis.

John Dellapina, of the Daily News, provides some details of Nedved’s first tenure in the Big Apple:

People are pulling for the east and west Jeffs.

“What a great story it would be if Jeff could continue his career with the team he started with, and contribute and the team has success,” the San Jose coach said. “But so many things have to happen prior to that.”

“He did nothing to hurt himself,” McLellan continued. “But did he climb the ladder to the top? No, he didn’t do that either.”

Bryan Thiel of the Bleacher Report wrote of O’Neil: “For his sake, I hope he can prove that he’s earned a spot on the Carolina Hurricanes roster. Or at least proves to the league that, after everything he’s been through, he can still play, and still be a factor, maybe prove that he’s still that mullet-wearing, hockey-loving kid he used to be, with the same passion anyone brings to the game—just now with a little added fire.”

Friesen and O’Neil are still at the Sharks’ and Hurricanes’ camps, but Nedved has been released by the Rangers.

He played well enough, but there weren’t any roster spots available.

But, had the talented Czech made the New York squad, it wouldn’t have been a feel good story.

Friesen and O’Neil had lost their way – due to injuries and personal problems – whereas, Nedved has always been just plain greedy.

He has never had any loyalty.

He wasn’t playing for redemption. He wanted more money.

Few have any sympathy for Petr Nedved. He has burned his many Karmatic bridges behind him, so to speak.


P.S. And now, Claude Lemieux wants to make a comeback. Well, at least it won’t be for the money.

The following from the newsobserver.com:


In 2000-01 Jeff O'Neill was the only player to lead his team in both goals and hits.

Alas, Jeff Friesen was in shape, but the San Jose Sharks were chockablocked full of forwards. It was the same sitaution, in a way, as Nedved’s in New York.

The San jose Mercury reports:

Word is obviously already out that the Sharks ended Jeff Friesen’s tryout without adding him to the roster. I won’t pretend this is breaking news.

In hindsight, there were hints along the way that was how this might wind up, but I know a lot of longtime Sharks fans were hoping it would work out differently.

Midway through training camp, for example, Todd McLellan said he recognized what a good story it would be if Friesen could continue his career where it began, if he’d be able to contribute to the Sharks’ season much the same way Dallas Drake did in his homecoming to Detroit a year ago. Then the coach added: “But it’s up to Jeff.”

Coaches are rarely forthcoming with detailed explanations when players are cut or benched. They’ve got their reasons, but it’s usually not in their best interest to spell them out.

Today, McLellan seemed to be following the traditional tack.

“We now went through a couple days where we sorted out as an orgazniation where we wanted to be and made a decision on the 23-man roster,” the coach said. “In fairness to Jeff, he had a good camp, he competed very well, he did everything he could. But for us to continue to hold onto him and to linger with hm wasn’t going to help him in his attempt to come back.”

GM Doug Wilson said earlier in the week that the staff was waiting for a medical update on Marcel Goc’s injury before having to make a decision on Friesen. McLellan said today that Goc was back on the ice for a light skate today, but that his possible availability was only “somewhat” of a factor in the Friesen decision.

I’m trying to reach Friesen. So far, no luck.”

HOCKEY SALARIES: 1987 1988 1989 1990

by Ron Spence

When Bob Goodenough took over the NHLPA in February, 1990, he introduced salary disclosure. It’s something that’s taken for granted today.

How important was it?

Wayne Greztky’s father, Walter admitted to Terry Jones: “I knew Wayne was getting traded days before he did because Nelson Skalbania phoned me and asked, ‘How much does Wayne make?’

I said ‘Why?’

He said ‘Because Peter’s shopping him to the highest bidder.’

I said ‘No he’s not.’

He said ‘Yes he is.’

That was during the 1988 Stanley Cup finals – a year and a half before salary disclosure.

Of course Pocklington knew how much his star was making, as did Wayne and his father, but it wasn’t public knowledge like it is today.

Hockey Zone Plus has compiled a comprehensive database of some 2500 players who’ve played in the NHL from 1989 until the present.

Also, a hockey fan, who calls himself Ogopogo, has located copies of Sport magazine, which ceased publishing in 2000. In his issues were the: 1987, 1990, and 1991 NHL salaries.

I have included the Hockey Zone’s 1990 salaries, along with those listed by Sport.

I would note, however, that the two lists for 1990 aren’t always the same – some are calculated in American funds, some Canadian. But, I am including both, as they provide a good idea of NHL salaries at that time.

I would ask the reader to also note, that the years from 1987 until 1990, was the time in which Offer Sheets were first being presented.

SPORT – June, 1987

1. Wayne Gretzky – Oilers – $950,000 CDN – (converted to $717,250 USD)
2. Marcel Dionne – Rangers – $700,000
3. Mike Bossy – Islanders – $650,000
4. Bryan Trottier – Islanders – $625,000
5. Dave Taylor – Kings – $600,000
6. Mario Lemieux – Penguins – $550,000
5. Denis Potvin – Islanders – $550,000
8. Mike Liut – Whalers – $450,000
9. Rod Langway – Capitals – $400,000
10. Barry Pederson – Canucks – $350,000

SPORT – June, 1989

1. Gretzky – Kings – $2 million
2. Lemieux – Penguins – $1.5 million
3. Trottier – Islanders – $950,000
4. Taylor – Kings – $700,000
5. Dionne – Rangers – $600,000
6. Liut – Whalers – $550,000
7. Goulet – Nordiques – $510,000
8. Messier – Oilers – $510,000
9. Savard – Blackhawks – $500,000
10. Coffey – Penguins – $485,000
11. Duguay – Kings – $475,000
12. Hawerchuk – Jets – $467,500
13. Stastny – Nordiques – $446,250
14. Carpenter – Bruins – $425,000
15. LaFontaine – Islanders – $425,000
16. Gustafsson – Capitals – $410,000
17. Stevens -Capitals – $400,000
18. Pederson – Canucks – $400,000
19. Bourque – Bruins – $380,000
20. Fuhr – Oilers – $340,000
20. Robinson – Canadiens – $340,000

SPORT – June, 1990

1. Gretzky – Kings – $2.72 milion
2. Lemieux – Penguins – $2.15 million
3. Chelios – Canadiens – $1 million
4. Trottier – Islanders – $975,000
5. Taylor – Kings – $950,000
6. Bourque – Bruins – $925,000
7. Messier – Oilers – $875,000
8. Nicholls – Rangers – $725,000
9. Yzerman – Red Wings – $700,000
10. Goulet – Nordiques/Blackhawks – $600,000
11. Carson – Oilers – $585,000
12. Robinson – Kings – 550,000
13. Savard – Blackhawks – $525,000
14. Dineen – Whalers – $510,000
15. Wilson – Blackhawks – $500,000
16. Hextall – Flyers – $500,000
17. Kerr – Flyers – $500,000
18. Coffey – Penguins – $485,000
19. Stastny – Nordiques – $480,000
20. Hawerchuk – Jets – $462,000

HOCKEY ZONE PLUS – 1989-90 (U.S. Dollars)

1. Lemieux – Penguins – $2,000,000

2. Gretzky – Kings – $1,720,000

3. Messier – Oilers – $855,271

4. Yzerman – Red Wings – $700,000

5. Trottier – Islanders – $ 575,000

6. Robinson – Kings – $550,000

7. Savard – Blackhawks – $525,000

8. Goulet – Nordiques/Blackhawks – $517,980

9. Bourque – Bruins – $500,000

10. Hextall – Flyers – $500,000

11. Wilson – Blackhawks – $500,000

12. Taylor – Kings- $500,000

13. Kerr – Flyers – $500,000

14. Chelios – Canadiens – $496,398

15. Coffey – Penguins – $450,000

16. Liut – Capitals – $445,000

17. Salming – Maple Leafs – $435,000

18. Kurri – Oilers – $431,650

19. Howe – Flyers – $425,000

20. Stastny – Nordiques – $414,384

21. MacInnis – Flames – $410,068

22. Sandstrom – Kings – $410,000

23. LaFontaine – Islanders – $400,000

24. Nicholls – Rangers – $400,000

25. Gartner – Capitals – $400,000

25. Carson – Oilers – $400,000


by Ron Spence

Hockey salaries were out of control, prior to the NHL lockout, and the resulting agreement.

During that time, four players were earning $11 million plus per season – not counting Sakic and Fedorov, who had higher front-loaded contracts.

They were: Mario Lemieux, Peter Forsberg, Keith Tkachuk, and Jaromir Jagr (three seasons).

Name the highest paid NHL player, never to play in an All-Star game, or win a Stanley Cup.

Chris Gratton

Bobby Clarke, and the Philadelphia Flyers, signed Gratton to a $10,150,000 contract for the 1997-98 season.


by Ron Spence

Will Joe Sakic play another season for the Avalanche?

Will he retire?

(Does he have things to do in Denver?)

We know that he won’t sign to play anywhere else. That’s a given. Burnaby Joe’s loyalty is up there with Steve Yzerman’s.

And as Joe Sakic ponders what to do, I remember a feature which I wrote – for Hockey Illustrated – ironically, about his patience:


If patience is a virtue, Joe Sakic should be a candidate for sainthood.

THE Hockey Scouting Report writes: “Sakic’s most impressive gift is his great patience with the puck. He will hold it until the last minute, when he has drawn the defenders to him and opened up ice, creating…time and space for his linemates.”

Equally impressive is Sakic’s patience off the ice.

First of all, he waited and waited for his team to improve. Finally, after years in the basement, Colorado (formely Quebec) elevated themselves to the penthouse when they won the Stanley Cup in 1996.

Joe also waited for people to recognize his talent. Vancouver’s Dave Babych calls Sakic “the quietest superstar there ever was.” Joe had been fifth in NHL points during the 1990’s, yet didn’t win an NHL award until the Avalanche took the Cup. It was the Conn Smythe Trophy.

And, Joe waited patiently for the financial compensation he rightfully deserved. He recently signed a contract for $21 million, making him one of hockey’s wealthiest players.

Joe Sakic was born in Vancouver, British Columbia, and first caught people’s attention when he played midget hockey. Joe lead his lackluster team to the Air Canada Cup championships. Next, Joe played Major Junior in Swift Current and accumulated 133 points in 72 games the 1986-87 season. Joe was named the WHL East Division Rookie of the Year and was drafted 15th overall by the Quebec Nordiques. He would have been drafted higher, but his size and speed were a concern.

Former junior rival, and Team Canada linemate, Trevor Linden recalls Joe in junior: “Nothing really bothered Joe or got him off his game. He was very solid and a very good two-way player and worked very hard in all the areas of the ice … Joe leads by his actions. He’s just a great player. A good, all-around player. He’s highly-skilled and very quick. He’s got a great shot”

Joe’s next junior season, he accumulated a remarkable 160 points in 64 games and was named the Canadian Major Junior Player of the Year. He also collected a Gold Medal as a member of Canada’s junior team that winter.

But, Joe’s glory seasons in junior were followed by humbling years in Quebec. His first NHL season, Quebec stumbled to a pathetic 27 wins and 46 losses. The 19-year-old was one of the few bright spots with a respectable 62 points in 70 games. The following three seasons, the Nordiques totaled: 12 wins and 61 losses; 16 wins and 50 losses; and 20 wins and 48 losses. Yet, Joe tallied a remarkable 102, 109 and 94 points (That last year, he played in only 69 games.).

Martin Gelinas was briefly Joe’s team-mate in Quebec.

“He’s a great person,” remembers Marty. “A down-to-earth kind of guy. Off-ice he’s got this quality where all the guys like him and want to be with him. And I think he’s one of the top three or four players in the NHL right now. Skill-wise when I played with him, he was unbelievable. He’s a great passer. He’s got great vision. He reads the ice so well. It seems like when he came to Colorado, he stepped it up a notch or two. He became an All-star player. He was a great player before and he’s become one of the best players in the league.”

Jyrki Lumme played against Sakic when he was with Montreal. He describes the difference between Joe then and now: “Now he has better players around him, so he doesn’t have to do everything himself. Back in Quebec, he was pretty much the only guy. When you have a guy like that, and you put some good players with him, he’s going to make everybody so much better.”

Hard work was the major reason for Joe’s improvement. He decided to increase both his speed and strength, after being cut from the 1991 World Cup team. The following summer, he practiced plyometrics. This is a jumping, hopping and bounding technique that builds explosiveness  in the legs.

Canucks’ defenseman Grant Ledyard marvels at Sakic’s speed: “He plays at a very high level. Anyone who can skate as fast as they can go and handle the puck so smoothly as he does, you have to respect. And he’s so level-headed. He holds the puck to the perfect time and he’ll make that great pass. Not many of his passes will get knocked down or taken away. He puts it where he should. In the last minutes of the game, he makes great plays. Whether they’re down or they’re up. He’s just a great, great player.”

The 5’11”, 185 pound Sakic also built himself into one of the league’s strongest (pound for pound) players. He can bench press more than 300, and squat more than 400 pounds.

Goalie Corey Hirsch notes Sakic’s toughness: “Joey is very hard-nosed and quick. He’s got a quick release. If the puck’s in the corner, he’s hard after it. He doesn’t let you beat him to it. When he’s got the puck, it’s off his stick. Boom! Smart! He’s a really good hockey player.”

Jyrki Lumme agrees: “He’s just a great talent and he plays the price too. He really wants to be the best, just like Paul Kariya. They’re not the biggest guys, but they don’t give up. A great talent level with a great work ethic. You can’t ask anything more. They get their noses dirty. They don’t give up the puck just because the other guy might be bigger. They battle for the puck with their skills and speed.”

Joe also worked on his two-way game. Brian Bellows played against Sakic when he was with the Canadiens. “He’s a supreme offensive player who’s really developed his defensive skills,” Bellows says. “One of the all around best players in league.”

Another reason for Joe’s improvement was his international experience. This was because Quebec was at the bottom of the league, and didn’t make the playoffs most years. So, Joe was selected to represent his country. One post-season, he helped Canada win the Silver Medal by scoring 11 points in 10 games. Two years later, he helped Canada finish fourth, and the year after that he led Canada to the Gold Medal.

Finally, Quebec started to turn things around. Their high draft picks, plus the players they received for Eric Lindros were paying off. The Nords achieved 47 wins and 27 losses and Joe had 105 points. But, the next year, Joe had 92 points and Quebec fell to 34 wins and 42 losses.

Then, the strike-shortened season, Quebec rebounded to an impressive 30 and 13 record and Joe tallied 62 points in 47 games. Also, in the playoffs against New York, Joe scored two game-winning goals and had a third called back.

Things turned around completely by the following summer, when Marcel Aubut sold the Nordiques to Comsat Corp. Then, the Colorado management traded for: veteran characters Claude Lemieux and Mike Keane, offensive defenseman Sandis Ozolinsh and all-star goalie Patrick Roy. The result was 47 wins and 25 losses.

That was also the season that Joe’s play really came together. Joe tallied 120 points and was behind only Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr in the scoring race. But, more important, Sakic played his best against the better teams, and was second in league in short-handed goals.

Arturs Irbe explains why Sakic can be such a force: “An explosive guy. Very quick hands. An unbelievable release. His shot is the shortest snapshot I’ve seen and the hardest one. He might not have the hardest shot in the league but the quickest release. I don’t know if there’s anybody better to get the shot off, and it’s comparable to a slap shot.”

“What happens is he holds onto the puck, and knowing he has the fast release, you always have to be in the right position and far out enough to make a stop. And he waits and waits and he keeps you on edge. And then he passes, and a often there’s no time to recover and to get to the pass, and if it’s a one-timer, a lot of times it’s in. He keeps you on edge all the time.”

In the playoffs, Sakic scored 18 goals and 16 points in 22 games (He was within one goal of the all-time, single-season mark for playoff goals. He also set a playoff record with six game-winning goals.). Colorado won the Cup and Joe received 9 out of 10 first place votes to win the Conn Smythe Trophy.

“He went to a new level of leadership,” coach Mark Crawford told Damien Cox. “We added some experienced guys who had won … and I think they really helped Joe’s game. They showed him there’s more than one way to lead … He sensed those guys knew when it was time to crank it up and when to rise to the occasion, and that’s what we got from him.”

Last season (1996-97), Sakic was hampered by injury and played in only 65 games. He tallied 74 points.

But, Joe played well in the playoffs, scoring 8 goals and 17 assists in 17 games. Once again, Sakic’s patience had paid off.

A patience that will guarantee him sainthood in the Hockey Hall of Fame.