Not as Simple as You Might Think
Mike Modano is not the greatest player ever to wear the Dallas Stars uniform.
Seriously. I know that sounds blasphemous to say, but it’s true. Look, I love Mike. We all do. He’ll always be the face of the franchise and Mike is without question the greatest Dallas Stars player ever, but he’s not the best player to ever wear a Dallas Stars uniform.
There’s a difference.
When you look at every player’s complete career and body of work that has played at least one game for the Dallas Stars, Mike Modano does not come in first. And he’s not second either.
OK, now you’re resisting the temptation to cancel your free subscription to ScoreBoard. But please, read on. Let me explain.
Again, this is about the NHL, not just Dallas. For example, if Wayne Gretzky put on the Stars sweater at age 90 and used a walker to take the ice, he would immediately become the greatest player to have worn a Dallas Stars uniform. Get it now?
So when you break it down, no one who has donned the Star has had a better NHL career than the man who scored the Stanley Cup-clinching goal on a late Saturday night in June, 1999 – Brett Hull.
Hull only played three years in Dallas, but it’s his entire 18-year career that puts him at the top. Only two players in NHL history have scored more goals than Hull’s 741. He is one of only five players to score 50 goals in 50 games, on his way to a career-high 86 in 1990-91 (third-most ever in one season) and a Hart Trophy for league MVP. The Golden Brett had five consecutive seasons of 50+ goals and was a first-team All-Star on three occasions, while playing in eight All-Star Games. He’s a World Cup of Hockey champion and a two-time Olympian for the United States, winning Silver in 2002. A winner of two Stanley Cups, Hull was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2009.
Jaromir Jagr is ranked second on my list, and a case could easily be made for him to be No. 1. A no-brainer Hall-of-Famer, he is the most productive European-born player of all-time, winning the Art Ross Trophy five times as leading point scorer and a Hart Trophy winner as league MVP (he was also a finalist five times). Jagr is closing in on 700 goals (moving past Mark Messier last night for seventh all-time with 695 tallies) and probably would be there already had he not played in the KHL for three seasons. He won two Cups in Pittsburgh and was a seven-time First-Team All-Star.
Here’s where the debate really begins. Does Modano belong in third or does that slot belong to Ed Belfour? Or Joe Nieuwendyk?
The case for Modano: Highest-scoring American in NHL history in goals (561) and points (1,374). Stars’ franchise leader in nearly every category. An eight-time All-Star, led the team to seven division titles, two conference crowns and the 1999 Stanley Cup. No-brainer Hall-of-Fame.
The case for Belfour: Third-most wins (484) of all-time. His 76 shutouts rank tied-for-ninth all-time. Jennings Trophy winner (top goals-against-average) four times and a career GAA of 2.50. Led the Stars to back-to-back Presidents’ Trophies and a Stanley Cup. Was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2011.
The case for Nieuwendyk: One of only 10 players to win the Stanley Cup with three different teams. Scored 559 goals and 1,126 points. A two-time Olympian, winning gold with Canada in 2002. Conn Smythe Trophy winner with the Stars in 1999.
Modano’s ability as a two-way forward gives him the edge in this one, so I place him at No. 3. He should have gotten more consideration as a Selke Trophy candidate (best defensive forward). Belfour comes in at No. 4, with Nieuwendyk at No. 5
The next five? The next two entries were rather easy but the final three slots were tough.
No. 6 goes to Jere Lehtinen: A three-time Selke Trophy winner as top defensive forward. He literally could shut down another team’s line with his neutral zone play and uncanny ability to react to plays before they happened. His #26 deserves to be in the rafters at American Airlines Center, along with #56, who is next on our list.
No. 7 Sergei Zubov: The top-scoring Russian defenseman in the history of the NHL, with 771 points in 1,068 games. He won two Stanley Cups and was selected to four All-Star Games. Zubie should have been nominated for more Norris Trophies as best defenseman, but he rarely spoke with the media and did not self-promote himself. It’s not his style. Chewing up quality minutes on the blue line was.
No. 8 Guy Carbonneau: Won three Selke Trophies as best defensive forward. Also won three Stanley Cups. Former Captain of the Montreal Canadiens and excellent face-off man.
No. 9 Claude Lemieux: One of 10 players to win Stanley Cups with three different teams (winning four total Cups). His 80 career playoff goals are the ninth-most in NHL history. Conn Smythe Trophy winner in 1995.
I had to fudge a bit on the last entry and give it a tie (hey, it’s my list).
T-No. 10 Pierre Turgeon: Considered a bust after the Stars signed him in 2001, Turgeon did most of his damage pre-Stars, with 515 goals and 1,327 points in 1,294 games. Five-time NHL All-Star.
T-No. 10 Pat Verbeek: 522 career goals with 1,063 points. Only NHL player in history to have 500+ goals and 2,500+ penalty minutes.
Close, but no cigar: Eric Lindros – On his way to a Hall of Fame career, he hit a wall with concussions. Named one of the 100 Greatest Hockey Players of All-Time in 1998 at age 25 by the Hockey News. Lindros won the Hart Trophy as league MVP in 1995.
Where’s Guerin, Hatcher, Sydor, Turco, Arnott, Ludwig, Matvichuk, Langenbrunner and Barnes? All worthy of consideration but they did not make the cut. Jamie Benn? Give him time.
There were a couple of names that came, oh so close, to becoming Dallas Stars over the years and being candidates for our list. Teemu Selanne was one. Stars GM Doug Armstrong had a basic deal in place to sign the Finnish Flash as a free agent in 2002 but was overruled by Tom Hicks when given the choice between Selanne or Scott Young. Young was Turgeon’s former linemate in St. Louis and the thought was that perhaps he could help jumpstart Pierre. Jarome Iginla was another, as he was originally drafted by Dallas. The Calgary Flames originally asked for Todd Harvey in the deal for Joe Nieuwendyk in late 1995 but the Stars kept saying no. The Flames “settled” for Iginla. Other players who almost became Dallas Stars (though they probably would not make our list) include Paul Kariya (free agency), Roberto Luongo (trade) and Martin St. Louis (trade).
This is probably the only time Modano won’t be ranked first on a Dallas Stars’ all-time list. He’s still the most likely player to get a statue in front of the AAC one day. And that’s well deserved for what he means to the city and the franchise.
Wait til the next week when I make the case for someone other than Dirk to be the best player to ever wear a Mavericks jersey. No, just kidding. He has that one wrapped up. But you may be surprised at who lands at Nos. 2, 3 and 4.