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July 13, 2013

Marcel Dionne

Many of today's superstars of the professional sports world complain about a lack of privacy. The demands on their time because they are famous and worshipped by millions is probably the worst aspect of the life of a pro athlete.

Rarely does a superstar slip through the cracks of prestige and recognition as inconspicuously as Marcel Dionne.

Dionne finished his career ranked as the third highest scorer of all time with 731 goals, 1040 assists and 1771 points in 1348 games. Only Wayne Gretzky and Gordie Howe amassed more impressive totals at the time.

In fact, of all the greats to grace the ice, Dionne ranks as the highest scoring French Canadian of all time. Not Guy Lafleur or Rocket Richard or Jean Beliveau or Mario Lemieux. Marcel Dionne outscored them all.

Yet when fans endlessly debate who is the greatest player of all time, Marcel's name hardly ever gets as much as a whisper. In the recent "Top 50 NHL Players of All Time" issue of the Hockey News, the third highest scorer in NHL history was ranked only 38th.

Why is Dionne under-appreciated? For one, he spent most of his career in Los Angeles when hockey was little more than an a passing thought in the sunbelt of the United States.

Another reason is despite all of his spectacular scoring displays, he has very little in terms of trophies in his display case. He was overshadowed first by the powerful Montreal Canadiens in the 1970s, and then by Wayne Gretzky in the 1980s.

Probably the biggest reason why Dionne gets very little acknowledgment as one of the game's greatest is because his own team never really achieved much in terms of team success. Dionne appeared in the Stanley Cup playoffs in only 9 of his 18 years, never once getting close to appearing in the Stanley Cup finals. He appeared in 49 games and managed 45 points. This lack of Stanley Cup success often equates to a diminished status when discussing the greatest ever.

Marcel Dionne was perhaps the first great French Canadian not to play for Montreal. Back then it was considered destiny for a high scoring French Canadian to play for the Habs. However the fates never allowed Dionne to fulfill his destiny. The 1971 draft was quite the mini-drama in itself as Montreal acquired the 1st overall pick, and were faced with the tough decision of selecting two French Canadian scoring stars - Dionne or Guy Lafleur.

The Habs selected Lafleur, who initially struggled. Meanwhile Dionne went #2 to Detroit where he set the league on fire. Dionne, who was immediately dubbed "Little Beaver" because of his uncanny resemblance to a midget wrestler who used the stage name, set NHL rookie scoring records (since broken) and in fact scored 366 points in his first four seasons, more points in a four year period than any other player in history to that point.

Unfortunately he and the Wings had their differences, and after refusing to sign a contract he found the Los Angeles Kings were willing to pay $300,000 a season. That was the richest deal in hockey history to that point. A trade was worked out, and Dionne headed west.

Dionne instantly became the Kings shining jewel. Soon he would center one of the greatest lines in hockey history: the Triple Crown line with Dave Taylor and Charlie Simmer. His play on the ice was regal, winning the Art Ross and Lady Byng trophies.

Though Dionne's scoring prowess continued to impress on the California coast, he played in seemingly uninterrupted obscurity. Meanwhile Lafleur found his game, and was leading the Montreal Canadiens to multiple Stanley Cups.

Dionne would continue to play in Los Angeles until late 1987, when he accepted a trade to the New York Rangers. Dionne left, and continues to be, the Los Angeles Kings all time leading scorer. The Kings also retired his #16.

Dionne finished his career with the New York Rangers. Though he enjoyed his time on Broadway, his career came to a surprising end in the minor leagues. After being a healthy scratch many times in 1989, Dionne pushed for a minor league re-assignment, just wanting to play the game he loved. He would return to New York state and make it is home, opening up a dry cleaning business as well as promoting his own line of memorabilia.

Despite being one of the most prolific scorers in history, Dionne doesn't seem to get his due. Perhaps that's because he played in Los Angeles and never got the media attention he deserved. He never really played with a good team, as he was never part of a good playoff run or a Stanley Cup victory.

He is however, without a shadow of a doubt, one of the greatest hockey players of all time.

2 comments:

Garry Hook said...

Who picked the top 50 players of all time,the fans,what fans.They must not know much about hockey.Marcel Dionne should be in the top ten of all time.A hockey fan myself for 50 years.I've seen it all,this man deserves better. Garry in Whitby

NoTalentHack said...

I remember in the early '90s, Marcel Dionne would frequently be seen at the rink north of New York City where my over-30 beginner league played. I believe he was helping to coach one of the kids teams. It's interesting you open by describing him slipping through the cracks, as I found him to be very unassuming and quiet. At the rink, he would often go unnoticed, but at the same time, when noticed, he was always polite and willing to chat. Definitely a great one who deserves to be remembered as such.

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