January 28, 2019

Top 100 Hockey Players of the 1990s

Mario Lemieux was unstoppable. The Russian Rocket launched. Gretzky took the Kings to the finals. Patrick Roy winked. Mark Messier guaranteed victory. Peter Forsberg put his stamp on the game at the Olympics, while Eric Lindros crashed on to the scene. Joe Sakic and Steve Yzerman lifted the Cup. Dominik Hasek dominated. Brett Hull scored, but with his toe in the crease.

Those are just a few of the most vibrant memories of hockey in the 1990s. And I didn't even mention Teemu's goals, Gilmour's guts, Stevens' big hits, Fedorov's girlfriends or Jagr's hair.

Those were the days. The 1990s! All of this got me wondering - Who were the best hockey players of the 1990s? That is the question I began pondering, only to realize two things in particular:
  1. There were a lot of really great hockey players in the NHL in the 1990s.
  2. Trying to rank them is an almost impossible task, as there is so little to choose from, say, 1 through 20, and then again from 20-65.
So what I have done is ranked the top 10, followed by featuring the top players in several categories - scorers, defensemen, goaltenders, power forwards (of which there were a lot in the 1990s!) and my favorite category I term Don't Forget.

Let's open this conversation by taking a look at all of the candidates, remembering that we are only looking at these players careers in the decade of the 1990s. All stats are from the 1989-90 season through the 1998-99 season.

Top Ten Players of the 1990s

1. Mario Lemieux - Injuries and cancer forced Lemieux off the ice for three full seasons and the vast majority of two others. Yet Lemieux's 779 points (313 goals, 466 assists) in just 377 games is over 2 points per game, by far the best in the decade (Gretzky was next a 1.43). Lemieux also led all scorers in Stanley Cup playoffs play in the decade, scoring 58 goals, 78 assists for 136 points in 78 games. He won two Stanley Cups, two Conn Smythe trophies, four Art Ross trophies, two Hart Trophies and two Lindsay trophies. Highlight - Courageous comeback from cancer trumps impressive back-to-back Stanley Cups. When healthy, he was unquestionably hockey's best player in the 1990s.

2. Dominik Hasek - Dominated the decade with five Vezina trophies and back to back Hart trophies - unheard of for a goaltender. Playing for non-powerhouse Buffalo kept his win totals away from the top (195 in 414 contests - 42 by shutout), but his .926 save percentage was by far the best mark of the decade. Highlight - Dominating the 1998 Olympics and bringing gold home to his native Czech Republic.

3. Patrick Roy - Won the Stanley Cup in Montreal almost single-handedly in 1993, thanks to an unthinkable 10 straight overtime victories. Three years later he memorably exited Montreal in grand fashion, and then lead his new team, the Colorado Avalanche, to their first Stanley Cup in franchise history. His 310 regular season wins and 75 post-season wins easily led all NHL goalies in the decade. Highlight - 1993 Stanley Cup playoffs.

4. Brett Hull - No player scored more goals in the 1990s than Brett Hull, and it's not even close. He scored 512 times, 139 more than runner up Luc Robitaille! He led the NHL in goals three consecutive years at the beginning of the decade. He also added another 63 goals in the Stanley Cup playoffs - another NHL best of the decade. Won Hart Trophy and Lindsay Award in 1991. Highlight: Winning the Stanley Cup in 1999 with the famous overtime winning goal.

5. Wayne Gretzky - 1020 points (257 goals, 763 assists in 713 games) led all players in the decade, with the runner up (Adam Oates) almost 100 points back. 2 Art Ross trophies, 4 Lady Byng trophies, 4 All Star teams. Highlight - Memorable 1993 Stanley Cup run. Gretzky may be best remembered for the 80s, but he was almost as good in the 1990s, too.

6. Steve Yzerman - 363 goals and 555 assists rank him third best in the decade with 918 points. Add another 107 points in 113 playoff games, where he was instrumental in captaining the Detroit Red Wings to back-to-back Stanley Cups in 1997 and 1998. Highlight: Winning Conn Smythe trophy as playoff MVP in 1998.

7. Mark Messier - Captained two teams to memorable Stanley Cups - Edmonton in 1990 and New York Rangers in 1994. Career plateaued after 94 championship, but his 819 points in 694 games in the decade still ranked him 11th. He won two Hart Trophies and a Conn Smythe. Highlight: Guaranteeing and delivering a crucial win against New Jersey in the 1994 Eastern Conference finals.

8. Jaromir Jagr - 862 points in 662 games ranks him 7th best in the 1990s - the only player in the top ten to play less than the full 10 seasons. Won back-to-back Stanley Cups in 1991 and 1992 to open career, he later emerged from Mario Lemieux's shadow to win five consecutive Art Ross trophies, including 3 in the 1990s. Add the Hart and Lindsay trophies in 1999 when he was universally hailed as the best player in hockey.

9. Eric Lindros - After an incredible amateur career Eric Lindros entered the NHL in 1992 poised to be the next great superstar. Devastating injuries would limit him to just 431 games in the decade yet he scored 263 goals and 600 points - the third best points-per-game ranking behind Lemieux and Gretzky. Highlight - 1994-95 season where he won the Hart and Lindsay trophies, and tied for the scoring championship though technically finishing second due to fewer goals scored.

10. Joe Sakic - 917 points (352 goals, 565 assists) ranked him 4th best in the decade. Add another 94 points in 76 playoff games, including a league leading 18 goals and 34 points in 22 playoff games in 1996. He led the Avalanche to their first Stanley Cup that spring, capturing the Conn Smythe trophy as playoff MVP. Highlight: 1996 playoffs.

Super Scorers

Adam Oates - His 693 assists and 927 points both ranked second only to Wayne Gretzky for the decade's best marks. Highlight: 1992-93 season where his 142 points was third best. His 97 assists that season are the most in NHL history by a player not named Gretzky, Lemieux or Bobby Orr.

Pavel Bure - Thanks to a late start and two seasons lost to knee injuries, Pavel only played in 439 games, scoring 267 goals and 494 points. But everything he did was an event. With the possible exception of Mario Lemieux, the Russian Rocket was the most electrifying player in hockey in the 1990s. Highlight: Every single goal he scored.

Sergei Fedorov - 672 points in 602 regular season games, but it was the playoffs where Sergei Fedorov was unbelievable. Four consecutive years Fedorov scored 20 or more points in the playoffs, totalling 126 post-season points in the decade - the second most behind only Mario Lemieux's 136. Integral part of Detroit's back-to-back Stanley Cup championships in 1997-98. Highlight: 1993-94 season when he won Hart, Lindsay and Selke trophies.

Peter Forsberg - Forsberg only played 5 seasons in the 1990s, yet he scored 440 points in 344 games. There was no doubting his status as one of the game's best, but only playing half of the decade hurts his standings here. His amateur career prior to arriving in the NHL was impressive, too.

Teemu Selanne - Only played seven seasons, but totalled 313 goals and 644 points in 485 games. Led NHL in goal scoring three times in 1990s, including a remarkable 76 goals in his rookie season in 1992-93.

Pierre Turgeon - This will surprise some. Pierre Turgeon's 349 goals and 518 assists gave him 867 points - the sixth highest total of the decade. Highlight was the 1992-93 season when exploded for 58 goals, 74 assists and 132 points.

Ron Francis - Eight highest scoring player of 1990s with 842 points (238 goals, 604 assists) in 762 games. Instrumental in Penguins back-to-back Stanley Cup championships in 1991 and 1992. Won two Byng trophies and a Selke trophy in the 1990s. Highlight: Career best 92 assists and 119 points in 1995-96.

Mark Recchi - After a strong sophomore season that saw Recchi hoist the Stanley Cup in Pittsburgh in 1991, Recchi was traded to cross-state rivals Philadelphia prior to the Pens 1992 Stanley Cup championship. Playing alongside Eric Lindros, Recchi's numbers immediately spiked with a 53 goal, 123 point campaign in 1992-93. Recchi's 840 points are 9th best of all players in the decade.

Theoren Fleury - Face of the Calgary Flames for the decade, Fleury scored 820 points in 770 games was the 10th most in the decade.

Doug Gilmour - Little man rose to great heights in Toronto, where he was arguably the best player in hockey in 1993 and 1994. Slowed down significantly by end of decade though his 793 points ranks 12th best. Won the Selke trophy in 1993 while posting career best 127 points.

Luc Robitaille - Highest scoring LW (okay, that's no surprise) with 783 points in the decade, ranking him 13th overall. 373 goals was second most to Brett Hull.

Paul Kariya - Expansion star only played half the decade, but posted three consecutive First All Star team nods and won two Lady Byng trophies. Enjoyed his best offensive years from 1995-2000.

Mike Modano - Point-a-game scorer evolved into a dominant all-around performer by the end of the decade when he led the Dallas Stars to the 1999 Stanley Cup.

Vince Damphousse - Silky smooth Vinnie Damphousse was the 16th highest scoring player in the 1990s with 767 points (288 goals and 479 assists). Led Montreal in playoffs scoring when they won the Stanley Cup in 1993.

Peter Bondra - Quietly one of the most consistent goal scorers of the Dead Puck Era, Bondra twice led the NHL in goals in 1990s. He totalled 316 goals in the 1990s, He co-led Washington in goals en route to an appearance in the 1998 Stanley Cup Finals.

Joe Nieuwendyk - The classy Nieuwendyk was a consistent scorer thoughout the 90s, Nieuwy totalled 318 goals and 643 points in 674 games. He exited Calgary for Dallas in a trade for a rookie named Jarome Iginla. Dallas didn't mind too much. Nieuwendyk won the Conn Smythe trophy when leading all scorers with 11 goals in the 1999 playoffs en route to a Stanley Cup championship.

Igor Larionov - Soviet star joined the NHL after the prime of his career was spent in international hockey, yet "The Professor" accumulated 460 points in 584 games in the NHL in the 1990s, as well as so much respect. Won Stanley Cups with Detroit in 1997 and 1998.

Craig Janney - Smooth playmaker Janney had 508 assists (12th best in decade) and 673 points (23rd best) while setting up the likes of Cam Neely, Brett Hull and Brendan Shanahan.

Dale Hawerchuk - Hall of Fame career was winding down by mid-decade, but Hawerchuk was good for 90 points a season in the first half of the decade.

Dave Andreychuk - With 330 goals and 672 points in 732 games, power play specialist Dave Andreychuk definitely ranks among the best of the 1990s. Had back to back 50+ goal seasons.

Alexander Mogilny - One of the most skilled and electrifying players to ever play the game, Alex Mogilny had one of the greatest seasons ever in 1992-93, scoring 76 goals in 77 games. He had a 55 goal season 3 years later, but struggled with health issues and consistency which prevented him from maintaining such lofty superstar numbers.

Mats Sundin - The remarkably consistent Mats Sundin was always good for 30+ goals and 75-80 points. He had a couple of really strong years in 1992-93 (114 points) and 1996-97 (94 points). Also was notably strong in 1999 playoffs.

Pat Lafontaine - 637 points in just 484 games as serious injuries decimated his career. Was an annual 50 goal threat and then, teaming with Alexander Mogilny in Buffalo, stepped into the realm of superstars with 53 goals, 95 assists and 148 points!

Doug Weight - Classy Doug Weight became on-ice leader of the Oilers in the post-dynasty era. 485 points in 8 seasons.

Dominant Defensemen

Ray Bourque - Eight time All Star won four Norris trophies in the 1990s. His 712 points in 735 games ranked him 21st overall, but the most among all defensemen. Highlight: 1990 Stanley Cup playoffs

Brian Leetch - Leetch was the best New York Ranger when they won the Stanley Cup in 1994. He won the Conn Smythe trophy while also leading all scorers with 23 assists and 34 points. Leetch, who won two Norris trophies in the 90s, had an impressive 670 points in 722 games.

Scott Stevens - 410 points in 730 regular season games, but we all know Scott Stevens dominated physically and defensively. Three times an All Star in the 1990s, Stevens captained the New Jersey Devils to the Stanley Cup in 1995.

Larry Murphy - No skater played more playoff games in the 1990s than defenseman Larry Murphy. In 139 post-season contests Murphy scored 105 points - the most among defensemen and 10th best overall. He won four Stanley Cups in the decade!

Eric Desjardins - Emerged as one of 1990s steadiest defensemen in 1993 with the Stanley Cup champion Montreal Canadiens. Later was traded in blockbuster swap with Philadelphia involving John LeClair and Mark Recchi. Desjardins became an All Star in Philly.

Derian Hatcher - Hatcher, one of the most intimidating defensemen to ever skate in the NHL, captained the Dallas Stars to the Stanley Cup in 1999, and was instrumental in USA's victory at the 1996 World Cup of Hockey. Defensive throwback to old time hockey.

Nicklas Lidstrom - Dominated new millenium, but emerged in 1990s. Cornerstone of two Stanley Cup championships, Lidstrom was runner-up to three Norris trophies in the decade.

Vladimir Konstantinov - Was emerging as hockey's top shutdown defenseman when a post-Stanley Cup championship limo accident claimed his career and almost his life.

Chris Chelios - Started decade with a new team - the Chicago Blackhawks. Won two Norris trophies in the decade.

Steve Duchesne - Entertaining and underrated defenseman put up 500 points in the 1990s, despite leaving Gretzky's Kings in 1991. He put up consistent numbers with some pretty bad teams.

Al MacInnis - 649 points in 693 games. His numbers with Calgary in the first half of the decade are incredible. He later joined St. Louis where he won the Norris trophy in 1999.

Sergei Zubov - 373 points in just 461 games. Key part of New York Rangers Stanley Cup championship in 1994 (the defenseman led the team in scoring that year) and of the Dallas Stars championship in 1999. Very underrated.

Paul Coffey - Paul Coffey will always be remembered for his scoring exploits in the 1980s. But he added another 131 goals, 507 assists and 638 points in 669 games in the 1990s. He helped the Penguins in 1991, and was instrumental on the development of players like Mario Lemieux and Nicklas Lidstrom.

Sandis Ozolinsh - Only played seven seasons but put up big numbers in San Jose and Colorado.

Teppo Numminen - One of the most underrated players not only of the 1990s, but ever.

Calle Johansson - See Numminen, Teppo.

Chris Pronger - Only played six seasons where we witnessed his maturation into the defenseman who would dominate next decade

Scott Niedermayer - Like Pronger, became dominant in new millenium, but in the 1990s he was almost underratedly good. Offensive numbers slow to emerge in New Jersey's defense-first mind-set, but quietly perfected defensive game, helping New Jersey win the Stanley Cup in 1995.

Kevin Hatcher - Big man was an impressive goal scoring defenseman, especially on the power play. He scored 34 goals (and 79 points) back in 1992-93, including 20 PP markers! Hatcher had 174 goals in the 90s. Al MacInnis was the only defenseman with more.

Phil Housley - 598 points in 682 games - the 5th highest mark of any defenseman. Put up incredible numbers early in the decade with Winnipeg in particular.

Rob Blake - With his booming shot and trademark butt-checks, the bulk of Rob Blake's Hall of Fame career came in the 1990s with Los Angeles.

Glen Wesley - Left Boston mid-decade where he became a cornerstone of the Hartford/Carolina franchise.

Great Goaltenders

Ed Belfour - His 272 regular season wins and 61 playoff wins both rank second best for the decade. Led Chicago to the Stanley Cup final in 1992 but won the Stanley Cup with Dallas in 1999. Four time All Star won the Calder trophy and two Vezina Trophies. Highlight: Stanley Cup win in 1999.

Curtis Joseph - Popular Cujo had 248 wins in the 1990s, third best among all goalies. Some of his best goaltending came late in the decade with Edmonton, but the Oilers just could never seem to get by Dallas.

Bill Ranford - Started decade on fire, leading Edmonton to 1990 Stanley Cup and impressively leading Canada to the 1991 Canada Cup. Edmonton's rapid decline deflated Ranford's stats for the decade, however.

Tom Barrasso - Back to back Stanley Cup championships with the Penguins in 1991 and 1992. 203-131-44 in 398 games

Kirk McLean - Memorably led Vancouver to Stanley Cup finals in 1994. Two time Vezina finalist and even finished 4th for the Hart trophy in 1992.

Mike Vernon - 232-174-67 in 482 games, Vernon left Calgary to join Detroit mid-decade, backstopping the Wings to the Stanley Cup in 1997.

Mike Richter - Excitingly led New York Rangers to Stanley Cup in 1994 and Team USA to World Cup of Hockey in 1996. 230-174-57 in 492 games. 22 shutouts.

John Vanbiesbrouck - 510 games played (5th most), 214 wins (6th) and 29 shutouts (5th). Memorable run to Stanley Cup finals in 1996 with Florida Panthers

Martin Brodeur - Won the Stanley Cup in 1995 but only played 7 seasons in decade. Still won over 200 games. 36 shutouts was 4th best of decade.

Tommy Salo - Finished the decade as a workhorse goalie with some weak teams with the Islanders and Oilers. Fans forget he won an Olympic gold medal in 1994.

Power Forwards

Claude Lemieux - 480 points in 676 regular season games is ordinary, but Claude became a superstar in the playoffs. In 1995 he won the Conn Smythe trophy as playoff MVP while leading New Jersey to their first Stanley Cup. The very next season he moved to Colorado and helped the Avs win their first Stanley Cup. 55 post season goals in 1990s was 4th best, 106 points was 9th best.

Brendan Shanahan - Prototypical power-forward scored 365 goals (3rd highest of decade) and over 1500 penalty minutes (only Pat Verbeek had more among top scorers). Key member of back-to-back Stanley Cup championships in Detroit in 1997 and 1998.

Cam Neely - Injuries allowed Neely to play in only 307 games in the 1990s. But he scored 229 goals and 374 points. That includes three 50 goal seasons, including in 1993-94 when he scored 50 in 49 games!

Trevor Linden - He was no superstar scorer, but stats never told the story with this classy, underrated leader. His performance in 1994 Stanley Cup playoffs remains the stuff of legend. Excelled at the intangibles.

Jeremy Roenick - 756 points in 733 games in the 1990s, good enough for 15th overall. Roenick entered the decade as a take-no-prisoners sensation in Chicago, but ended the decade out of the spotlight in Phoenix.

Keith Primeau - After maturing his game in Detroit at the beginning of the decade, Primeau emerged as a top power forward in the second half of the 90s, particularly when he joined Hartford/Carolina.

Keith Tkachuk - In 1996-97 he led the league with 52 goals while also accumulating 228 PIMs. Also had 1990s seasons of 50 goals, 41, 40 and 36. He totalled 272 goals in 526 games, while piling up over 1300 PIMs.

John Leclair - Eric Lindros' linemate on the Legion of Doom, Leclair enjoyed three consecutive seasons of 50 or more goals in Philly. He started the decade as a surprise hero of the 1993 Stanley Cup championship in Montreal.

Adam Graves - Power forward Graves was a strong 30 goal threat who topped 50 goals in 1993-94 - the same year he helped the Rangers win the Stanley Cup.

Rick Tocchet - Power forward tallied over 1500 PIMs along with 286 goals and 611 points in 646 games. Offensive numbers inflated when playing alongside Mario Lemieux, but was always revered as one of the game's greatest competitors.

Gary Roberts - Another of the great power forwards of the 1990s. He was a 40 goal scorer who topped 50 goals in 1991-92 while spending over 200 minutes in the box. Overcame a serious neck injury to resume his career in Carolina by the end of the decade.

Kevin Stevens - 298 goals, 659 points, 1302 PIMs in 709 games. The power forward really rode Mario Lemieux's coattails as the Penguins won Stanley Cup titles in 1991 and 1992. He struggled without Mario for the rest of his career.

Don't Forget!

Jeff Hackett - Played admirably with terrible San Jose expansion team. Bounced back with strong seasons in Chicago and Montreal.

Geoff Courtnall - Surprised with 43rd most regular season points (548 in 692 games) and 12th in playoffs (97 in 122 games).

Bobby Holik - Key defensive center was the stereotypical forward with strong New Jersey teams in the 1990s.

Rod Brind'Amour - With 778 regular season games, Rod Brind'Amour played more games than anyone else in the 1990s. 273 goals, 430 assists and 703 points. He was particularly strong in the 1997 playoffs, leading the league with 13 post-season goals and pacing the Flyers to the Stanley Cup Finals.

Joel Otto - Giant shutdown centre was best known for his head to head wars with Mark Messier in the Battle of Alberta. Later reprised that role in Philadelphia against Messier in New York.

Pat Verbeek - The original " Little Ball of Hate" accumulated over 1700 PIMs but also scored 308 goals and 644 points.

Steve Thomas - Popular "Stumpy" posted 262 goals and 582 points in 702 games in the 1990s. Played very well along side Pierre Turgeon with the Islanders and later Mats Sundin in Toronto.

Mike Gartner - Great 80s scorer consistently found the net in the 90s, too. 304 goals in 661 games.

Tony Amonte - 40 goal threat with Chicagoe throughout much of the 90s, Tony Amonte also scored the championship winning goal for Team USA at the World Cup of Hockey in 1996.

Owen Nolan - Regular 30 goal/100 PIM threat with some bad teams in Quebec and San Jose

Ziggy Palffy - Didn't become full-time NHLer until 1996 when he turned in seasons of 43, then 48 and then 45 goals with the New York Islanders. Dazzling player.

Mike Keane - Defensive specialist would only score 10 goals a year, but there was not a team in the league that didn't want him on their side in the playoffs. Played strong support role on three Stanley Cup championships in three different cities - Montreal in 1993, Colorado in 1996 and Dallas in 1999.

Tomas Sandstrom - Consistent forward had big season alongside Wayne Gretzky in 1990-91 and then a strong playoff in 1993. Later won a Stanley Cup with Detroit.

Ray Sheppard - Consistent 30 goal threat who topped out with 52 in 1993-94.

Robert Reichal - Quietly had several solid seasons, totalling 507 points in 8 seasons. And he became a legend in his native Czech Republic with the gold medal winning goal at the Olympics, plus strong showings at World Championships.

Stephane Richer - Dynamic goal scorer, primarily in the first half of the decade.

Brian Bradley - For four seasons Bradley was an unexpected expansion star in the early days of the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Valeri Kamensky - 414 points in 460 games in the decade, he teased audiences playing alongside peter Forsberg and Claude Lemieux

Scott Mellanby - Physical and inspirational leader of the expansion Florida Panthers, he did it all - including starting that whole crazy rat tradition.

Brian Bellows - All-around player and super scoring threat in the first half of the decade, Bellows had strong Stanley Cup post-seasons in 1991 and 1993.

Mark Tinordi - Struggled with injuries, but when healthy he was a much coveted bruising, defensive defenseman. His coming out party was the 1991 playoffs when the Minnesota North Stars made it all the way to the Stanley Cup final.

Now it's your turn. Who were the best players in the 1990s? Tell me in the comment section below, or on Twitter @HockeyLegends


Grizzly said...

Hello Joe,

A little typing error crept into your excellent article about Roenick's stats.
You should stop drinking coffee, your fingers on the keyboard are too swift!
I know, I know this is not a great knee-slapper.
Anyway, keep up the good work!

Dan said...

I like the list and, since so much of this is influenced by personal prejudices, I won't say it's 'wrong.'
That said, I would switch the top two, equally dominating at their respective positions but I personally value goaltending more than offense.
My only other gripe is Messier, he certainly belongs on the list but I'd probably knock him off the top ten in favor of Borque or Chelios. I remember him having a couple good years in Edmonton followed by many years of coasting (comparatively).
Lots of fun going down memory lane though, thanks.

Unknown said...

I created 176 players from the 90s in my NHL 14 ps3 game. I had all but 10 players on your list. No enforcers ?? Glorious part of the game and what about captains like dirk graham n kris drapper simon gangne all in all great list

BJG said...

Tommy Salo over Olaf Kolzig?

Unknown said...

Olie The Goalie! The prototype for modern giant butterfly tenders. Peter "Bonzai" Bondra was always a threat to score 50 goals a season. "Archie" Irbe willed his Sharks to monumental upsets by being "like Wall". Jeff Friesen was speedy and could score. Mike Archie was one of the best defensive defenseman in the league.

Anonymous said...

Adam Foote

Anonymous said...

What about Kirk McLean, Tom Barrasso or Andy Moog? Those guys were three solid goalies in the 90's. Andy Moog was the top 10 in wins with 372 when he retired in 1998. Moog also won Stanley cups, and was on the Canadian Olympic team before the NHL was involved.Tom Barrasso had 368 career wins, a vezina award, calder award, two Stanley Cups, and a Olympic silver medal. Kirk McLean lead the Canucks to the Stanley cup finals in 1994. I don't understand how those three goalies are not on the list.

Paul said...

This list is pretty much spot on.

I'd probably drop Keane, though. I'm sure I can think of someone better...

How about Muller?

Unknown said...

Total childhood flashback to nhl94 on super Nintendo