Sunday, February 1, 2009

Best Retired Power Forwards

In the early nineties, the term power forward was coined to describe a new sort of player that had emerged in the mid to late eighties. These were players who combined offensive skill with rough, physical play. There's no hard definition for the power forward - different people have different criteria once you get past these main two aspects. But I'm going to define a power forward by these factors: strength, toughness, nastiness with a willingness to fight and goal-scoring ability. I place less importance on assists as I believe power forwards are finishers rather than playmakers.

No, I don't think Mark Messier was a power forward - he was tough and nasty and obviously he could score but he didn't fight enough. Neither did Tim Kerr - a big body who could score garbage goals in front of the net. Joel Otto wasn't a scorer - he was sort of the defensive equivalent of a power forward. So all those guys are out. Consistency is also important so Kevin Stevens, whom I consider to be a one year wonder as far as power forwards go, won't be found here either.

This list doesn't take into account active players so apologies to Gary Roberts and Brendan Shanahan.

I'll be including the stats for what I pick to be the player's "best power forward season". Goal and PIM totals will be the most important factors here. Higher assist totals aren't really considered so what I pick won't necessarily be the most productive season from an offensive standpoint. Here are the purest power forwards no longer in the game.

5. Pat Verbeek (1983-2002)
Standing only 5'9, Verbeek had to work extra hard to make this list. Size is usually a really important factor in determining a power forward, but he made up for it. While not even six feet, Verbeek weighed a solid 190 pounds, giving him a very low centre of gravity. This made him difficult to knock off the puck and when he hit you, you felt it. Playing for the Devils in the eighties and then the Whalers in the early nineties, Verbeek was a terror, averaging close to 30 goals and 200 PIM's a season. He fought often and scored even more frequently. He was so nasty to play against, Verbeek actually earned one of the greatest nicknames in league history, "The Little Ball of Hate." Unfortunately, because of the teams he played for, he didn't see much playoff action until later in his career when he was less effective.

Best Power Forward Season: 1987/88 - 73gp 46g 31a 77p 227PIM

4. Dale Hunter (1980-1999)
After putting so much stress on goal-scoring ability, I pick a guy who never had 30 in a season. But he consistently scored over 20 and his PIM totals are epic. Hunter retired as one of the only players in NHL history with over 3000 penalty minutes. He probably fought with more regularity than enforcers in today's NHL do. And he did it all while being very important to his team, an offensive catalyst as well as a physical one.

While I do place less importance on assist totals, I will point out that Hunter easily has the most of anyone on this list. He had 40 assists in a season eight times, with over 50 in five of them. So while not as much of a finisher as other power forwards, his assist totals prove he had great offensive skill. Hunter put up an astounding EIGHT seasons with over 20 goals and 200 penalty minutes - I don't know if that's a record but it must be. And if you look at the stats, it's REALLY close to ten, with 19 goals in his rookie season and 198 PIM's in another. Hunter was also extremely durable despite his physical style of play, being injured far less frequently than most power forwards. He scored a very respectable 323 career goals while crashing, banging and fighting all the way. (No, I'm not cool with what he did to Pierre Turgeon that time)

Best Power Forward Season: 1985/86 - 80gp 28g 42a 70p 265PIM

3. Rick Tocchet (1984-2002)
Tocchet's years with the Flyers, where he had four 30-goal seasons along with another 20-goal one and tons and tons of penalty minutes, are enough to get him somewhere on this list. But he's higher than fourth or fifth for those years combined with what he did in Pittsburgh. While it was really his last hurrah as a true power forward, I feel his 92/93 season with the Penguins is perhaps the best power forward season in NHL history.

Tocchet also proved right away in his career that he was going to be an effective player with an impressive 11 playoff goals in just his third season. He fought all comers and was at times impossible to keep off the scoresheet, one way or another. Today people in extensive hockey fantasy leagues that count stuff like PIMs and reward more points for goals can only dream of a player like Tocchet. His fantasy value in such leagues would be through the roof in his peak years.

While already an extremely productive scorer in Philadelphia, Tocchet exploded when he was given the chance to play on a line with Mario Lemieux. He slowed down in later years so he can't claim number one but man, was he good.

Best Power Forward Season: 1992/93 - 80gp 48g 61a 109p 252PIM

2. Wendel Clark (1985-2000)
The curse of many power forwards is injuries and Clark's career is a great example of this. Accuse me of favouritism all you want - stats don't lie. Like Verbeek, Clark wasn't a physically imposing guy, at least not to look at. He was 5'11 and his playing weight never quite reached 200 pounds. But when he hit someone, he made him feel every ounce of it. Actually converted from defense, which he'd played all through junior, playing for the Leafs Clark immediately adapted to playing up front, emerging as one of the game's greatest power forwards. His checks were often devastating and always clean. He often fought players much bigger and heavier than himself and usually won.

Because of injuries caused by his kamikaze style of play, Clark only once ever played over seventy games in a season. Which is unfortunate for lots of reasons including the fact that I know he had at least one, maybe more, 50 goal season in him. Routinely scoring more goals than assists (a rare characteristic in most players and important mark of the power forward), he managed 46 in only 64 games once but that was as close as he got. He wound up missing almost entire seasons but was always effective whenever he played. He was just as good in the playoffs if not better and his PIMs there only seem down some because there is less fighting in playoff hockey. Because of injuries, Clark can't boast the gaudy numbers some of these other guys can but you'd only have to see him play one game to recognize him as a truly great power forward.

Best Power Forward Season: 1986/87 - 80gp 37g 23a 60p 271PIM
*1993 playoffs - 21gp 10g 10a 20p 51PIM

1. Cam Neely (1983-1996)
Anyone who knows anything about hockey shouldn't be surprised by this. While maybe some power forwards had established themselves as such before Neely did, I don't think anyone was using the term then. It was basically Neely that defined it. While his penalty minute totals don't match up to the other guys on this list, no one would dispute that he was tough as nails and that he was always more than willing to drop the gloves. Perhaps the fact that he never reached 200 PIMs in a season is a reflection of the possibility that no one wanted to mess with him. Have you seen tape of this guy throwing? He pulverized guys. And his scoring ability is far beyond anyone else here, which is really saying something. Who else could step over the blue line and rip a shot past Patrick Roy?

Like Clark, Neely had trouble putting together entire seasons, always getting hurt and missing games. If not for injuries, Neely could have scored over six hundred goals. Maybe even seven hundred. In his spectacular comeback season in 93/94, he scored 50 goals in an eye-popping forty-four games. No one not named Gretzky has ever done better. He was a scoring machine, putting them in every way possible - he could battle in front of the net like other power forwards, knocking in rebounds, but he could score the fancy finesse goals as well, deking around opponents before wiring it past some hapless goalie.

He was one of the most feared hitters in the game at the same time as he was one of the most feared scorers - Alex Ovechkin has that rep today but I'm telling you, Neely was better at BOTH, plus he would fight. His goals per game average is one of the best in NHL history and it's even better in the playoffs. When a player's career is shortened by injuries, people will make the argument stats like goals per game aren't quite as impressive because the player never got the chance to decline. But I just don't see Cam as the type of player who would have declined. A hit from Ulf Samuelsson is what wound up doing him in and it's too bad because who knows what further heights he may have reached.

Best Power Forward Season: 1989/90 - 76gp 55g 37a 92p 117PIM


RyHo said...

Your knowledge of hockey continues to stun.

Cole D'Arc said...

well, i did have to look up stats but yes, I am amazing.

Shane said...

There's something cool about the names Cam and Ulf.

Cam vs. Ulf ... yeah...I can see it now. Cam Neely seeks his revenge on Samuelsson, in 2012 on an international space station astro-rink orbiting Earth. It's the perfect setting for futuristic sports movie.

Hey there's an idea. Five Athletes that Deserve a Movie About Their Career.

Cole D'Arc said...

well, as you should know, Cam Neely has appeared in more movies than any other NHLer to date. He'll always be best remembered for his role as Seabass in Dumb And Dumber.

Anonymous said...

How is Kevin Stevens a one year wonder? He had for consecutive 40+ goal seasons (including consecutive 50 goal seasons).