Thursday, August 27, 2020

The playoff performer Hall of Fame (for non-Hall-of-Famers)

Ah, the Stanley Cup Playoffs. That magical time of year when reputations are made, legacies are written, and superstars become legends.

Of course, it’s also the time of the year when pretty ordinary players can become legends too. That’s one of my favorite parts. For some reason — a knack for the clutch, an abundance of heart, or just the joy of small sample sizes — certain players seem to level up in the postseason. Some were already stars, some were borderline scrubs, but they found a way to elevate their game when it mattered most.

There’s no such thing as the NHL Playoffs Hall of Fame. But there should be. So today, let’s honor those players who took their game to the next level when it mattered most by building a roster’s worth of inductees.

There’s one important criteria for making our squad: The player can’t already be in the real Hall of Fame. Spoiler alert: Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux and Bobby Orr were all really good in the playoffs too. There’s no fun in that. So we’re only looking for playoff heroes who haven’t been inducted into the real Hall. (In the same spirit, we’re also ruling out active players, and recently retired ones who aren’t eligible yet.)

We need 12 forwards, six defensemen and two goalies, and maybe a few Black Aces along the way. We won’t worry too much about position beyond that, because it’s the playoffs and everyone will do what they need to do to help the team. Let’s remember some guys.

First Line

Barry Pederson
Today, most fans know Pederson as a key piece of one of the most lopsided trades of all-time. He was the guy that the Canucks acquired in 1986 in exchange for both a first-round pick and a young Cam Neely. It’s probably the worst trade in Canucks history.

But there’s a reason that Vancouver gave up so much to get Pederson: He was really good in the playoffs. Like, historically good. In four postseasons from 1982 through 1986, Pederson appeared in 34 playoff games for the Bruins, and he racked up 22 goals and 52 points in those games. That total includes his 1983 run, in which he banked 32 points in 17 games.

All told, Pederson’s lifetime points per game in the playoffs of 1.53 ranks behind only Gretzky and Lemieux among players with 10 games. The next three guys on the list: Mark Messier, Mike Bossy and Orr.

Ironically, injuries and diminished production meant Pederson never played another postseason game after the trade. But he did get his name on the Stanley Cup with the 1991 Penguins, along with our next guy…

Kevin Stevens
If you run a list of the top 40 postseasons by points scored, it won’t surprise you to see a lot of names show up multiple times. Gretzky is there six times. Messier has four. Lemieux, somewhat surprisingly, only has two. Jari Kurri, Doug Gilmour and Bryan Trottier show up a few times each.

But only one player who isn’t in the Hall of Fame manages the feat, and that’s Stevens. And that’s because in the early 90’s, Stevens was a freaking beast. He had 33 points in the Pens’ first Cup run in 1991, then followed it up with 28 more in 1992. More impressive, his 30 goals in those two years ties him with Gretzky for the most in consecutive postseasons by anyone other than Bossy, Kurri or Lemieux.

He was on his way to a three-peat, with 16 points through 12 games in 1993, when tragedy struck. A brutal fluke injury against the Islanders ended his season and, indirectly, his career as in impact player. It might be hyperbole to say it cost the Penguins a third straight Cup, but I’m not entirely convinced it would be wrong. Stevens was that good.

Reggie Leach
He has to be on the team, because it’s possible that nobody ever had a playoff run quite like Leach’s masterpiece back in 1976. It’s not easy to follow up a 61-goal season by finding another gear in the playoffs, but that’s what Leach did when he set an all-time record with 19 playoff goals that year, a mark that still hasn’t been beaten to this day – guys like Gretzky, Bossy and Lemieux cleared 15 in a postseason, but never topped Leach’s mark. It wasn’t quite enough to lead the Flyers to a third straight Cup, but it did earn Leach the Conn Smythe, making him the only non-goalie from a losing team to ever win it.

Leach had some other solid postseason runs, including 16 points in 1980, so he wasn’t a one-hit wonder in the same way as some other guys we’ll meet. But man, his biggest hit was an all-timer.

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