Thursday, December 07, 2006


Joe Nieuwendyk

Item: Joe Nieuwendyk retires due to persistent back problems

I was initially going to write something like, "Back problems? Gee, what a surprise...", but then it occurred to me that both the wit and wisdom of this take would be on par with telling a 90-year-old lifelong smoker who gets lung cancer, "See! I told you those things would kill you someday..."

The Calgary Flames of the latter part of the 1980s were big and they were tough. Young Joe Nieuwendyk never fought, and hardly ever threw a bodycheck, but he was as tough as any of them -- a fact that was obviously borne out in the latter half of his career. He was incredibly productive in his Office in front of the net, but boy did he take a pounding to do it.

[Warning: entering fuzzy memory territory] When Joe Nieuwendyk scored his 50th goal in 1987-88, he was only the 2nd rookie ever to do it. Less well-known (or well-remembered) is that he got his 50th with something like 10 games left in the season, and was well-positioned to pass Mike Bossy's rookie record of 53. But at that point, his game just kind of fell off. Still, the Flames were on their way to the President's Trophy, and Joe got a total pass for stalling out: not just because he had played ~50 more games than his Cornell seasons, but also because he had really sacrificed his body to get to the 50-goal mark. Realistically, it is amazing that this back allowed him to play until age 40, considering the number of crosschecks he absorbed in those first few years.

He was a big part of the Flames' Cup win in his sophomore season, too. Macinnis was excellent throughout those playoffs, and Vernon was solid. But the forward lines kind of took turns. While Doug Gilmour and Joey Mullen carried the mail in the L.A. series and the finals against Montreal, it was Nieuwendyk and Loob who produced in the nailbiter against Vancouver and the WCF against the Hawks.

[Long sidebar: for those first two seasons, Roberts hadn't come into his own yet, and it was Nieuwendyk & Loob who were the #1 Option. Even though it's off-topic, I'm going to share this anecdote of Vic Ferrari's that he dropped in the Comments at mc79hockey, because I just about fell off my chair laughing:
Roberts was the king of goading and cheapshotting Messier. ITV in Calgary made a video clip, set to music, of Roberts tripping up goalies accidentally as he left the offensive zone. A bunch of those clips were Fuhr and Moog. He ran guys, he chirped, he fought, he left some marks on the boards. And this was before he really started scoring much, he was playing in the bottom six on a very deep Flames team.

I remember one game against the Kings. L.A had two tough guys, Wells and Baumgartner. [...]Roberts was fighting one of them right next to the L.A. bench. They had the mic turned up too high and you could hear him say "you're next, asshole" to the other one. Thing is, he was losing the fight he was already in. Roberts was a terrific player. Players like this are important I think.

I think so too.]

Lastly, it's always fun to point out that Nieuwendyk is the centre link in a remarkable chain of Flames superstars. When the Flames moved to Calgary in 1980, they had Kent Nilsson, who was 3rd in the league in scoring that first season with 131 points. In the summer on 1985 (on the heels of a 99-point season) he was traded to the Minnesota North Stars for 18-year-old 2nd-round draft pick Joe Nieuwendyk. (A look at Nilsson's hockeydb page shows that Cliff Fletcher's timing couldn't have been more perfect).

And of course in the fall of '95, after about 3 months of contract impasse, Nieuwendyk was traded to the Dallas Stars for Corey Millen and the #11 pick in that summer's draft: another incredibly fortunately-timed move, as the World Juniors started about a week later and essentially turned Jarome Iginla into the #1 prospect from that draft.

I don't know that I could hold Joe Nieuwendyk in any higher regard than I do. He had a long and productive career, was an absolutely complete player, and has an impressive trophy shelf to boot. His place in the Hall of Fame should be secure by any standard; he had one hell of a career, and I'm going to raise a drink for him tonight. To Joe!


Three things interest me about his retirement:

1) Another player is knocked off of the "active player with the most Stanley Cup rings" list. When we looked last year, the most any active player had (after Mess retired) was three. Nieuwendyk was one of those guys. Now it's just Brodeur, Niedermayer, Brylin, Maltby, Draper, Fedorov, Shanahan, Lidstrom, McCarty and Holmstrom. Oh, and Ward.

2) He won three Cups on three different teams.

3) I think his retirement leaves Gary Roberts as the last active link to the original Battle of Alberta. Unless there is someone I'm missing.

He's no Dick Duff.

Ya, I question his HoF status, as well.

My guess is he gets in or is a borderline guy.

It is the HHOF after all.

No offence to Nieuwendyk who was a really terrific player.

Lowetide has gone over this territory a few times of course.

But if Clarke Gilles gets in then why not Nieuendyk?

Andy, re: 3), you are missing one guy.

When the Flames and Oilers last played in the playoffs (1991), the Oil had a young 2nd-year player by the name of Martin Gelinas.

I don't think Niewy's place in the Hall is in doubt (or it shouldn't be). He has great career numbers (500+ goals, 1000+ points), played 1200 plus games, was a rookie of the year, won 3 cups (on 3 different teams), a conn smythe, an Olympic gold medal, and had several tours of duty on team Canada.

Plus, if it was at all in doubt, he played a few seasons in Toronto, which should more or less clinch it.

Marty. Thanks, Matt. Funny that they were all playing/retiring in Florida. But does he count? I always think of the original BoA as including Gretz.

Roberts and Gelinas also have the distinction of being the last active players to have won a Stanley Cup as a Flame and an Oiler. Unless, of course, Reijo Ruotsalainen is still playing somewhere, which is a distinct possibility.

I don't think Niewy's place in the Hall is in doubt (or it shouldn't be). He has great career numbers (500+ goals, 1000+ points), played 1200 plus games, was a rookie of the year, won 3 cups (on 3 different teams), a conn smythe, an Olympic gold medal, and had several tours of duty on team Canada.

Glenn Anderson's numbers are comparable, if not better, and he isn't in the Hof.

As someone who actively hated Glen Anderson, I'd admit he's got a very good case for the HoF, but even if their numbers are close, I think Joe's career is the more accomplished one. Of course using the Clark Gillies example they both should've/should be first ballot shoe-ins.

Another example why Vernon's sweater retirement was premature and a stretch.

Anderson should be in, but that's got nothing to do with whether Nieuwendyk should be in (he should) and more to do with the fact that he was a prick to the media because someone had the temerity to point out his Greek drug-dealing boyfriend drowned in his backyard pool.

Their career numbers are similar, but as anonymous points out, Anderson leads Niewy in drowned boyfriends 1-0, and that seems to be a significant stat for this sort of thing.

Joe's career numbers and various team and individual accomplishments certainly warrant a trip to the Hall.

A couple of things here...

#1: You don't understand how much I hated Nieuwendyk. First we get to know him from the BOA, then he torments us in all the battles with Dallas and then he winds up with TO. All that's missing for him to complete my checklist of hate is if he'd played with the Habs as well.

#2: Is there any truth whatsoever to that whole Anderson rumor?

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