Joel Dorcas | May 11th, 2020
Mario Lemieux, “the magnificent one”, quite possibly the most gifted player to ever play the game. As enjoyable as it was to watch Wayne Gretzky park himself behind the net and make a great play, it was equally as enjoyable to watch “Super Mario” weave and deke through the teeth of the defense for a goal. Lemieux left an ever-lasting impression on the game with his incredible offensive skills that won’t be forgotten. Let’s queue up another Blast From the Past and look at the great career of number 66 Mario Lemieux.
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Draft: 1984, 1st Round, 1st overall, Pittsburgh Penguins
NHL Clubs: Pittsburgh Penguins(1985-1997, 2001-2006)
All-Star Appearances: 9
Stanley Cups: 1991, 1992(PIT)
Hall of Fame Induction: 1997
Scoring with Ease
Lemieux played the game almost effortlessly with incredible natural skill. He made stickhandling, deking, passing, shooting look so easy. It was apparent early on that he would be on another level amongst the competition. Not even a professional yet, Lemieux would be breaking records. His outrageous 282 points in 70 games during the 1984 Quebec Major Junior Season still easily holds up as the best ever in CHL history.
The transition to the NHL was a smooth one. Lemieux would put up a cool 100 points in his rookie season with a really bad Pittsburgh Penguins team. He took home the Calder Trophy(Rookie of the Year) without much debate.
Just two seasons into his career and Lemieux is already playing up to his massive potential. Despite the Penguins not being ready yet for success, the League has taken note of 66’s great play. His 48 goals and 141 points during the 1986 season nets him the Ted Lindsay Award, the most outstanding player award selected by the NHL’s Players Association (He would go on to win three more of these).
Filling up the Trophy Case
Already an elite superstar, Lemieux’s prime performances would be on the horizon. 168 points during the 1988 season for Lemieux would lead to his first of six total Art Ross Trophy’s(scoring leader). Lemieux scored 70 goals during this incredible campaign, he would score at least 45 goals in a season eight times during his career. The hardware didn’t stop with the Art Ross, Lemieux would also be named MVP(Hart Trophy), he would later capture two more in the early and mid-90s.
The Penguins weren’t quite contenders yet in 1989 but the Magnificent one continued to fill up the scoresheet. He put up the fifth-best ever season point total with 199 and the fourth-best ever goal total of 85.
Finally in 1990-’91, it all came together for Pittsburgh even though they were without their captain for the majority of the regular season. Lemieux was limited to just 26 regular season games due to a back injury, something he would have to deal with numerous more times throughout his career. There was plenty of talent in Pittsburgh to get through the season though. Mark Recchi, John Cullen, Paul Coffey, Kevin Stevens, and Tom Barrasso would pick up the slack.
A healthy Mario Lemieux would join the club in time for the Playoffs. 24 games later and for the first time ever, the Pittsburgh Penguins would be Champions. Lemieux was outstanding scoring 44 points in 23 games.
It would be more of the same the following year. This time Lemieux would play 64 games during the regular season scoring 131 points. He followed that up with a league-best 34 playoff points in 15 games. The Penguins were back-to-back Champions.
Missing in Action
The ridiculous scoring pace would continue for Super Mario in 1993 as he would score 160 points in just 60 games. Unfortunately, though, there would be some serious setbacks. In 1994 he would be diagnosed with Hodgkins Lymphoma and would need radiation. He would also miss time due to the reoccurring back problems and fatigue. Despite this, he was somehow able to return without really missing a step, exemplifying how naturally talented he was. Lemieux would score 161 points followed by a 50 goal, 122 point season after the extended absences. In 1997, Lemieux exhausted and battered, would announce that he would be retiring after the playoffs.
At the time of his retirement, Lemieux was just 31 years of age, it was unfair to think that this would be the last we would see such a great talent. Then, in December 2000, the league got some great news. Super Mario was coming back!
From 2000 until his final season in 2006, Lemieux played sparingly. But the magic was still there. In 2001 he scored 76 points in 43 games and in 2003, he scored 91 points in 67 games. As for the Penguins, 2001 would be their best season of Mario’s final years. They reached the Conference Finals, ultimately losing to the New Jersey Devils in five games.
On top of the back problems, Lemieux would miss time in 2001 and 2004 because of hip surgeries, just another ailment that would force him to sit. In the 17 seasons he played, Lemieux averaged just 53.8 games per season. This translates to an average of 28 games missed each year. A more healthy Lemieux playing more games at his second-best ever clip of 1.88 pts per game would have shot him up even further in the all-time scoring record books.
Ultimately Mario Lemieux was forced to retire in 2006 due to an irregular heartbeat. His legacy as a player is forever entrenched. Nowadays his legacy continues in the front office as a full-time owner of the Pittsburgh Penguins.
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Main Image Credit:Embed from Getty Images