Gretzky, Lemieux head all-time 3-on-3 team of 1980s

Tuesday, 01.26.2016 / 3:00 AM
Mike G. Morreale  - Staff Writer

If the NHL proved anything in the 1980s, it was scoring goals was a heck of a lot easier than preventing them.

It not only was a period when the mullet, Pac-Man fever, Rubik's Cube and Hulkamania were running wild, but also a time when most of the major NHL scoring records were being established at an incredible rate.

The biggest reason for that was the NHL expansion from 17 to 21 teams with the absorption of former World Hockey Association teams in Edmonton, Hartford, Winnipeg and Quebec, beginning in 1979-80, when NHL fans got their first good look at "The Great One," Wayne Gretzky.

The Edmonton Oilers center scored a League-record 92 goals in 1981-82. He opened the 1983-84 season by getting at least one point in Edmonton's first 51 games, and either scored or assisted on 215 of Edmonton's 426 goals in 1985-86.

"It was a thrill to get 92 goals, but in some ways, I thought I let myself down by not getting 100," Gretzky told in 2008. "Maybe I should have pushed myself more."

New York Islanders right wing Mike Bossy reeled off seven of his nine straight 50-plus goal seasons from 1979-80 through 1985-86.

Steve Yzerman had quite the rookie debut for the Detroit Red Wings in 1983-84, leading them with 39 goals and 87 points. Paul Coffey set an NHL record for goals by a defenseman with 48 as a member of the Oilers in 1985-86.

Even goaltenders were getting a piece of the action. Ron Hextall of the Philadelphia Flyers became the first at his position to score with a shot on goal in a victory against the Boston Bruins on Dec. 8, 1987.

With so much offense on display, what a treat it might have been to witness a 3-on-3 All-Star format at some point during this time period. Here is's attempt at establishing an all-time 3-on-3 team of the 1980s.

Line 1: Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Paul Coffey

Who wouldn't want to see three of the greatest players in the history of the game, all members of the Hockey Hall of Fame, work their magic on the same line? Picture the ultimate offensive weapon on the transition in Coffey skating through the neutral zone and passing to Gretzky, who sets up shop in his office behind the goal before feeding the hard-working Lemieux, gaining position in the slot. Gretzky led the Oilers to four Stanley Cups while scoring 1,837 points during the 1980s, nearly twice as many as his closest competitor, Peter Stastny (986 points). Gretzky had more assists (1,200) than anyone else had points in the decade. Despite playing only five years in the '80s, Lemieux finished with 300 goals and 715 points. Coffey, who played with Gretzky (1980-87) and Lemieux (1987-1992) in the '80s, was the leading scorer among defensemen in the decade with 254 goals and 849 points.

Line 2: Mark Messier, Jari Kurri, Ray Bourque

Messier is Mr. Clutch. He averaged 1.21 points per game in the regular season, and 1.35 points in the Stanley Cup Playoffs during the 1980s. Kurri, part of the European hockey invasion in 1980, perfected the "one-timer" to become one of the greatest players at right wing. He had 441 goals and 950 points in the decade and ranks among the top five all-time at his position in points. Bourque ranks first on the NHL all-time list in goals, assists and points by a defenseman. He had 211 goals and 545 assists in the decade. Bourque was such a fantastic skater, he would be able to set up Messier and Kurri on the fly for those big shots in the offensive zone, and very rarely did Messier and Kurri miss a big opportunity.

Line 3: Steve Yzerman, Mike Bossy, Phil Housley

Yzerman became one of the most respected captains in League history as a 21-year-old in 1986-87. He had six straight seasons of 100-plus points from 1987-88 through 1992-93, including a career high 155 points (65 goals, 90 assists) in 1988-89. Bossy had 413 goals and 742 points from 1980 through 1986 and scoring at least 51 goals in each of his first nine NHL seasons. Housley played 21 seasons and was the highest-scoring American-born player (1,232 points) until Mike Modano passed him in 2007. He scored no fewer than 62 points each season from 1982 through 1990. Coach Scotty Bowman turned Yzerman into one the game's finest two-way centers of his time and he'll no doubt work well with one of the best pure goal-scorers the League has ever seen in Bossy. Housley would provide a seamless transition from defense to offense while allowing Yzerman and Bossy to generate quality scoring chances.

Goalies: Patrick Roy and Grant Fuhr

Roy is the only player in history to win the Conn Smythe Trophy as most valuable player of the Stanley Cup Playoffs three times (1986, 1993, 2001). Credited for making popular the traditional butterfly style of goaltending, Roy won the Vezina Trophy as the League's top goalie three times (1989, 1990, 1992). All Fuhr did during the high-scoring 1980s was earn six invitations to the NHL All-Star Game, win the Vezina Trophy in 1988 and help the Oilers to five Stanley Cup titles. He also set the NHL record for most assists (14) in a season by a goaltender in 1983-84, finishing with 46 assists in 19 seasons.

SteveFollow Mike Morreale on Twitter: @MikeMorrealeNHL

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