By reaching hockey's promised land with Calgary in 1989, Dallas in 1999 and New Jersey in 2003, Nieuwendyk accomplished a feat that previously had been accomplished only by Claude Lemieux (Montreal in 1986, Colorado in 1996, New Jersey in 1995 and 2000).
Nieuwendyk is now chasing a Stanley Cup ring in a fourth decade -- only this time he's doing it as an executive. The current general manager of the Dallas Stars has his team in first place in the Pacific Division entering the season's stretch run.
"All the credit goes to the players," Nieuwendyk said on Thursday's "NHL Hour With Commissioner Gary Bettman" when asked to pinpoint the reasons behind the Stars' turnaround after missing the playoffs the previous two seasons.
"It is about the players, and these guys have really made a commitment this year -- I couldn't be more pleased with the way they've come together. There's a genuine feeling of not wanting to let the other guys down in the locker room and I think really that's what you try to achieve within the group and we've been able to do that."
While the Stars have spent the majority of the season in first place, there are few sure things when it comes to the Western Conference playoff race. Dallas entered play Thursday with 65 points, only seven more than division rival Los Angeles, which began the evening in ninth place in the conference and on the outside looking in.
"All the credit goes to the players. It is about the players, and these guys have really made a commitment this year -- I couldn't be more pleased with the way they've come together. There's a genuine feeling of not wanting to let the other guys down in the locker room and I think really that's what you try to achieve within the group and we've been able to do that." -- Stars' GM Joe Nieuwendyk"I've never seen it like this before," Nieuwendyk said. "It's amazing the way the NHL's set up now -- you start scoreboard watching 10 games into the season and you never used to do that. You go through it every night and you look at the games and say, 'OK, we need this team to win, we need this team to lose,' and you see how the chips fall at the end of the night. It's incredible, the closeness of the teams and the parity -- makes it really exciting for the fans. So we're doing everything we can to maintain our position."
Nieuwendyk, who ranks 52nd on the NHL's all-time scoring list with 1,126 points after a 20-year career that also included stops in Toronto and Florida, credited playing on great teams and with great players for a lot of his personal success.
"I really think just the way my career started, first of all being selected by a team like Calgary and to join that locker room and all the great leaders they had there -- Lanny McDonald being a father figure -- I think it was really important for me early in my career to learn what the work ethic was all about and just to see what it meant to those guys, when they won the Cup in 1989 I was only a second-year player, but boy it really had a lot of impact on me as I went through my career," Nieuwendyk said.
"And then to go through that opportunity again 10 years later with Dallas, I knew that you only get so many opportunities, so I savored every moment. But I think early on, just the players and the great leaders that I played with really helped me."
After concluding his career by playing in 15 games with the Panthers during the 2006-07 season, Nieuwendyk remained with the organization as a special consultant to the general manager. He also served as a special assistant for the Maple Leafs before returning to the Stars.
"I appreciated the opportunity from the Florida Panthers to stay in the game," Nieuwendyk said. "I think the one thing I've learned now that I'm in this position is that you get so many calls from guys wanting to get back in the game -- that that opportunity was there for me right away and certainly the game was so good to me for 20 years that I wanted to stay involved. I didn't really know at what capacity. I think every player has to learn that over the first few years that they're out.
"But it's no secret I was able to fast track to where I am now. I've loved every minute of it. The opportunity here in Dallas has been a positive one for me. I've really enjoyed the experience. I'm still learning and I think you always learn in this business. I guess at the end of the day you just use your experience from 20 years and try to do what you think is right and have a positive impact on your players."