• Coverage Info

Sakic, Hull highlight all-time 3-on-3 team of 1990s

Wednesday, 01.27.2016 / 3:00 AM / 2016 NHL All-Star Weekend

By Arpon Basu - Managing Editor LNH.com

Share with your Friends

Sakic, Hull highlight all-time 3-on-3 team of 1990s
NHL.com imagines what an all-decade team would look like if there was a 3-on-3 All-Star format back in the 1990s.

The NHL truly went global in the 1990s.

The end of the Cold War opened up a new well of talent for the League, with players most notably from Russia and the former Czechoslovakia suddenly free to come to North America and test their skills against the best in the world.

The decade began with the Pittsburgh Penguins welcoming Jaromir Jagr, an 18-year-old Czech, in 1990-91. He would go on to become the top scorer of the 1990s and one of the greatest players of all time.

In that same season, Sergei Fedorov began his career with the Detroit Red Wings and Dominik Hasek became the backup goaltender for the Chicago Blackhawks, part of a wave of Eastern Bloc players who joined those who defected in prior years, setting off a period of drastic demographic change in the NHL.

The influx of new talent also coincided with a shift in the game. If the 1980s was a golden age for scorers, the 1990s was a decade of transition.

Toward the midpoint of the decade hockey began to change from a free-wheeling game where goaltenders were fallible to one dominated by defensive systems and near-perfect goaltending.

When the decade began in 1990-91, NHL games had an average of 6.92 goals scored and the average goaltender had an .886 save percentage. By the time it ended in 1999-2000, goals per game were down to 5.5 per game and goaltenders were averaging a .904 save percentage.

Wayne Gretzky still managed to dominate the decade as he wound down his career with 878 points in 640 games before retiring after the 1998-99 season. Despite not playing the 1999-00 season, Gretzky was the 1990s fourth-highest scorer with 217 goals and 661 assists in 640 games. He tied for the League-lead with 67 assists in 1997-98 playing for the New York Rangers at age 37.

But the timing of Gretzky's retirement was a perfect way to mark the transition from the highly offensive era he dominated to a new, defensive-minded and international era he left behind, one that had already begun to take hold over his final few seasons.

The changing demographics of the game over the 1990s are reflected in NHL.com's attempt to imagine what an all-decade team would look like if there was a 3-on-3 All-Star format back then, with more than one third of the team made up of players from former Eastern Bloc countries.

Line 1: Joe Sakic, Brett Hull, Brian Leetch

Imagine Sakic, who had the best wrist shot of the decade, and Hull, who had probably the best one-timer of all time, being fed by one of the best playmaking defensemen ever in Leetch. Hull scored 464 of his 741 career NHL goals in the 1990s, the most in the decade by a margin of 77, or about two seasons worth of goals. In a 3-on-3 format, Hull would have loads of space to shoot while Sakic and Leetch would do most of the puck handling. Sakic was tied with Adam Oates for the second-most points in the decade with 896 and his all-around offensive arsenal would be difficult to contain in open ice. Leetch had 640 points in 700 games in the 1990s, a hair behind Ray Bourque of the 1980s team, to sit second in points per game by a defenseman in the decade.

Line 2: Eric Lindros, Jaromir Jagr, Al MacInnis

This line would have a ridiculous combination of size and skill with Lindros and Jagr, and MacInnis, who had the most feared slap shot of his generation. Though size is not necessarily an advantage in 3-on-3 hockey, it doesn't hurt, especially when the large men we are talking about were able to move and score as well as Jagr and Lindros. Jagr was the top scorer of the 1990s with 958 points in 725 games, 62 points ahead of Sakic and Oates. Lindros was a highly skilled scorer and vicious hitter the likes of which the NHL had never seen, before injuries derailed his career. His 0.60 goals per game in the 1990s was second only to Mario Lemieux, who had a ridiculous 0.84, among centers. Coverage in 3-on-3 hockey is generally man-to-man, so good luck stopping these two forwards from getting to the net. If ever Jagr and Lindros required an outlet, they would have MacInnis, who led defensemen in the decade with 175 goals, two more than Ray Bourque, but in 63 fewer games played.

Line 3: Sergei Fedorov, Pavel Bure, Chris Chelios

Just try matching up with the speed on this line up front. From a purely statistical standpoint, there are probably better candidates to make this team than Fedorov and Bure. But looking at it from the viewpoint of who would be best suited to 3-on-3 hockey, they are tough to beat. Fedorov was 18th in points in the 1990s with 734, but his game was about so much more than points. He might have been the smoothest skater in the game and was just as proficient in his own end as he was dangerous at the opposite end. Bure was a pure scorer with breakaway speed and magic hands that were seemingly made for 3-on-3 hockey. Only Lemieux and Hull had more than Bure's 0.63 goals per game in the decade. On the back end, this was the best decade of Chelios' NHL career, one that saw him win the Norris Trophy for the second and third time and finish seventh among defensemen with 523 points.

Goalies: Dominik Hasek and Ed Belfour

From 1993-94 to 1998-99, Hasek had the most dominant stretch ever for a goaltender. He led the NHL in save percentage in each of those six seasons, won the Hart Trophy twice and the Vezina Trophy five times. His 41 shutouts in those six seasons alone would have him in a tie for 33rd in NHL history. Belfour had the misfortune of having his career overlap with Patrick Roy, Martin Brodeur and Hasek. But he won only seven fewer games than Roy in 11 fewer tries to sit second on the decade wins list with 304 and raised his game in the Stanley Cup Playoffs with a .920 career playoff save percentage, considerably higher than his career regular season average of .906.

NHL Winter Classic Poll