For nearly 30 years, the greatest player in the world has played in Pittsburgh. From Mario Lemieux to Jaromir Jagr and Sidney Crosby, greatness has played in a Penguins sweater. Add the Edmonton Oilers’ royalty to the line of succession and rivalry, and suddenly the best player has played in either city for nearly 40 years and counting.
Before Lemieux, Wayne Gretzky and the Oilers came to define hockey’s greatest offensive era: the 1980’s. Gretzky is the NHL’s all-time leading scorer with 2857 points (894g, 1963a). In 1981-82, he scored 50 goals in 39 games, en route to a 92-goal season. Gretzky also posted a 215 point season (1985-86) and four seasons with more than 200 points (’82, ’84, ’85, ’86). He scored 50 goals for eight consecutive seasons (1980-1987). Gretzky also won eight Hart trophies in Edmonton and seven Art Ross trophies (including seven straight from 1981-1987).
Oh by the way, Gretzky’s teammate Mark Messier was the NHL’s second all-time leading scorer until Jagr surpassed him.
In 1988-89, Lemieux staked his claim to the title of greatest player with a 199 point season, as Gretzky was traded to Los Angeles. Then Lemieux won a pair of Stanley Cups in 1991 and 1992. Lemieux won three Hart trophies and six Art Ross trophies.
Jagr won five more scoring titles, including four straight from 1998-2001 but inexplicably only one Hart trophy (1998-99). Actually, no one other than Gretzky, Lemieux or Jagr won the Art Ross trophy from 1981 to 2001.
In 2006, Lemieux passed the torch directly to Sidney Crosby, who has held the crown for over 10 years. Crosby added two Hart trophies, two Art Ross trophies and a pair of the newly created Rocket Richard trophies for the top goal scorer.
And now, the torch is being passed from Pittsburgh back to Edmonton, as Crosby hands it off to Connor McDavid. McDavid already has one Hart and two Art Ross trophies in his three-year career. McDavid could extend the Edmonton-Pittsburgh control of greatness to nearly 50 years.
Perhaps by then, the Penguins will have the top pick again?
If you’re keeping score, the franchises have combined for 25 of the last 38 Art Ross trophies and 17 of the last 38 Hart trophies. In addition to Gretzky, Lemieux, Jagr, and Crosby, Penguins center Evgeni Malkin has two Art Ross trophies and one Hart trophy. Messier won two Hart trophies with Edmonton.
It’s been quite a shared dynasty. The Oilers won the Stanley Cup five times (’84, ’85, ’87, ’88, ’90). The only other non-original-six team to win that many Stanley Cups is, of course, the Penguins (’91, ’92, ’09, ’16, ’17).
Tonight the Edmonton Oilers host the Penguins on the NHL’s fastest sheet of ice. And quite possibly the next Art Ross, Hart Trophy or Rocket Richard winner will be in uniform, tonight. At least the odds say so.
The story was edited to clarify “non-original-six” team in the next-to-last paragraph.