Editor’s Note: This column has been modified from the original due to a couple of factual errors.
I gave myself something to occupy my free time during the holidays and it had nothing to do with a pandemic, a massive shooting or a discarded American president.
I decided to make a personal ranking of the 10 best Nova Scotia natives to play in the National Hockey League.
Easiest decision? Number one.
His name rolled off the computer keyboard with my fingers hardly touching the letters. It was the kid I watched on the ice when he was five years old, skating around Scotia Stadium in Coie Harbour looking like a prospect destined to play in hockey’s premier league.
I won’t wrap up my top 10 in a mystery, so there’s no need to hold your breath or cross your fingers. Just don your thinking cap and see how your picks would compare.
1. Sidney Crosby
2. Al MacInnis
3. Nathan MacKinnon
4. Bobby Smith
5. Glen Murray
6. Brad Marchand
7. Lowell MacDonald
8. Mike MacPhee
9. Colin White
10. Flash Hollett
Crosby was automatic. No reason to argue. You just can’t be considered the highest ranked player in the world for years without topping anybody’s list of candidates. Besides being the only Nova Scotian on three Stanley Cup teams, the Pittsburgh Penguin for 15 years was chosen to eight all-star games, won the Art Ross Trophy twice, the Hart Memorial Trophy two times, the Conn Smythe Trophy twice, the Maurice Richard Trophy twice, the Ted Lindsay Award on three occasions, the Mark Messier Leadership Award, and the Lester Pearson Trophy. Statistically, he has played 984 games, with 462 goals and 801 assists for 1,263 points..I rest my case.
I maintained, before Crosby’s debut, that MacInnis, a defenceman from Inverness, was better than any other Nova Scotian in the league. Nobody has changed my mind — yet. He easily leads Bluenoses in games played, a total of 1,416 over 22 seasons, 12 with the Calgary Flames and 10 with the St. Louis Blues. And how’s this for a rearguard? He had 340 goals. Adding a phenomenal 934 assists, he produced 1,274 scoring points. Even Crosby needs a dozen or so more games to match that figure.Al was a Conn Smythe recipient, winning a Stanley Cup as a player, and as an executive in 2020.
MacKinnon is the new rising star on the list, thanks to 190 goals and 495 points while still only 25 years old. Crosby and MacKinnon, close Cole Harbour friends, are a huge asset to Tim Hortons, repeatedly driving that Zamboni to the drive-thru for coffee and hockey cards. While Crosby’s been called the best in the world several times, The Hockey News has just recently named MacKinnon the top player for the approaching 2020-21 season.
Smith, a North Sydney product, won the Calder trophy (rookie of the year) with the Minnesota North Stars in 1978–79 and had a 43-goal year in 1981–82. He had 1,077 games in the NHL, highlighted by seven campaigns with the Montreal Canadiens, which included scoring the Stanley Cup winning goal in 1986. He tallied 357 goals and 1,036 points. Today he’s one of the owners of the Halifax Mooseheads. Correction: Due to a fact-checking error, an earlier version of this post misidentified Smith as also playing for St. Louis.
Murray, Halifax-born, Bridgewater-raised, enjoyed 1,009 games in the NHL after being a first-round selection by the Boston Bruins in the 1991 draft, He was a Bruin, Penguin and Los Angeles King. In 16 seasons, he flashed red lights 337 times and totalled 651 points, starting and ending his career in Beantown.
Then there’s Marchand, called everything from “The Rat,” to the enforcer, to a hated offensive weapon for the Bruins. Don’t kid yourself. This is a valuable hockey star when his mind is on the important aspects of the game. Rounding out the big three from Halifax-Dartmouth, the 32-year-old Hammonds Plains left winger has appeared in 751 games since arriving in Boston in 2009-10. When he’s not in the penalty box or hot water, he has scored 290 goals among 646 points.
Pictonians, of course, don’t need to be told about MacDonald unless they’ve never heard about hockey. The Thorburn native, the county’s best player to date, had a 506-game career with Detroit, Los Angeles and Pittsburgh. His scoring line shows 180-210-390, but had it not been for injuries and a hate for flying, the numbers would have been much better. The true Lowell stood out in a four-season span with the Penguins between 1972-73 and 1975-76, when he was in his early 30s and scored 134 of his goals, including successive years with 34, 43, 27 and 30 markers.
MacPhee, a product of Sydney, made 744 appearances in an NHL career that included three 20-goal seasons with the Canadiens after being a favourite with the American Hockey League’s Nova Scotia Voyageurs. He produced an almost even statistical line with exactly 200 goals and 199 assists for 399 points.
White arrived in the NHL with the New Jersey Devils 37 years after Lowell made his debut. Besides being Pictou County’s two best players, they had something else in common — Memorial Cup championships in their final junior seasons. Colin set a county record when he spent 15 years at the top, with the Devils and San Jose Sharks. He easily set another county record by playing 747 NHL games, 241 more than Lowell. He was a physical and defensive-minded blueliner, limiting his stats to 21 goals and 129 points. But he was an asset in New Jersey’s Stanley Cup wins in 2000 and 2003. Among Nova Scotians, only Crosby won more cups.
Halifax-born Hollett is the ancient guy on this list. He played defence for the Toronto Maple Leafs, Ottawa Senators, Boston and Detroit between 1932 and 1946. He managed to play 560 games though team schedules didn’t exceed 50 games in a season. In a low-scoring era, he produced 132 goals and 313 points. Like White six decades later, Hollett was on two Stanley Cup winners for Boston, in 1939 and 1941.