In Defense Of Claude Lemieux

Editor’s Note: On November 19th, 2017 the Colorado Avalanche and Detroit Red Wings faced off in a hockey match. A bet was placed between Carl Landra and Nick Seguin, managing editor of Wing’s Nation. As the Red Wings lost, Nick has brought us this piece on the defense of Claude Lemieux.

Claude Lemieux doesn’t get the praise that he truly deserves. Through his illustrious twenty year career, Lemieux played in 1,215 NHL games, scoring 379 goals and 786 points (0.64 points per game). I mean, talk about a point-getter!

Let’s not get caught up in the points, though. There is more to a player than that. Lemieux was a no-nonsense, gritty winger who played with an intensity that was hard to match. He always showed up in the playoffs, often scoring more points in the postseason than the regular season. His 80 career playoff goals is ranked ninth in NHL history! This type of reliance is hard to find in a player.

He also knew how to stick up for his teammates and agitate the opposition. Since he entered the league in the 1983-84 season, Lemieux ranks 57th overall in penalty minutes. His whopping 1777 career PIMs averages out to just over a minute of penalty box time per game played.

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Despite this, Lemieux wasn’t a fighter. His 37 major penalties is far less than anyone who ranked higher than him, with the exception of Theo Fleury who only had 12 fighting majors in his career. There weren’t many other players who were this tough and produced this much offense. Among the top-60 leaders in penalty minutes since the 1983-84 season, Lemieux ranks 7th in goals scored.

This type of scoring savviness is often overlooked when Lemieux’s career is spoken of because of an incident that occurred in the 1996 Western Conference Finals. It was game six and the Colorado Avalanche were on the verge of eliminating the Detroit Red Wings when Lemieux collided with Chris Draper at the benches. Lemieux hit him right in the numbers and Draper went face first into the boards. By completely caving Draper’s face in, the check threw fuel into an already burning fire between these two teams and was the catalyst for bench clearing brawls in the following two seasons.

And the whole thing was blamed on poor Lemieux. It’s not like he meant to hurt Draper. He finished his check and Draper accidentally fell into the boards. The following season, Lemieux was the victim of a brutal attack by Darren McCarty. Completely unprotected, Lemieux was repeatedly pounded on by an angry Red Wing. It was completely unprovoked in that game. The whole incident with Detroit has left an undeserved stain on his otherwise distinguished career.

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Claude Lemieux does not deserve the disdain people speak with when they speak about his career. He was a winner through and through and he’s got the hardware to back it up, having won four Stanley Cups with four different teams and the Conn Smythe Trophy for playoff MVP in 1995. He is only the tenth player in NHL history to win the Stanley Cup with three different teams, including the legendary Colorado Avalanche of the late-90s. The kind of respect he received from teammates is even more impressive when it’s from legends like Joe Sakic, Peter Forsberg, and Patrick Roy.

After losing in game 6 of the Western Conference Finals, Dino Ciccarelli of the Red Wings famously complained to cameras, “I can’t believe I shook that guy’s friggin hand after the game; that pisses me right off!”.

Well, Dino was wrong. He should have wanted to shake the hand of Claude Lemieux.

We should all want to shake the hand of a hockey legend.

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