We’re moving into the 1990s on NHL Saturday today, and we actually had a season with another new Stanley Cup champion, which has been a rarity since we started this process months ago. With the Calgary Flames winning it all in 1989 and now the Pittsburgh Penguins getting some Lord Stanley hardware, the expansion era had finally arrived in the National Hockey League.
On with the ice show!
1991 Hart: Brett Hull (original), Wayne Gretzky (revised)
The five best forwards in the league were led by the Hart vote winner, St. Louis Blues right wing Brett Hull (15.38 PS). He topped the NHL with 86 goals, the third-best mark in league history, and the best total by someone not named Wayne Gretzky. Speaking of the Great One, he was second in the league behind Hull with 14.51 PS as the top-line center for the Los Angeles Kings, as he posted 163 points and 122 assists to best all his peers.
Behind the top two, Calgary right wing Theo Fleury (11.22), Chicago Blackhawks right wing Steve Larmer (10.59), and Boston Bruins right wing Cam Neely (10.36) rounded out the top five. That’s four RWs among the top 5 forwards in the league, as we see a shift away from the dominant centers we have seen for many seasons now. On the surface, this seems to be a decision, though, between Hull and Gretzky.
Both their teams topped 100 points, with plenty of playoff cushion, however. The Blackhawks, Bruins, and the Flames also reached 100 points, making it a very top-heavy season. We know Hull has the edge here in PS and goals, but Gretzky’s overall game, even at age 30, was still stunning. That assists mark is nuts, and while we know Hull’s job was to score, he only had 45 assists.
In the end, Gretzky’s all-around game is more impressive to us than the mostly one-trick pony show from Hull. This is not to diminish Hull’s accomplishment, but when you’re pretty much just a sniper, that’s not enough. If you disagree with us this time around, we understand: no hard feelings.
1991 Norris: Ray Bourque (original), Brian Leetch (revised)
Three defensemen stood out from the rest this year: Flames veteran Al MacInnis (14.13), Bruins star Ray Bourque (13.25), and New York Rangers phenom Brian Leetch (10.54). Bourque won the vote at the time, which was his fourth Norris vote win in the last 5 seasons. The only one we confirmed, however, was his 1988 hardware. We know Boston and Calgary were stellar teams, so what about the Rangers?
New York finished second in the Patrick Division with 85 points, but the Rangers only had a 9-point playoff cushion. Do the math, and you see how valuable Leetch was to his team. He may not have been as “good” as the veterans above, but without him, it’s entirely possible New York doesn’t make the playoffs. That matters to us here, as you know.
His numbers—16G, 72A, 42 PIMs, 4.0 DPS—are impressive for a 22-year old kid on an average team, and he made the team better. To wit? Leetch topped the NHL by being on the ice for 87 power-play goals during the regular season. That was 25 more PPGs than Hull, for example, so it’s seriously showing his value to his team. Leetch won the Calder vote and our nod in 1989, so his career trajectory also was very impressive at the time.
1991 Vezina: Ed Belfour (original, confirmed)
One goaltender stood out above the rest: Chicago Blackhawks rookie Ed Belfour (14.04 PS). The next-best goalie was Edmonton Oilers veteran Bill Ranford (10.39), who won the Conn Smythe in 1990. We know Chicago had a huge playoff cushion, but when you’re that far ahead of everyone else in Point Shares, you’re getting our nod.
Belfour topped the league in the Triple Crown categories: 43 wins, 2.47 GAA, and a .910 S% as he also appeared in an NHL-high 74 games. That’s a lot of usage at a high rate of effectiveness. He was the primary reason the Blackhawks posted the sport’s best record this year.
1991 Calder: Ed Belfour (original, confirmed)
Obviously, Belfour left every other rookie in the dust here in the competition for the Calder, but we want to point out the “other” guys, nonetheless. Detroit Red Wings center Sergei Fedorov (6.8 PS) and Boston Bruins forward Ken Hodge (5.6 PS) also had pretty solid first seasons in the league. Federov would end up in the Hall of Fame with Belfour, of course, but Hodge would be out of the league by the 1994 season. Go figure.
1991 Conn Smythe: Mario Lemieux (original, confirmed)
The Penguins won the Cup Finals over the Minnesota North Stars—a team that finished 27-39-14 in the regular season—in six games, and it’s impressive that Minnesota got this far. They did so thanks to goalie Jon Casey, our Vezina pick last year, and three skaters who posted at least a point a game in the postseason.
However, this is going to be an easy award to confirm for Pittsburgh center Mario Lemieux, who posted 44 points in just 23 playoff games (16G, 28A). The Pens did get good goaltending from Tom Barasso, but he sat for five games during the run to the Cup title. Pittsburgh did score a lot, too, with three other skates getting at least a point a game, but clearly Super Mario is the one that made the world go ’round for the Penguins.