Top 10 Best Hockey Players of the 1980s
The 1980s are known as the Golden Age in professional hockey. It was during this decade that some of the most legendary players to ever hit the ice took to the stage. Many of the most crucial moments in hockey got started during this period.
Although many of these players continued to play well into the 1990s, and even the 2000s, there was nothing quite like the rivalries, wins, and losses of the 80s.
The decade started off with the Miracle on Ice, in which the US Olympic team took on the Soviet team and won. Although most of the NHL players on this list were not playing during that game, it set a precedent for what an awesome period in hockey history it would become.
Read on to learn more about the top 10 best hockey players of the 1980s.
10. Mike Bossy
Michael Bossy is a Canadian member of the NHL who played hockey for the New York Islanders. He was born on January 22, 1957 in Montreal, Quebec.
Mike’s hockey career began when he joined the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League when he was 15 years old. He played for the league for four long seasons. During this time, he scored a whopping 309 goals. However, he was considered to be a timid hockey player by scouts from the NHL because he would not check other players.
He was drafted into the NHL in 1977 when he was pulled into the amateur draft. Twelve teams initially said no to this future legend, and the Toronto Maple Leafs and the New York Rangers both declined to sign him – twice.
The New York Islanders, however, recognized his potential. Although Bossy could not and would not check, the general manager of the team chose Bossy because he could score. The team thought that it would be easier to teach him how to check rather than teach another player to score.
In his rookie season alone, he scored 53 goals. A few seasons later, he became the first player in 36 years to score 50 goals within 50 games. But, Bossy did not just score goals, he scored them in style. He also never resorted to brutal fighting on the ice to get his way. In fact, he spoke out against fighting on the ice.
In 1988, Bossy officially retired from hockey. Bossy shares or holds several NHL records. He has the most consecutive 50+ goal seasons and the highest goals-per-game average during his career. He also won the Calder Trophy, the Conn Symthe Trophy and the Lady Byng Trophy. Bossy also won First Team All-Star a total of five times. He was also an integral part of all four New York Islanders Stanley Cup line ups.
9. Paul Coffey
Paul Coffey is another native of the north who excelled at hockey. He was born on June 1st, 1961 in Weston Ontario, and grew up in Toronto.
Coffey is known for being the second all-time NHL defensemen in several areas. He holds this title in career points, assists and in goals. The only player that outranks him is Ray Bourque.
When Coffey was 19, he was drafted by the Edmonton Oilers. In the 1980 NHL entry draft, he was chosen sixth overall. Choosing Coffey turned out to be a great decision. His rookie years were incredible, and he scored 89 points during the 1981-82 Oilers season. He was also a member of the Stanley Cup winning team the next season in 1983-84. This was the Oilers’ first cup and Coffey proved his status of NHL All-Star during the match.
That same season, he achieved 40 goals throughout the year. This is uncommon for a defensive player, and he was only the second player in NHL history to do it.
Coffey stayed with the Oilers through their third cup season in 1986-87. However, he decided to move onto greener pastures the next year. In the following season, he joined the Pittsburgh Penguins. After four seasons with the Penguins, he joined the Los Angeles Kings. This move was followed by another trade to the Detroit Red Wings.
Coffey helped Detroit play through the Stanley Cup before he left for the Hartford Whalers. But, he left as soon as he arrived and was traded to the Philadelphia Flyers after only 20 games. With the Flyers, he reached yet another Stanley Cup Final; however, the team was not successful.
Coffey continued to play for the Blackhawks and the Hurricanes. He ended his career with the Boston Bruins in 2001. He finished his final season with a total of 396 career goals, 1135 career assists and 1531 career points.
8. Ray Bourque
Ray Bourque was born on December 28th, 1960 in Saint-Laurent, Quebec. He is most well-known for his incredibly long career with the Boston Bruins. He also played for the Canadian national team.
In his youth, Bourque was drafted into the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, and he was the third round pick for the Trois-Rivieres Draveurs. He was quickly given away for another player who scored more goals, but he was well-known and named as the best defense player in the league two years in a row.
Bourque was picked up by the Boston Bruins when he joined the NHL in the 1979-80 season. He immediately scored a goal during his first professional game, and also quickly won the Calder Trophy. His first season also saw him named Rookie of the Year and he was named a First Team All-Star.
Bourque became a co-captain of the team in 1985. He shared the position with Rick Middleton, a Bruins veteran. However, Middleton retired in 1988. Bourque then became the sole captain of the Bruins. He retained his title for the rest of his time with the Bruins. His career saw him become the longest running captain in Bruins’ history and in NHL history. However, he was surpassed by the long running captain of the Red Wings, Steve Yzerman.
Bourque played for Boston for 21 consecutive seasons. He played at a defensive level that was almost unmatched by any other NHL player in history. His excellence was both renowned and feared. It was also well rewarded.
Not only was Bourque a fantastic individual player, he was an essential asset to the team. Anytime that he was not on the lineup for a game, the whole team seemed to collapse on the ice. However, he never achieved a Stanley Cup victory, despite making it to the finals twice.
At the end of his career, Bourque’s Bruins fell out of favor and hit the bottom of the rankings. He traded to the Colorado Avalanche for the 2000-01 season where he played only one season. It was during this season that he finally won the Stanley Cup. It took Bourque longer to win a Stanley Cup than any other player in history.
7. Wendel Clark
Wendel Clark was born on October 25th, 1966 in Kelvington, Saskatchewan. As a young man, he played with the Saskatoon Blades and was a member of the Western Hockey League. He also earned a gold medal at the 1985 World Junior Ice Hockey Championships.
It did not take the NHL long to see the value in this defensive Canadian player. He was selected in the first overall pick in the 1985 NHL entry draft. He joined the Toronto Maple Leafs for his first season, and though left the Maple Leafs for other teams throughout his career, he returned twice to play for his first team.
Clark was not just a great defensive player; he was an excellent scorer. He was named immediately to the NHL All-Rookie Team and was in the top list of contenders for the Calder Trophy.
Despite his natural talent, Clark suffered some setbacks. He suffered an injury on the ice in 1987 and many believe this stopped his progression towards being a truly elite hockey player.
Unlike other players on this list, Clark was known for his tough hits. Spectators noticed that he cared little for his own health as well as those of others. He once knocked player Bruce Bell entirely unconscious when he hit him with a particularly hard check. He became known as Captain Crunch for his relentless hits.
These hits, combined with his age, led to many injuries. Towards the end of his career his hits became less devastating. Whether this was a tactic for winning on the ice or winning off the ice, no one is sure. However, he was still infamous for being able to change the outcome of a game with only one check.
6. Pelle Lindbergh
Pelle Lindbergh was a hockey player from Sweden. He was born on May 24, 1959 in Stockholm, Sweden, and he died at age 26 on November, 11 1985 in New Jersey. He served as a goaltender on the Philadelphia Flyers team for five seasons.
Lindbergh was a young star who shot to fame in Sweden for his sporting ventures, and he joined the AIK, the highest hockey league in Sweden. This then propelled him forward to the Swedish team at the 1980 Winter Olympics. However, Lindbergh had higher ambitions than playing for his country.
He was interested in playing for the NHL, and his performance at the Lake Placid Olympics was enough to make the NHL interested in him. He was drafted in the 1979 NHL entry draft by the Philadelphia Flyers, and his career began during the 1980-81 season when he played for the Maine Mariners and then moved up to play for the Flyers in 1982.
The Flyers made a great choice in Lindbergh because he was named to the NHL All-Rookie Team in his position as goalie. His short career was marked by many firsts, and he was the first European goalie to win the Vezina Trophy. He was also made a First Team All-Star.
Lindbergh’s career was cut short when he drove his Porsche straight into an elementary school in Somerdale, New Jersey. A few hours after the accident, he was declared to be brain dead. However, he was not declared dead for a few days because the hospital had to wait for his family to arrive from Sweden to make the decision.
The accident was the result of drunk driving. He had left a team party at the Flyers practice center just before the accident. His blood alcohol level was measure to be .24% which was over the legal limit.
After his death, he was still voted in to play in the 1986 NHL All-Star Game. This was the first time an athlete would be voted into any professional all-star game after his death.
His death was honored by the Flyers, and though his number was not officially retired, no other player has worn his number since his death. There is also a street in Philadelphia named after him.
5. Mario Lemieux
Mario Lemieux was born on October 5th, 1965 in Montreal, Quebec, and today he is a retired professional hockey player. He played 17 seasons in the NHL, mostly for the Pittsburgh Penguins as a center, and kept the position for the Penguins during two terms of his career.
Lemieux is known to be more than just one of the greatest hockey players of the 1980s. He is known as one of the best hockey players that the sport has ever seen. His nickname was “The Magnificent One” because of his pure talent in the sport of hockey.
Lemieux was drafted by the Pittsburgh Penguins at a time when the team was struggling. His career began in 1984, and the Penguins hadn’t had a good season in five years. Lemieux was a turning point for the team. In his first game, he took the puck off of the legendary Ray Bourque and scored a goal. He was also dubbed the MVP of the All-Star Game even though he was still a rookie.
He went on to shatter records throughout his career. He was consistently ranked as one of the top one or two players in the league. He was also the only player to ever come near some of the huge targets that Wayne Gretzky created. He is not only responsible for scoring a huge amount of goals; he created some of the most iconic goal moments in NHL history.
Unfortunately, injury and illness plagued most of his career. He had a back injury that got in his way, and he was also diagnosed with cancer. Yet, he continued to play through much of his treatment. His strength and determination throughout his difficult career earned him respect in the most unlikely places.
He went into retirement in 1997 and came back between 2000 and 2006. He owned part of the Penguins for much of this period, however, the team went back up for sale in 2006.
4. Mark Messier
Mark Messier was born January 18th, 1961 in Edmonton, Alberta. He was a hockey player in the NHL, and in addition to his time in the NHL, he also played for the World Hockey Association. He also worked alongside the president and manager of the team the New York Rangers.
Mark Messier is another player who is known as one of the most valuable players of the 1980s and of all time. He was on six Stanley Cup teams, and he served as the captain to two different NHL teams in a championship. He helped the New York Rangers win their first Stanley Cup in 45 years and fans began calling him The Messiah.
In addition to a huge amount of Stanley Cup wins, he also receive the Conn Smythe Trophy and the Hart Trophy. He was nominated as an NHL All-Start 15 times. As soon as he became eligible, the Hockey Hall of Fame inducted him into its ranks.
His first years were spent with the World Hockey Association, and he played for the Indianapolis Racers and the Cincinnati Strangers. In 1979, he signed with the Edmonton Oilers in the entry draft. He remained with the Oilers until 1991 when he moved to the New York Rangers. After 1997, he played with the Vancouver Canucks. However, The Messiah returned to the New York Rangers in 2000 until his retirement in 2004.
When he retired, he was only 11 games behind the official NHL record of 1,767 regular season games. However, he does hold the record for both regular and playoff games and has completed 1,992. Overall, he played 25 NHL seasons. He was honored by the Rangers when they retired his number in 2006. The Oilers then followed suit in 2007.
3. Wayne Gretzky
Wayne Gretzky is known as the one to beat. He is a Canadian hockey player who played for 20 seasons in the NHL. He is one of the most accomplished players in the history of hockey, and one of the most famous athletes of all time. Many have called him the greatest hockey player ever.
The enormous records that he set are rarely matched by any other player. When he retired in 1999, there were 61 records in his name. He held 40 regular season records, six All-Star achievements and 15 playoff records. Even 15 years after his retirement, he holds 60 out of the 61 records he achieved during his years on the ice.
During his professional years, he played for the Edmonton Oilers, the Los Angeles Kings, the St Louis Blues and the New York Rangers. He was a formidable player and many hockey players’ star moments were when they could come anywhere near Gretzky. Even today, he is referred as the highest benchmark in professional hockey.
2. Scott Stevens
Scott Stevens is a Canadian hockey player who had 22 accomplished seasons playing in the NHL. He played primarily for the Washington Capitals, the New Jersey Devils and the St Louis Blues.
Stevens was a catch because he was both a great offense player and a great defensive player. His presence on any team helped to catapult them into winning seasons. When he played for the New Jersey Devils, he guided the team to the Stanley Cup finals four times within nine years. Out of those four appearances, the team won three of them.
Stevens holds several records including the most games ever played by an NHL defense player. He was recognized as a great player but he never received the formal recognition by winning the Norris Trophy. However, he was allowed into the Hockey Hall of Fame as soon as he reached eligibility.
1. Patrick Roy
Patrick Roy is a goalie from Quebec, Canada. He is known to be one of the best goalies in hockey history. He played for both the Montreal Canadiens as well as the Colorado Avalanche. He won four Stanley Cups – two with the Canadiens and two with the Avalanche.
His performance has warranted more than just speculation about his greatness. His position as the best goaltender in the history of the NHL was decided in 2004. A group for 41 writers and thousands of fans voted to give him the official title.
As if this isn’t enough, he is the only hockey player in the history of the NHL to win the MVP of the Stanley Cup playoffs award three times. He was also inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. Both of his former professional teams retired his jersey number. This is a rare service that is not provided to many players.
In addition to being a great goalkeeper, he pioneered and popularized the style of goaltending that he used. This style, called the butterfly style, is now the most used style of hockey goaltending in the world.
Although he retired from playing, he has not left the rink. He is not the head coach of the Colorado Avalanche. Unsurprisingly, he is also a great coach and he was given the Jack Adams Award in his very first season of coaching.
Each of these legendary players remain some of the best athletes ever to be drafted by the NHL. They have all left their individual mark on the game. Although many are long retired, today’s players still strive to reach some of the lofty heights that these amazing skaters achieved.
The 1980s featured some of the most iconic moments in hockey. Even in the ‘new NHL’, few moments have compared to the brilliance that it took from one legend in the making to steal a puck away from an established player.
Though it was occasionally punctuated by tragedy and hardship, these top 10 players took every moment of their careers in stride. It is for this that they will be remembered for many years in the future.