Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Hall of Famer Mario Lemieux Retires

Today, hall of famer Mario Lemieux announced his retirement. TSN's story is here. This is the second retirement during the 2005/06 season of a Hall of Fame worthy player (the other is Brett Hull). Mario Lemieux was born in Montreal, Quebec on October 5th, 1965. He grew up playing hockey in the Montreal minor hockey program. In 1981, he entered the QMJHL with the Laval Voisons. He was an immediate scoring star in the league with 96 points in 64 games in his rookie year. The next year, he upped his totals to 184 points in 66 games and made the QMJHL second all star team. In his final junior year, Lemieux scored a QMJHL record 282 points (133 goals and 149 assists) in 70 games. He also led the league in playoff scoring with 29 goals, 23 assists and 52 points in only 14 games. He made the QMJHL first all star team, was named the QMJHL MVP and the Canadian Major Junior Player of the Year. He was one of the highest rated draft prospects ever. He was selected first overall by the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 1984 entry draft.

In his rookie year, Lemieux was immediately a franchise player in Pittsburgh. He made his first of ten NHL all star games as a rookie. He is one of only a handful of players to have 100 point rookie seasons and won the Calder trophy as rookie of the year. The following year (1985/86) was a 141 point year where Lemieux made the second team all star and won the Lester B Pearson award as the NHL MVP as voted by the players of the NHL. He followed it up with 107 points in only 63 games and another second team all star berth.

In 1987, he was named to the all star team of the Canada Cup when he scored 11 goals and 18 points in the nine games he played in the tournament. He combined with Wayne Gretzky to score the tournament winning goal. Lemieux carried this level of success into his NHL season where he scored a league leading 70 goals and 168 points. He made the NHL first team all star and won the Pearson, Art Ross and Hart trophies. In 1988/89 he followed that up with an even better year. He scored 85 goals, 114 assists and 199 points. All of those were league leading totals. He made first all star team and again won the Art Ross trophy. Back injuries limited him to 59 games in 1989/90 and 123 points. His back limited him to only 26 games in 1990/91 where he scored 45 points. Lemieux managed to stay healthy for the playoffs where he led Pittsburgh to the Stanley Cup and led the league with 28 assists and 44 points and won the Conn Smythe trophy as playoff MVP. He managed to play 64 regular season games in 1991/92, but that was enough to scored 131 points which was good enough to lead the league. He made second team all star and won the Art Ross trophy. In the playoffs, Mario scored a league leading 16 goals and 34 points leading Pittsburgh to another Stanley Cup and winning another Conn Smythe trophy.

1992/93 was a trying season for Mario Lemieux. He was diagnosed with cancer on January 12th, 1993 (Hodgkins disease). Nevertheless, Lemieux played 60 games and lead the league in scoring with 160 points and also led the league with his +55 +/- rating. He made first team all star, won the Pearson, Ross, Hart and Bill Masterton trophy (for perseverance and dedication to hockey). A back injury limited Lemieux to 22 games (and 37 points) in 1993/94. Lemieux missed the entire 1994/95 season recovering from the lingering effects of cancer treatment and his back problems.

He came back in 1995/96 and again led the NHL in goals (69) assists (92) and points (161). He made first team all star and won Pearson, Ross and Hart trophies. The next year, he again led the league in assists (72) and points (122) his next season. He made first team all star and won the Art Ross trophy.

In need of a break, Mario Lemieux announced retirement in 1997. Lemieux was soon inducted into the hockey hall of fame. During his time away from NHL play, Mario Lemieux was part of a group that purchased the Pittsburgh Penguins. In 2000, he won the Lester Patrick trophy for service to hockey in the United States.

Mario Lemieux made a comeback in the 2000/01 season. Despite only playing in 43 games, Lemieux made second team all star and was a Hart trophy nominee. Lemieux played through an injury plagued 2001/02 season limited to 24 NHL games, but was an important part of Canada's Olympic hockey gold medal victory in Salt Lake City. Lemieux managed his last nearly complete season in 2002/03 with 67 games and 91 points. He played only 10 games in the 2003/04 season due to further injury. During the lockout season, Mario Lemieux played for the winning Canada team in the World Cup. This year, Mario played in only 26 games before injuries and heart problems forced him into retirement.

Mario Lemieux remains a Pittsburgh Penguin owner. The Penguins are in a position of uncertainty due to the need for a new rink and the possibility they may be sold and moved.

Lemieux is one of hockey's greatest players of all time. Although some argue he is the best player ever, most consider him the third or fourth best ever. With the cancer and injuries he played through, there will always be the question of how good he could have been if he had been healthy.

Mario Lemieux's retirement shortens the list of NHL players that are still active hockey player and are worthy of the hall of fame regardless of what they accomplish (or do not accomplish) for the rest of their careers. This list grew recently with the addition of Peter Forsberg. The players currently on the list are:

Dave Andreychuk
Ed Belfour
Martin Brodeur
Chris Chelios
Peter Forsberg
Dominik Hasek
Jaromir Jagr
Brian Leetch
Nicklas Lidstrom
Luc Robitaille
Joe Sakic
Brendan Shanahan
Steve Yzerman

As hockey is played this season, this list is likely to grow. At the same time, players such as Dave Andreychuk and Steve Yzerman are on their last legs, so this list may also shrink.

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