With another NHL season underway, it’s time to look back at hockey’s rich East Coast history. Recently, I considered the 10 best Nova Scotians to play in the NHL.
The easiest decision? Number one.
Sidney Crosby is automatic. No reason to argue. You just can’t be considered the highest ranked player in the world for years without topping the list. Besides being the only Nova Scotian to win three Stanley Cups, the Pittsburgh Penguin is an eight-time all star, won the Art Ross trophy (most points) twice, the Hart trophy (regular season MVP) two times, the Conn Smythe trophy (playoff MVP) twice, the Richard trophy (leading goal scorer) twice, the Ted Lindsay award (MVP as voted by players) on three occasions, plus the Mark Messier leadership award. As of the start of this season, he’s played 984 games, with 462 goals and 801 assists for 1,263 points. I rest my case.
Before Crosby’s debut, I maintained that that Al MacInnis, a defenceman from Inverness County, was better than any other Nova Scotian in the NHL. He easily leads Bluenosers in games played: 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 points. Even Crosby needs a dozen or so more games to match that figure. MacInnis was a Conn Smythe recipient, winning a Stanley Cup as a player, and another as an executive in 2020.
Nathan MacKinnon is the new rising star on the list, thanks to 190 goals and 495 points (as of the start of this season) while still only 25 years old. The Hockey News recently named MacKinnon the top player to watch this season.
Bobby 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.
Glen Murray, Halifax-born and Bridgewater-raised, played 1,009 games in the NHL. Boston chose him in the first round of the 1991 draft and he went on to also play with Pittsburgh and Los Angeles. In 16 seasons, he flashed the red light 337 times and totalled 651 points, ending his career back in Beantown.
Also in Boston, we’ll find Brad Marchand, AKA “The Rat”—a key offensive weapon for the Bruins, loathed by pretty much everyone else in the league. The abrasive forward is a valuable hockey star when his mind is on the important aspects of the game. Rounding out Halifax’s big three, the 32-year-old left winger has appeared in 751 games since arriving in Boston in 2009–10. When not in the penalty box or otherwise in hot water, he has scored 290 goals and 646 points (as of the start of the 2021 season).
Lowell MacDonald is Pictou County’s best player to date. He had a 506-game career with Detroit, Los Angeles, and Pittsburgh. He tallied 180 goals and 390 points, but had it not been for injuries and a fear of flying, the numbers would have been much better. His best moments came during a four-season span with the Penguins between 1972–76, when he was in his early 30s and scored 134 of his goals.
Cape Breton’s Mike MacPhee made 744 appearances in an NHL career that included three 20-goal seasons with the Canadiens. Local fans of a certain age will recall him as a favourite with the American Hockey League’s Nova Scotia Voyageurs in 1982–83. He won the Stanley Cup with Montreal in 1986 and scored 200 goals and 199 assists over his career.
Colin White arrived in the NHL with the New Jersey Devils in the 1999–2000 season, 37 years after Lowell debuted. Besides being Pictou County’s two best players, they had something else in common: Memorial Cup championships in their final junior seasons. White spent 15 years at the top, also playing for the San Jose Sharks. He was a physical and defensive-minded blueliner, limiting him 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 Stanley Cups.
Haligonian Flash Hollett is the oldest player on this list. He played defence for the Toronto Maple Leafs, Ottawa Senators (the original ones), Boston Bruins, and Detroit Red Wings from 1932–46. He managed to play 560 games though schedules didn’t exceed 50 matches per season. In a low-scoring era, he produced 132 goals and 313 points. Like White six decades later, Hollett won two Stanley Cups (with Boston in 1939 and 1941).
The Pictou Advocate originally published this column.