In just his second full year in the league Nieuwendyk scored 14 points en route to his first Stanley Cup Championship with the Calgary Flames in 1989. Six years later he found himself in a bitter dispute with the team over his long term contract status and held out to start the season, leading to the win-win trade to Dallas for Jarome Iginla.
Nieuwendyk signed an extension in Dallas and immediately bolstered the club's efforts to build something special both off and on the ice. He went on to play a total of 442 games for the Stars over the course of seven seasons, racking up 178 goals and 340 points over all, good for 6th all-time in Dallas. He scored 40 points in 61 Dallas Stars playoff games, including 21 in 1999 en route to his second career Stanley Cup, Dallas' first.
Why He's On The List:
At this point in the list it's starting to become a little self explanatory, isn't it? That replica Conn-Smythe trophy in the glass case outside the Stars locker room at the AAC where the media waits for (whichever head coach it is currently) says it all. He willed the Stars to victory in 1999, and countless other nights.
Continued after the jump
The Stars peaked with Nieuwendyk and his strongest years in Dallas. They won the Presidents Trophy in 1997-1998 and 1998-1999, and finished second in the West in 1999-2000 behind the St. Louis Blues.
He was a big player in his day. He could skate well. He was great in the faceoff circle. His defensive instincts and physicality were top notch. He could create chances. He could stand in front of the net and take the punishment the clutching and grabbing NHL of the late nineties dealt. When added to his intagibles as a leader, a teammate and a friend, it all made him one of the most complete packages in the league, and he used it all to win three Stanley Cups and a gold medal with Team Canada.
Here's one of the quintessential Joe Nieuwendyk moments that sticks out in my mind: Overtime, Game 2 versus St. Louis in 1999. Re-live the younger days of Ralph and Razor on your way to enjoying one of the best wrist shots in the history of the sport...
His skill was undeniable, but as Nieuwendyk retired and eventually entered the HHOF it was his character of which most spoke. To paraphrase Brett Hull, he was an even better teammate than he was a hockey player. He was a mentor to many, including Langenbrunner and Brenden Morrow. He may not have worn a 'C' on his chest here, but for the four games Derian Hatcher missed against the Oilers, but he was a true captain in every sense of the word everywhere he went.
Like Jamie Langenbrunner earlier on the list, it's easy to get caught up wonder what could have been when talking about Nieuwendyk rather than marveling at what was. Not only because he was traded along with Langenbrunner in 2003, but because of what happened in game one of the playoffs in 1998.
Bryan Marchment checked Joe Nieuwendyk, causing a torn ACL. The injury took away the Stars powerful one-two punch down the middle and cost them in the Conference Finals against the Red Wings. Given what we know about Nieuwendyk's propensity to ratchet his game up in the playoffs, it's only natural to wonder what might have been. Could his reputation as a Dallas Stars have grown even more?
Nieuwendyk's arguably the best combination of skill, leadership, character and clutch production on this list, but tenure played a large role in our decision making so he lands at number six, though he easily could have been higher.
Firmly entrenched at the very heart of the most romantic period of Dallas Stars history, Joe Nieuwendyk the player remains, so far, completely segregated in the minds of most from Joe Nieuwendyk the general manager, who really has his work cut out for him. His ability (or lack thereof) to make the playoffs in the next two or three years and turn the club around will have a significant impact on his tenure in the GM chair, but the memories of his deeds surrounding the turn of the century will never tarnish.
Joe Nieuwendyk Hall Of Fame Night, Video Tribute at American Airlines Center: