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Not Many Played The Game Like Jere Lehtinen

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And not many today play as well as him, either.

Dallas Stars v Vancouver Canucks Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images

Tonight, the Dallas Stars will retire #26 to the rafters of the American Airlines Center where he will be permanently on Mike Modano’s wing.

It’s a symbolism that perfectly embodies Lehtinen’s career in Dallas. He was the yin to Modano’s yang, and it’d be an easy argument to make that Lehtinen did all of the little things that allowed Modano to see such success in Dallas.

He had unparalleled work ethic on and off the ice. When coaches talk about playing the game the “right way” they basically could show players any shift Lehtinen had on the ice as an example. Lehtinen was the ultimate glue guy, able to play on any line with any players and bring them success. He was used to spark offense or stop defensive bleeding, and in his later seasons served as a mentor to many young players that came through the Dallas Stars locker room of what it meant to be an everyday professional player.

All 875 NHL games of Lehtinen’s career were played in Dallas, remarkable in itself with how rare it is that players spend their entire careers with one franchise in most major sports leagues these days. Even though Modano was usually tapped as the “face of the franchise”, Lehtinen could easily be considered the same. He embodied the hard-working style Dallas employed for much of the 90’s and early 00’s.

His defensive play was so good that he won three Selke awards for best two-way forward in the league — a feat that has only been accomplished five times in NHL history, placing Lehtinen among elite talents like Pavel Datsyuk, Guy Carbonneau, Bob Gainey, and Patrice Bergeron. He finished his career with just one season in which he was a negative in plus/minus - and that was his last season, in which he struggled through injuries.

Lehtinen wasn’t all defensive play, though. He potted 243 goals and 514 total points in his career. He was known for timely offense, with goals scored in many instances when the team was down a goal or needed a spark of offense to get going. Of his 243 goals, 37 (or 15%) were game winning goals.

Quietly efficient on the ice, Lehtinen wasn’t the flashiest player. He defined the “most underrated player” label in the league for many seasons. Most casual fans knew Modano because he is the highest-scoring American of all time to date in the NHL. Lehtinen was always quietly efficient at his job, happy to let Modano take most of the media and fan attention while they played with the Stars.

Tonight, though, he’ll get his due recognition for the impact he has had on this franchise’s history. The shy, quiet Lehtinen is bound to be moved by the outpouring of love and affection he will receive from the Stars faithful. And they’ll play a little metal in honor of the man who impacted the Dallas hockey community so much on and off the ice.