Thursday, December 28, 2006
The Greatness of Jari Kurri
I've been doing a lot of thinking lately about the greatest players to play the game. The greatest player ever, to be more exact. If you throw out that question to hockey fans and scholars alike you'll hear responses varying from Gretzky to Orr, Howe to Mario and so on. It usually boils down to an argument of Gretzky vs. Orr.
First off, I should disqualify myself from talking intelligently about Bobby Orr. I never saw him play and I've only read accounts of his greatness. I'll trust the experts here and say that he was a giant amoung men and was one of the greatest ever.
Secondly, I should point out that I (like just about everyone in the 80's) was a HUGE Oilers fan. Gretzky and his teammates could do no wrong in my book; he was a god on ice to me and it almost seemed like blasphemy to me to question his place as the greatest ever. Until recently. As I read more and more and break down pages of statistics I have come to the albeit unpopular postion that while Gretzky was a rare talent, he wouldn't have achieved the accomplishments he did without Jari Kurri.
Take Kurri off those teams and Wayne's numbers decrease significantly. I'll even argue that they would've only won 2 or 3 cups w/o the Finnish winger; Jari was the straw that stirred the drink. Wayne was the charismatic one, Jari the soft-spoken Finn who let the brash Canadian steal the spotlight. He was Maris to Gretzky's Mantle.
There isn't much to support this theory, I'll grant you that. Oh sure, when Gretzky went to LA he still put up big numbers there, and oh sure, Kurri's numbers fell significantly when Gretzky left. The only thing I can point to here is that when Wayne was traded, Kurri was broken-hearted and loss his hockey focus. He started visiting Tim Horton's more and more and put on 20 pounds. A few years later Wayne even begged and pleaded for reunion and Kurri went to the Kings, but it wasn't the same.
Jari Kurri made Wayne Gretzky, of this I'm sure. Career stats: 601-797-1308.