The last defenceman to score 100 points in a season says it will take a special player on a very good team to do it again.
Brian Leetch, who will be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame on Monday, had 102 points for the New York Rangers in 1991-92 to become only the fifth rearguard, and the first American, to reach 100.
“It was great to see Mike Green have the season he had last year,” Leetch said Tuesday on a conference call, referring to the Washington Capitals defenceman’s 73-point season in only 68 games. “You’d have to be on a team like that – Washington or Pittsburgh – where they have a lot of talented young players.
“But until you have a forward who puts up 150 or 160 points, it will be tough for a defenceman to get 100. If the forwards are scoring, it’s an opportunity for defencemen to get points. The power play also has to be successful. But it’s not impossible, and the league is trending that way, with higher point totals. But you’d have to be on a team with the right players in place and that plays the right system.”
Leetch was ninth in NHL scoring the year he topped 100, the same season Pittsburgh’s Mario Lemieux led the way with 131 points in 64 games.
It was one of many accomplishments for the slick, Texas-born blue-liner, who grew up in Cheshire, Conn., and went on to a brilliant 17-year NHL career spent mostly with the Rangers.
The 41-year-old Leetch is part of an exceptional class of Hall of Fame inductees that include his longtime U.S. Olympic and World Cup teammate Brett Hull, as well as Steve Yzerman and Luc Robitaille and, as a builder, New Jersey Devils president and general manager Lou Lamoriello.
He was inducted in the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame in 2008, the same year his No. 2 jersey was retired by the Rangers.
After winning the Calder Trophy as a rookie of the year for his 23-goal debut season in 1988-89, Leetch won the Norris Trophy as the NHL’s best defenceman in 1992 and 1997.
He was captain of the U.S. squad that won the World Cup of Hockey in 1996 and won a silver medal with the American team at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.
And he was a huge part of the Rangers team that ended a 54-year Stanley Cup drought in 1994, when he was the first American-born player to win the Conn Smythe Trophy as most valuable player of the playoffs.
The victory in the final of the 1996 World Cup is considered one of the biggest moments in U.S. hockey history, along with their Olympic gold medals in 1960 and 1980.
“I certainly agree we had a lot of strong personalities on that team,” said Leetch. “Jeremy Roenick, Keith Tkachuk, Bill Guerin, Brett Hull – a lot of strong individuals, but they all wanted to win.
“I represented the team when it was time to talk to the coaches or things like that, but we did everything together. It was a great time for us. It was one of the first times we went into an event with USA Hockey where you realized that winning didn’t just depend on having a hot goaltender.”
That team had size and skill on a forward and on defence, and goaltender Mike Richter was also outstanding.
“To put the best Americans together and be successful against the rest of the world was a big accomplishment for all of us, for sure,” he added.
He said the run to the Stanley Cup was a difficult season in which he had to prove his worth to coach Mike Keenan, who he said came in with “pre-conceived notions about players who were there.
“I think I was one of those guys. It took a while for Mike to trust me and accept that I would be there and that he could put me out there consistently.”
He succeeded Mark Messier as captain of the Rangers in 1997. He holds team records for career assists with 741, as well as goals (240) and points (981) by a defenceman.
He played 1,205 career regular season games and had 247 goals and 781 assists for 1,028 points. He was named to the first and second all star teams twice each.
Leetch was drafted ninth overall by the Rangers in 1986 and joined them after playing for the U.S. at the 1988 Olympics in Calgary. He also played at the 1998 Games in Nagano, Japan.
He was dealt to Toronto at the trading deadline for the 2003-04 season. After the 2004-05 lockout season, he signed as a free agent with the Boston Bruins for his final season, although he did not officially announce his retirement until May of 2007.
Since retiring, he said he has concentrated on raising his family. He and his wife have three children, all under 10.