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News, Opinion, and Rumors
Mario Lemieux (born October 5, 1965, in Montréal, Québec, Canada) is a retired professional ice hockey centre who played 17 seasons for the Pittsburgh Penguins of the National Hockey League between 1984 and 2006. Currently part-owner of the Penguins, he is generally regarded as one of the greatest players to have played in the NHL. His most frequently-used nicknames by the media are "Le Magnifique" and "Super Mario". Mario Lemieux is the youngest of three sons of Jean-Guy and Pierrette Lemieux. Many think that had Lemieux not missed so many games throughout his career due to illness and injury, he would have come much closer to Wayne Gretzky's records.
Lemieux started his career with the Laval Voisins of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL). It did not take him long to make an impact, as he scored 184 points in his second season there and also played for Team Canada at the World Junior Hockey Championships. In the 1983-84 QMJHL season, Lemieux achieved heights that have yet to be equalled in Major Junior Hockey, setting the QMJHL record for points in a season with 133 goals and 282 points in 70 games, an average of just over four points a game. In his last game of the regular season alone, Lemieux scored six goals and six assists for twelve points in a 16-4 victory.
Despite his outstanding performance, the season was not without controversy. Lemieux refused to play for the Canadian Junior team that year because he did not like the way he was treated by coach Dave King the year before, although he also did not want to break up his junior season.
Because of his spectacular junior career, Lemieux was selected first overall in the 1984 NHL Entry Draft by the Pittsburgh Penguins. When Lemieux's name was announced, however, he refused to walk down and join the Penguins' table, instead choosing to stay in his seat with his friends and family.
The Penguins' General Manager, Eddie Johnston, managed to get Lemieux signed to a contract and the teen phenom was ready to play for the 1984-85 NHL season.
Playing in Pittsburgh
At the time, the Penguins were a team in financial turmoil and they were rumored to have been ready to move to a different location. Lemieux was viewed as the savior of the franchise. He did his best not to disappoint, as he scored on his first NHL shift and shot on goal against Boston Bruins goaltender Pete Peeters.
Later that season, Lemieux played in the NHL All-Star Game and became the first and only rookie to be named the All-Star Game's Most Valuable Player. Despite missing seven games during the season, Lemieux still scored 100 points and took home the Calder Trophy.
The next season (1985–86), Lemieux cemented his place amongst the NHL's elite by finishing second in league scoring with 141 points, behind Wayne Gretzky's NHL-record 215 points. He still managed to take home the Lester B. Pearson Award as the NHL's best regular-season player as voted by his peers.
The 1986-87 NHL season was a disappointment for Lemieux in that he missed 17 games, his point production slipped, and the Penguins once again failed to make the playoffs. He did, however, play in the Canada Cup during the summer of 1987 and delivered a spectacular performance, playing alongside Gretzky.
Lemieux led all players in goals with 11 and scored the deciding goal in the tournament; it is now considered one of the most important goals scored in Canadian hockey history.
The following season Lemieux, fueled by his Canada Cup experience, managed to end Gretzky's seven-year grip on the scoring title and took home his first Art Ross Trophy with 168 points.
Lemieux also won his first Hart Memorial Trophy as the league's Most Valuable Player. Lemieux won the MVP award at the All-Star Game that year as well after a record-setting six-point performance. In spite of his success, Lemieux again failed to take the Penguins to the playoffs.
The 1988-89 season, his first in the playoffs, was arguably Lemieux's greatest regular-season performance ever. He led the league in goals with 85, tied with Gretzky for the league lead in assists with 114, and led the league in points with 199. Until that year Gretzky was the only player to reach 200 points, and Lemieux almost became the second, starting to draw serious comparisons to Gretzky after this achievement.
Lemieux also set the single-season shorthanded record with 13 shorthanded goals. Also, Lemieux scored 50 goals in 50 games, an exclusive club occupied at the time only by Gretzky, Mike Bossy, and Maurice Richard. Perhaps the defining moment of Lemieux's season was on December 31, 1988, in a game against the New Jersey Devils. In that game, Lemieux scored eight points and became the only player in NHL history to score a goal in all five possible ways: even-strength, power-play, shorthanded, penalty shot, and empty-net.
Lemieux himself had another five-goal, eight-point performance in a 10-7 victory against the Philadelphia Flyers on April 25, 1989. The performance set or tied a few playoff records but it failed to help the Penguins, who lost in the second round.
During the 1989-90 NHL season, Lemieux scored at least a point in 46 consecutive games, second all-time to Gretzky's 51 consecutive games with at least a point.
Lemieux also won his third All-Star Game MVP with a four-goal performance. He would only play 59 games in the season due to a back injury, and the Penguins did not make the playoffs.
The back injury developed into a herniated disc, which subsequently developed an infection that caused him to play only 26 games in the 1990-91 NHL season. However, the Penguins had become a Stanley Cup contender and acquired Ron Francis at the trading deadline to bolster their chances.
Despite significant back pain, Lemieux persevered by leading the playoffs in assists and points and, more importantly, leading the Penguins to their first Stanley Cup. Lemieux took home the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP for his performance.
The 1991-92 season also saw another injury-plagued campaign, although Lemieux managed to play 64 games. He took home his third Art Ross Trophy with 131 points, despite the time off, and once again led the Penguins to a Stanley Cup. Lemieux won his second Conn Smythe Trophy with another strong playoff performance, despite missing six games due to injury.
Cancer and The Return
With hopes high for a third straight Stanley Cup championship, Lemieux and company got off to a strong start during the 1992-93 season and Lemieux was on pace to challenge both Gretzky's record of 92 goals in a season (1981–82) and his 215 points (1985–86). He also had a 12-game goal-scoring streak.
Unfortunately, Lemieux was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma in January and was forced to undergo energy-draining radiation treatments, once again leaving his career and possibly even his survival in doubt.
Lemieux returned after missing only two months but found that not only was Pittsburgh struggling without their superstar, but he was also now 12 points behind Buffalo's Pat LaFontaine in the scoring race.
On the day of his last radiation treatment, Mario flew to play against Philadelphia and scored a goal and an assist that same night. Lemieux and Pittsburgh then went on an unprecedented tear for the rest of the season.
Pittsburgh won an NHL-record 17 games in a row to finish first overall and Lemieux scored at an incredible pace to win his second straight scoring title and fourth overall. Lemieux finished with 160 points (69 goals, 91 assists) in only 60 games played to win the scoring title by 12 points over Pat LaFontaine.
During his late season tear Lemieux added back-to-back four-goal games, a five-goal game against the rival New York Rangers and scored 30 goals and 26 assists in his final 20 games. After dispatching New Jersey in 5 games during the first round, Pittsburgh lost against the New York Islanders in seven games.
Lemieux did not get an immediate chance to provide a follow-up to his spectacular season, as he played only 22 games the next season and announced that he would sit out the entire 1994-95 NHL season. This had many analysts speculated that he might retire.
Once again, Lemieux returned. He scored 161 points in only 70 games to take home his fifth Art Ross Trophy. He also won his third Hart Trophy, but the Penguins fell to the Florida Panthers in the Eastern Conference Final in seven games.
Lemieux again won the scoring title during the 1996-97 season amid speculation that this would be his final season. In his last game in his hometown of Montreal, Lemieux tied a NHL record of scoring 4 goals in a period. His team made the playoffs again but lost to the Philadelphia Flyers in five games. Lemieux skated around the ice while receiving a standing ovation from the crowd after his final game in Philadelphia. That same summer Lemieux was immediately inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame, becoming the 9th player in history to have the mandatory 3 year waiting period waived.
Unfortunately, throughout most of the 1990s the Pens' owners badly mismanaged the team. One result of this was that the team asked many of its big-name players to defer their salaries; the players, including Lemieux, obliged in order to stay in Pittsburgh. Another result was that General Manager Craig Patrick was forced to make many personnel moves that fans perceived as stupid. It only later came out that the owners' poor financial management was the real culprit, when the team went into bankruptcy. On September 3, 1999, a U.S. Bankruptcy Court approved Lemieux's reorganization plan to save the Penguins.
Lemieux bought the team to help recover unfulfilled contractual payments by former Penguins owners and to keep the team in Pittsburgh. This made the then-retired star, who had deferred millions in salary, the first former NHL player to become majority owner of his former team.
Part of the reason the court had accepted Lemieux's plan was because it was designed to pay everyone the organization owed, a feat that would be rare if it happened. In August 2005, the Post-Gazette reported that the Penguins had indeed fully paid the principal it owed to each of its creditors, both secured and unsecured. Lemieux was given much of the credit, according to the article, for his insistence that everyone owed be paid.
He is also chairman of the board, CEO, and president. In January 2006, Lemieux confirmed the team was for sale, but would consider offers only from those who will keep the team in Pittsburgh.
Late in 2000, rumors were flying that Lemieux was attempting a comeback and on December 27 of that year he returned to the NHL against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Hockey Night in Canada.
Lemieux recorded an assist 33 seconds into his first shift of his return. Lemieux proved that his scoring touch had not disappeared by scoring a goal and three points. He was named captain of the North American All-Stars during the midseason All-Star game in Denver, Colorado. Despite playing in only 43 games in 2000-2001, Lemieux scored 76 points to finish 26th in scoring, finishing the season with the highest points-per-game average that season among NHL players.
Lemieux was one of the three finalists for the Hart Memorial Trophy and Lester B. Pearson NHLPA awards, and he earned a selection on the postseason NHL All-Star Second Team.
Lemieux led the Penguins in the postseason, and they surprised many by going to the Eastern Conference finals before losing in five games to the New Jersey Devils.
Lemieux was limited due to injuries during his last four regular seasons, playing in only 24 games in 2001-02 and ten games during the 2003-04 season. In 2002-03, Lemieux led the NHL in scoring for most of the season but missed most of the games towards the end of the schedule and finished eighth in scoring with 92 points in only 67 games. Unfortunately, Pittsburgh plummeted to the bottom of the NHL and missed the playoffs in each of those three seasons.
At the 2002 Winter Olympics, Lemieux led the Canadian men's team into Salt Lake City, Utah as captain. The team had failed to win a Gold Medal at the Olympics in fifty years but were still considered favorites to win.
Lemieux was second in team scoring with six points in five games, and led the team to Gold by defeating Team USA 5-2 in the final game. The Gold Medal secured Lemieux's legacy and helped endear himself to the hockey community with such a selfless performance.
By putting his country ahead of his personal interests back in Pittsburgh, many consider Lemieux to be one of the greatest Canadians of all-time.
Lemieux's unique status as player and owner placed him in a potential conflict of interest with respect to NHL labor negotiations. Because he was also an owner, Lemieux was no longer a member of the National Hockey League Players Association, although he still paid union dues to maintain his pension.
By agreement with the NHLPA, Lemieux was paid the average league salary of about $1.4 million and it was from this amount that his union dues are calculated and deducted. He did not vote in owners' meetings, delegating this role to a Penguins vice president.
He appeared to have sided with the league on key collective bargaining agreement issues and suggested that the NHL adopt a salary structure similar to the National Football League, which has a hard salary cap. Lemieux and fellow team owner Gretzky brought the parties together in a last-ditch effort to avoid the lockout, but the meeting failed.
On January 24, 2006, Mario Lemieux announced his second and permanent retirement from professional hockey at the age of 40. This followed a half-season in which he struggled not only with the increased speed of the "new NHL" but also with yet another threatening physical ailment, a heart condition called atrial fibrillation that caused him to experience irregular heartbeats.
Although he had put up points at a pace that most NHL forwards would be perfectly content with (22 points in 26 games) in his last season, Lemieux still remarked that "I can no longer play at a level I was accustomed to in the past" -- a reflection of the fact that he was a player in a class of his own, for whom incredible performances were routine.
Many consider Lemieux to be the most talented hockey player ever. Lemieux frequently finds his name mentioned in lists of the top five hockey players of all time, and his numbers and résumé certainly justify those recognitions.
He never played a full season in the NHL without missing a game; one can only speculate how much more impressive his offensive numbers would be had he not missed over 400 games due to injury and illness over the course of his very eventful career.
Mario is represented by player agent Steven Reich of Pittsburgh.
Lemieux married his teenage sweetheart Nathalie Asselin on June 26, 1993. They have four children: Lauren (born two months before the wedding), Stephanie, Austin, and Alexa. Austin was born prematurely, weighing just 2 pounds, but he is perfectly healthy today. The family lives in the affluent Pittsburgh suburb of Sewickley.
--- Regular Season --- ---- Playoffs ---- Season Team Lge GP G A Pts PIM GP G A Pts PIM -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 1981-82 Laval Voisins QMJHL 64 30 66 96 22 18 5 9 14 31 1982-83 Laval Voisins QMJHL 66 84 100 184 76 12 14 18 32 18 1983-84 Laval Voisins QMJHL 70 133 149 282 92 14 29 23 52 29 1984-85 Pittsburgh Penguins NHL 73 43 57 100 54 -- -- -- -- -- 1985-86 Pittsburgh Penguins NHL 79 48 93 141 43 -- -- -- -- -- 1986-87 Pittsburgh Penguins NHL 63 54 53 107 57 -- -- -- -- -- 1987-88 Pittsburgh Penguins NHL 77 70 98 168 92 -- -- -- -- -- 1988-89 Pittsburgh Penguins NHL 76 85 114 199 100 11 12 7 19 16 1989-90 Pittsburgh Penguins NHL 59 45 78 123 78 -- -- -- -- -- 1990-91 Pittsburgh Penguins NHL 26 19 26 45 30 23 16 28 44 16 1991-92 Pittsburgh Penguins NHL 64 44 87 131 94 15 16 18 34 2 1992-93 Pittsburgh Penguins NHL 60 69 91 160 38 11 8 10 18 10 1993-94 Pittsburgh Penguins NHL 22 17 20 37 32 6 4 3 7 2 1995-96 Pittsburgh Penguins NHL 70 69 92 161 54 18 11 16 27 33 1996-97 Pittsburgh Penguins NHL 76 50 72 122 65 5 3 3 6 4 1997-00 Did Not Play - Retired 2000-01 Pittsburgh Penguins NHL 43 35 41 76 18 18 6 11 17 4 2001-02 Pittsburgh Penguins NHL 24 6 25 31 14 -- -- -- -- -- 2002-03 Pittsburgh Penguins NHL 67 28 63 91 43 -- -- -- -- -- 2003-04 Pittsburgh Penguins NHL 10 1 8 9 6 -- -- -- -- -- 2005-06 Pittsburgh Penguins NHL 26 7 15 22 16 -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- NHL Totals 915 690 1033 1723 834 107 76 96 172 87
Awards and Accomplishments
Mario won the NHL rookie of the year award, six Art Ross Trophies, the NHL's single-season points award, and his number, 66, has been retired by the Pittsburgh Penguins.
- Hart Memorial Trophy - 1988, 1993, 1996
- Art Ross Trophy - 1988, 1989, 1992, 1993, 1996, 1997
- Conn Smythe Trophy - 1991, 1992
- Lester B. Pearson Award - 1986, 1988, 1993, 1996
- Lady Byng Memorial Trophy -1980, 1991, 1992, 1994, 1999
- NHL Plus/Minus Award - 1993
- Calder Memorial Trophy - 1985
- Chrysler-Dodge/NHL Performer of the Year -1985, 1986, 1987
- Lester Patrick Trophy - 2000
- Bill Masterton Trophy - 1993
- NHL All-Star Game MVP-1983, 1989, 1999
- NHL First All-Star Team - 1988, 1989, 1993, 1996, 1997
- NHL Second All-Star Team - 1986, 1987, 1992, 2001
- NHL All-Rookie Team - 1985
- NHL single-season record for shorthanded goals (13 in 1988-89)
- NHL record for most goals in one period (4, 26 January 1997, shares record)
- NHL record for longest goal-scoring streak (12 games)
- NHL All-Star Game record for career goals (13, shares record)
- NHL All-Star Game record for goals in a single-game (4 in 1990, shares record)
- NHL All-Star Game record for points in a single-game (6 in 1988)
- NHL playoff record for goals in a single period (4, shares record)
- NHL playoff record for goals in a single game (5, shares record)
- NHL playoff record for points in a single period (4, shares record)
- Pittsburgh Penguins team record for career games played (915)
- Pittsburgh Penguins team record for career goals (690)
- Pittsburgh Penguins team record for career assists (1033)
- Pittsburgh Penguins team record for career points (1723)
- Pittsburgh Penguins single-season record for goals (85 in 1988-89)
- Pittsburgh Penguins single-season record for assists (114 in 1988-89)
- Pittsburgh Penguins single-season record for points (199 in 1988-89)
- Pittsburgh Penguins single-game record for goals (5, three occasions)
- Shares Pittsburgh Penguins single-game record for assists (6, three occasions)
- Pittsburgh Penguins single-game record for points (8, two occasions)
- Only player in NHL history to score a goal in each of the five different ways possible (even-strength, power-play, shorthanded, penalty shot, and empty-net) in one game. (December 31, 1988 against the New Jersey Devils)
Skating & Skills
Defense & Physical Game