As part of their Legends Night Series, the Los Angeles Kings honored Jari Kurri before their January 14 game against the Winnipeg Jets. Although the Kings aren’t the team that Kurri is most associated with, he still left a lasting impression on the franchise.
Kurri spent the first decade of his career becoming a transcendent player on those storied Edmonton Oilers championship squads.
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It’s almost inconceivable that Kurri could score over 100 points in 6 of his 10 seasons in Edmonton and not be considered their most important player.
Perhaps playing alongside illustrious figures like Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, and Paul Coffey leaves Kurri’s luster somewhat diminished.
It’s similar to what Scottie Pippen experienced on the Chicago Bulls during the Michael Jordan years. Pippen might have been the second best player in the NBA at his peak, yet playing in the shadow of an absolute icon of the sport can have a mixed effect on legacy.
The good needs to be taken with the bad, though. Championships are truly a team effort, and any great player needs an impressive supporting cast to win.
With his immense talent, Kurri could have put up similar numbers on another team, yet come away without any championships.
It’s possible that Kurri would have gotten statues of him built outside another franchise’s arena while the entire identity and lore of that organization would be encompassed by his exploits on the ice.
It’s not to say that the Oilers don’t revere Kurri, but there’s a special cache that comes with being the best player on a championship team. Despite his impressive NHL accolades, Kurri can never claim that special distinction.
Kings fans have a unique perspective on this type of situation, but from a different angle. Marcel Dionne is 5th all time in goals and 6th all time in points. He had 8 different 100 point seasons during his career, but it unfortunately came without any Stanley Cup Championships.
When The Hockey News famously revealed their 100 greatest players list back in 1998, Dionne ranked 38th, yet at that time, only Gretzky and Gordie Howe had more career goals and points than him.
Did the lack of team success hurt the perception of Dionne? Probably, because it’s hard to fathom how the 3rd leading scorer in league history couldn’t even crack the top 35 players.
At the time the list was constructed, the only higher ranking player who had never won a Stanley Cup was Ray Bourque at 14th, who later rectified that in 2001 when he finally got to lift the Cup with the Colorado Avalanche.
Dionne never got further than the second round, and is a cautionary tale of the importance of team prosperity during a distinguished career.
For the record, Kurri was ranked 50th on the list, which on the surface seems low for a guy who won 5 Stanley Cups and at the time he retired was the highest scoring European born and trained player in league history and 9th on the all time goals list, but it’s more of a testament to how many great players have laced up their skates in this league.
What’s important to note is that along with Messier, Kurri was there for all 5 Oilers championships. Gretzky and Coffey can’t say that.
In fact, much like how some have astutely pointed out that Jordan never won a ring without Pippen, Gretzky never won a ring without Kurri.
The two made quite a dynamic duo on the ice together in both Edmonton and Los Angeles. Kurri buried countless Gretzky passes into the back of the net over the course of his career.
Kurri had tremendous speed, and an unbelievably accurate shot. He ranks 14th all time in career shooting percentage, and of the top 20 shooting percentage totals for a single season, Kurri has 3 of them. There was a 7 year stretch where Kurri never shot below 20% for a season.
He wasn’t just a goal scorer, though. Kurri was a great defensive forward as well, and finished in the top 10 in Selke Trophy voting 6 times, and in the top 5 of the voting 4 times.
In 4 out of the 5 Stanley Cups he won with the Oilers, he was the leading goal scorer for the team during that post season.
After playing the 1990-1991 season in Italy, Kurri was traded first to the Philadelphia Flyers, and then to the Kings on the very same day by Philadelphia.
He went on to tally 293 points in 331 games as a member of the Kings. He continued to perform at a high level, albeit not the exceptionally lofty numbers he produced in Edmonton.
It’s hard to wrap your mind around how talented those Oilers teams were. During their championship campaign of 1983-1984, they had 5 different players rack up at least 99 points (Gretzky, Coffey, Kurri, Messier, and Glenn Anderson).
It was a different era, and representative of how much the game has changed when considering that in the last 4 non-lockout shortened NHL seasons, only 3 different players in the entire league have scored more than 99 points.
I didn’t get to witness those Oilers teams in action, having been born in 1992, but the numbers alone are stupefying.
The mark of a transcendent player in any league is whether or not the history of the sport could be properly told without the inclusion of that player.
The story of hockey would be incomplete without mentioning Jari Kurri, and given that he had numerous productive seasons in Los Angeles, the recognition from the franchise is entirely appropriate.