Sunday, August 25, 2019

Joe Mullen Swatch Card

During his playing days, there was talk that Joe Mullen was the best American-born hockey player of all time, with defenseman Chris Chelios in the mix as well. After all, Mullen was the first American to score 500 goals and to reach the 1000-point mark; Chelios kept collecting All-Star nods, Norris trophies (despite his longevity meaning he was a contemporary of Denis Potvin, Ray Bourque, and Nicklas Lidstrom) and Stanley Cups.

As the 1990s came rolling, however, a slew of high-scoring U.S.-born forwards made their way to the NHL, including Mike Modano, Keith Tkachuk, Jeremy Roenick, Tony Amonte, Bill Guerin and Doug Weight - although a case could still legitimately be made that Mullen was better than all of them in most areas.

One player was most definitely a better scorer, because his release is almost second to none in any era: Brett Hull, who also holds a Canadian citizenship. His father Bobby and Alex Ovechkin make up the rest of the top-three NHL snipers/shooters of all time, regardless of origin.

Phil Kessel, also an American, also has a tremendous shot, as well as set-up abilities, but his total disregard for defensive play and inability to lead a team to greatness will forever hurt his all-time rankings.

There's also the fact that the 2010s have given us Patrick Kane, probably one of the NHL's 100 best players of all time, one of the best forwards of his generation, and a three-time Stanley Cup champion (like Mullen!). In my view, Kane is the most talented American hockey player ever.

My top-10 American skaters (i.e. no goalies) would probably go as follows:
1. Kane
2. Mullen
3. Chelios
4. Modano
5. Hull (dual: also Canadian)
6. Brian Leetch
7. Pat Lafontaine
8. Mark Howe (dual: also Canadian)
9. Phil Housley
10. Neal Broten

And of those, because of his being part of the 1980 Team USA known for the Miracle On Ice, Broten may actually be the most important, paving the way through American systems to make it to the Big Show and continue producing at a high level once there (unlike most of the rest of that gold medal team). Chelios went through the 1984 Olympics before securing a spot with the Montréal Canadiens and helping the team win the 1986 Stanley Cup.

Ironically, Mullen not playing on the 1980 American squad likely helped create the "us against the world" team spirit that led it to victory.

Here is Mullen on card #TD-JM from Panini's 2012-13 Limited collection and one of my favourite sub-sets, Limited Travels:
It shows him with his first NHL team (St. Louis Blues, the 1970s blue - away- uniform) and last (Pittsburgh Penguins, the mid-1990s black - away - uniform with the city's name across the chest and logo on the shoulders), with a game-worn jersey swatch from each, showing his evolution from rookie to Cup-winning veteran.

The Blues' yellow swatch is probably from the same away jersey, but the Pens' white swatch was probably from their home garbs. It is numbered #151/199.

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