The last-ditch, pre-holiday crush is on. It's 10 a.m. on Christmas Eve, and
the owner of Marcel Dionne Enterprises is in the Amherst, N.Y., retail store,
tending to customers and business details.
"Busy, busy, busy," he says. "It goes by so fast."
Yes, it surely does.
But it's not as if Dionne gift-wrapped his place among the game's pantheon. And it's unlikely he's developed a terminal case of insomnia
worrying about his place in history, either.
"I passed a lot of players in my time, too," he reminds you. "I remember
being in New York and passing Phil Esposito in goals. Phil was there and he
was happy for me. I never thought of myself as being better than Phil
Esposito. Or anybody else, for that matter. It's just something that ...
"I've never been impressed by that kind of thing. It's not an issue with me.
Third, sixth, 10th, 15th or 20th, you're in pretty good company, right? I
never look back.
"It's funny but I was at an auction with Bobby Hull this year, and his jersey
sold for more than Brett's. And Ronnie Francis, I was at a charity function
of his for handicapped people a year or so ago, and his brother -- looks just
like Ron, you know, the spitting image -- comes over and tells me 'My
brother's going to pass you!' And I kidded him. 'No way!' I told him. It was
fun banter. I enjoyed it.
"And Ron's father. Such a nice man. So how could I be upset? Brett Hull's a great goal scorer. Ron Francis is a great player. What's to
be upset about? You realize when your career is over that the rest of your life is what's
Dionne played the majority of his years isolated on the West Coast wearing
shock gold uniforms, long before Gretzky arrived in the ultra-cool
silver-and-black to make the place hockey fashionable. His name conjures up
nostalgic memories of a wide-open, creative, trade-chances style and when he, Charlie Simmer and current Kings general manager Dave Taylor
comprised the game's most prolific force -- the Triple Crown Line.
"Every time I went on the ice," he says, "my aim was to entertain the
people in the stands. The same as (Guy) Lafleur and Hull and the Rocket and later,
Gretzky and Mario (Lemieux). How many guys today can honestly make that
What's been all-but forgotten in the excitement over Ranger icon Mark
Messier pushing beyond the immortal Gordie Howe and into second place on the
point-scoring list is that Dionne ended his career a mere 79 points in
arrears of Mr. Hockey, and played in seven fewer seasons than Messier and
six less than Howe.
"It's something that crossed my mind," he admits. "Under different
circumstances, I could've done it, could've passed Gordie. But what's the
sense of dwelling on it? I guess at the end of my career, I got a stick
stuck between my legs.
"You know, I played with one Hall of Fame-caliber defenseman during my peak
years. Larry Murphy was just a kid then, too. I played with a lot of great
guys, hard-working guys, don't get me wrong. But I also know that if I'd
been in Montreal with Savard and Robinson and Lapointe, I'd have scored
1,000 goals. How do I know that? I just do."
Like many players of his era, Marcel Dionne is more than a little frustrated
by the way hockey is played today, by the dearth of personalities and general dissatisfaction with the product.
"I get asked all the time now 'Could you play in today's game?' " Dionne
grunts derisively. "PLAY in today's game?! Earn $5 million to score 20
goals? I could do that by Christmas."
The one teensy-weensy item missing from Dionne's achievement resume is, of
course, a Stanley Cup ring. When judging his career or where he rates,
many people can't get past that fact.
"I hear that," he scoffs, "but I don't care. That's what everyone
remembers, the guys holding the Stanley Cup up and kissing it. But winning a
Stanley Cup is a combination of a lot of things. Hockey is a team game. For
a lot of us, it didn't happen.
"We all would've loved to win a Stanley Cup. That goes without saying. But
just because we didn't doesn't mean we're something less or we failed in
"You know what I'm proud of? When I look back on my 18 years in the NHL, I can't
remember one major problem with a coach. A verbal confrontation, or anything
of that nature. Not one. And I had 18 coaches in my 18 seasons, from Pat
Quinn to Bob Berry to Roger Neilson to Michel Bergeron. Seemed like, you
name him, he coached me. Guys complain about their coaches all the time, but
what's the difference if you yourself don't perform on the ice?"
Performing on the ice is something few did better over the long haul than
Marcel Dionne, Stanley Cup or no Stanley Cup. The facts don't lie. Over 700
goals. Over 1,000 assists. Dionne's 1.314 points-per-game average ranks
third all-time, trailing only Gretzky and Lemieux among the point-producing
He congratulates Brett Hull. He wishes Ron Francis well. But there are more
pressing issues in his life at the moment, such as how the Christmas
sales at Marcel Dionne Enterprises are going to tally up.
"People ask me 'Marcel, how did you do it?' A guy 5-foot-7, a little guy
with a wide ass, a guy who would never get asked to pose naked in a women's
magazine. How did you do all the things you did in hockey?
"I worked. I listened. I watched. I had a passion. And because of those
things, I enjoyed a great career.
"I know what I accomplished in the game. No matter what happens, no matter
what people say, no matter where I am in the record books."
George Johnson of the Calgary Herald is a regular contributor to ESPN.com.