Mount Puckmore: Four players who define each Atlantic Division team

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When you look at Mount Rushmore, the four American presidents staring back were selected by sculptor Gutzon Borglum in order to define the first 130 years of American history. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson shared an era; Lincoln defined his; and Theodore Roosevelt was a symbol of expansion and development of the nation that the others had built.

Lingering in the shadows of that mountain is context. The battle scars, the sins, the regretful parts of our history. That is represented in those craggy faces, too, although not observably. But look hard enough, and you see it: The good, the bad, the entirety of the story that defines that portion of American history.

In constructing a "Mount Puckmore" for all 31 NHL franchises, creating the full view of the teams' histories was paramount. It's not enough to just pick the four top statistical leaders and slap them on a mountain side. It's about selecting four players who define the team's history, through different eras and ebbs and flows of success. Celebrating what went right in some cases, and recalling what went wrong in others.

A few parameters we established:

  • This is just for players. Coaches and general managers are listed separately for each team.

  • Players' contributions during their time with the team are what we've taken into account, rather than their career as a whole. Just because Wayne Gretzky and Martin Brodeur played for the Blues for a minute doesn't mean they make Mount Puckmore for St. Louis.

  • There are no positional requirements. In some cases, teams won't have a goalie on the mountain. In other cases, they'll have more than one.

  • Many of these picks were made by the editorial staff, but in over a dozen cases, we've reached out to fans on background to pick their brains about specific teams.

  • Again, we're looking for players synonymous with their teams, ones who define specific eras for the franchises and without whom the total picture of that organization's story can't be properly framed.

With that in mind, please collect your ropes, grappling hooks and climbing shoes, as we're about to scale 31 different versions of Mount Puckmore in the NHL. First up is the Atlantic Division, featuring four of the Original Six:

Boston Bruins

Patrice Bergeron, C (2003-present)
Ray Bourque, D (1979-2000)
Bobby Orr, D (1966-76)
Milt Schmidt, C/D (1936-55)

Potential replacements: John Bucyk, LW (1957-78); Zdeno Chara, D (2006-present); Phil Esposito, C (1967-75); Rick Middleton, RW (1976-88); Cam Neely, RW (1986-96); Terry O'Reilly, RW (1972-85); Tiny Thompson, G (1928-39); Eddie Shore, D (1926-1940)

Puckmore coach: Art Ross (1925-45).

Puckmore GM: Harry Sinden (1972-2000)

When your franchise has produced two of the greatest defensemen to ever lace up the skates, the focus quickly shifts to the players on the other side of the mountain. Few players have meant more to their franchises than Schmidt has for the Bruins, as a player and later an executive, so he makes the cut.

It's that last spot that's vexing: There's Bucyk, the franchise leader in goals (545) and Espo, whose brief tenure with the team produced an astounding 1.62 points per game. But as a representative of the modern era's championship teams, and as a player who will go down as one of the greatest defensemen centermen of all time, we're comfortable with Bergeron here. (Also, Brad Marchand threatened to lick us on the forehead if we didn't select his linemate.)

Buffalo Sabres

Dominik Hasek, G (1992-2001)
Ryan Miller, G (2002-14)
Gilbert Perreault, C (1970-87)
Rob Ray, RW (1989-03)

Potential replacements: Dave Andreychuk LW, (1982-92); Phil Housley, D (1982-90); Pat LaFontaine, C (1991-97); Rick Martin, LW (1971-80); Craig Ramsay, LW (1971-85)

Puckmore coach: Lindy Ruff (1998-2013)

Puckmore GM: Darcy Regier (1997-2013)

Perreault leads the franchise in games, goals, assists and points, while also repping The French Connection line. Hasek is ... well, Hasek, a goalie who carried middling Buffalo teams on his back to an unprecedented two Hart Trophies as a goalie. Rare is the Mount Puckmore that has two goaltenders, but there's no denying that Miller was the (masked) face of the franchise in the 2000s, as well as its career leader in wins.

Why does Rob Ray deserve the final spot over, say, the 1.44 points-per-game-producing LaFontaine? Because sometimes being a cult icon, as Ray is in Buffalo, makes a stronger case for local immortality than does overall virtue as an NHL player. He's fourth in games played (889) and first in penalty minutes by a country mile (3,189). For a generation of Sabres fans, he was as beloved as anyone on the ice (or, in his case, in the penalty box).

Detroit Red Wings

Gordie Howe, RW (1946-1971)
Nicklas Lidstrom, D (1991-2012)
Ted Lindsay, LW (1944-57)
Steve Yzerman, C (1983-2006)

Potential replacements: Pavel Datsyuk, C (2001-16); Alex Delvecchio, C (1950-74); Sergei Fedorov, C (1990-2003); Chris Osgood, G (1993-2001, 2005-11); Terry Sawchuk, G (1949-64); Henrik Zetterberg, C (2002-18)

Puckmore coach: Scotty Bowman (1993-2002)

Puckmore GM: Jack Adams (1927-62)

When you have 800 goals to your name, your face is going to be up on a dang mountain. Joining Howe is his linemate "Terrible" Ted, a player so tough that the NHL developed the elbowing penalty to limit his particular talents. Yzerman and Lidstrom were the faces for two decades of Detroit dominance, both having played over 1,500 games with the Red Wings. It's hard to make a case for anyone else over these immortals.

Florida Panthers

Aleksander Barkov, C (2013-present)
Pavel Bure, RW (1998-2001)
Roberto Luongo, G (2000-06; 2013-present)
John Vanbiesbrouck, G (1993-98)

Potential replacements: Nathan Horton, RW (2003-10); Jonathan Huberdeau, C (2012-present); Olli Jokinen, C (2000-08); Scott Mellanby, RW (1993-2001); Stephen Weiss, C (2001-13)

Puckmore coach: Doug MacLean (1996-98)

Puckmore GM: Dale Tallon (2010-16; 2017-present)

There was a trifecta of challenges in building the Panthers' Mount Puckmore. They're a relatively new franchise with a startling lack of either success or homegrown superstar players. Which is how one ends up with two goaltenders on the mountain.

Vanbiesbrouck was nominated for the Vezina and Hart in the Panthers' first season; and other than thousands of rubber rats hitting the ice, he was the best thing about their 1996 run to the Stanley Cup Final. Luongo has the franchise lead in every goaltending category. Bure posted a 1.13 points-per-game average in his brief time with the Panthers, during which he became their biggest offensive star. Too soon for Barkov? Perhaps, but in the burgeoning contender that the Panthers could become, he'll be the Jonathan Toews-esque lynchpin.

Montreal Canadiens

Jean Beliveau, C (1950-71)
Guy Lafleur, RW (1971-85)
Maurice Richard, (1942-60)
Patrick Roy, G (1984-96)

Potential replacements: Yvan Cournoyer, RW (1963-79); Ken Dryden, G (1970-79); Bob Gainey, LW (1973-89); Bernie Geoffrion, RW (1950-68); Newsy Lalonde, C (1917-22; 1926-27); Jacques Lemaire, C (1967-79); Howie Morenz, C (1923-34; 1936-37); Jacques Plante, G (1952-63); Carey Price, G (2007-present); Henri Richard, C (1955-75); Larry Robinson, D (1972-89)

Puckmore Coach: Toe Blake (1956-68)

Puckmore GM: Sam Pollock (1964-78)

Trying to determine the four immortal players in the history of the Montreal Canadiens is like trying to determine the four best morsels of roe in a jar of beluga caviar. The other problem is that the team has been winning championships since 1917. Our Mount Puckmore begins in 1942 with Rocket Richard, who is second in Habs history in era-adjusted points. It continues with Beliveau, who represents the late 1960s run of Stanley Cups, but excludes the class that was synonymous with the organization. It was a very tough call between Lafleur and Dryden as the representative for the 1970s dynasty, but the Flower gets the nod for his franchise-leading scoring numbers and rock star status. As for Roy, he back-stopped the team to two Stanley Cups before becoming the best example of how quickly things can go off the rails for a star player in the modern incarnation of the Canadiens.

Ottawa Senators

Daniel Alfredsson, RW (1995-2013)
Erik Karlsson, D (2009-present)
Chris Phillips, D (1997-2015)
Alexei Yashin, C (1993-2001)

Potential replacements: Craig Anderson, G (2010-18); Dany Heatley, LW (2005-09); Chris Neil, RW (2001-17); Wade Redden, D (1996-08); Jason Spezza, C (2002-14)

Puckmore coach: Jacques Martin (1996-2004)

Puckmore GM: Bryan Murray (2007-16)

The Senators provided a unique challenge. Yes, Alfredsson and Karlsson are as locked-in as an Ottawa fan's ire toward their current owner. But after that, several interesting cases can be made. We settled on Phillips, the all-time games leader who was a low-key defensive constant, and his spiritual opposite in Yashin, the erratic offensive dynamo that's still third in franchise goals. If nothing else, Yashin best represents the cloud of "what if" that surrounds so many former Senators stars.

Tampa Bay Lightning

Victor Hedman, D (2009-present)
Vincent Lecavalier, C (1998-13)
Steven Stamkos, C (2008-present)
Martin St. Louis, RW (2000-2014)

Potential replacements: Dave Andreychuk, LW (2001-06); Dan Boyle, D (2001-08); Brad Richards, C (2000-07); Nikolai Khabibulin, G (2000-04); Daren Puppa, G (1993-2000)

Puckmore coach: John Tortorella (2001-08)

Puckmore GM: Steve Yzerman (2010-present)

Oh, if only there were a way to honor the pioneering spirit of Roman Hamrlik, Chris Gratton and their combined minus-246 during their time in Tampa! Alas, the Lightning's Mount Puckmore begins with Vinny and Marty from the 2004 Stanley Cup championship team, and then continues with Steven and Victor from what they hope will be a second Cup in short order. Tough to leave Richards and Boyle off this mountain, but Stamkos and Hedman have earned the space.

Toronto Maple Leafs

Teeder Kennedy, C (1942-57)
Dave Keon, C (1960-75)
Borje Salming, D (1973-89)
Mats Sundin, C (1994-08)

Potential replacements: George Armstrong, RW (1949-71); Johnny Bower, G (1958-69); Turk Broda, G (1936-52); Wendel Clark, LW, (1985-94; 1995-98); Tim Horton, D (1949-70); Frank Mahovlich, LW (1956-68); Darryl Sittler, C (1970-81)

Puckmore coach: Punch Imlach (1959-69; 1980)

Puckmore GM: Punch Imlach (1958-69, 1979)

Kennedy was an all-timer in the NHL, as the first skater two win five Stanley Cups and the last Leaf to win the Hart Trophy until John Tavares wins it next season. Keon is considered the greatest Leaf in franchise history and represents the Leafs' last Stanley Cup win until Tavares wins his in Toronto. Salming was the franchise standard-bearer for the next two decades after Keon, and remains the best defenseman in team history, since Tavares isn't technically a defenseman. Sundin is the franchise leader in goals (420) and points (987) until Tavares inevitably surpasses him.