Craig Simpson

Craig Simpson was the best junior player available in the 1985 NHL Entry Draft after a splendid two years at Michigan State University. The 6'2" 190lb left winger scored 45 goals and 141 points in just 88 games with the Spartans.

The Toronto Maple Leafs picked first overall and were highly interested in the London, Ontario native, but the feeling was not mutual. Craig had told the Leafs that he would never play for them. The Leafs decided to take tough defenseman (who would be moved to left wing later) in Wendel Clark, leaving the Pittsburgh Penguins to snatch up the clever goal scorer.

Craig left university to immediately join the Penguins. Success did not come right away for Simpson. He scored just 11 goals and 28 points in his rookie season. He improved to 26 goals and 51 points in year two.

Craig's third year in the league would prove to be his finest. He started out strong by scoring 13 goals and 26 points in 21 games with the Penguins. However, the pivotal moment in his career came on November 24, 1987. He was involved in one of the biggest trades of the decade when he was packaged with Dave Hannan, Moe Mantha and Chris Joseph in exchange for Paul Coffey, Dave Hunter and Wayne Van Dorp. Simpson would come to Edmonton and instantly become part of their high powered power play. He finished the season by scoring 43 goals in 59 games with the Oil. In total that season, Craig scored 56 goals and 90 points - all career highs. Craig, at best an average skater in every regard, spent much of his time on the left wing with Mark Messier and Glenn Anderson. He added 13 more goals in 19 playoff games as the Oilers won the 1988 Stanley Cup.

Simpson's offensive performance would dip following his career year. He fell off to 35 the following year and 29 in 1989-90. However the 1990 playoffs proved to be Simpson's finest moments. The Oilers, without Wayne Gretzky, won the Stanley Cup. While much of the credit went to team captain Mark Messier and goaltender Bill Ranford, it was Simpson that led all playoff shooters in goals (16) and points (31).

Simpson's production would gradually slip to the point where he was a 20 goal scorer as opposed to a league leader in that category. Part of the reason was Simpson's style of play. He often parked his body in front the opposition's net and absorb punishment given by monstrous defensemen who would hack and whack at his body. His back would eventually go out and cause him to retire prematurely.

The Oilers traded Simpson to Buffalo in 1993 for Josef Cierny and a draft pick. The trade was partly due to his injury problems and the fact that the Oilers were dumping salaries.

Simpson's stay in Buffalo was less than memorable. Because of his serious injuries, Craig only play in 46 games over two years before calling it quits. He scored just 10 times in Buffalo.

When Craig retired he left the NHL as a veteran of 634 games. He scored 247 goals and 250 assists for 497 points. He also battled in 67 playoff wars, scoring 36 goals and 32 assists while earning two Stanley Cup rings.

I will always remember Simpson as a tireless, fearless worker, sacrificing his body to score goals. After all, he was a power play specialist, with 37% of his career goals coming with the man advantage But in actuality he was an excellent passer, too. On the Edmonton power play he was basically restricted to the front of the net because he his amazing hand-eye coordination made him one of the best in the business in terms of tip-ins and deflections. But he had great vision and hands, and on most other teams he would have been the go to guy with more complimentary assist totals.

Simpson later became a coach and a popular Hockey Night in Canada colorman.


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