Many people will disagree with me for putting Vladimir Krutov on the list of Legends of Hockey. These people look at his one and only season in the NHL and see how he failed miserably. He was out of shape and extremely overweight, as he joined the NHL after the season had already began. After years of disciplined Soviet training, he had trouble adapting to the North American game. On top of it all, he suffered a severe case of homesickness.
But knowledgeable hockey fans agree: Krutov deserves to be mentioned among the game's greatest players ever.
Krutov was a cannonball of a forward, nicknamed Tank because of his stout nature and robust play. With a double chin at the age of the 19, he didn't look like a typical Soviet athlete. His crafty play was matched by a hard competitive edge, resembling the great Boris Mikhailov. With his speed and strength he was one Soviet forward who was very effective along the walls and in the corners. I can't decide which was more impressive - Krutov's astonishing rocket bursts from a stand still or his piercing wrist shot.
Krutov played on left wing on the famed "KLM Line" with Igor Larionov and Sergei Makarov for most of the 1980's. The Red Army dominated international competition and showed they were as good as the NHLers on many occasions. Krutov headlined many of those battles.
The Red Army won 2 golds and one silver medal in Olympic tournaments. 1980 was the famous "Miracle on Ice" when the upstart USA squad upset the heavily favored Soviets. The lone bright spot for the Soviets was the emergence of the KLM line, as it became apparant that they were the future of Soviet hockey. Krutov established himself as a scoring threat, finishing 7th in the scoring race with 6 goals and 5 assists in 7 games. 1984 marked the return to the gold medal podium for the Soviets, the "Green Unit's" first time on top. In 1988 they repeated as Krutov and the Red Army put on a show in the heart of hockey country, Calgary Alberta. Krutov scored 6 times, assisted on 9 others in 8 games. The 15 points is the third highest point total in Olympic competition. (Scoring leaders prior to the 1952 Olympics are not available). Krutov was also a member of 7 gold medal winning teams in World Championships play.
Krutov also played well against NHL competition in various exhibition games. Take for example Rendez-Vous '87, the 2 game exhibition series between the Red Army and the NHL all stars. Krutov scored once for the Soviets, but was a standout in both games.
The Canada Cup tournaments were also opportunities for Krutov to prove he truly is one of the game's greats. The 1981 tournament marked the Red Army's only Canada Cup victory. Krutov led the squad in goals with 4, and finished third in points with 8 in 7 games. In 1984, Canada regained the Canada Cup, but Krutov established himself as perhaps the best Soviet forward. After going undefeated in the round robin, the Soviets were upset by the Sweden. Krutov led the team in scoring with 3 goals, 5 assists and 8 points in 6 games.
However it was the 1987 Canada Cup when the man they call "The Tank" achieved his prime. In a tournament often compared to that of the 1972 Summit Series, Krutov kept pace with the torrid scoring pace set by Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux. Krutov scored 7 goals and 15 points in 9 games, compared to Gretzky's 21 points and Lemieux's 18. Krutov, along with Gretzky and Lemieux were named to the three forward positions on the tournament's all star team.
So don't judge Vladimir Krutov on his lackluster performance in one NHL season dominated by his tough adjustment to capitalist life. If you ever get to watch the 1987 Canada Cup on video, you'd agree, Krutov was an incredible hockey player, perhaps the best on the Soviet team.