Sergei Makarov won the Calder Trophy in 1989 as a member of the Calgary Flames. In his first season in the NHL, he scored 86 points in 80 games thanks to 24 goals and 62 assists. At the time, the league didn’t have an age limit for eligibility regarding the award, which he won at 31 years old. The league reacted by altering the rules, stating that only players under 26 could win it.
When Makarov made his NHL debut, his mantle had already boasted gold medals from various international tournaments and Olympic Games. As one of the most gifted Russian-trained hockey players of all time, he avoided the NHL for years because of his success on the international circuit; however, when he finally made it there, he changed the game forever.
Makarov’s Russian Legacy
Makarov was born on June 19, 1958, in Chelyabinsk, Soviet Union, and by the time he turned 20, he had won back-to-back World Junior Championships in 1977 and 1978. After winning the best player award in 1978, he got promoted to the senior team and won the World Championship a few months later.
The Soviet Union, now Russia, dominated the world hockey scene for an extended period, with Makarov there for a good portion of the good times. He won a gold medal at the World Championship in 1978, 1979, 1981, 1982, 1983, and 1986 before making his NHL debut on Oct. 5, 1989. After becoming one of the first marquee Russian players to leap the pond, he finished his World Championship career with more gold medals in 1989 and 1990 and a bronze in 1991.
On top of winning an abundance of World Championships, Makarov also has two Olympic gold medals from the 1984 Sarajevo games and the 1988 Calgary games. He could have won a gold medal at all three tournaments he participated in; however, he was on the wrong side of the 1980 Miracle on Ice, finishing with a silver medal that year.
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Makarov’s success is almost unheralded in international hockey history; however, he didn’t do it alone. Paired with Igor Larionov and Vladimir Krutov, the trio formed the KLM Line, one of the most talented lines ever assembled. They had superior hockey sense and always dominated at tournaments, racking up points on their opponents while leading their nation to success.
Makarov’s Rookie Campaign with the Flames
On Oct. 5, 1989, Makarov made his NHL debut against the Detroit Red Wings. He collected a goal and two assists in his first game, which was just the beginning. Two nights later, against the New York Islanders, he earned another four points, giving him seven points after just two contests in the league.
In his first seven games, Makarov tallied 16 points with two goals and 14 helpers. The first time he was held off the NHL scoresheet occurred on Oct. 18 against the Montreal Canadiens. He also finished his first 15 games with an even or positive plus/minus rating before Nov. 3, when he was minus-3 against the Edmonton Oilers.
Although teams tried to neutralize the speedy right winger, he used the coverage to pass more and set up his teammates. After his first month, the rookie had only three goals and 18 assists, good enough for 21 points and a plus-15 rating. Things changed for Makarov and the Flames in November when the team went on a lengthy winless streak (0-5-3) in the middle of the month, which hurt his statistics. He finished with four goals and 10 assists for 14 points and a minus-1 rating.
December was one of the worst months of Makarov’s rookie campaign since he only scored eight points in 12 games. However, he turned his plus/minus around to finish plus-5 while scoring three goals and five helpers. His scoring drought was short-lived when the calendar flipped to 1990. In January, he piled on the points with 14 in 13 games, good enough for a 0.92 points-per-game average. During this season’s stretch, he tallied five goals and eight assists, earning his first two-goal game on Jan. 14, 1990, against the Chicago Blackhawks.
During 11 games in February, Makarov tallied 13 points with three goals and 10 assists. He finished the month with an even plus/minus rating; however, he finished this stretch with a 17.6% shooting percentage. Nevertheless, he didn’t slow down in the season’s final stretch that started on March 1, scoring 14 points in the last 16 games. He had four goals, including another two-goal game, and 10 helpers to finish with a plus-7 rating.
When the final buzzer sounded on one of the league’s most significant rookie seasons, Makarov finished 29th in the scoring race with 86 points. Furthermore, the Flames finished at the top of the Smythe Division and lost in six games to the Los Angeles Kings in the opening round of the playoffs. In his first playoff series, he tallied six points (all assists), good enough for a point-per-game average.
In the regular season, Makarov finished as the Flames’ fourth-leading scorer behind Joe Nieuwendyk, Doug Gilmour, and Al MacInnis. Moreover, his plus-33 rating was second-best behind Jamie Macoun’s plus-34, while his 55 penalty minutes ranked 10th-best. He had 24 goals with 18 even-strength and six power-play tallies. He also scored four game-winners, which ranked fifth best on the team. With 62 assists, he tied MacInnis for second on the team behind Gilmour’s 67 helpers. Thanks to the 24 goals on 118 shots, he had a 20.3% shooting percentage which was second-best behind Gary Roberts’ 22.3%.
Makarov won the Calder Trophy with 64.76% of the votes, beating Mike Modano (38.10%), Jeremy Roenick (22.54%), Rod Brind’Amour (18.41%) and Mark Recchi (16.83%). However, Darren Turcotte led all rookie goal scorers with 32, and Makarov finished seventh. Thanks to 62 assists, he was the best passer in his class, 16 points ahead of Modano’s 46 helpers. Furthermore, only three players from his rookie class managed to reach double digits in plus/minus, with Makarov leading the pack at plus-33, ahead of Paul Ranheim (plus-27) and Brind’Amour (plus-23).
Makarov’s Career After Calgary
Makarov played four seasons with the Flames, tallying 94 goals and 198 assists for 292 points. Even though he doesn’t rank amongst former teammates, he has the Flames’ best shooting percentage at 23.6% and fifth-best assists per game average at 0.67%.
The former NHL All-Rookie became a member of the Hartford Whalers after a trade on June 20, 1993. However, he never played a game for the franchise since he moved to the San Jose Sharks six days later. The transaction involved several draft picks, with one turning out to be Chris Pronger. During his two seasons in the Bay Area, he tallied 40 goals and 52 helpers for 92 points in 123 games.
At 37 years old, Makarov took a year off from professional hockey before attempting a comeback in 1996-97 with the Dallas Stars. However, his bid for success was short-lived because he hung up his skates for good after four games. When it was all said and done, he had played 424 games in the NHL, collecting 384 points thanks to 134 goals and 250 assists. Additionally, he registered four hat tricks and scored on the only penalty shot attempt of his career. He ranks amongst the greatest in league history, thanks to a shooting percentage of 22%. Moreover, in seven seasons, he never shot less than 17.1%. No matter what he achieved or accomplished during his career, which spanned 20 years, he will always be remembered as one of the game’s most precise shooters, making the most of his scoring chances.
In retirement, Makarov earned his place in the Hockey Hall of Fame (2016), the International Hockey Hall of Fame, and the IIHF’s Centennial All-Star Team. Furthermore, the Russian star left his mark on the game as the oldest player to win Rookie of the Year honors. His impressive rookie season changed the game forever. Until that point, any player could have qualified as a rookie; however, after his instant success at his age, the league altered the rules to benefit future rookies.
As one of the first true Russian-born and trained superstars to play in the NHL, Makarov will always have a special place in the hearts of Flames fans and his fellow countrymen who followed in his footsteps.
Ryan Gagne is back for his second tour of duty with The Hockey Writers. In 2021 he wrote about the New York Islanders and now will embrace the challenge of covering the Calgary Flames. The best part of this new assignment is Ryan currently lives in Edmonton and will get to see both sides of the Battle of Alberta up close and personal. None of this will make much sense since he was born and raised in New England and the Boston Bruins are his still team.