Feb 11, 2010

Top 15 Hockey Players of All-Time

A list like this isn’t nearly as fun or accurate if we just pretend active players don’t exist. The way I rated active players is simple. I considered their accomplishments up to this point and then assumed a healthy, reasonable, finish to their careers.


15) Martin Brodeur

Give me a choice out of Roy, Hasek and Martin Brodeur to win one game, I can’t say I know who I would pick. There is no question that Brodeur has benefited from playing for a New Jersey-franchise that is known for playing stellar defense. But, the numbers he has compiled over his career are nothing short of phenomenal. He will most likely pass Patrick Roy for first place in career wins. He will also likely pass Roy for the most playoff shutouts and Terry Sawchuk for most regular season shutouts. He has seven 40+ win-seasons. No other goalie has more than three. Brodeur was the catalyst for three Stanley Cup titles in New Jersey. His individual accomplishments (Vezinas and Conn Smythes) don’t match that of Hasek and Roy but he may by the time his career is over. I can’t say that Roy and Hasek were better goaltenders. All I can say is that their career-accomplishments are slightly more impressive.




14) Nicklas Lidstrom

There aren’t too many hockey fans who would list Lidstrom as a “superstar” outside of Detroit. The fact of the matter is that he is a superstar. He is still in the prime of his career with three Stanley Cups, six Norris Trophies, nine First Team NHL All-Star selections and a Conn Smythe Trophy. By the time Lidstrom’s career is over, he will probably be the second greatest defenseman of all-time behind Orr.


13) Jean Beliveau

Beliveau is the fifth greatest Montreal Canadien of all-time in my opinion. When he retired in 1970, he had the most playoff points in NHL history. He helped lead the Canadiens to ten Stanley Cup Trophies. He won one Conn Smythe Trophy but that total probably would have been higher had the award been handed out the first fourteen years of his career. He also won two Hart Trophies as the NHL’s best player. He was the premier scorer for the Canadiens in the 50’s and 60’s. As far as I can tell, he is probably the least known great hockey player of all-time.


12) Doug Harvey

Harvey is probably a close second to Jean Beliveau in anonymity among great hockey players. He helped lead the Canadiens to six Stanley Cup Trophies while winning seven Norris Trophies as the NHL’s best defenseman. Only Orr has more.


11) Guy Lafleur

LaFleur and Hull are a pretty good comparison. Both won three Art Ross Trophies and both won two Hart Trophies. Hull was the first with multiple 50-goal seasons. LaFleur was the first with six consecutive 50-goal seasons. LaFleur had the benefit of playing for an All-Star team disguised as the Montreal Canadiens which allowed LaFleur’s a 6-1 advantage in Stanley Cups. Hull played six more years and recorded over 450 more points and over 250 more goals. Both were fantastic hockey players. Hull gets the edge because he has a 10-6 advantage in First Team NHL All-Star selections and a 7-1 advantage in leading the league in goals.


10) Terry Sawchuk

Considering Sawchuk is a Detroit Red Wings icon and the cousin of one of my former neighbors, I kind of feel guilty not putting Sawchuk ahead of Roy. But, I’m not doing this list to play favorites—or at least I’m not trying to. When Sawchuk died in 1970, he was the all-time leader in wins and shutouts. His shutout record still stands. He helped lead the Detroit Red Wings to two Stanly Cups while winning four Vezina Trophies. Although, it is important to note that the Vezina Trophy was handed out to the goalie with the fewest goals against (rather than the best goalie) before 1982.


9) Dominik Hasek

I really had a tough time putting Patrick Roy ahead of Hasek. In Roy’s stellar 18-year career, he only won three Vezina Trophies. Hasek is largely responsible for that. Hasek won six Vezinas which is by far the most all-time by a player who played under the current Vezina Trophy standards. Hasek is also the only goalie in NHL history to win two Hart Trophies as the league’s best player. The reason I decided to go with Roy as the better goaltender is because of Roy’s considerable success in the playoffs. Roy was largely responsible for three Stanley Cup Trophies winning the Conn Smythe all three times. Hasek only won one Stanley Cup and that was with one of the greatest hockey teams ever assembled. Hasek might get the nod for regular season success, but Roy’s superiority in the playoffs makes him better in my opinion.


8) Maurice Richard

The reason why I’ve rated Richard 8th is simply because I think there have been seven better players in NHL history. It's tempting to rate him higher but I just can't do it based on his accomplishments with respect to the players above him. Richard’s big claim to fame (other than being a great hockey player) is that he was the first player in NHL history to score 50 goals. That was truly a revolutionary feat. Aside from that 50-goal season, Richard never won an Art Ross Trophy (league scoring leader) and only won one Hart Trophy as the league’s best player in his 18 year career. He is the only offensive player in my top 16 to win fewer than two Hart Trophies. As for Richard’s 50-goal feat...Bobby Hull did it five times. Richard is also the only offensive player in my top 15 not to have won an Art Ross Trophy. Despite a lasting legacy and hero status as a Quebecois, I can't place Richard any higher than #8.


7) Phil Esposito

Esposito is probably the second greatest Chicago Blackhawk of all-time. He was the first player in NHL history to score more than 100 points in a season. He accomplished that feat six times in his career. He set the single season record for most goals scored in 1971. He also led the NHL in scoring five times and goals six times. He won two Hart Trophies as the league’s best player. He helped lead the Boston Bruins to two Stanley Cup Trophies which happen to be the last two the franchise has won. It sure seems to me like Esposito had a better career than Rocket Richard. While Richard was the first 50-goal scorer, Esposito was the first 100 point scorer and shattered Richard’s 50 goal mark numerous times.


6) Bobby Hull

Bobby Hull’s career point total is shocking. In 23 seasons in the NHL and WHA, Hull recorded 1808 points and 913 goals. He led the Chicago Blackhawks to their most recent Stanley Cup Trophy 45 years ago. He won three Art Ross Trophies and two Hart Trophies. Hull was the first player to record multiple 50-goal seasons. He also led the league in goals a record seven times. When Hull left the NHL in 1972, there had only been six occurrences of 50+ goals in the history of the league (not counting Hull). Hull did it five times. He played an amazing 23 seasons which is the third longest career of anyone in my top 50. He was selected First Team NHL All-Star 10 times which is the second most in NHL history behind Ray Bourque and Gordie Howe. There were other great players of Hull’s era who won more championships but those players had the luxury of playing for stacked teams like the Montreal Canadiens. Hull played the majority of his career for average Blackhawk teams.


5) Patrick Roy

This is going to shock a lot of people. In fact, it shocked me. I assure you that I have good reason to rank Roy the fourth best player in NHL history. There is no questioning Roy's place as one of the top goaltenders of all-time. He has more regular season wins than any other goaltender in league history (although Martin Brodeur will pass him in 2008). He also won three Vezina Trophies as the best goaltender in the NHL. That alone puts him among the top players of all-time. The thing that puts Roy among the top four players of all-time has nothing to do with the regular season. Every professional athlete plays the game to win championships. That is the goal to start every season. Players who perform well in the playoffs are often viewed on a different level than other "good" players. Well, Roy has outperformed every player in NHL history when it comes to playoff performances. He has 59 more postseason wins than any other goalie. He also has the most postseason shutouts of any goalie. Those numbers are not just a case of Roy playing for great teams. He almost single handedly led the Montreal Canadiens to two Stanley Cup Championships. Those Canadien-teams were nowhere near as talented as some of the other Stanley Cup winners of the 80's and 90's. He went on to win two more Cups with the Colorado Avalanche where he was again the best player in the playoffs. All told, Roy won three Conn Smythe Trophies as the most outstanding player in the playoffs. That is the most in NHL history. In fact, only four other players have even won the Conn Smythe more than once (Gretzky, Orr, Mario Lemieux, and Bernie Parent).


4) Mario Lemieux

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that four of the five players in NHL history to win multiple Conn Smythe Trophies are in my top five. Many people compare Lemieux’s talent level to that of Gretzky. I have no problem with that sentiment. Had Lemieux had the luxury of playing with a team as talented as Gretzky’s Oilers or had Gretzky's health, he would have undoubtedly put up Gretzky’s ridiculous point totals. As it is, Lemieux scored 199 points in 1988 which is the highest total by anyone other than Gretzky. Lemieux is the second best offensive player I have seen in my lifetime. Injuries hampered his career but his points per game total is barely behind Gretzky for first all-time. Lemieux led the Pittsburgh Penguins to two Stanley Cup Trophies. He also won three Hart Trophies, six Art Ross Trophies and two Conn Smythe Trophies. Those accomplishments are even more impressive considering he did it while playing at the same time as Gretzky.


3) Gordie Howe

Howe was no slouch himself. He played three times as long as Orr. As a result, I certainly would not argue if someone wanted to put Howe second. Playing two or three seasons more isn't much to talk about but when a guy plays three times as long as another guy, that has to carry some weight. And it's not as if Howe had a Ron Francis-type career either. Howe accumulated awards by the dozen. He won six Hart Trophies and six Art Ross Trophies. He helped lead the Detroit Red Wings to four Stanley Cup Championships. He also owned most of the offensive records before Gretzky arrived.


2) Bobby Orr

Picking Orr over Gordie Howe requires a concession. Howe's incredibly long career can't be viewed as a deal-breaker for Orr. Gretzky's long career was a deal-breaker but that's only because "The Great One" was better already before considering career length. Orr dominated the NHL from a position (defenseman) that had never seen such offensive prowess. His brilliance was relatively brief, but revolutionary nonetheless. He was, by most accounts, the second most talented hockey player to play the sport. His collection of individual awards compared to the amount of time he played is second to none. In just nine seasons, Orr picked up eight Norris Trophies, two Art Ross Trophies, three Hart Trophies, and two Conn Smythe Trophies. Orr led the Boston Bruins to two Stanley Cup Championships--the only two that the team has won in the last 64 years.


1) Wayne Gretzky

At the risk of angering the five percent of the population who think Bobby Orr should be number one, Gretzky is by far the most accomplished hockey player in NHL history. It's really not even close. Even if it were somehow proven that Orr was as good of a hockey player as Gretzky, the fact that Gretzky maintained excellence for 13 seasons longer than Orr makes this an open and shut case.


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1 comments:

Gee, you wouldn't happen to be from Montreal, would you?

There never would've been a Gretzky if it weren't for Bobby Orr.

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