August 12, 2007

The Top 36: Original Six Debate

In our quest to determine the greatest hockey players of all time, there has been considerable debate about the old timers, the recent and current generation, and the Soviet stars.

But there has been almost no debate about the original six era of approximately WWII through 1967.

It seems everyone is content with the following selections: Bobby Orr, Gordie Howe, Maurice Richard, Jean Beliveau, Bobby Hull, Doug Harvey, Jacques Plante, Phil Esposito, Stan Mikita, Red Kelly, Glenn Hall, Terry Sawchuk and Ted Lindsay.

The one name that people most often object to from this era is Henri Richard. Most people think I included him because he won 11 Stanley Cups. Which couldn't be more wrong.

In fact, the only thing more wrong is the idea that Henri Richard was a passenger on those Stanley Cup championships.

Many people have brought up the good and very valid point that Richard was never the best player on any of those championships. But he was certainly near the top. Need proof? Ask Jean Believeau.

Beliveau told me once that Henri Richard was the most complete hockey player he ever saw. He called him the glue that held two different dynasties together.

I would even go as far as to say Henri Richard was probably a better all around player than his more famous brother Maurice, who was an explosive scorer who transcended the game itself, particularly in Quebec but also around the world.

Will Henri make the final 36? Very few Original Six replacements have been mentioned in discussion. I think what I'll have to do is decide if this era is over-represented, which I think may be the case, and if another era needs more acknowledgment. That might knock Henri Richard out of the top 36, but he's definitely a candidate.


vdkhanna said...

I'm glad you clarified the fact that The Pocket-Rocket is not a candidate JUST because of all the Cups. The list I provided you excluded him.....however, it was a very difficult call, since he was such a great player on Les Canadiens.

I think that you are right in saying that that era in hockey should not be overrepresented. Might I also suggest that you should not overrepresent the number of Montreal Canadiens on your list (i.e. perhaps leave out borderline players such as Dickie Moore, Serge Savard and Boom Boom Geoffrion).

The Puck Stops Here said...

The problem with anecdotal evidence (ie Beliveau told me...) is that:

1) Jean Beliveau may have been a great hockey player but that does not prove he has ability to assess the abilities of hockey players (as proof look at the hockey stars who have had unsuccessful coaching/GMing careers - Wayne Gretzky, Phil Esposito, Bernie Geoffrion all come to mind). His opinion may be clouded by the fact Henri Richard was his friend or that he never watched hockey as closely after he retired and failed to notice that Bryan Trottier or Steve Yzerman or somebody was a far more complete player.

2) Calling Henri Richard a "complete player" is different from calling him one of the 36 best all time. I am not sure exactly what Beliveau means by "complete" - it may be taken out of context. It is not uncommon to claim that (for example) Wayne Gretzky is not a complete hockey player because he did not play a good physical game. At the same time one might argue that (for example) Wendel Clark was more complete because he did play the physical game well. That however is not an argument that Wendel Clark is a better player then Wayne Gretzky. It is an argument that the term "complete player" is either poorly defined or not particularly relevant in a discussion of the best players of all time.

I am not meaning to call Henri Richard a bad hockey player, but I am pretty convinced 36 better ones have existed.

Anonymous said...

I'd like to see Joe Sakic on the list. In my mind he is only slightly below Steve Yzerman in all around greatness.