I was approached today by a sports historian out of Ireland. He's writing a book about sport in his country, but is including a section on world sports as well. He's asked me to help him identify the world's top 36 hockey players of all time.
I thought I would throw this one out to my colleagues and readers. Below I've come up with a quick list of 36. It is not any particular order, nor am I worried about order.
I want to know who and why other players should be included. Should more current players be included? Should more pioneers be included? How about more Soviets and international players? Or goaltenders? Who should be dropped?
Either post comments in the comments section down below, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I will respond to all emails and comments. and the best will be acknowledged and republished in a follow up post.
The floor is yours for the weekend....
UPDATE: Saturday August 11th, 2007, 8PM
Well this post has led to quite a few comments and dozens of emails. Everyone has their opinion it seems. Some common threads so far:
- The Soviet players never played enough games at an elite level to be ranked as high as top 36. While that is a usual detraction, I'm not sure if that's completely valid. But Slava Fetisov's name has been duly noted.
- Other names that have been duly noted - Joe Sakic, Niklas Lidstrom, Jari Kurri, Borje Salming, Frank Mahovlich, Paul Coffey, Gilbert Perreault and Scott Stevens. Sergei Fedorov has received a surprising amount of support.
- Candidates for dropping include Valeri Kharlamov, Vladislav Tretiak, Chris Chelios, Bobby Clarke, Henri Richard, and Dominik Hasek
- Another candidate is Syl Apps, and that surprises me a lot, but also shows how underrated he and that Leafs team was. If not Apps, how about playoff superstar Teeder Kennedy? Or goalie Turk Broda?
- Players no one has objected to: Wayne Gretzky, Bobby Orr, Gordie Howe, Mario Lemieux, Maurice Richard, Jean Beliveau, Bobby Hull, Patrick Roy, Mark Messier, Doug Harvey, Eddie Shore, Jacques Plante, Phil Esposito, Stan Mikita, Steve Yzerman, Guy Lafleur, Red Kelly, Ray Bourque, Glenn Hall and Jaromir Jagr. None of these players will be removed from the final list, and I'll also include Terry Sawchuk in that group. One person objected to him, believe it or not.
If it is supposed to be the world's best, then yes, I would think more Russian/European players would be listed, starting perhaps with Slava Fetisov. Of course, with a list like this, it's hard to say who should come off to make room for the new addition.
Thanks Forechecker. Fetisov is an excellent choice and yes probably should be included.
How does Hasek make this list and not Bernie Parent? i am not sure.
I wouldn't have Trottier or Robinson on my list. I might have Nicklas Lidstrom, and possibly a great defensive forward - Bob Gainey comes to mind. Interesting that you don't have George Hainsworth or Georges Vezina on there. Either of them might be as good a candidate as Hasek, for instance. As far as international players who were pioneers in the NHL, perhaps Borje Salming should be considered. Interesting thought exercise.
Interesting question. 36 best hockey players - I will brainstorm this list without looking at yours and then try to justify any discrepancies after the fact: Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemiuex, Bobby Orr, Gordie Howe, Jean Beliveau, Maurice Richard, Doug Harvey, Patrick Roy, Bobby Hull, Eddie Shore
Dominik Hasek, Terry Sawchuk, Mark Messier, Ray Bourque, Steve Yzerman, Nicklas Lidstrom, Howie Morenz, Guy Lafleur, Jacques Plante, Mike Bossy
Jaromir Jagr, Phil Esposito, Glenn Hall, Stan Mikita, Ted Lindsay, Red Kelly, Larry Robinson, Bryan Trottier, Stan Mikita, Bobby Clarke
Marcel Dionne, Frank Mahovlich, Paul Coffey, Joe Sakic, Chris Chelios, Denis Potvin
On your list and missing from mine: Syl Apps, Valeri Kharlamov, Martin Brodeur, Henri Richard, Vladislav Tretiak.
The five who made my list in their place: Nicklas Lidstrom, Joe Sakic, Frank Mahovlich, Marcel Dionne, Pauk Coffey.
To justify the discrepancies:
Tretiak and Kharlamov really only played a few torunaments against world class competition in their lives. They usually played on a stacked all star team in Russia. Though I am sure they were good players I find it hard to prove they were actually this good. They might have been. They might have been even better than this. However, by selecting the appropriate international tournaments and ignoring their NHL careers I could tell you Mats Sundin and Pavel Bure belong on this list too (they were also certainly good players but not in the top 36). The error bars on these two players are too big to safely rank them this high.
Syl Apps. Why him? Thoug I felt the late 30's and early 40's (his prime) were underrepresented on my list (partly justified due to the war), I wasn't seriously thinking about his name. Afterall he never was MVP. He never won the scoring title. The neames I considered from that era over him - but eventually chose not to select were Dit Clapper and Milt Schmidt. Both I think are better picks.
Henri Richard. Famous for being a borther and winning a lot of Stanley Cups. Though part of it was the right place at the right time. Its hard to argue that he was the best player on any of his cup wins. Wouldn't Bernie Geoffrion be a better pick if you NEED a hab from that era?
Martin Brodeur. I am uncertain of his value. I'm sure he will retire the all time wins leader amopng goalies and he has a good chance of being the alltime shutout leader too. But how good is he actually? He's always been lucky to play behind a good defence. While doing that, he often didn't put up a league leading saves percentage (though in the last couple years its improved). I think he's more of a Ken Dryden with a longer career. Good goalie made to look even better by a top defence. Lets see how he does this year. Rafalski is yet another missing piece from the Devils d. He could belong here, but I am unconvinced so far.
My players I added that you left off:
Nicklas Lidstrom: 5 time Norris winner. What else does he need to crack this list?
Joe Sakic: As time progresses there is a slow improvement in the overall talent level of players in hockey (as with any sport). As the highest career scorer today (along with Jagr) trhat should be enough for Sakic.
Frank Mahovlich: I think he is a top three left winger all time along with Hull and lindsay. While its true that left wing has been a historically weak position (relative to the others) a 500 goal, 1100 point left wing should be here.
Marcel Dionne: Overlooked for his lack of Stanley Cup wins. But he is the 5th highest scorer all time and did that without a great supporting cast most of his prime (sure dave Taylor was good but Taylor is not quite hall of fame material)
Paul Coffey: 2nd highest scoring defenceman all time. Sure his defensive play is questioned at times, but aside from Orr no defenceman could start an offensive breakout as well as he could.
Taking a second look at my list, I listed Stan Mikita twice and failed to list Brett Hull. My mistake.
I dont think you can leave Scott Stevens off this list, if you dont think so, just tell me you would get on the ice with him out there.
If you are talking simply about the best, not one Russian who careered outside the NHL can be included. They never measured up against the best over 70 and 80 game seasons.
My rule of thumb would be if there is doubt, forget it, they don't quite deserve.
Newsy Lalonde with 124 goals in 99 NHL games in the latter stages of his career will be a name missed by those without a historical perspective. He was 34th on THN's all timers in 1999.
The list has to be fact based, and not opinionated. Otherwise give my top spot to Guy Lafleur.
where's patric roy???
Jari Kurri is 18th on the all time points list, and 3rd on the all time playoff scoring list.
He most definitely deserves a spot
Trot & Cheli should be replaced with Brian Leetch & Pavel Bure. At his current pace, Sidney Crosby will surely make this this too.
Anonymous, you're a moron. Replace Trottier with BURE? What are you smoking??
I would have to add Nick Lidstrom to the list. As a matter of fact he would rank in my top 20 and maybe in my top 15. As a Red Wing fan, I watch every Wings game, and the thing that stands out about Lidstrom is he RARELY makes mistakes or is out of position. It happens so rarely the Wings TV announcers make a point to say Lidstrom just made his one bad play for the season (or something to that affect).
A few comments on who should be INCLUDED:
- Bobby Clarke definitely deserves to be on the list. He won three Hart trophies! The only players who won more are Gretzky, Howe and Shore. This shows that Clarke was routinely regarded as the best player in the league during his prime. Clarke was one of the toughest and best two-way forwards ever (along with Howe, Trottier and Messier). He led the league in assists four times (including playoffs). He was runner-up for the Art Ross twice. He was often used on the penalty kill. I truly don't understand how anybody could exclude a player who is so complete and has so many accolades.
- Chris Chelios also deserves a spot on the list. He won three Norrises and was a 7-time all-star. He was one of the best purely defensive players in NHL history, and used smart positioning and fierce checking to shut down opponents. Chelios was especially good on the PK. People underrate Chelios's offense; he had several 70-point seasons and scored at 1 ppg in the playoffs in his prime.
- Nicklas Lidstrom also deserves a spot. Only two defenseman have ever won more Norris trophies (five), and he also has a Conn Smythe. Lidstrom isn't flashy, but he's incredibly consistent and versatile.
- Hasek won more Hart trophies than any goalie (two) and more Vezina trophies than any goalie (six; keep in mind that the award was a purely statistical award prior to 1982 so Plante's Vezina were awarded under a different criteria). Hasek led the league in save percentage six times, an all-time record. He took an extremely weak team to the Cup finals, and in the two years he was on a strong team, he won 1 Stanley Cup (setting the post-season record for shutouts) and made it to the conference finals the other year.
Some other players worth considering:
- Brad Park was runner-up for the Norris four times to Bobby Orr. No defenseman in history could have beaten Orr for the Norris; Park is a 4-time winner to me. He had a thunderous hip-check, a great breakout pass, and was very good positionally.
- Bernie Geoffrion probably isn't good enough for the top 36, but he's worth a mention. He won two Art Ross trophies, one Hart trophy, and was a 3-time all-star. He led the league in goals four times (including playoffs) and led the playoffs in scoring twice to go along with his two Art Rosses.
- Joe Sakic, Syl Apps, Frank Mahovlich are all reasonable candidates, around the 35-45 range all time.
= Hockey Outsider
If Fetisov is on this list over an 11 time Stanley Cup champion, I'm afraid I'd have to question the credibility of some of the suggestions.
Now, here are the players who I think should be EXCLUDED:
- Henri Richard doesn't belong here. Yes, he was a solid contributor to the Cup wins, but was always more of a secondary player. The fact is, he never won a Hart, Art Ross or a Conn Symthe. Outside of 1960, there was ALWAYS at least two or three players who were more important to the Habs than Richard (sometimes a lot more; how much, exactly, did Richard contribute in 1973 when he was 8th on the team in scoring and Lemaire had taken over as the team's top defensive forward)?
Finally, consider this. Richard's reputation is based on the fact that he won so many Cups. But his scoring DROPS significantly in the playoffs. Maybe he made up for it with great defensive play, but the Habs already had Provost, Lemaire and Backstrom. Richard was a secondary player on some great teams; I don't think this makes him top-36 material. (For the record, I'm a Habs fan).
- Brett Hull. A great player, but not quite top-36 material. He had three amazing seasons, but, other than that, was inconsistent. He didn't break 50 goals or 100 points during the last eleven years of his career and was never really close, which is disappointing considering he's a pure goal-scorer.
(I really do like Hull though, and he was "very good" for a very long time; he just wasn't consistently dominant enough to merit inclusion).
- Marcel Dionne. His playoff performance keeps him off the list. He scored 1.31 ppg during the regular season and 0.92 ppg during the playoffs. That's a massive 42% drop! If you value playoff performance at all, Dionne's enormous drop should preclude him from getting a spot on the list. Also, Dionne never won the Hart and was very one-dimensional.
- Soviets. Either include several stars (Fetisov, Tretiak, Makarov, Fetisov, Larionov) or exclude them altogether. It doesn't make sense to include one or two players as "token" Soviets. I lean towards excluding all of them because they rarely faced top-level competition and rarely withstood the rigors of a lengthy NHL schedule.
- Brodeur. He's getting there, but isn't in the top 36 yet. Keep in mind that Brodeur didn't win a Vezina until his two biggest rivals, Hasek and Roy, retired. And, unlike his two rivals, he has no Hart trophies and no Conn Smythes.
If you include Brodeur (presumably on the basis of his playoff success), to be consistent, you have to include Dryden first. Dryden won more Cups than Brodeur (6 vs 3), more Conn Smythes (1 vs 0), more Vezina trophies (5 vs. 3), and the same number of all-star selections (6). Yes, Dryden played behind an amazing defense for most of his career, but so did Brodeur. And it wasn't all Dryden. He won the Conn Smythe and the Cup on a weak team in 1971, before the "Big Three" (Robinson, Savard, Lapointe) were together, and he won one more Cup in 1973, again before the Big Three were formed. Brodeur hasn't won a Cup without Stevens & Niedermayer.
= Hockey Outsider
Ron Francis is the 4th all time leading scored in NHL history, and 2nd all time assists leader. He shares with Gordie Howe the record of 22 consecutive 50+ point seasons. He won 2 Stanley Cups, captained 3 different teams (2 "franchises"), and should be considered among the great leaders in the game. Unfortunately, he always played in the shadows, whether of the Canadiens, Bruins or Peter Stastny then Joe Sakic in the Adams Division, or of Mario and Jagr in Pittsburgh. While Jagr has immense talent, when the complete body of work is considered, I would easily choose Ron Francis over Jaromir Jagr.
what about gilbet perrault?? not one person ranks him up there, probably in the 30's but still a sleeper
1. It's hard to believe Brodeur's never won the Conn Smythe. That's ridiculous. Beyond his post-season success, he's been remarkably durable and successful during the regular season. I also think a lot of those Devils teams were over-rated in terms of their skaters due to how much of an effect Brodeur had on the game.
2. I'm a Detroit guy and my clear memory of the Wings only extends a year or two beyond Lidstrom's rookie season, but I think there is a reasonable argument to put him in the top 10. Figure that the top 10 should have 2 goalies (Sawchuk, Roy), 3 D (Orr, Harvey, Lidstrom) and 5 forwards (Howe, Gretzky, Lemieux, and then it gets murky to me) just based on the number of guys on the ice at any given time.
Arguments for Lidstrom:
1. 3rd all time Norris trophy's (and counting)
2. Roughly 11 or 12 in Defencemen scoring (and keep in mind that about 10 of the guys ahead of him played the prime of their careers in the 80's when scoring was ludicrously high) (and counting)
3. A plethora of all-star games (and counting)
4. Conn Smythe (in a year where The Captain himself identified Lidstrom as the most indispensable player on the team before the playoffs started) (and counting)
5. Olympic gold
6. 15/15 seasons his team has been in the playoffs
7. 3 rings
8. Often overlooked, Lidstrom has missed exactly (I think) 26 games in 15 seasons. About half of those were end-of-the-year-already-won-the-
kind of days.
I feel like that puts him firmly ahead of other greats such as Bourque, Stevens, Chelios, and the older guys who I don't know as well. Any counter-arguments?
A random aside: does anyone else think a lot of the guys from the mid-80's are a bit over-rated? Sure, there were some great players in those years, but the talent level of the league was diluted by the merger and goal-scoring was at an all-time high. It seems kind of fishy to me that roughly 80 of the 100 top all-time scorers played the prime of their career in one decade...
How about Joe Sakic and Nicklas Lidstrom? Sakic had over 1500 points, 600 goals and close to 1000 points. 9th in all time points and a great leader. Lidstrom has won 5 Norris Trophy and 3 Stanley Cups.
How about Joe Sakic and Nicklas Lidstrom? Sakic had over 1500 points, 600 goals and close to 1000 assists. 9th in all time points and a great leader. Lidstrom has won 5 Norris Trophy and 3 Stanley Cups.
Hockey Outsider, Brodeur has 8 all-star selections and his career isn't finished. Nice try though.
Brodeur was a first-team all-star three times ('03, '04, '07) and a second team all-star three times ('97, '98, '06). That's six in total. You might be confusing that with all-star games.
Yes, Brodeur's career isn't over. His rank will rise over time and I'll give him credit for future accomplishments when they occur. But, it doesn't make sense to give him credit today for accomplishments he might obtain in the future.
= Hockey Outsider
Bernie Parent deserves to be on your list just because when he was at his peak there was none better period..look at his goals against
I believe that Orr is number one all time, as well ...he revolutionized the position of defenseman and is the smoothest, most talented skater of all time ..
Bob Gainey on
The first name that came to mind for me upon reading your list was Ron Francis. When you talk about a guy who is the second greatest assist man in terms of all-time numbers, you're talking about someone who is easily in the top 36 players overall. If the assist numbers aren't enough, how about 549 goals and 143 points in 171 playoff games. I think what's most impressive is the fact that he captained three teams and show consistency rivaled only by Mr. Hockey with his twenty 20+ goal seasons. As great as they were on their own, Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr finally got their Stanley Cups when Francis left Hartford and completed the puzzle in Pittsburgh. Who knows whether that would have happened without one of the most underrated players of all time...
No Dionne? That's ridiculous.
Please, consider Firsov and Makarov. Makarov was much better than Larionov.
Firsov was at Bobby Hull's level for sure.
Bobby Orr should be number one.
No player has ever had the skill and ability to completely control the entire game (offense and defense) as Orr did.
He could prevent goals, score goals, rag the puck, assist, hit, fight, etc...and he did it all at top speed. No one has ever done these things...now or in the past.
The simple answer to the question is that Bobby Orr was simply the best.
If you don't believe that then you were born too late.
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