March 27, 2009

Time For An All New Top 50?

Edmonton Journal writer Jim Mathieson recently was asked if it is time to upgrade that definitive list of top 50 hockey players of all time:
March 18, Edmonton Journal: Question: It's been over 10 years since The Hockey News put out its top 50 players of all-time. I was wondering how that list would change today. In particular I want to know about Nicklas Lidstrom, Steve Yzerman, Dominik Hasek and Ron Francis, and whether you think Doug Harvey would still be No. 6. (Tony Wong)

Jim Matheson: Lidstrom didn't make the top 50 or the companion book that listed the top 100 in history, but if Ray Bourque is 14th, then Lidstrom should be no worse than 15th in a new compilation. He has racked up six Norris trophies and four Stanley Cups, including a Conn Smythe trophy as playoff MVP. Yzerman was 78th the first time around. Sorry, but he's a better player than Stan Mikita, who was 17th. With four Cups, 1,755 points, and his leadership abilities, Stevie Y can take Mikita's No. 17 slot. Hasek was in 95th spot 10 years ago. For sure, he's better than Bill Durnan, who was 34th. Hasek won six Vezinas and two Hart trophies. Maybe, he's 25th. Do I think he was as good as Ken Dryden? Dryden played on a great Canadiens team; Hasek played on an average Buffalo team for years and willed them to victories. Francis, who helped the Penguins win two Stanley Cups, should be in the top 50, for sure. He can take Marcel Dionne's spot at No. 38 or certainly Gilbert Perreault's No.47. As for Harvey, he was the ultimate play-making defenceman, silky smooth. You couldn't take the puck off him. With seven Norris trophies, he still rates No. 6.

It was a good question posed by Tony Wong. He only asked about those four players specifically. We would also have to add Martin Brodeur to the conversation, which would give us five more for the top 50.

The Hockey News originally ranked Jari Kurri at #50. So let's use him as the benchmark. Are there any additional players from the past 10 years who you would rank as better than Jari Kurri?

Joe Sakic, Jarome Iginla, and Peter Forsberg are the three players in my mind who should also be included in the conversation.

Are they top 50 players of all time? You tell me.

UPDATE: Here is a list of the top 100 players as listed by THN


Panicstreak said...

Can you link to the original top 50?

Anonymous said...

Ron Francis was a class act and his career numbers are staggering - THE model of durability and consistency. However, I find it hard to put him at the same level of Dionne or Perrault. He's missing the 'spark' or 'flash' that other great players have - nonetheless, he's had a remarkable career and his numbers speak for themselves.

I've never seen Mikita play outside of a few short historic clips, but everything I've read/heard has suggested to me that he is well deserved of his high ranking of all time greats. I think what's particularly amazing about his was his ability to change the way he played and still dominate in the league. No one has yet to repeat his three major trophy wins - and he did it back to back.

Anonymous said...

Top 100 from THM (of which top 50 were used): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_100_greatest_hockey_players_by_The_Hockey_News

Further my last post, when looking further down the list, I would compare Francis to Delvecchio and put him around that range.

James Benesh said...

The best list of the top-100 players in hockey (not just NHL) history was done last year by the "History Of Hockey" panel at hfboards.com.

It is superior to the THN list in many ways. The THN list was put together through a number of 1-100 ranked lists put together with a 100-1 point system used for the rankings. (Think about that, a guy who one rogue voter placed 20th, would get 81 points, more than a guy who 20 voters placed 98th for three points each). Secondly, the list was not justified or reconciled at all. They simply added up the points. At hfboards, they started with a master list and then tweaked it, player by player, over the course of five months, through intense subjective and objective discussion and a variety of viewpoints. Third, the players were judged based on their own merits, without any cup-counting or agendas. The THN list highly overrated cup hogs like henri Richard and boosted the status of guys like Johnny Bucyk (a great player who belongs on the list, just nowhere near #45), hinting of an old boys club at work. Also, many recent players were grossly overrated, such as Mark messier, Gilbert Perreault, Mike Gartner, Darryl Sittler) and a few older guys whose resumes just don't stack up were included too, like Georges Vezina, Babe Pratt, Sweeney Schriner, Joe Primeau, Lorne Chabot, & Grant Fuhr. In addition, this part is not the THN list's fault but the hfboards gave it a much-needed update, properly elevating the status of guys like Sakic, Yzerman, Jagr, Brodeur, Hasek, Fedorov, Stevens, and Lidstrom.

It's not that the THN list is a bad list. It's the second-best one I've ever seen. It just pales in comparison to the hfboards list.

Joe, I've seen you at that board before. You should really take part in the discussions when we start the 2009 revision.

Joe Pelletier said...

Hi James.

I agree the HFBoards list is a wonderful compilation with some strong improvements.

THN had the significant advantage of having 50 incredibly knowledgeable experts. I mean no belittling in any way of the HFBoards list, as there are some very knowledgeable people there too, but I don't really know their credentials. I'm pretty sure they can not trump THN's experts.

Would I take part? Possibly, if they wanted me to. Would I be able to offer anything? ha ha, I'm not so sure about that!


James benesh said...


Can we claim to be as knowledgeable as that star-studded cast? Not a chance. But we also have access to a lot of things they didn't - things like detailed all-star and award voting, raw +/- data that wasn't released for decades, a variety of statstical analyses done from many different angles. I doubt that any of those experts put Henri Richard and Syl Apps side by side and noted "Hmm, Richard was 4th in hart voting twice, Apps was a 3-time runner up, plus third twice, how could Richard be more significant in his era than Apps was in his?" In many cases you can be sure the lists were done off the tops of their heads. Not to belittle the process at all. But how do you think Don Cherry made his list? He grabbed a pencil and started listing players.

Basically, what I'm saying is the methodology at hfboards trumps the experts the THN consulted because the methodology there was just that bad. We aren't even sure that they were all on the same page - some may have been biased towards the past because that's what they grew up with, some the present because hockey has evolved very much for the better, and some (like me) might have even tried to consider all eras equal and objectively determine dominance within era.

The discussion at hfboards is open to anybody. I guarantee that you will be a very welcome addition to the panel. And yes, you will have a lot to add. You're one of the best hockey bloggers out there. Once you've gone through it, you'll be a believer in the process.

Joe Pelletier said...

Hello again James.

Are you familiar with the Worldwide Hockey Hall of Fame? http://www.chidlovski.com/wwhhof/

I was part of that, whereby we reselected the Hockey Hall of Fame. We went year by year, and we're supposed to set aside "the future" as we went.

We did not rank players in any order.

It, too, was an interesting process, one which I wish I could do again. I always felt my own performance in that was inconsistent. I also believe the process was flawed, open to too much possible politics.

I think there are flaws to any system. But I wonder what THN would say if we could provide their expert list with the raw data of the researchers?

The raw data and the credibility of the experts? Maybe we should pitch that idea to Jason Kay.


James Benesh said...

Funny, I was thinking the same thing. Put all the great work the hfboards crew has done in front of these experts, lock them in a room for a week and get them to hammer out a list, while seriously considering eachother's viewpoints and being willing to flexible... then we'd have an ultimate list. But, sadly, something like this will never go down. I refer you to the case of Old Dog vs. New Tricks. These experts saw what they saw and they think what they think. It's the mentality of most of the older hockey types, unfortunately.

Yes, I'm aware of the WWHOF and I love it. You did wonderful work there.

Hogie said...

Wow, that hfboards list is great - the absence of Kharlamov and Tretiak on THN list made me scratch my head.

Greg G said...

Joe; Once again I really enjoy reading what James Benesh has to say and couldn't agree more here. He mentions overrated cup hogs and has it right. Like Henri Richard. It also bothers me that the THN rates the Rocket over Bobby Hull as #5. My list always puts Bobby at #5 (not #8)and the Rocket at #6. Howe, Gretzky, Orr, Lemuiex, Hull, Richard. That is just my opinion. Was Doug Harvey in the top ten a better player than Stan Mikita or Jacques Plante or Bobby Hull or an Eddie Shore? I think this debate could go on forever with nobody ever really agreeing but it's fun to speculate!

Jonathan C said...

Ok I'm a little confused. I have two cards from the series put out by Upper Deck and The Sporting News of the Top 50 players. Henri Richard is rated 28 and Phil Esposito is at 19. Every list that is posted says Esposito is 20,and Richard is 57.
Which is Right?

Link to Page-http://hfboards.com/showthread.php?t=486479

Tony Wong said...

Joe, I love hockey "best of" lists and was surprised and honoured to find my Edmonton Journal question making it into cyberspace. Thank you :-) Don't really have much to add, except (1) as an Edmontonian of course I love Gretzky, but I agree that if both are at their peaks I have to give the nod to Mario; (2) I've always found Martin Brodeur to be a little overrated (the crappy Oilers always seem to be able to put a few past him), and because of that it was a conscious decision to not include him in my question to Jim Matheson; (3) Chris Pronger blew me away with the quality of his play in his one year with the Oilers. Matheson called him a Larry Robinson for the modern era, and my amateur eyes put him ahead of Ray Bourque. It would be an omission to not have him in the top 50. He can have Jari Kurri's spot.