November 25, 2013

Reassessing The 100 Greatest Hockey Players Of All Time

When I created my list of the 100 Greatest Hockey Players of All Time, I knew it would create controversy. It is impossible not to, as there is no right answer. And everyone has their own opinions. And if there is one thing I've learned in the writing business it is that hockey fans aren't afraid to voice their opinions.

For the most part the comments I have received have been respectful and well thought out, and I really appreciated that. I think that is partly because I took great pains to explain where I was coming from when I made my list - stating my main criteria, admitting my personal biases and showing avenues to hold myself accountable.

However I think it is important that I be open to the criticisms. The lists is an evolving entity and by releasing it and getting the feedback of others I can gain new perspectives on certain players. Those perspectives were not achievable when this was still a solo project, but now they allow me the opportunity to improve my results. Otherwise what really is the point of publishing the list if not to validate my own thinking and improve the final rankings?

So I wanted to touch on a few things while not only the new impressions are valid but while my original thoughts are still valid. Here are some thoughts:

  • Firstly, I'm really happy that so many people believe the list is reasonably accurate. I have sought the feedback of several significant colleagues and communities in the hockey history world, and I feel confident that my work is accepted and appreciated.
  • Surprisingly there has been next to no qualms about the entire top 10, with the exception of a hearty Mario Lemieux supporter. I must say I am surprised the Bobby Orr crowd has kept quiet on this issue.
  • One issue is the European supporters proclaiming my list is too Canadian-centric. This really is not a surprise, even though I have worked very hard to be accepted in that European circle. My research into European players - particularly those who never played in the NHL - has not only been extensive but remains a true joy of mine. So I was caught off guard by that a little bit.
  • One recurring criticism is that I have Jaromir Jagr too low at #26. I have reassessed that and I am willing to move Jagr all the way up to #21, surpassing Potvin, Trottier, Lindsay, Sakic and even Nicklas Lidstrom. But I have to keep Jagr ranked below Dominik Hasek, who I considered the greatest European hockey player of all time.
  • The top 19 players on my list of 100 are all Canadian. Should I have moved some Europeans higher? At this stage I am not sure I can move Hasek, Jagr and/or Lidstrom higher.
  • Overall, the list does have 16 Europeans, plus I'd probably add Igor Larionov now in hindsight, probably at the expense of Yvan Cournoyer. How many Europeans is fair is a question I am still pondering. After all, "All Time" features a lot of Canadians going back for more than the last 100 years, while Europeans have really only been on the same level since the 1970s. By the way, of the players selected in my top 100 who played 1970 or later, 30% are European. I believe that is a healthy number.
  • As always, the debate about how many non-NHL Europeans should be included. And of course that leads to the question of how to accurately compare them. After all, no one is saying those early and Eastern Bloc European stars were not amazing hockey players. Many were considered, but only 3 non-NHLers appear on the list - Valeri Kharlamov, Vladislav Tretiak and early Canadian star Cyclone Taylor. The list only grows to six if you include Sergei Makarov and Viacheslav Fetisov who played their prime years of their career in Europe, plus Igor Larionov who I have already stated I regret not including. Should more be included? Maybe. I can guarantee you it is not a matter of considering top non-NHL talent but rather not understanding how to rank them. And that is a problem these lists have always had, even when people far smarter than I am are picking them.
Overall I am very please with the constructive criticism concerning my list of the 100 Greatest Hockey Players of All Time. It has been accepted as a valuable piece of work, which is really validating considering how much time I put in on it over the past several months. I am taking what I can from these discussions and may, in time, adjust the list.

It is not too late to offer your opinions on the list of the 100 Greatest Hockey Players of All Time. Feel free to contact me with your impressions.


Chazac said...

Joe, what is the point of arguing with you about Bobby Orr being the greatest hockey player in your top 100? You (and many other's sadly) won't budge off the fact compared to Gretzky he didn't play as long. That is THE ONLY REASON you can't rate Orr higher than Gretzky. That, in my mind, does not detract from the opinion that Orr was the greatest. I wish I could recall the article I read a few years back but it basically took Gretzky's 8 best years and stacked them up against Orr's (and also Howe's) and did the analysis and Orr came out on top by a good margin. You cannot get past the question of longevity. I will concede you this ... Gretzky was the greatest scorer of all-time but not the best player.

Joe Pelletier said...

Right from the get-go of this project I said that this was not an ordered list of the BEST players.

I is a list, in my opinion, of the greatest players in terms of careers and achievements and legacies.

I was clear that there is, in my mind, a significant difference between the best player and the greatest player. I see those as two distinct categories with, possibly, two different winners.

I'm not sure who I would pick for the best player - probably Orr or Howe.

But, by my own stated criteria and in only my opinion, I see Gretzky as the clear choice for the project.

Anonymous said...

After watching hockey since the late 50's i have not seen a better composite player than either Howe or Orr. No question in his era Gretzky was hockey's greatest scorer both did not control the tempo of the game that Howe or Orr had the ability to do. Unfortunately, with Howe there is limited tape to see his total dominance in all facets of the game. Sid Abel as coach of Chicago was quoted as saying the best defense against Howe was not to get him mad because you could not get the puck from him. With Orr all you had to do was to watch one period to see how uniquely skilled he was and influenced the opposition on how to attempt to play him. I agree with the above opinion Gretzky is the best scorer no way its greatest player