Coming up with a list of the best NHL hockey players of all time was a daunting challenge, but one that I was eager to take on. Being a huge hockey fan, and a student of the history of the game I have spent years debating the rankings of the all time greats with friends of mine.
As some of these players have been around a lot longer than I have I had to rely on statistics and anecdotal evidence to try and rank these players as fairly as possible. Even though this list is a hundred players long I still found myself unable to squeeze in some of the game’s true legends. Hopefully my selections will spark a healthy (or heated) debate. Read on for my picks for the greatest hockey players of all time:
100 – Brendan Shanahan
It’s ironic that the man now in charge of handing out discipline in the NHL was one of the most feared power forwards of his generation, racking up almost 2,500 penalty minutes over the course of his career. Of course, Shanny was just as well known for his offensive ability as he was for his pugnacious style of play, and his talent as a one-shot sniper prompted the New Jersey Devils to nab him with the second overall pick in the 1987 NHL Entry Draft. Though he would only remain a Devil for a few short years, Shanahan went on to a spectacular career that saw him earn 656 goals and 1,354 points. He twice eclipsed the 50 goal mark, and won three Stanley Cups as a member of the powerful Detroit Red Wings.
99 – Georges Vezina
It’s pretty hard to keep the guy who has the trophy for NHL’s best goaltender named after him off a list of the best hockey players of all time. Vezina was plying his trade as a member of the Montreal Canadiens even before the formation of the NHL. He went on to lead the Habs to three Stanley Cups in the NHL, to go along with a pair of championships he’d won in the NHA.
98 – Frank Brimsek
Only three selections in and I’ve already got a pair of goalies. Frank Brimsek is considered one of the best American goaltenders of all time, and he also has one of the best nicknames among his brethren: Mr. Zero. Brimsek was a brick wall for the Boston Bruins back in the day, leading them to the Stanley Cup Finals on six separate occasions, and helping them bring home Stanley’s silver cup on two occasions. He was a two-time Vezina Trophy winner and was an All Star twice during his impressive career.
97 – King Clancy
Another man, like Vezina, who now has a major NHL award named after him, Francis “King” Clancy was a star for both the Ottawa Senators and the Toronto Maple Leafs in the NHL’s early days. A diminutive defenseman, Clancy made up for his lack of size with quickness and savvy. Over his career he racked up and impressive 137 goals and 280 points in just 591 games, spectacular numbers for a blueliner in that era, and was a six-time Stanley Cup Finalist, winning the prize once.
96 – Mike Gartner
Mike Gartner spent his entire NHL career being underrated, and now that he is retired it seems he still can’t get the respect he deserves. Yes, there are many incredible hockey players on this list, and being included in their company should be an honor for any player, however when you consider that his 708 career goals rank him sixth all-time you have to wonder how he didn’t wind up higher up this list. Ironically, it might be his consistency that kept him from a higher ranking. “Isn’t consistency a good thing?” you ask. Well, it is certainly something ever player strives for, but when discussing the all time greats it is often those “peak years” that really determine just how good a player is considered to be. Gartner did once score 50 goals and 102 points, but it was in 1984-85 and those totals were only good enough for 9th and 10th place respectively. Overall, Gartner was a very good player for a very long time, and never reached superstardom, hence his relatively low ranking compared to his career goal and point totals.
95 – Mats Sundin
It’s no coincidence that another paragon of consistency finds himself back to back with Mike Gartner on this list. Like Gartner, Sundin had one stellar year where he put up big stats, scoring 47 goals and 114 points with the Quebec Nordiques in his third year in the league. However, the former number one overall pick never did reach those lofty heights again, averaging roughly a point per game year after year. He was an immensely talented player, but only seemed to be truly dominant in international matches when playing for Team Sweden. Despite scoring 564 goals and 1,349 points over the course of his career, Sundin finally retired with an empty trophy case, having won no major awards and having appeared in no Stanley Cup Finals.
94 – Aurel Joliat
A star back in the 1920s and 30s, Aurel Joliat spent his entire 16 year NHL career as a member of the Montreal Canadiens. Though he never led the league in scoring, he finished in the top ten in points on nine separate occasions. He helped the Habs secure four Stanley Cups during his tenure and won the Hart Trophy in the 1933-34 season.
93 – Pavel Datsyuk
The first active NHL player to appear on the list, Datsyuk is certainly going to work his way a lot higher up the charts before the sun sets on his career. Another legendary draft steal by the hawk-eyed Detroit Red Wings scouting staff, Datsyuk has evolved into perhaps the best two way player in the game today. He is an absolute wizard with the puck, and players around the NHL will declare him to be the most talented stickhandler in the game today. However, his offensive exploits only tell half of the story. Datsyuk is a three-time Selke Trophy winner as the NHL’s best defensive forward, and is always among the league leaders in takeaways. He’s got two Stanley Cup rings for his efforts, and in my opinion will be a first ballot Hall of Famer someday.
92 – Grant Fuhr
A hockey fan growing up today and looking at Grant Fuhr’s career stats might scratch their head and wonder what in the world he was doing on a list of the greatest hockey players of all time. Though he certainly had the benefit of playing on a great team – the Edmonton Oilers of the 1980s – he certainly didn’t have much defensive help on most nights, and was often hung out to dry while his offensive-minded teammates ignored their defensive responsibilities. That, and the fact that he played in arguably the most wide open era in the history of hockey explain his relatively poor stats when compared to goalies like Dominik Hasek and Martin Brodeur, who spent a good part of their careers tending the pipes in the “Dead Puck Era.” Fuhr wasn’t known so much for his consistent puck-stopping ability as for his penchant for coming up with the big save when his team needed it most. Fuhr might have an average night, then pull out three or four heart-stopping saves in the last minute to preserve a 6-5 victory for his team. He finished his career with five Stanley Cup rings, a Vezina Trophy, and was even the runner-up for the Hart Trophy in 1988 when some guy named Mario Lemieux won it.
91 – Pat LaFontaine
One of the greatest American players in NHL history, Pat LaFontaine probably would have finished a lot higher up this list had he not been forced into early retirement by concussion problems. After racking up 104 goals and 234 points while playing for the Verdun Juniors LaFontaine had NHL scouts drooling coming into his draft year. Ultimately, the powerful New York Islanders took LaFontaine with their first pick, third overall that year. LaFontaine quickly proved he could play at the NHL level, scoring 13 goals in just 15 games in his first short stint with the club. LaFontaine went on to record 287 goals in just 530 with the club before moving on to the Buffalo Sabres. There, teamed with young sniper Alexander Mogilny, LaFontaine hit new heights of offensive stardom, notching an incredible 148 points in the 1992-93 season. In just 865 career games, LaFontaine finished with 1,013 points and one Stanley Cup ring earned in his inaugural season with the Isles.
90 – Doug Gilmour
Though he was only 5’11” and 175 pounds soaking wet, Doug Gilmour had a heart that belied his small stature. The feisty forward from Kingston, Ontario was a draft steal by the St. Louis Blues when they snatched him in the 7th round, 134th overall, back in 1982. His first three NHL seasons were pretty quiet, but in year four Gilmour exploded, scoring 105 points. From there on out he was a stats machine, scoring well over a point a game, all while racking up more than his share of penalty minutes with his feisty style. He not only had a flair for offense, he was also a great leader. He was a key contributor for the Calgary Flames when they won the Stanley Cup in 1989, and again for the Toronto Maple Leafs when they made it all the way to game seven of the Conference Finals back in 1993. Overall, Gilmour racked up 1,414 points over his career, including a staggering 127 point season with the Leafs in 1992-93, and even won the Selke Trophy as the league’s best defensive forward that same year.
89 – Busher Jackson
Another superstar of the early NHL, Jackson was one of those rare players who could play both as a forward and a defenseman and excel at either position. He led his teams to seven Stanley Cup Finals appearances over his career, winning it all in 1932, the same year he led the league in scoring.
88 – Hector “Toe” Blake
Toe Blake is arguably the greatest Montreal Canadiens’ coach of all time, having led the franchise to eight Stanley Cups, including five in a row in the late 1950s. However, his tenure with the Habs started much earlier, when he was a dominant force as a player for the team. Blake led the NHL is scoring in 1939, winning the Hart Trophy that same year. He also won two Stanley Cups as a player and racked up 527 points in 577 games over his career.
87 – Denis Savard
It has never made any sense to me why the Montreal Canadiens, known for drafting and cultivating young French Canadian talent, passed on Denis Savard in the 1980 NHL Entry Draft, opting instead to take Doug Wickenheiser with the first overall pick. Wickenheiser went on to play 556 games, scoring just 276 points while Savard went on to a Hall of Fame career that saw him tally better than 1,300 points. Savard was not only a prolific scorer, he was also one of the most exciting players of his era, routinely pulling fans out of their seats with dazzling displays of stickhandling finesse. He finished with better than 100 points five different times in his career, including in 1987-88 when he racked up 131, and got his name on the Stanley Cup as a member of the Montreal Canadiens during their magical 1993 run.
86 – Scott Niedermayer
If you had to describe Scott Niedermayer in a single word, probably the best one to use is the word “winner.” Niedermayer was one of those players, like Jonathan Toews today, that seemed to get it done at every level of hockey that he played at. Of course, this list pertains to just NHL players, so Niedermayer’s junior and international successes don’t go into the equation, but even standing on their own, his NHL accomplishments are certainly nothing to sneeze at. With four cup rings (three with New Jersey and one with Anaheim) and a Conn Smythe Trophy, Niedermayer showed again and again that he could elevate his game to the highest level when it really counted.
85 – Scott Stevens
It seems fitting that Scott Stevens and Scott Niedermayer should be together on this list of the best hockey players ever, considering the two were the best blueline pairing in the NHL for years in New Jersey. Oddly, though most would consider Niedermayer the offensive one of the duo, Stevens was actually a pretty prolific point producer early on his career, even scoring 78 points back in 1993-94, nine points higher than Niedermayer’s best single-season output. However, it was never his scoring ability he was known for, but rather his ability to hit opposing players harder than perhaps anyone else in the history of the game. Ferocious in his desire to win, Stevens patrolled the New Jersey blueline with lethal intent and woe to any opposing player who came across the middle of the ice with their head down. Just ask Eric Lindros, Slava Kozlov or Paul Kariya. He was the Devils’ emotional leader and willed the club to three Stanley Cups, winning a Conn Smythe during his tenure there.
84 – Ed Belfour
One of the most underrated goaltenders of all time, Eddie Belfour won a Calder Trophy as rookie of the year, shared in four William Jennings trophies for posting the lowest goals against, won two Vezinas as the NHL’s top goalie, and led the Dallas Stars to Stanley Cup glory in 1999. On top of that, his 484 regular season wins rank him third all time, behind only Martin Brodeur and Patrick Roy. Hmmm, after listing all that I’m thinking I should have ranked him higher…
83 – Cecil “Tiny” Thompson
This not-so-diminutive goalie was a star for the Boston Bruins back in the 1930s. In his rookie year he led the Bruins to a Stanley Cup and nabbed himself a shiny Vezina for good measure, posting a minuscule 1.15 GAA that season. He went on to win three more Vezinas over his Hall of Fame career.
82 – Ted Kennedy
A superstar for the Maple Leafs in the 1940s and 50s, Ted Kennedy is one of just two Leafs players (Babe Pratt is the other) to win a Hart Trophy, accomplishing the feat in the 1954-55 season. He was a huge reason the Leafs won five Stanley Cups over the course of seven years, leading the team in scoring during one of those runs. Overall he notched 560 points in just 696 games before injuries forced him to hang up the skates at the tender age of 31.
81 – Bill Cowley
When discussing the greatest Boston Bruins of all time names like Bobby Orr, Eddie Shore, Phil Esposito and Milt Schmidt leap to mind. However, though he might dwell in the shadow of those former Bruin greats, Cowley certainly deserves to be recognized as one of that Original Six franchise’s all time best players. Cowley won a pair of Hart Trophies and helped the Bruins win two Stanley Cups. He was the NHL’s leading scorer in 1941 and upon his retirement in 1947 was actually the league’s all-time career points leader with 548.
80 – Turk Broda
With five Stanley Cup rings to his name, Turk Broda winningest goalie in Toronto Maple Leafs history. In fact, his five championships rank him behind only Ken Dryden and Jacques Plante (six each) among all NHL goaltenders. He twice led the NHL in wins, and twice nabbed the Vezina Trophy, given then to the goalie with the lowest goals against average.
79 – Luc Robitaille
The man they call Lucky was a prolific scorer in junior with the Hull Olympiques. Despite his obvious nose for the net NHL teams took a pass on him in the 1984 NHL Draft because of his slow skating speed. Finally the Kings decided to snag him, selecting him in the ninth round with the 171st overall pick. In hindsight the move turned out to be one of the biggest steals in NHL Draft history. Robitaille quickly showed the hockey world that his slow foot speed wouldn’t stop him from scoring goals. He notched 45 in his rookie season, earning the Calder Trophy. Over his first eight seasons he never scored fewer than 44 goals, including notching a whopping 63 in the 1992-93 season. Ultimately Robitaille would go on to play 1,431 games, scoring 668 goals and 1,394 points, and winning a Stanley Cup along the way. Not too shabby for a ninth rounder.
78 – Max Bentley
A star with both the Chicago Blackhawks and the Toronto Maple Leafs, Bentley was a Hart Trophy winner (1946), led the NHL is scoring twice, and was a major factor in helping the Leafs win three Stanley Cups in a four year span, leading them in scoring in the 1951 playoffs .
77 – Tony Esposito
Though he always seemed overshadowed by his larger-than-life brother Phil, Tony Esposito carved his own legend in the game of hockey. Tony O wasted no time showing the hockey world how good he was. After a brief stint with the Montreal Canadiens, Esposito was moved to the Blackhawks where he had a rookie season for the ages. That year he posted a modern day NHL record 15 shutouts and won 38 games, stats that made him an easy selection for the Calder Trophy. Though that was arguably his best season in the league he certainly was no flash in the pan. Esposito was a standout in the Hawks’ net over the remainder of his career, finishing with three Vezina Trophies, and 76 shutouts.
76 – Billy Smith
Though he had a very short stint with the L.A. Kings at the beginning of his career, the vast bulk of it was spent as a member of the New York Islanders, where he became a key cog in a hockey machine that was as dominant as any in NHL history. Smith back-stopped the Isles to four straight Stanley Cups, and helped them win an NHL record 19 straight playoff series. He won the Vezina in 1982 and followed in up with a Conn Smythe in 1983. Despite all of his accomplishments he was best known for his ferocity in the crease. They didn’t call him Battlin’ Billy Smith for nothing, and many an opposing forward felt his wrath (and his stick) if they foolishly ventured into his crease.
75 – Dale Hawerchuk
The Winnipeg Jets were a powerhouse during their WHA days, and no wonder, boasting stars like Bobby Hull on their roster. However, their transition to the NHL in the 1979 wasn’t exactly smooth, and they endured a couple of lean years in their earliest days as an NHL franchise. However, poor results led to high draft picks, and when they selected Dale Hawerchuk first overall in 1981 they saw their fortunes turn immediately. In Hawerchuk’s rookie year the team improved from a dismal 32 points to 80 points, thanks in large part to the young star’s 45 goals and 103 points. Hawerchuk went on to record better than 100 points in five of the next six seasons. Hawerchuk continued to score at a prolific rate right up until the 1994-95 seasons when injuries began to take their toll. He soldiered on for a few more seasons before finally calling it a career, finishing with 518 goals and 1,409 points in just 1,188 career games.
74 – Bernie Geoffrion
Known for popularizing the slapshot, the man nicknamed Boom Boom was a prolific goal scorer for the Montreal Canadiens during the 50s and 60s. In the 1960-61 season he became only the second player in league history to score fifty goals in a single season, though he didn’t accomplish the feat quite as fast as fellow Hab Maurice Richard. He twice led the league in scoring, won a Hart Trophy, six Stanley Cups, and was rookie of the year in 1952.
73 – Brian Leetch
One of the most dynamic, puck-rushing defensemen of his era, Brian Leetch’s skill-set was reminiscent of such superstar blueliners as Bobby Orr and Paul Coffey. I don’t idly make that comparison. He was the straw that stirred the drink of the powerful offensive juggernaut that was the 1994 Stanley Cup-winning New York Rangers. Though Mark Messier is heaped with praise for his performance during that magical playoff run, it is actually Brian Leetch who took home the Conn Smythe that year. In all he registered 1,028 points in his NHL career, winning a Calder and a pair of Norris Trophies to go along with his cup ring and Playoff MVP title.
72 – Pierre Pilote
Only four defensemen have won the Norris Trophy three straight times: Bobby Orr, Nicklas Lidstrom and Doug Harvery. The fourth? Pierre Pilote. Not bad company if you ask me. Though he finished his career with the Maple Leafs he spent all but that last season with the Chicago Black Hawks, helping that team win the 1961 Stanley Cup. Actually, ‘helping’ is not a strong enough word. Pilote actually led the playoffs in scoring that year, as a defenseman, despite the fact that superstar forwards Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita were on the team.
71 – Nels Stewart
One of the best snipers of the early NHL, Stewart was actually the NHL’s career leader in goals (324) upon his retirement in 1940. He twice broke the 30 goal barrier, including notching 39 in just 44 games in the 1929-30 season while playing with the Montreal Maroons. He helped the club win the 1926 Stanley Cup and won the Hart Trophy twice during his tenure with them.
70 – Dit Clapper
With a name like Clapper you’d think this NHL legend would have possessed a wicked slapshot, and maybe he would have, had it been invented in his day. Clapper starred for the Boston Bruins for 20 NHL seasons between 1927-47. He was one of those rare players that could be slotted in at forward or defense and play equally well at either position. He helped his Bruins win two Stanley Cups during his tenure there, scoring 228 goals and 474 points along the way.
69 – Pavel Bure
Forget Alex Ovechkin, Guy Lafleur, or even Bobby Orr. For my money, the Russian Rocket was the most exciting player to ever grace an NHL rink. Right from the first shift of his NHL career Bure electrified fans with his lethal combination of acceleration and stickhandling ability. When Bure was on top of his game he could make mincemeat out of opposing defenders and had a penchant for making goaltenders look absolutely silly when facing them alone on a breakaway. Bure scored 34 goals in his rookie year with the Vancouver Canucks, winning the Calder Trophy, before really hitting his stride. Bure had back to back 60 goal campaigns and it looked like he was ready to start rewriting the record book before a lockout and serious knee injuries derailed his career. He eventually got back on track a few years later, scoring 117 goals over a two year span before the injury bug bit again. In the end his bad knees forced him to retire far too early, yet in just 702 games he notched an incredible 437 goals. It is scary to think what he might have accomplished with the benefit of a long, healthy career.
68 – Mike Modano
In my opinion this is the greatest American hockey player of all time, edging out contemporaries like Chris Chelios, Brian Leetch and Pat LaFontaine for that honor. Modano was selected first overall by the Minnesota North Stars in the 1988 draft, and spent all but 40 games of his career playing for the franchise, first in Minnesota and then in Dallas. Though he never won a major individual award he did help the Stars win the 1999 Stanley Cup, and is the franchise’s all-time leader in all major offensive categories. Modano retired in 2011 with the most career points (1,374) by an American NHL player.
67 – Johnny Bower
Nicknamed ‘The China Wall’ Johnny Bower was nearly unbeatable between the pipes during the peak of his NHL career. Known for popularizing the pokecheck, Bower was sublime at timing the athletic move perfectly, frustrating opposing forwards who were helpless as Bower lunged and separated the puck from their stick. Bower won a pair of Vezinas and backstopped the Leafs to their last four Stanley Cups before finally retiring at the ripe old age of 45.
66 – Brad Park
Perhaps no one in NHL history had more unfortunate timing than Brad Park. A rock for 17 straight NHL seasons, Park had the misfortune of playing during the primes of Bobby Orr, Larry Robinson and Denis Potvin. If not for that extraordinary bad luck you can bet that he would have won at least a Norris Trophy in there somewhere. Not only that, but he made the playoffs in each and every one of those seasons, yet never managed to capture hockey’s ultimate prize. Over his career he tallied 896 points in just 1,113 games, and though he has no hardware to his name, those who played in his era with unanimously agree that he was one of the very best blueliners of his day.
65 – Tim Horton
Though more famous today for the coffee and donut chain that bears his name, Tim Horton was also a standout NHL defenseman for the Toronto Maple Leafs during their glory days in the fifties and sixties. One of the most feared, physical defensemen of his era, it was said that Horton could crack ribs if he caught you in one of his famous bear hugs. He wasn’t just muscle either. He put up a respectable 518 points over his career, and made six Stanley Cup Finals appearances over his career, winning it all four times.
64 – Joe Malone
I’m going way back into the annals of NHL history for this selection on the list of the best NHL hockey players of all time. Malone played for the Montreal Canadiens the very first year of the NHL’s existence. That year he scored a jaw-dropping 44 goals in just 20 games. He led the NHL in goals a second time, scoring 39 in 24 just two seasons later. He still holds the NHL record for goals in a single game with seven and though he only played 126 career games he potted an amazing 143 goals over that span.
63 – Bill Cook
While Charlie Conacher was lighting the lamp for the Toronto Maple Leafs, Bill Cook was doing the same for the New York Rangers. Cook and Conacher battled annually for the goal scoring title with Cook taking home the honors on three separate occasions. He helped the Rangers win two Stanley Cup championships and finished his career with an impressive 229 goals in just 474 games played.
62 – Elmer Lach
Though Maurice Richard was soaking up the vast majority of the limelight in Montreal back in the 1940s, Elmer Lach was in the same class of superstardom during the prime of his career. In fact, the year that Richard scored 50 in 50 it was actually Lach who led the league in points with 80. Lach also won the Hart Trophy that year. When the first Art Ross Trophy was awarded in 1948 it was again Lach that walked away with the hardware.
61 – Alex Ovechkin
There are some that might protest Ovechkin’s appearance on this list, considering his relative youth and inexperience. However, though he is just 27, he has already won a Calder, an Art Ross, a pair of Hart Trophies and three Rocket Richard Trophies. He has 371 goals and 735 points in just 601 games, and though he hasn’t won a cup (yet) he has certainly not disappointed come playoff time, scoring 31 goals and 61 points in just 55 career post-season games to date. Look for him to move a lot higher up this list by the time the dust settles on what has already been a remarkable career.
60 – Adam Oates
Narrowly edging out Ovechkin is his current coach, Adam Oates. Oates was one of those quiet superstars who always seemed to dwell in the shadows of the larger than life personalities of the wingers he played with. He was a superb setup man, arguably one of the best passers in NHL history, and natural snipers like Brett Hull and Cam Neely enjoyed the best years (by far) of their respective careers with Oates as their center. He scored over 100 points four times in his career, including 142 in the 1992-93 season. He finished with 1,420 career points, and his 1,079 career assists rank him sixth all-time in that category.
59 – Al MacInnis
Possessed of perhaps the most fear slapshot in NHL history, Al MacInnis was lethal playing the point on the powerplay for the Calgary Flames and St. Louis Blues. However, though he is best known for his booming slapper he was far from a one-dimensional player. MacInnis was superlative at both ends of the ice and it is surprising that his 1999 Norris Trophy was the only one he earned over his career. He also won the Conn Smythe in 1989 when he helped the Calgary Flames to the only Stanley Cup in franchise history, scoring 31 points – the third highest total for a d-man in NHL playoff history. In all, MacInnis posted a whopping 1,274 points in his career, ranking him behind only Paul Coffey and Ray Bourque on the list of all-time points for defensemen.
58 – George Hainsworth
Though I mentioned above that Tony Esposito holds the modern day NHL record with 15 shutouts in a single season, the all-time leader in that category is George Hainsworth, who posted a mind-boggling 22 donuts in just 44 games in the 1928-29 season. His GAA that season was a microscopic 0.92! Hainsworth went on to record 94 shutouts, a career 1.93 GAA in just 465 career games, winning a trio of Vezinas and a pair of Stanley Cups along the way.
57 – Charlie Conacher
A Stanley Cup winner with the 1932 Toronto Maple Leafs, Charlie Conacher is one of just three players to lead the NHL in goals on at least five separate occasions, and he led the league in overall points twice. Though he never won a Hart Trophy he is widely considered one of the best players of his generation and one of the greatest Toronto Maple Leafs of all time.
56 – Eric Lindros
This is sure to be a controversial ranking. There are those who will think I am ranking this guy way too low, and others who might argue he doesn’t even belong on the list at all. Lindros had a brief but spectacular career appearing in just 760 games and recording 865 points. He was arguably the most coveted prospect of all time, his combination of immense size and immense talent setting scouts around the league to drooling. Ultimately, after he refused to suit up for the Quebec Nordiques, the team who drafted him, he made his NHL debut with the Philadelphia Flyers. He lived up to the hype surrounding him, and then some. He was an absolute wrecking ball his first few seasons, centering John LeClair and Mikael Renberg on the Legion of Doom line that was virtually unstoppable when at the top of their game. Lindros tied for the league lead in scoring with 70 points in the lockout shortened season of 94-95, winning the Hart Trophy the same year. The following year he had a career-high 115 points. After that concussion problems began to take their toll and he never again reached those lofty heights. His naysayers will argue that he never won a Stanley Cup or an Art Ross Trophy. However, during his prime he was as dominant on the ice as any player to ever pick up a hockey stick, and that trait is the reason I’ve included him this high on the list.
55 – Teemu Selanne
Known predominantly as the Finnish Flash throughout his career, Teemu Selanne has inherited a new nickname lately: The Ageless Wonder. Selanne obliterated rookie scoring records in 1992-93, scoring an unbelievable 76 goals and 132 points, totals a stratosphere above the marks held by Mike Bossy and Peter Stastny respectively. Selanne never reached those lofty heights again, but he continued to score at a rapid rate, eclipsing both the 50 goal and 100 point barriers twice more, playing with Paul Kariya on the Anaheim Mighty Ducks. Today, now in his 40s, Selanne continues to light the lamp, and looks like he could play another five years. If he does, look for him to move even higher up this list before all is said and done.
54 – Chris Chelios
Speaking of superstar Chicago defensemen, this guy certainly fits the bill. Chelios spent the first several seasons of his career with the Canadiens, and most of the latter half of his career with the Red Wings, but I always consider this Chicago native a Blackhawk first and foremost. Over his incredibly long career (1,651 games) Chelios won three Norris Trophies and three Stanley Cups, and his ferocious competitiveness made him one of the most hated, but respected, players of his era. When he finally hung up the skates at age 48 he was the second oldest player, after only Gordie Howe, to play an NHL game.
53 – Chris Pronger
There are those who will surely scoff at seeing Pronger’s name above guys like Chelios, Leetch and MacInnis, but none of those guys ever won the Hart Trophy. No, I am not basing my rating on Pronger’s Hart, though it is an incredibly rare award for a blueliner to win. Pronger has been one of the most impactful players of his generation. One only needs to look at the playoff success of the Edmonton Oilers in 2006, the Anaheim Ducks in 2007 and Philadelphia Flyers in 2010 to realize how valuable this towering d-man is. Pronger anchored the blueline on all three of those teams, usually playing 30 minutes a night against the opposition’s elite players. Not only was he a superb shutdown man, he had plenty of offensive ability and was one of the best in the league at making the first pass out of his zone and jumpstarting his team’s offense. Add in a mean streak a mile wide and you have the recipe for an elite NHL defenseman. Sure he only won a single Norris, but you can bet he would have snagged a few more if not for a guy by the name of Nicklas Lidstrom.
52 – Cam Neely
Gordie Howe was undeniably the greatest power forward to ever patrol an NHL rink, but this ferocious competitor gets my vote for second place. The Vancouver Canucks had high hopes for Neely when they selected him ninth overall in the 1983 NHL Draft. However, like most young players, Neely didn’t immediately reach superstar status in the NHL. Apparently tired of waiting for the young winger to develop, the Canucks shipped him off to Boston in what turned out to be one of the worst (or best from a Boston perspective) trades in NHL history. The Canucks gave up Neely and a first round pick (who turned out to be Glen Wesley) for Barry Pederson. Now, to be fair, Pederson had a pair of 100+ point seasons under his belt, but he never came close to that with the Canucks. Neely, on the other hand, exploded offensively. He scored 211 goals for the Bruins over the next five seasons and was a physical force as both a hitter and a fighter. In 1993-94, Neely joined an elite club when he scored 50 goals in just 49 games. Sadly, injuries forced Neely into retirement in the prime of his career, but not before he’d put up 395 goals, 694 points and 1,241 penalty minutes – stats good enough to earn him entry into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2005.
51 – Sergei Fedorov
Much like Pavel Datsyuk today, Sergei Fedorov was a supremely skilled Russian superstar that was equally good in the offensive and the defensive end over his NHL career. Part of the Big Red Machine that was the Red Wings back in the 90s and early 2000s, Fedorov twice eclipsed the 100 point barrier, including a 56 goal, 120 point season in 1993-94 that saw him win the Selke, Lester B. Pearson and Hart Trophies. He added a second Selke to his trophy case in 1995-96, bolstering his resume as one of the game’s best two way forwards. Fedorov went on to score 483 goals and 1,179 points over his career, winning three Stanley Cups along the way.
50 – Peter Stastny
Before Teemu Selanne came along and smashed his record, this Slovak star held the mark for the most points in a single season by a rookie (109). Unsurprisingly he won the Calder Trophy that same season. Stastny went on to record more points in the 1980s than any other player besides Wayne Gretzky. Yes, more than Mark Messier, Bryan Trottier, Dale Hawerchuk or Paul Coffey. A pretty amazing accomplishment if you ask me. He scored over 100 points on seven different occasions and though he never won a Stanley Cup, his 1,239 points in just 977 games make him more than a worthy candidate for a spot on the list of the greatest hockey players in NHL history.
49 – Cy Denneny
Like Joe Malone and Newsy Lalonde, Cy Denneny was one of the stars of the earliest days of the NHL. He suited up for the Ottawa Senators first in the NHA, then in the NHL for 11 seasons, before playing his final season as a Boston Bruin. He finished in the top five in goals eight times, leading the NHL in that category in the 1923-24 season. In all he sniped 248 times in just 328 games and won a total of four Stanley Cups.
48 – Bill Durnan
This guy is always the forgotten man when discussing the best Canadiens’ goalies of all time. Roy, Plante and Dryden all get their due, but Durnan somehow never seems to be mentioned. Sure, he only played seven seasons, but he won the Vezina six times over that span, appeared in three All-Star games, and won a pair of Stanley Cups. A short, but very sweet, career.
47 – Gilbert Perreault
Like Peter Stastny, Gilbert Perreault is one of the greatest players who never won a Stanley Cup during his NHL career. He, like Stastny, also captured a Calder Trophy as rookie of the year, but never won a scoring title or a Hart Trophy. And, like Stastny, Perreault was able to put an expansion team on his shoulders and give them instant credibility, leading the Buffalo Sabres as a member of the powerful French Connection Line in the earliest days of the franchise. One of the smoothest stickhandlers the game has ever seen, Perreault was an artist on the ice, and his incredible skill-set led to high point totals year after year. He finished his career with 1,326 points in just 1,191 games and was an easy selection for the Hall of Fame following his retirement.
46 – Bernie Parent
Had Bernie Parent had a longer peak you can rest assured that he would be higher up this list. However, it can be argued that the short peak that he enjoyed during the mid-1970s was the most dominant span by any goalie in NHL history. Parent was downright stingy between the pipes for the Broad Street Bullies in the 1973-74 and 1974-75 seasons, posting 12 shutouts in each year, and a 1.89 and 2.03 regular season GAA. He was just as good in the playoffs, adding six more shutouts and his goals against average was 2.02 and 1.89 respectively. In both years he won both the Vezina and the Conn Smythe, and led the Flyers to back to back Stanley Cup championships, the only ones in their history. While he never hit such spectacular heights of goaltending prowess before or after he was still a top tier goaltender throughout the rest of his career. He finished with 54 shutouts and a career GAA of just 2.55. Pretty impressive numbers considering he played the bulk of his career during the high scoring 1970s.
45 – Brett Hull
Yes, Brett Hull was basically a one dimensional player. However, he was so supremely talented at that one thing – scoring goals – that it is impossible to rank him any lower among the all time NHL greats. Brett Hull did not have his legendary father’s skating speed so he needed to use his craftiness in order to find enough space for himself to work his magic. He was a master of finding dead spots in the seam, a foot or two of open ice that would allow him to get off his wicked one-timer. Hull was ridiculously prolific over a three year span between 1989-91, when, while paired with gifted passer Adam Oates, he bulged the twine and mind-boggling 228 times. His 86 goal season in 1990-91 is the third highest single season total of all time, behind only Wayne Gretzky’s 92 and 87 goal campaigns. He scored the (controversial) Stanley Cup winning goal for the Dallas Stars in 1999, one of 103 playoff tallies in his career. When he finally called it a career in 2005 he’d scored 741 regular season goals, the third highest career total in NHL history behind only Wayne Gretzky and Gordie Howe, and 131 more than father, Bobby.
44 – Henri Richard
Henri Richard had one of the most famous siblings in NHL history, and, because of that, maybe never got the recognition he might otherwise would have. No, he never had a 50 goal season like his brother, never won an Art Ross or a Hart Trophy, but you cannot ignore the simple fact that this man was a winner. No other player in league history won more Stanley Cups than Henri Richard (11). He has more cup rings than digits! With 1,046 career points he outranks his famous brother in that particular stat as well.
43 – Newsy Lalonde
Had this list not been limited to NHL accomplishments, and NHA stats had been taken into account you can bet this superstar of yesteryear would have been a lot higher. As it was Lalonde racked up the goals in the early days of the NHL, scoring 125 times in just 99 career NHL games. He twice led the league in goals, and is credited with having scored the first goal in NHL history in 1917.
42 – Dickie Moore
As Canadiens’ stars Maurice Richard and Elmer Lach began to get a little long in the tooth, this young superstar joined the already powerhouse club to extend their reign as hockey’s greatest superpower. Moore really came into his own during the middle of the Habs’ legendary run of five straight Stanley Cups in the late 1950s, winning back to back Art Ross Trophies, and establishing a new league record with 96 points in a single season in 1958-59. He scored 17 points in the playoffs that same year and surely would have won the Conn Smythe had it existed back then.
41 – Jari Kurri
While some might argue that Jari Kurri was overrated and the only reason he put up such staggering totals was because he spent the bulk of his career playing with Wayne Gretzky. They would be wrong. Kurri was certainly the beneficiary of many an easy goal thanks to Gretzky’s sweet passes, but he was an extremely smart hockey player with a wicked release that was better than anyone not named Mike Bossy in the 1980s. Kurri wasn’t just a pure goal scorer; he was also a defensive standout, and much like Pavel Datsyuk today, Kurri had a knack for picking opposing player’s pockets on the backcheck and turning the puck back up ice to generate a quality scoring chance for his team. Kurri scored more than 100 points six times, including 102 points in 1988-89, the year after Gretzky was traded. He led the league in goals once and even strength goals twice, won five Stanley Cups (one more than Gretzky) and played in eight All-Star games.
40 – Sidney Crosby
Wow, 25 years old and already ranked in the top 40 of the best NHL players in history. That’s pretty rarefied air for a guy who still gets called “Sid the Kid” as often as not. Yet, with all that he has accomplished so far in his relatively short career, and despite the fact that he has missed long stretches with injury, I just could not justify ranking him any lower. In an era of parity when players have all gotten bigger, faster, stronger and more skilled than ever before, it is more difficult than ever for even elite players to separate themselves. Yet Crosby has managed to do just that, and not by just a few lengths, but by a country mile. When he is healthy he is head and shoulders above the next tier of players, much like his mentor and boss Mario Lemieux was during the prime of his career. Yes, he’s young but he’s already won an Art Ross, a Hart, a Ted Lindsay and a Rocket Richard Trophy and has captained his team to a Stanley Cup championship. Without the injuries that have plagued him he certainly would have several more trophies to polish. It’s scary to imagine that this young superstar hasn’t even hit his prime yet. If he can stay healthy watch for him to rocket up this list, and challenge the game’s all-time greats by the time his career is over.
39 – Milt Schmidt
It would be difficult for a professional athlete in this day and age to fathom taking a full three years off in the prime of their career to go serve in a war, yet that is exactly what this Boston Bruins’ superstar did, serving in World War II and missing all of the 1942-43, 1943-44 and 1944-45 seasons. He led the NHL in assists and points in the 1939-40 season, and won the Hart Trophy in 1950-51 after notching 61 points in 62 games that year. He played in four All-Star games in his career and was a two-time Stanley Cup champion with the Bruins.
38 – Ron Francis
With more career assists (1,249) than anyone besides Wayne Gretzky, Ron Francis was a slam dunk for a high spot on the list. In fact, I’m sure there will be many who argue I’ve ranked him too low. They would probably have a valid argument. Like Mike Gartner, Francis was very good and very consistent for a long time. In fact, he played more NHL regular season games than anyone except Gordie Howe and Mark Messier and that allowed him to put up some very impressive career stats. Francis did have some good peak years though, scoring 100 points or more three different times. He was also a very reliable defensive player, and was recognized with a Selke Trophy in the lockout-shortened 1994-95 season. He was also a two-time Stanley Cup winner with the Pittsburgh Penguins, and was one of the most gentlemanly players of his era, collecting three Lady Byng Trophies over his career.
37 – Larry Robinson
While Guy Lafleur got most of the accolades during the dynastic run of the Montreal Canadiens in the late 1970s, it was arguably the “Big Three” on defense – Serge Savard, Guy Lapointe and Larry Robinson – that made the Habs such a dominant team during that era. Robinson was one of the best puck rushing d-men of all time, in a class just below that of Bobby Orr and Paul Coffey, and his immense size and strength made him a fearsome challenge for opposing forwards. One only needs to look at his career plus/minus rating – an NHL record +730, including a single-season +120 rating in the 1976-77 season – to see just how valuable Robinson was to his team. He won two Norris Trophies and captured the Conn Smythe as playoff MVP in 1978. He finished his career with 208 goals and 958 points, and added an additional 144 points in the playoffs. He won six Stanley Cups with the Montreal Canadiens and amazingly never once failed to make the playoffs in his 20 year career.
36 – Ted Lindsay
It must have been no fun playing against the Detroit Red Wings back in the 1950s. Not only did you have to try and defend against two of the game’s greatest ever – Gordie Howe and Ted Lindsay – but they were also two of the meanest hombres ever to grace an NHL rink. Lindsay had a fearsome reputation and his nickname, “Terrible” was well earned. Lindsay had over 100 penalty minutes in nine different seasons and at the time of his retirement was the NHL’s all-time leader in PIMs with 1,808. However, despite the copious amount of time time he spent in the Sin Bin, he still managed to put up very impressive offensive numbers. He won the Art Ross Trophy in the 1949-50 season, and his 379 career goals and 851 points were records for a left winger when he retired. He won four Stanley Cups with the Wings, and today is honored with the Ted Lindsay Trophy (formerly the Lester B. Pearson) awarded to the NHL’s best player as voted by his peers.
35 – Glenn Hall
In my mind this gentleman has the most unbreakable record in hockey. Sure, it is hard to fathom anyone touching Wayne Gretzky’s career assists or points marks, but it is completely inconceivable that a goalie will suit up for more than 502 consecutive games. Yes, 502 straight games, that is the incredible streak that Glenn Hall put together between 1955 and 1962. With an achievement like that it is little wonder he earned the nickname, “Mr. Goalie.” Hall won a Calder Trophy, three Vezinas and a Conn Smythe during his storied career, and he helped the Chicago Black Hawks win the 1961 Stanley Cup. He finished his career with 84 shutouts and a career GAA of 2.49. Upon his retirement his 407 career wins ranked him third behind only Terry Sawchuk and Jacques Plante in that category and today he remains one of only ten goalies without over 400 wins under his belt.
34 – Frank Mahovlich
The Toronto Maple Leafs have had no shortage of legends of their long history, but perhaps none loomed as large as the man known as “The Big M.” Mahovlich made an immediate splash in his rookie season with the Leafs, scoring 20 goals and earning the Calder Trophy. Though he never won a scoring title he finished in the top ten in points on seven different occasions, including in 1960-61 when he put up 48 goals, the third highest total in NHL history to that point. Mahovlich won six Stanley Cups, four with the Leafs and two more later in his career while with the Montreal Canadiens, and if not for the brilliant performance of Ken Dryden in the 1971 playoffs he surely would have won a Conn Smythe, having amassed 27 points in just 20 games during the Habs’ playoff run that year.
33 – Peter Forsberg
The Quebec Nordiques were no doubt bitter when Eric Lindros refused to play for them, forcing them to trade him after drafting him first overall in 1991. However, considering that fateful deal ultimately brought Peter Forsberg back the other way I think it is safe to say that the franchise (now the Colorado Avalanche) were ultimately pleased with how things turned out. Forsberg didn’t see NHL action until the lockout-shortened 1994-95 season, but his impact was immediate and profound. He notched 50 points in just 47 games that year, winning rookie of the year honors. The following year he had a career-high 116 points, topping Lindros by a single point to finish fifth in league scoring. He went on to even greater things in the playoffs, scoring 21 points in 22 games and helping his team win the first Stanley Cup in their history. Ultimately, like Lindros, Forsberg would see his career derailed by injuries, but he did manage to win a second Stanley Cup, an Art Ross and a Hart Trophy before health issues forced him to retire after only 708 games.
32 – Paul Coffey
When Bobby Orr retired most hockey people thought, with good reason, that we would never see another defenseman with anywhere near the offensive ability of the legendary Number Four. However, as it turned out, another legend was just a couple of short years away from making his NHL debut. Now, before everyone gets too upset at the comparison, remember I am just comparing the offensive side of the equation. Coffey’s defensive capabilities and his physical prowess in no way compared to Orr’s, but when it came to offensive talent Coffey came pretty darn close. Probably the smoothest skater the game has ever seen, Coffey could didn’t even seem to be trying as he glided effortlessly past his opponents, jump-starting the potent Oilers’ offense with his breathtaking rushes. In 1985-86, Coffey actually beat Orr’s goal-scoring record of 46 goals by a defenseman, notching 48. He also came within a single point of Orr’s single season points record, recording 138 points that year. Both marks had been assumed to be untouchable until Coffey came along. He topped the 100 point mark five different times and set the record for most points in a single playoff year with 37. In all his 396 career goals and 1,531 career points rank him second all-time among NHL defensemen, and his trophy haul included four Stanley Cups and three Norris Trophies.
31 – Denis Potvin
Not a bad offensive defenseman himself, Potvin might not have quite reached the same level offensively as Coffey, but his 310 goals and 1,052 career points clearly indicate he knew where the net was. Not only was Potvin a powerful offensive force for the powerful Islanders of the early 1980s, he was also very effective shutdown man, with a physical element to his game that made him hated and feared by his opponents. Like Coffey, Potvin also won four Stanley Cups and had a trio of Norris Trophies over his career, and he also won the Calder to boot.
30 – Red Kelly
The winner of the first ever Norris Trophy, Red Kelly was known predominantly as a defenseman over the course of his Hall of Fame career. However, it wasn’t unusual to see him moved up to forward during his playing days with Detroit, and he spent much of his time with the Leafs as a full time forward. Kelly was six-time First Team All-Star and a four time Lady Byng winner. His greatest achievements came in the playoffs though. Kelly won four Stanley Cups with the Wings before going on to win four more with the Leafs. Those eight cup wins are more than any other player that never suited up for the Montreal Canadiens.
29 – Bobby Clarke
In today’s NHL the term, “emotional leader” gets thrown around a lot. The term could have been coined to describe Bobby Clarke back in the heyday of the Broad Street Bullies. Bobby Clarke was the sort of player who would go through a wall to win, and his teammates fed off his will to win and his tireless work ethic. Clarke topped 100 points three times over his NHL career, and though he never led the league in scoring, he did win three Hart Trophies, and even added a Selke Trophy as the league’s best defensive forward. He was a two-time Stanley Cup champion, and finished his career with 1,210 points and 1,453 penalty minutes.
28 – Marcel Dionne
It seems this NHL legend should be higher up the list of the best hockey players of all time, but I just couldn’t decide who to bump in order to move him up, so #28 is where he lands. Dionne’s lack of a Stanley Cup championship and the fact that he never won a Hart Trophy definitely counted against him when determining his ranking, but he did lead the lead in scoring in 1979-80, beating out Wayne Gretzky by virtue of scoring more goals that year. He was a six-time 50 goal scorer and topped 100 points eight times. In all, he finished with 731 goals and 1,771 points, career marks that put him behind only the legendary Gordie Howe at the time of his retirement, totals that still rank him fourth and fifth respectively in those categories.
27 – Ken Dryden
Like Bill Durnan, this Montreal Canadiens’ legend had a relatively short career, but he sure managed to pack a lot of hardware into his trophy case in less than a decade of work. He won a Stanley Cup and a Conn Smythe Trophy before his rookie season, which he then followed up with the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year. In his seven full seasons of work he won five Vezina Trophies, and added five more Stanley Cups to give him six in total in eight playoff appearances. Perhaps most astounding of all was his incredible winning percentage. In 397 career games he lost just 57 times!
26 – Mike Bossy
Had he not suffered the back problems that forced him into early retirement I honestly believe that Mike Bossy, not Wayne Gretzky, would stand as the NHL’s career goal-scoring leader. Bossy scored at a prolific rate right from his first season, setting an NHL record (since eclipsed by Teemu Selanne) for goals by a rookie with 53. In 1980-81 he became the first player since Maurice Richard to notch 50 goals in 50 games. He holds the NHL record for consecutive 50 goal seasons with nine. In all he scored an incredible 573 times in just 752 games, giving him the highest career goals-per-game average in the modern era. He won four Stanley Cups, a Conn Smythe and a Calder Trophy. Not too shabby for a guy who retired at age 30.
25 – Joe Sakic
One of the most talented players of his generation, Burnaby Joe was also one of the classiest, and he commanded the respect of not only his own teammates but that of every player who ever played against him as well. Sakic played his entire NHL career with the Quebec Nordiques/Colorado Avalanche franchise and was a long-serving captain of the team. During his time there he twice scored 50+ goals and six times had 100 or more points. He led the Avs to two Stanley Cups, winning a Conn Smythe in 1996. Though he never won a scoring title he did nab a Hart and a Ted Lindsay Trophy, and with 625 goals and 1,641 career points he was an easy choice as a first ballot Hall of Famer following his retirement.
24 – Jaromir Jagr
If not for a three year stint in the KHL, and missing close to two additional seasons worth of play due to NHL lockouts it is very likely that Jaromir Jagr would be second to only Wayne Gretzky in career points. As it is, he may yet reach that milestone, considering how well he continues to play now in his forties. Jagr burst onto the NHL scene in the 1990-91 season, starring for the Pittsburgh Penguins. Though he was inconsistent early on, at his best he was a human highlight reel, astonishing even superstar teammate Mario Lemieux with his sublime stickhandling prowess. Jagr helped push the Pens from a great team to a Stanley Cup champion, and the Pens won it all in each of his first two seasons. Over his career to date Jagr has racked up almost 1,700 regular season points and another 192 playoff points. He has won five scoring titles, a Hart Trophy and three Ted Lindsay awards, and is the all-time leading points scorer among European-born players.
23 – Jacques Plante
It is almost unfair the embarrassment of riches the Habs have had at the goaltending position over the years. Jacques Plante followed in the footsteps of legends like Hainsworth and Durnan and inspired future Canadiens like Dryden and Roy. The 1950s Habs are considered by many to be the greatest NHL team ever assembled and it was Plante that back-stopped them to their record five straight Stanley Cups. Plante is also credited with popularizing the goalie mask, after he defied coach Toe Blake and donned the facial protection after breaking his nose. Plante’s seven Vezina Trophies give him more than any other goalie in league history, and he is one of only a select few goaltenders to win the Hart.
22 – Ray Bourque
Zdeno Chara is a tower of strength on the Bruins blueline these days, but he still has some work to do if he wants to get into the heady company of the greatest Boston Bruins d-men of all time. Even Ray Bourque, the NHL’s all-time leader among defensemen in both goals and points, can’t claim top spot, though he certainly has an impressive resume. Bourque reached the incredible peak offensive output of guys like Orr and Coffey, but he consistently put up point-per-game numbers over many, many years while patrolling the Bruins blueline. That incredible consistency saw him finish his career with 410 goals and 1,579 points – numbers that would be jaw-dropping enough if I were describing a forward. Bourque won a Calder and five Norris Trophies, played in an amazing 19 All-Star Games, and finally captured the one prize that had eluded him – the Stanley Cup – in 2001 while playing with the Colorado Avalanche.
21 – Stan Mikita
Until Jaromir Jagr finally overtook him, this Slovak star was the highest scoring European-born player in NHL history. That said, he learned his craft in Canada, after his family moved to Ontario as a young boy to escape the Communist-run Czechoslovakia. Arguably the best centerman of the 1960s, Mikita won four Art Ross Trophies and a pair of Harts during the decade, and along with fellow Hall of Fame linemate Bobby Hull, helped lead the Black Hawks to Stanley Cup glory in 1961.
20 – Howie Morenz
The “Stratford Streak” has been called the greatest player of the first half of the 20th century. High praise indeed, considering how many great legends took to the ice during that era. One of the first in what has become a long list of Montreal Canadiens’ greats, Morenz won three Hart Trophies, led the league in goals once, and points twice, and was a four-time Stanley Cup champion.
19 – Terry Sawchuk
Before goalies like Dryden, Roy, Brodeur and Hasek came along the choice as greatest NHL goalie of all time was really a two horse race between Jacques Plante and Terry Sawchuk. True, Plante had more Vezinas and Stanley Cup rings, but over the course of his career Sawchuk amassed more wins and shutouts than the legendary Habs tender. In fact, at the time of his death in 1970 he was the all-time leader in both categories, and his career shutout mark (103) stood until 2009 before Martin Brodeur finally eclipsed it in 2009.
18 – Bryan Trottier
One of the greatest leaders of his era, Bryan Trottier was the best of a squad of Hall of Famers that won an incredible 19 straight playoff series and four straight Stanley Cups in the early eighties. Trottier’s combination of supreme talent, toughness and dogged determination made him an absolute nightmare for opposing defenders, and his slick passing ability was a huge reason that winger Mike Bossy was able to rack up so many goals over the years. He scored over 100 points six different times, including in 1978-79 when his 134 point campaign was good enough to earn him the Art Ross and the Hart. He also won a Calder Trophy and a Conn Smythe Trophy and led the playoffs in scoring twice. Not only did he win four cups with the Islanders, he added another pair of rings with the Penguins in a veteran leadership role in the twilight of his career.
17 – Steve Yzerman
There have been a lot of true legends that have worn the #19 on their back over the course of NHL history. Markus Naslund, Joe Sakic, Larry Robinson and Bryan Trottier to name a few. However, in my opinion, the greatest ever to don the number 19 was none other than this long-time Detroit Red Wings captain. Stevie Y started his career as a one-dimensional point producer early in his career, but later blossomed into one of the greatest two-way players of all time. He captained the Wings to three Stanley Cups, won a Ted Lindsay Trophy, a Selke and a Conn Smythe, and if not for the fact that he spent his whole career during the same era as Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux he no doubt would have had more individual hardware in his trophy case.
16 – Dominik Hasek
Yes, some might be shocked to find this quirky goalie so high up on the list of the best NHL hockey players of all time, but with six Vezinas (second all-time behind only Jacques Plante) and a pair of Hart Trophies (the only goalie to win the award twice) it is hard to justify ranking him any lower. Hasek confounded opposing shooters with his unorthodox style, and his unparalleled athleticism. He led the NHL in save percentage for six straight seasons, and his career .922 mark is the highest all time. He took a very average Buffalo Sabres team to game six of the Stanley Cup Finals in 1999, before a controversial overtime goal by Dallas Stars’ sniper Brett Hull finally ended their Cinderella run. Hasek did finally earn a pair of cup rings later in his career, starring for the Detroit Red Wings in 2002 and again in 2008.
15 – Eddie Shore
Surprise, surprise, another Bruins’ d-man claiming a high spot on the list. Eddie Shore’s career 105 goals and 284 points in 550 games might pale in comparison to others on this list, but his four Hart Trophies in six years clearly show just how valuable this blueliner was to his team. Yes, you read that right – four Hart Trophies won by a defenseman! Not even the legendary Bobby Orr can boast such an accomplishment. He also enjoyed great team success in addition to his individual accomplishments, helping the Bruins win the Stanley Cup in 1929 and again in 1939.
14 – Nicklas Lidstrom
It is amazing how fast this Swedish superstar moved up the list over the years. Never overly flashy, Lidstrom was an absolute machine during his entire career with the Detroit Red Wings, always seeming to make the right decision whether on the offensive or defensive side of the puck. His skill-set was recognized year after year as he racked up seven Norris Trophies, a total that tied him with Doug Harvey for second on the all-time list, and just one behind Bobby Orr. He won a Conn Smythe and four Stanley Cups, and in 2008 became the first European-born player in NHL history to captain his team to a Stanley Cup.
13 – Jean Beliveau
No surprise we find yet another Habs legend on the list (spoiler: he won’t be the last). Beliveau is considered by many as the classiest player to ever pick up a hockey stick. As Maurice Richard’s star began to fade in Montreal, Beliveau arrived to take over as the team’s greatest offensive threat. He won a pair of Hart Trophies and led the league in scoring in 1955-56. He saved his greatest performances for the playoffs though. He was a ten-time Stanley Cup champion as a player, second all-time to only Henri Richard. He won a Conn Smythe, and certainly would have won more had the award existed when he was in the prime of his career. Upon his retirement he was the all-time leader in playoff points, and his 1,219 career regular season points as a Montreal Canadien are the second most all-time among Habs players.
12 – Phil Esposito
The expression, “larger than life” applies very well when describing Phil Esposito. The polar opposite of his quiet, reserved brother Tony, Phil was never shy on or off the ice, and was just as famous for what came out of his mouth as what he put in the net. Esposito didn’t score a lot of pretty goals in his career, he just plain scored a lot of goals. In the 1970-71 season he stood the NHL record book on its ear, notching an incredible 76 goals and 152 points – records that would stand until some guy named Gretzky finally managed to surpass them. Espo led the NHL in scoring five times, led it in goals six times, won a pair of Hart Trophies, and a pair of Stanley Cups. His 717 career goals and 1,590 points, rank him fifth and tenth all time in those respective categories.
11 – Guy Lafleur
Maybe the most popular Montreal Canadiens player of all time, and that’s saying something, “The Flower” routinely electrified Habs fans with his breathtaking rushes the wing. Lafleur was the class of the league in the latter half of the 1970s, scoring at least 50 goals and 119 points over six straight seasons. He won the Art Ross three times, a pair of Harts and a Conn Smythe over that span. He was a six-time Stanley Cup champion, and though he spent the last days of his career with the Nordiques and the Rangers he is the all-time leader in regular season points by a Hab.
10 – Martin Brodeur
Another goalie marks our entrance into the top ten, and just a cursory glance at his stellar resume is enough to see why he earned such a high ranking. Where to start? How about the 669 career wins? No one else is even close. Patrick Roy, with 551 career victories, is the only one in the same stratosphere as Marty. Terry Sawchuk’s 103 career shutouts was once thought to be nearly as untouchable as Glenn Hall’s 502 consecutive starts. Brodeur laid that notion to rest, not just eclipsing the mark, but obliterating it. He now has 121 career donuts and counting. He won the Calder Trophy, is a four time Vezina winner, has shared in five William Jennings Trophies, and has three Stanley Cup rings to his name. Already he’s got about three careers worth of accomplishments, and he ain’t done yet!
9 – Mark Messier
One of the greatest leaders the sport of hockey has ever seen, Messier is the only player in NHL history to captain two separate franchises to a Stanley Championship, doing so with the Oilers in 1990 and again with the Rangers in 1994, the fifth and sixth Stanley Cups of his career. He was much more than just an emotional leader though. He got it done on the ice as well. Six times he scored better than 100 points, and his 1,887 career points rank him second all-time behind only former teammate Wayne Gretzky. He wasn’t just talented, he was ornery as well, and his penchant for using his stick or his elbows as weapons ensured that he and his teammates had plenty of room to utilize their talents. He won a Conn Smythe, two Hart Trophies, and his 1,756 career games played rank him second behind only Gordie Howe.
8 – Bobby Hull
As great as Brett Hull was, he couldn’t trump his legendary father. “The Golden Jet” tore the NHL apart during the 1960s, leading the league in goals seven times and points three times, winning two Hart Trophies and a Stanley Cup along the way. His incredible speed, his devastating slapshot, and his toughness made him all but impossible to defend. He was the third player to hit 50 goals in a season and scored 610 in all over his NHL career. His career total would surely have been higher than son Brett’s had he not defected to the rival WHA for seven seasons.
7 – Doug Harvey
Before Bobby Orr came along and redefined the game for NHL defensemen, it was this man who was widely considered to be the best blueliner to ever play. Harvey was the man who jump-started the powerful Montreal Canadiens’ offense, much like Coffey did for the Oilers decades later. He won seven Norris Trophies, six Stanley Cups and played in 13 All-Star Games over his amazing career.
6 – Patrick Roy
The greatest goalie of all time, in my humble opinion, Patrick Roy outshone Brodeur, Hasek, Sawchuk and Plante to capture the highest spot of any goalie on this list. Roy’s 551 career regular season wins were the most in history at the time of his retirement, but it is in the playoffs where he really established his legend. He won a Stanley Cup and a Conn Smythe in his rookie season with the Montreal Canadiens, leading an otherwise average club to championship glory that spring. In 1993, he one-upped his own brilliance, winning an NHL record ten straight overtime games, and a second Conn Smythe to again deliver a cup to a team that no one gave a chance going into that spring’s playoffs. After an ugly break with Montreal, Roy went on to the Colorado Avalanche and there cemented his legend, winning two more Stanley Cups, and a third Conn Smythe, giving him more than any other player in NHL history. In all he won 151 playoff games, a record that even Martin Brodeur won’t be able to touch.
5 – Maurice Richard
From the greatest goalie of all to the greatest Canadien of all as we break into the top five greatest NHL players. Maurice “The Rocket” Richard was driven to score goals like no other player before or since. As soon as he crossed the blueline he drove the net with a fearlessness and a fury that had defenders and goaltenders alike quivering in their skates. In the 1944-45 season Richard set a standard that would last for more than three decades, scoring 50 goals in 50 games. It was just one of the five times that he led the league in goals. He won the Hart Trophy in 1947 and played in 13 consecutive All-Star Games. In all, he scored 544 goals over his career, the most by any Habs player in franchise history, and with nine Stanley Cup rings he trails only brother Henri and Jean Beliveau for most cup victories by a player.
4 – Gordie Howe
Only a hair’s breadth separates the top four players on this list, and I could have just as easily picked the names out of a hat to determine their ranking and been able to give a pretty good argument for how they shook out. Howe supplanted Richard as the NHL’s greatest player, and was the key member of Detroit’s Production Line that led the Wings to four Stanley Cups in the fifties. Howe could play the game any way you wanted it. He was just as adept as the rough stuff as he was at scoring goals, and woe be to any defender who crossed him in the corner or in front of the net. Howe, a little like Teemu Selanne today, seemed untouched by Father Time as his career went on. In fact, he broke the 100 point mark for the first time in the year he turned 40! Still playing at age 52, he scored 15 goals and had 41 points. Mind-boggling. The man they call Mr. Hockey went on to set career records for goals (801), assists (1,049) and points (1,850), and his six Hart Trophies rank second behind only Wayne Gretzky’s eight.
3 – Mario Lemieux
Intangibles aside, if I based this list simply on pure individual talent I would have put Mario Lemieux at the very top of this list. Lemieux could do things with the puck that defied logic at times, particularly when one considers the hulking size of the man. Lemieux made an immediate impact in his draft year, scoring 100 points and winning the Calder while plying his trade for the woeful Pittsburgh Penguins. Over the next few seasons Lemieux did the unthinkable: he actually started to challenge Wayne Gretzky’s individual marks, something previously thought an impossibility. Unfortunately injuries slowed Mario down, but he still managed a 199 point season, a higher total by far than any other player than Gretzky had accomplished. His greatest individual season probably came in 1992-93, a year in which he missed a quarter of the season while being treated for Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. He came back to finish the year with 160 points in just 60 games, winning both the Art Ross and the Hart that year. In all, Lemieux won six scoring titles, three Hart Trophies, two Conn Smythes and two Stanley Cups, all while scoring 690 goals and 1,723 points in just 915 career games.
2 – Wayne Gretzky
While Mario might have had more individual talent, Gretzky’s ability to make his teammates better give him the slight edge in this race. Yes, he had the opportunity to play with many great players, and as I said above, he was just as fortunate to have Kurri as a linemate as the other way around, but no matter which players he was matched with he elevated their play with his incredible vision on the ice, and his ability to draw multiple opposition players to himself in order to create time and space for his linemates. He didn’t just beat existing NHL records, he destroyed them. A few of the highlights include: 50 goals in 39 games, 92 goals in a single season, 215 points in a single season, a 51 game consecutive point-scoring streak, and the career records for goals, assists and points in both the regular season and playoffs. He won nine Hart Trophies and led the league in scoring ten times. As of this writing he still holds 60 official NHL records, and will very likely continue to hold the majority of marks for decades to come.
1 – Bobby Orr
Looking at Wayne Gretzky’s ridiculous list of accomplishments it might seem strange that I am listing Orr, not Gretzky, at number one on the list of the best hockey players of all time. Believe me, I agonized over this decision, and it was so close I briefly toyed with the idea of having them tied for number one. In the end I chose Orr for the simple reason that he was simply a more complete player. Orr was dominant at the offensive or defensive end of the ice, and like Gordie Howe and Bobby Hull he also had an element of toughness that was lacking in Gretzky or Lemieux’s games. No, he doesn’t have as many records as Gretzky, but thanks to bad knees, he had a much shorter career than Gretzky, and of course he was a defenseman, not a forward. Yet, despite those limiting factors he still managed to accomplish an incredible amount during his relatively short time in the NHL. He won a record eight Norris Trophies, three Hart Trophies, and most amazingly of all, two Art Ross Trophies. That’s right. He led the entire league in scoring twice, while playing defense! He holds the NHL record for most points in a season by a defenseman with 139, and his 46 goal single season in 1974-75 ranks as the second highest total ever, trailing only Paul Coffey’s 48 in 1985-86. He not only led the Bruins to two Stanley Cups, but he scored the Stanley Cup winning goal both times, and also took home the Conn Smythe in each of those years. Sadly, Orr’s remarkable career was limited to a mere 657 games. Had his career been as long as Gretzky’s there’s little doubt the debate as to which NHL player was the greatest of all time would be an open and shut case.