Here at HonestHockey.com we love to bring you our thoughts on everything hockey! After going back and forth with some of the guys here, we’ve come up with a list of what WE think are the Best Hockey Players of All Time. Have a look.
1) WAYNE GRETZKY – C
It requires one sentence to make the case that Wayne Gretzky is the best hockey player of all time: he would lead the NHL’s all-time scoring list if you subtracted goals from his point total. Gretzky’s 1,963 helpers in 1,487 games would still give No. 99 a 42-point lead on the point total of Jaromir Jagr, who played 246 more games.
And if you include goals – Gretzky holds the record for those, too, with 894 – The Great One’s point-total cushion expands to 936.
At his peak, Gretzky’s output bests all. He holds the single-season record for goals (92 in 1981-82) and points (215 in 1985-86). He’s the only player to eclipse 200 points, and did so four times, including a three-year streak between 1983 and 1986 in which he totalled 628 points in 234 games. He also led the Oilers to four Stanley Cups in five years and won two Conn Smythe Trophies.
Perhaps Gretzky’s most untouchable record is scoring 50 goals in Edmonton’s first 39 games in 1981-82. (He also scored 50 in 42 and 50 in 49, but those aren’t often referenced because they didn’t occur in the team’s first 50 games.)
Some other Gretzky feats to further weigh down your jaw: nine Hart Trophies (including eight straight from 1980 to ’87), 10 Art Ross Trophies, 65 hat tricks, 1,016 goals (including playoffs), and most points in a single playoffs (47).
The list can go on – Gretzky held 61 official NHL records when he retired in 1999.
2) MARIO LEMIEUX – C
After scoring 133 goals and 282 points in 70 games in his draft year for the Laval Voisins of the QMJHL, it looked like Mario Lemieux had a chance to surpass Wayne Gretzky as the best hockey player to ever play. He was Gretzky-level skillful, but right-handed, five inches taller, with a longer reach and a better shot.
Ultimately, Lemieux didn’t have the longevity of Gretzky (673 fewer games including playoffs), but no one came closer to usurping The Great One. Lemieux’s career began with six straight 100-plus-point seasons, punctuated by his 85-goal, 199-point season in 1988-89. Shortly after, Super Mario captured back-to-back Stanley Cups in ’91 and ’92, winning the Conn Smythe both times.
He never equalled Gretzky’s single-season goals record, but overall he found the net at a higher clip, finishing his career with .754 goals per game, second-best all-time.
Lemieux assembled one of the sport’s most outstanding careers, despite contending constantly with serious health issues that never allowed him to play a full season.
Mario had back surgery in 1990 and 1993 and back pain limited him severely. He barely practiced for two seasons, often required a trainer to tie his skates, and couldn’t put his bags into the overhead bin on the team plane – but he played through it, continuing to produce at a Hall-of-Fame level.
In January 1993, Lemieux was diagnosed in the early stages of Hodgkin’s disease and missed six weeks to undergo radiation therapy. He then returned to lock up the scoring title, finishing with 69 goals and 160 points in 60 games.
3) BOBBY ORR – LD
Recording 915 points in 657 games, Orr is unquestionably one of the best and most stylistically influential defenseman to ever play. Holding and rushing the puck in a manner that no one who came before him ever had, Orr unshackled himself from the conventional expectations of a D-man.
He recorded point totals of 139, 135, 122, 120, 117, and 101 – the first defenseman to eclipse 100 points. Only four other defensemen have reached the mark.
Orr remains the only blueliner to ever win the scoring title. He also took care of his own end, winning the Norris Trophy eight straight seasons in a 10-season career. He led the Bruins to Stanley Cup titles in 1970 and ’71, winning MVP both years. Knee issues compromised Orr’s career – he had at least 12 surgeries in his career – which forced him to retire at age 30 after 657 regular season games.
Orr’s greatness was so undeniable that hockey historians don’t diminish his standing among the greatest players of all time, but we still must wonder how his career would have turned out with better luck.
Using a conservative estimate with a reduced points-per-game output, had Orr reached 1000 games he would have racked up 1,200 points, placing at least fifth among all-time production among blueliners. Then there is THE GOAL.
4) SIDNEY CROSBY – C
Sidney Crosby arrived in the NHL at 18 with the face (and propensity to whine) of a teenager, but the body and mind of a veteran. His 5-foot-11 stature didn’t intimidate, but his tree-trunk legs did.
Crosby’s ability to protect the puck in traffic, his vision, passing and puck-handling were as good as the league’s best the moment his career began. He used his unique skillset to explode out of the gate with a 39-goal, 102-point rookie year.
The next season, he became the league’s youngest-ever scoring champion, capturing the Hart and Art Ross trophies as a 19-year-old. Shortly after the season, the Penguins made Crosby the youngest captain in league history. Sid the Kid formed a superb duo with Evgeni Malkin that sophomore year, beginning a streak of playoff appearances that hasn’t yet been snapped.
A Stanley Cup Final defeat in 2008 set the table for an ’09 rematch with the Red Wings and Crosby’s first championship. He’d later add two more titles in 2016 and 2017, winning the Conn Smythe both years. Along the way, he picked up another scoring title, another MVP, and two Rocket Richard trophies as the league’s top goal-getter. Also, let’s not forget about the golden goal.
Crosby struggled with career-threatening concussion issues in the early 2010s, but returned after a long layoff and maintained his remarkable production.
Crosby currently sits sixth in all-time points per game and is defying the aging curve into his mid-thirties.
5) ALEX OVECHKIN – LW
If you score enough goals and hoist the Stanley Cup, old narratives can be rewritten. That’s the career arc of Alex Ovechkin. After the 2004-05 lockout that cost the NHL a full season, the league returned with and a double cohort of recent draftees, headlined by Sidney Crosby and Ovechkin, and a renewed commitment to calling minor penalties by the book.
The result was a sharp uptick in scoring and freedom from harassment for star players. It was the perfect time for Ovechkin to debut.
He led the league with 426 shots, steamrolled opponents at full speed, and fired in 52 goals along with 54 assists. He won the Calder Trophy and was four goals shy of winning the Richard Trophy. The league had an ostentatious new goal-scoring king in the Moscow native – and to many, a new supervillain.
Ovechkin peaked in his third season, scoring an unthinkable 65 goals (since ’04-05, 60 goals been reached only one other time). Ovechkin continued to pile up goals, year after year, and hasn’t stopped. But labels like “one-dimensional,” “selfish” and “immature” persisted. You can’t win with Ovechkin was a broadly accepted sentiment.
That changed in his 13th season when he led the Washington Capitals to a championship. Ovi padded his already-Hall-of-Fame resume with the Conn Smythe Trophy. Into his mid-thirties, he’s still the league’s best goal scorer.
He’ll almost certainly surpass Gordie Howe for second in all-time goals, and he’s even a contender to eclipse Wayne Gretzky’s record of 894 tallies.
6) NICKLAS LIDSTROM – LD
Nicklas Lidstrom played like advanced AI and aged like wine. He hadn’t won a Norris Trophy in his twenties, but finished his career with seven – the second most ever. Given that his game was primarily powered by intelligence, his trajectory makes sense.
Lidstrom’s all-time highlight package doesn’t include many end-to-end rushes or ankle-breaking crossovers. Rather, Lidstrom’s best-of would consist of stick lifts, poke-checks, perfect gaps and outlet passes.
The 6-foot-1 Swede simply made the right play almost every time. The Detroit Red Wings were the beneficiary of Lidstroms consistent greatness – it’s no coincidence that the franchise’s 25-year playoff streak (1990-91 to 2015-16) overlapped with Lidstrom’s 20 seasons of service.
In addition to his seven Norris trophies, Lidstrom hoisted the Stanley Cup twice (2002, 2008) and was the first European captain to win the Cup.
He captured the Conn Smythe in ’02 on a club that featured a handful of sure-fire future hall-of-famers, averaging 31 minutes per game. He missed only 44 games in his career and consistently posted point totals among the best of blueliners.
Lidstrom amassed 1142 points, placing him sixth among D-men all-time, which certainly throws him in the mix as one of the best hockey players and defensemen of all time.
7) GORDIE HOWE – RW
For today’s NHLers, entering the league at 18 and playing until age 35 is remarkable. Gordie Howe entered the NHL at 18, in 1946. On April 11, 1980, at age 52, Howe played his final game and scored his final NHL goal..
The novelty of Howe’s longevity (he’s the all-time leader in games played with 1,767) is the most prominent detail of his legacy; it’s hard to imagine an NHL player taking to the ice in his 50s ever again.
Howe was the league’s longtime career scoring leader until No. 99 bumped No. 9 down to No. 2 on the list. Howe was the most feared player in the league, even into his greying years. He had hands like baseball mitts and an eye-for-an-eye mentality.
He played during years that demanded true toughness to stay in the lineup. In Howe’s playing years, toughness was paramount and violence between players was a nightly normality – and Gordie was often at the center of skirmishes.
He was remarkably durable, playing every available game in 10 seasons. Howe combined with Sid Abel and Ted Lindsay to form The Production Line – still considered one of the most fearsome trios in league history.
His most productive stretch was between 1950 and ’54, when he won four consecutive scoring titles and back-to-back MVP awards in addition to leading the league in goals three straight times.
He later added four more Hart trophies and two more Art Ross trophies to go along with four Stanley Cup championships.
8) JAROMIR JAGR – RW
Jaromir Jagr never has to look back on his career and wonder if he left anything on the table. His NHL journey began at 18 and ended at 45. He was the modern-era version of Gordie Howe. And while Gordie forged his iron physique on the farm, Jagr built his incomparable strength by way of obsessive workouts.
The native of Kladno, Czech Republic, claims he did 1,000 squats a day from the age of seven. He’d routinely strap on a weight vest and do sprints after games. Jagr completed on-ice drills while wearing 4.4-pound weights on each skate, a 44-pound vest, and shot metal discs that weighed seven times heavier than a standard puck.
Combining that approach with skill and finesse allowed Jagr to dominate for decades, wrapping up his career with more points than anyone besides No. 99. Jagr’s career began with back-to-back Stanley Cups alongside Mario Lemieux in ’91 and ’92.
After breaking out in the ’92 Cup run with 24 points in 21 games, Jagr torched the league for the rest of the ’90s. His best season was 1995-96, scoring 62 goals and 149 points. After capturing two league titles, Jagr added more shine to his trophy case with three Lester B. Pearson trophies as the players’ choice for MVP, and a Hart Trophy in 1999 (he also finished second-place for the Hart four times).
The 6-foot-3, 230-pounder won five scoring titles – all the more impressive considering he shared the era with the top two players on this list. Jagr spent three seasons in the KHL after his age 35 season and returned to the NHL for his final six seasons.
Jagr stayed productive into his 40s – he tallied 67 points with New Jersey in his age 41 season, and 66 points with Florida as a 43-year-old. At 48, Jagr was still playing – and producing – in the Czech Republic’s top professional league.
9) DOMINIK HASEK – G
Year-to-year goaltending performances are volatile. Coaching and team structure weigh heavily on a goalie’s stats, and conventional hockey wisdom and statistical analysis acknowledge that while goaltenders play the most important position on the ice, the men behind the masks are the least worthy of long-term investment.
So, quite often, goalies are left off lists like these. But Dominik Hasek’s level of dominance (his nickname was ‘The Dominator’) between 1993-94 and 1998-99 with the unexceptional Buffalo Sabres place him far beyond anyone who’s ever strapped on the pads.
In those six seasons, Hasek led the league in save percentage six times. He won the Vezina Trophy five of those six years (and won it a seventh time in 2000-01). But most impressively, he captured back-to-back Hart trophies.
A netminder has only done that eight times, and only four times in the modern era. Whereas the established best practices of goaltending prescribed a compact, “blocking” style based on playing the percentages, Hasek relied on instinct, agility, and rubber joints. He was freestyle. To imitate him was to risk embarrassment.
The lasting image of Hasek is an outstretched arm, laid across the goal line – with the puck underneath it. Truly one of the best goalies of all time.
10) CONNOR MCDAVID – C
He’s played only five seasons, accrued 13 games of playoff experience, and has won no championships. Despite all that, Connor McDavid is one of the best NHLers of all time.
He appears to have been dropped into this era of the NHL from the distant future, where human athleticism has evolved. No one has ever reached top speed while carrying the puck the way McDavid does. No one has ever handled the puck or turned on a dime at high speed the way McDavid does. Few players have ever seen the ice or handled the puck close to defenders the way he has.
An injury sustained from receiving a dirty hit limited No. 97 to half a rookie season, thwarting his clear path to the Calder Trophy. In his next three years, he missed just four games and posted point totals of 100, 108 and 116. He was the players’ choice for MVP twice, won two Art Ross trophies and one Hart Trophy.
In the COVID-19-shortened 2019-20 season, McDavid notched 97 points in 64 games – his best per-game output yet – which leaves him sitting fifth in all-time points per game.
McDavid will win multiple more scoring titles, MVPs and Stanley Cups. It’s only a matter of staying healthy.
Check out some our most popular reviews: