This list of the top 50 greatest NHL hockey players of all time is bound to create some controversy. NHL hockey is nearly a century old, and few people alive today have been around since the birth of the league. Around the water cooler we banter about who was the best, and our views are often biased towards players on our favorite teams. When I set out to create this list I had it in mind to try and be as objective as possible, and I hope I achieved that goal. There are a few things to note before I begin. First of all, there are no goalies on this list. In my opinion the goal position is so radically different from the defense or forward position that it is impossible to compare the men who tend the nets with those who wander the ice freely. Also, though you will see some active players on the list, none without at least a decade of NHL experience will appear. With career numbers and longevity both factors in building the list, newer players just haven’t established enough of a resume to warrant their inclusion. Barring major health problems there is no doubt Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin will one occupy high spots on this list, but with only a few years of NHL experience under their belts they will still have to wait a few years to get their due. With those exceptions noted here are my picks for the best NHL players of all time:
50 – Sergei Fedorov
Some might raise eyebrows at Fedorov’s inclusion on this list. Fans who’ve begun to follow the sport only recently have only seen him as a role player in the twilight of his career. However, at his peak in the mid-90s, he was arguably the best two-way player in the game, winning a pair of Selke Trophies as the NHL’s best defensive forward, as well as a Hart Trophy as the NHL’s MVP. He was a key component of the Detroit Red Wings team that won two Stanley Cups in the 1990s, and his skating prowess, his vision on the ice and his incredible hockey sense at both ends of the ice made this Russian superstar the complete package.
49 – Bernie Geoffrion
The man they called Boom Boom is most famous with popularizing the slapshot, but he was also a major reason why the Canadiens won a record-setting 5 consecutive Stanley Cups in the late 50s. In the 1960-61 season he became only the second player in NHL history (after teammate Maurice Richard) to score 50 goals in a single season, and fell just 7 goals shy of notching 400 in his Hall of Fame career.
48 – Ron Francis
Underrated his entire career, there will no doubt be some who protest this franchise player’s inclusion on the list of the greatest NHL hockey players. However, even ignoring the many intangibles this guy brought to the rink just by pure numbers alone he deserves to be recognized among the game’s greats. As every hockey fan worth their salt knows Wayne Gretzky is the all time leader in career assists. Who’s second? That’s right, Ron Francis. With 1,249 career helpers and 1,798 career points he ranks higher than most of the people ahead of him on this list. However, points alone don’t make a great player. Francis also delivered when it really counted, and Mario Lemieux will tell you Francis was a huge reason why the Penguins won back to back Stanley Cups in 1991 and 92.
47 – Brad Park
Though the forwards might get all the glory, it is the rocks on the back end that are the true backbone of any great team. Brad Park was not only great in his own end, he was also pretty darn good on the offensive side of the puck, racking up points with the New York Rangers, Boston Bruins, and Detroit Red Wings during his career. When the dust settled he had 896 points in 1,113 career games. As good as Park was he never won a Norris Trophy, mostly due to the fact that Bobby Orr was racking up 8 Norris wins in the prime of Park’s career. Perhaps Park’s most notable achievement was the fact that he made the playoffs every single season of his 18 year. Unfortunately that incredible consistency was never rewarded, as Park never managed to get his hands on the Stanley Cup.
46 – Dit Clapper
Not only one of the NHL’s greatest players, but also one of its greatest names. Aubrey “Dit” Clapper spent his entire NHL career with the Boston Bruins in the 20s, 30s and 40s, and in the twilight of his career he took on coaching duties as well. He was the first NHL player to enjoy a 20 year career, and managed to rack up a respectable 474 points in 824 games as both a defenseman and a forward in a low scoring era. He helped the Bruins win 3 Stanley Cups during his tenure there, and his number 5 was retired by the team once this Hall of Famer’s playing days ended.
45 – Elmer Lach
In 1944-45 Maurice Richard turned the hockey world on its ear, scoring an incredible 50 goals in 50 games. However, it was Elmer Lach who led the league in points and won the Hart Trophy as league MVP that year. Lach is one of the least heralded of the great Montreal Canadiens from years gone by, but his numbers show he had talent to burn. He led the league in scoring again in 1947-48 and took home the first ever Art Ross Trophy that season for his efforts. He would finish his career averaging nearly a point a game, was a first team all-star on three separate occasions and helped his Canadiens win 3 Stanley Cups during his time with the club.
44 – Chris Chelios
This guy belongs on the list just for his incredible longevity alone. At 47 years of age Chelios is the second oldest player in NHL history behind only Gordie Howe, who came back to play with sons Mark and Marty at the ripe old age of 52. Though these days Chelios watches the games from the press box more often than not, back in the 80s and 90s he was one of the most feared defenders in the league, not only for his offensive prowess, but for his incredible will to win and his penchant for using his stick as a weapon. He has won 3 Norris Trophies, 3 Stanley Cups as a member of both the Montreal Canadiens and the Detroit Red Wings, and has played more playoff games than any other player in the history of the NHL.
43 – Brett Hull
Though he might not have earned as high a spot as his famous father, Brett Hull actually finished with 131 more goals than the Golden Jet, and ranks 3rd all time with 741 career snipes. Known as a shooter, Brett Hull’s one-dimensional play kept him from attaining a higher spot on the list of the greatest hockey players ever, but he was so good at that one thing that keeping him off the list would have been a crime. His 86 goal season in 1990-91 is the second highest single season total in NHL history, and was the second of three consecutive seasons where the right winger eclipsed 70 goals. Even Hull’s harshest critics can hardly dispute he is one of the greatest snipers to ever fire a hockey puck.
42 – Peter Stastny
Another controversial choice, considering he never won a Stanley Cup, an Art Ross Trophy, or a Hart Trophy. However, Peter Stastny had the distinct disadvantage of playing the prime of his career in Wayne Gretzky’s enormous shadow. Without Gretzky in the picture there is little doubt that Stastny would have brought home plenty of hardware, and with the exception of The Great One no one scored more points in the 80s than this Slovakian superstar.
41 – Newsy Lalonde
I go back into the annals of NHL history for my next selection. In 2006 Evgeni Malkin tied one of the NHL’s oldest records when he scored a goal in each of his first 6 career games. The man whose record he tied was Newsy Lalonde. Lalonde also has the distinction of scoring the first goal in NHL history, a feat he achieved in 1917 while playing for the Montreal Canadiens. The only thing that keeps him from a higher ranking is his relatively short NHL tenure. Lalonde only played 99 career regular season games, barely more than a single season’s worth in this day and age. However, he made the best of that relatively short time, scoring an incredible 124 goals in that span.
40 – Charlie Conacher
From a legendary Montreal Canadien to a legendary Toronto Maple Leaf. Charlie Conacher starred with the Buds in the 1930s. He helped the club make it to 5 Stanley Cup finals during his playing days, capturing the silver chalice in 1932. He also led the league in scoring on 2 separate occasions and in goals in 5 seasons. Though he would go on to play with the New York Americans and Detroit Red Wings he will always be remembered as Leaf and is widely considered one of the greatest Toronto Maple Leafs of all time.
39 – Tim Horton
One of the most physically punishing players ever to play in the NHL, Tim Horton could crack ribs with his famous bear hugs. He played an incredible 24 seasons before a 1974 automobile accident ended his life and his career. During his playing days he put up a respectable 518 career points and his 1,611 career penalty minutes give tribute to his ornery style of play, and he helped the Punch Imlach-led Leafs win 4 Stanley Cups in the 60s. For those who are wondering, yes he was also the founder of the Tim Hortons franchise.
38 – Peter Forsberg
Based on pure talent alone this Swedish phenom would be much higher on this list. However, chronic injuries plagued Forsberg throughout his career, and he was unable to put up the kind of numbers that you’ll see from many others on this list. However, at the peak of his game between 1995 and 2003 Forsberg was arguably as good as any player in the game, averaging well over a point per game, and helping his Colorado Avalanche to 2 Stanley Cups. He was nearly unstoppable down low, and in my opinion his on-ice vision and his ability to pass through sticks is only second to Wayne Gretzky in the last thirty years.
37 – Syl Apps
Though at 6 feet and 185 pounds Apps would be pretty average by today’s NHL standards back in the 30s and 40s he was an absolute beast, physically dominating his opponents with his sheer size. He wasted no time making his presence felt in the NHL, winning the inaugural Calder Trophy in 1937 as the NHL’s best rookie. Apps played his entire 10 year NHL career with the Toronto Maple Leafs, and was a model of consistency, scoring over 20 goals 6 times during that span and finishing his career with a better than point per game average (432 points in 423 games). Despite his size, Apps only spent 56 minutes in the sin bin during his career, winning the Lady Byng as the league’s most gentlemanly player in 1942. Apps would help the Leafs to 3 Stanley Cups during his tenure, and though he never won a Hart Trophy or led the league in scoring he was certainly one of the NHL’s best player during that era.
36 – Cy Denneny
This legendary Ottawa Senator has the dubious distinction of winning the NHL scoring race with the lowest total points in a season. In the 1923-24 season he finished with 22 goals and 1 assist to lead the NHL with a mere 23 points. He played 11 seasons with the Sens, helping the team to 4 Stanley Cup championships during that time. Denneny was one of the most prolific goal scorers of his era, and he netted a whopping 246 goals in just 326 career games.
35 – Gilbert Perreault
This slick Buffalo Sabre center is generally considered to be one of the greatest players who never won a Stanley Cup. Perreault, who starred alongside Rick Martin and Rene Robert on the French Connection Line in the 1970s, played all 1,191 games of his NHL career as a member of the Buffalo Sabres, racking up 1,326 points over that time. Despite his inability to win the big prize few who saw this incredible player during his prime would dispute his spot on this list.
34 – Jari Kurri
Some critics might argue that Kurri’s NHL success came mainly from riding the coattails of Wayne Gretzky during the duo’s run with the Oilers in the 1980s. However, Kurri’s incredible individual skill and his on-ice intelligence became readily apparent when Gretzky was traded in the summer of 1988 in a blockbuster trade that sent number 99 to the Los Angeles Kings. Kurri would hardly miss a beat, despite his superstar linemate’s absence, scoring 102 and 93 points respectively in the next 2 years. Kurri won 5 Stanley Cups during his playing days, and his 1,398 career points rank him third behind only Jaromir Jagr and Stan Mikita in career scoring by European born players.
33 – Joe Malone
It is hard to compare players that played in such completely different eras. However, when a player scores 44 goals in a 20 game season it is hard to find a valid reason to keep him off the list of the greatest players of all time. Malone, much like Newsy Lalonde, had a relatively short NHL career, but in only 125 games he managed to bulge the twine a jaw-dropping 146 times. He holds the NHL record for the most goals in a single game with 7, and is the only player in league history to score 5 goals in a single game 3 times in a single season.
32 – Henri Richard
Though not as famous as his brother, Maurice “Rocket” Richard, the man known as the Pocket Rocket was a pretty darn good player in his own right. Richard spent his entire 20 year career as a member of the Montreal Canadiens, scoring over 1,000 points as a forward for the club. However, it is his Stanley Cup success that is his most impressive achievement. Richard doesn’t even have enough digits on both hands combined for all his Stanley Cup rings, and the 11 he won as a player is an all time NHL record. No, he didn’t have the flash and dash of his brother, but his consistency and his skill earn him a deserving spot on this list of the greatest players in NHL history.
31 - Joe Sakic
Though his nickname may be Burnaby Joe, this slick center with one of the game’s best wrist shots has spent his entire career as a member of the Quebec Nordiques/Colorado Avalanche franchise. Sakic is generally regarded by his peers and by fans of the game as one of the classiest players to ever pick up a hockey stick. Sakic is the scoring leader among active NHL players, with 1,641 career points at the time of this writing. He has helped the Avalanche to 2 Stanley Cups and has a Conn Smythe as the Stanley Cup playoff MVP after an incredible 18 playoff goal performance in 1996. Over the past two seasons Sakic has been plagued by injuries, and hopefully we haven’t seen the last of this classy player. If he can stay healthy I have no doubt he still has some great hockey left in him.
30 – Milt Schmidt
One of the greatest Boston Bruins of all time Milt Schmidt played for the Bs his entire 16 year NHL career between 1937 and 1955. Even more incredibly he missed 3 full seasons in the 40s as he served his country in World War II. Despite his 3 year absence Schmidt didn’t miss a beat on his return to the NHL. When the dust settled on his career Schmidt had 575 points in 776 games, 2 Stanley Cups and a Hart Trophy as the NHL’s most valuable player.
29 – Dickie Moore
It is little surprise that the team with the most Stanley Cup victories in NHL history would also have the most players on the list of the best hockey players of all time. Dickie Moore was yet another member of the fabled Montreal Canadiens franchise that was so dominant in the late 50s. Moore might not have the star power of the Richard brothers, Jean Beliveau, or Bernie Geoffrion, but on any other team the spotlight would have shone brightly on him. He racked up 608 points in 719 career games, won 6 Stanley Cups, and capture 2 Art Ross Trophies as the league’s leading scorer during his playing days.
28 – Larry Robinson
Yes, another Montreal Canadien legend. (Sorry Leafs fans). In the 1970s Larry Robinson helped form the triumvirate of defenseman that was simply called “The Big Three”. One of the best puck rushers of his era, Robinson was key in igniting the vaunted Canadiens offense, and his 958 career points put him high on the list of the best offensive defensemen in NHL history. Though Robinson went on to finish his Hall of Fame career with the Los Angeles Kings he will always be remembered as a Montreal Canadien, the team for which he won 2 Norris Trophies with and helped hoist the Stanley Cup on 6 different occasions.
27 – Paul Coffey
If anyone could make an argument for anyone besides Bobby Orr when discussing the best offensive defenseman of all time it would be for this man. Coffey, arguably the best skater to ever lace them up in the NHL was a force to be reckoned with, particularly during his time with the powerful Edmonton Oilers in the 1980s. Coffey eclipsed the 100 point mark in 5 separate seasons, including the 1985-86 campaign when he racked up 48 goals and 138 points. He is 2nd all time to only Ray Bourque in career scoring by a defenseman with 1,531 points. Coffey’s abilities landed him the Norris Trophy on three separate occasions, and most importantly he has hoisted the Stanley Cup 5 times. Not only is he one of the greatest players of all time, he is without question one of the most entertaining as well.
26 – Ted Lindsay
It seems strange to see a man with the nickname “Terrible” on a list of great players. However, it was his reputation for meanness rather than his skill set that earned him the moniker. Ted Lindsay labored in Gordie Howe’s enormous shadow on one of the greatest lines in hockey history, the Production Line of the Detroit Red Wings. Though he didn’t rack up as many points as his famous linemate, Lindsay knew where the net was, and his 851 career points and his Art Ross Trophy back that up. With more than 1,800 career penalty minutes Terrible Ted Lindsay was no stranger to the sin bin either, and any player who played against him back in the day probably has some scars to prove it.
25 – Marcel Dionne
At the time of his retirement the player known as “the Little Beaver” ranked 2nd behind only Gordie Howe in career goals in points. Though he has since been reeled in by Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier and Ron Francis (points) and by Brett Hull (goals) his positions as 5th and 4th in each respective category is nothing to sneeze at. Unfortunately this member of the “Los Angeles Kings’ Triple Crown Line’s remarkable offensive talents yielded very little reward in the way of hardware. Marcel Dionne is arguably the best player who never won a Stanley Cup. He did enjoy some success on a personal level, beating out a young Wayne Gretzky in the 1979-80 season to capture both the Art Ross Trophy, and his second consecutive Lester B. Pearson Trophy as the league’s best player as voted by his peers.
24 – Steve Yzerman
This former Detroit Red Wings’ superstar ranks with players like Jean Beliveau, Igor Larionov and Joe Sakic in the discussion of the classiest hockey player of all time. When he broke into the league in the early 80s he was an offensive dynamo and between 1987 and 1993 he broke the 100 point plateau six times and the 60 goal mark twice. However, as his career progressed he added defensive structure to his game, and his incredible two way play, his leadership and his determination would help him go on to win 3 Stanley Cups, a Conn Smythe Trophy and an Olympic gold medal. He finished his amazing career with 692 goals and 1,755 points and will be a first ballot shoe-in for the Hockey Hall of Fame.
23 – Frank Mahovlich
Arguably the greatest Toronto Maple Leaf of all time the man known as The Big M played 19 NHL seasons with the Leafs, Wings and Canadiens before making the jump to the rival WHA in 1974. During that time Mahovlich was incredibly consistent and his point totals in his final 3 NHL seasons were higher than any other 3 year period of his career. During his time he netted 533 career goals, and totaled 1,103 points helping his teams to 6 Stanley Cups along the way.
22 – Bobby Clarke
Though some might question his managerial skills few can dispute this Philadelphia Flyer’s incredible determination, grit and will to win. Bobby Clarke would do whatever it took to win a hockey game (just ask Valeri Kharlamov) and he led his Broad Street Bullies to 2 Stanley Cups during the 1970s, and was a key component of the Team Canada team that beat the Soviets in the 1972 Summit Series. Clarke wasn’t just grit though. He had plenty of raw talent and he racked up 1,210 regular season and 119 playoff points during his spectacular career. His success on the ice also translated to individual awards, and he carried home the Hart Trophy 3 times and the Selke Trophy once during his Hall of Fame career.
21 – Jaromir Jagr
It almost pains me to include a man who squandered so much talent, took so many nights off, and complained so much a spot amongst these other legends on the list of the greatest hockey players of all time. However, I cannot ignore his incredible raw talent, and thus must give him his due. Jaromir Jagr might just be the most offensive gifted player to ever pick up a hockey stick, and when he was so inclined he could turn an entire team inside out twice before finishing the play with a highlight reel deke on the goalie. His prolific scoring ability landed him 5 Art Ross Trophies, and a Hart Trophy. As a sidekick to Mario Lemieux he captured two straight Stanley Cups with the Pittsburgh Penguins in the early 90s. If the sun has set on his incredible career then he is already among the all time leaders in all offensive categories, with a staggering 646 goals and 1,599 points to his credit. Say what you will about his competitive drive, but anyone who saw this guy play cannot deny he is one of the NHL’s all time most talented players.
20 – Red Kelly
Another legend from days gone by marks the entrance into the top 20 NHL players of all time. Leonard “Red” Kelly split his NHL career between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Detroit Red Wings. He was an incredibly versatile player, starring at both the defense and the forward positions. In Detroit he was overshadowed by legends like Gordie Howe and Ted Lindsay, however it was his puck-moving ability that jumpstarted that powerful team’s offense, and helped the club win 4 Stanley Cups during Kelly’s tenure there. He was just as good in Toronto, moving up to center Frank Mahovlich. The duo was all but unstoppable and they led the Leafs to 4 Stanley Cups in the 1960s. With 8 Stanley Cups in all, 4 Lady Byng Trophies, and a Norris Trophy there can be little question that Red Kelly holds a deserving spot on this list.
19 – Denis Potvin
It is a testament to just how many great players have graced NHL rinks over the years when a player as good as the Islanders’ Denis Potvin was can barely crack the top 20. The powerful Islanders teams of the early 80s had stars like Mike Bossy and Bryan Trottier lighting the lamp consistently at the front end, but it was Potvin who was the linchpin of the team and was an offensive star on the back end. He was the first defenseman to score over 1,000 career points, and he added 164 points in the playoffs for good measure. Over his career he won 4 Stanley Cups and 3 Norris Trophies. Such is his legend that the chant “Potvin sucks!” can still be heard many nights in Madison Square Gardens, the home of the Islanders’ cross-town rivals, the New York Rangers. How is that for making an impact?
18 – Eddie Shore
The Boston Bruins have to be the luckiest franchise in NHL history when it comes to the blueline. They’ve seen the likes of Bobby Orr, Ray Bourque, Brad Park, and of course, this old-time hockey legend grace the back end through their history. Shore spent all but 10 games of his NHL career with the Boston Bruins, potting 105 goals and 284 points in 553 games in an era when most defensemen contributed very little to their team’s offense. Shore won the Hart Trophy 4 times during a 6 year span in the 30s, and is the only defenseman in NHL history (including Bobby Orr) to win the coveted trophy that many times.
17 – Phil Esposito
Before Wayne Gretzky came along and annihilated the NHL record book, Phil Esposito’s 76 goals and 152 points were by far and away the highest single season totals in both categories. During his incredible career with the Chicago Blackhawks, Boston Bruins and New York Rangers the outspoken superstar racked up over 700 goals and 1,590 points, and at the time of his retirement in 1981 he ranked 2nd all time behind only Gordie Howe in both those categories, nabbing himself 5 Art Ross Trophies and 2 Harts along the way.
16 – Bryan Trottier
With 95 points and a Calder Trophy in his rookie year Bryan Trottier wasted no time serving notice to his peers that he would be a force to be reckoned with in the NHL. Not only was he an offensive dynamo, eclipsing the 100 point barrier 6 times in his career, he was also an underrated defensive player, and pound for pound was one of the toughest players to ever lace up the skates. Trottier teamed up with Mike Bossy and Clark Gillies to form one of the best lines in NHL history, and together they helped the Islanders win 4 straight Stanley Cups in the early 1980s. Trottier would go on to win 2 more cups with the Pittsburgh Penguins, giving him 6 in total, to go along with his Hart, Conn Smythe, Art Ross and Calder Trophies.
15 – Stan Mikita
Long before Jari Kurri and Jaromir Jagr came along this guy was showing that Europeans could be superstars in the NHL. Though it has been almost 3 decades since he played an NHL game, his 1,467 career points ranks him second all time behind only Jaromir Jagr in scoring by a European born player. He and Bobby Hull formed one of the deadliest duos in NHL history, starring for the Chicago Blackhawks in the 60s and 70s. During that span Mikita captured 4 Art Ross titles and 2 Harts, was a 6 time first team all star and helped his Blackhawks hoist the Stanley Cup in 1961.
14 – Ray Bourque
What’s a guy got to do to crack the top 10 NHL players of all time? Apparently being the all-time leading scorer on defense with 410 goals and 1,579 points is not enough. How about a Calder Trophy and 5 Norris Trophies? Not good enough apparently. 1,612 regular season games and 214 playoff games? Still nope. 180 playoff points and a Stanley Cup? Alright, you get the point. This guy was one of the best ever. It’s hard to believe there are 13 guys ahead of him.
13 – Howie Morenz
One of the NHL’s first true superstars, Howie Morenz dominated the game in the 20s and 30s. While starring with the Montreal Canadiens he led the fabled club in scoring in 7 consecutive seasons, helping them to 3 Stanley Cups, and nabbing himself 3 Hart Trophies as the league MVP to boot. In 1945 when the Hockey Hall of Fame opened his doors, Morenz was among its first 12 inductees, and is considered by many to be the greatest player of the first half of the 20th century.
12 – Nicklas Lidstrom
This might be a controversial choice, but I have a hard time ranking this guy any lower. He is the closest thing I have seen to a machine in my many years of watching NHL hockey, and he always seems to make the right decision with or without the puck. Sure, many of the players on this list might have more flash or might make the highlight reel more often, but Lidstrom just goes about his business with remarkable consistency and simply put, this guy doesn’t know how to lose. With 6 Norris Trophies he ranks behind only Bobby Orr (8) and Doug Harvey (7) for the most ever. He has 4 Stanley Cup rings and came within a whiskers breadth of making it 5 this past spring when his Detroit Red Wings bowed out to Sidney Crosby’s Pittsburgh Penguins in game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals.
11 – Guy Lafleur
One of the most popular and electrifying players of all time, Guy Lafleur is one of the true icons of the game. Lafleur flying down the right wing, blond hair flying as he unleashes a devastating slapshot is one of the enduring images in all of sports. However, this guy, much like Ovechkin now, wasn’t just charismatic – he was a true superstar. He accumulated an incredible collection of trophies during his career including 3 Art Ross Trophies, 3 Lester B. Pearsons, 2 Harts, a Conn Smythe and 5 Stanley Cup rings. He is the Montreal Canadiens’ all time leader in both assists and points, and ranks second in both goals and popularity with Habs fans to only the great Rocket Richard.
10 – Mike Bossy
The greatest pure goal scorer in NHL history is also one of the top 10 greatest NHL hockey players of all time. Forget Gretzky, Lemieux, Ovechkin or Brett and Bobby Hull, when it came to snapping the puck in the net, nobody did it better than this guy. Much like his Islander linemate, Bryan Trottier, Bossy made an impact in his first season in the big league, setting an NHL rookie record and nabbing the Calder Trophy by scoring 53 goals that year. That was just a sign of things to come. The following year he would score 69 – the second highest single season total in NHL history at the time. He would eclipse the 60 goal mark 4 additional times in his career, and in 1980-81 became the first player since Maurice Richard to score 50 goals in 50 games, and set an NHL record (later broken by Gretzky) by scoring 9 hat tricks that same season. Though his remarkable career was cut short by injuries he set an NHL record scoring 50 goals or more in each of his first 9 NHL seasons, and he finished with 573 goals and 1,126 points in only 752 games, helping his Islanders to 4 Stanley Cups, and earning himself a Conn Smythe Trophy along the way.
9 – Bobby Hull
Sorry Brett, but your dad was better. Another one of the true icons of the game, The Golden Jet not only had a wicked shot, but was one of the fastest skaters to ever patrol the wing. He played 15 seasons with the Chicago Blackhawks before a lucrative $1,000,000 contract lured him to the Winnipeg Jets of the WHA. In 1966 he became the first player to score more than 50 goals in a single season, bulging the twine 54 times that year, 1 of 5 times he would reach the 50 goal plateau. Had his WHA years instead been spent in the NHL he would no doubt challenge Wayne Gretzky’s career goals mark of 894. Hull had 610 in the NHL and an additional 303 in the WHA during his magnificent pro hockey career.
8 – Mark Messier
Often referred to as the greatest leader in professional sports Mark Messier spent the early part of his career in the shadow of Edmonton Oilers teammate and friend Wayne Gretzky. During that time Messier was a prolific scorer, but his leadership abilities didn’t become apparent until Gretzky was traded to Los Angeles in 1988. Messier would take over the captaincy of the Oilers and in 1990 led the Oilers to a 5th Stanley Cup, and their only one without Gretzky. However, Messier’s greatest moment as a captain came when he led the 1994 New York Rangers to dramatic 7 game semi-finals and finals wins over the New Jersey Devils and the Vancouver Canucks to deliver long-suffering Rangers fans their first Stanley Cup since 1940. With 2 Hart Trophies, a Conn Smythe and 6 Stanley Cups Messier is one of the most decorated players of the modern era, and his 1,756 career games and 1,887 career points rank him 2nd all time in both categories.
7 – Doug Harvey
One of the best offensive defensemen of all time, Doug Harvey was the key to the vaunted Montreal Canadiens’ offense of the 1950s. He was a member of the Habs from 1947 until 1961, helping them to 6 Stanley Cups along the way. He also all but owned the Norris Trophy during that era, winning 7 of them in an 8 year span. Though his 540 points might pale in comparison to the totals of some other defensemen on this list, don’t let the numbers fool you. Anyone who saw this guy play in his prime will tell you in this case the numbers lie. Only Bobby Orr was better at the position, plain and simple.
6 – Jean Beliveau
Though some might argue I have this guy a little high up on the list in my opinion his combination of leadership, skill, class, and his incredible ability to win makes him deserving of the number 6 spot. Beliveau racked up 507 goals and 1,219 points in his 20 seasons with the Habs, winning the Stanley Cup exactly half of those years. Though he didn’t put up massive single season numbers like some of the others mentioned here, he was a model of consistency, averaging better than a point per game over his lengthy career. Incredibly Beliveau’s 10 Stanley Cup rings as a player (the second most ever) were just the beginning. He went on to earn 7 more rings as an executive with the club and his 17 total Stanley Cup rings are more than anyone else in the history of the sport.
5 – Maurice “The Rocket” Richard
Arguably the sport of hockey’s greatest legend Maurice Richard was also arguably its greatest goal scorer. Not a pure sniper like Bossy or Hull, or a human highlight reel like Ovechkin or Bure, Richard just had a desire to get to the net with the puck unmatched by anybody before or since. In the 1944-45 season he became the first player to score 50 goals in a single season, accomplishing the feat in just 50 games, a record that would go unmatched for 36 years. He would go on to score 544 goals in his Hall of Fame career, winning 9 Stanley Cups along the way, and though he only won 1 Hart Trophy and never led the league in scoring you’d have a hard time finding anyone who doesn’t have this guy as one of the top 5 greatest NHL players ever.
4 – Mario Lemieux
In terms of pure talent with the puck this “magnificent” player is the greatest ever in my opinion. With tremendous grace belying his hulking size Mario routinely made seasoned NHL defenders look like Pee Wee players as they tried helplessly to stop him. When Wayne Gretzky started putting up such huge numbers in the 80s it seemed impossible that any of the records he was setting would ever be broken. People started to imagine otherwise when Mario hit his prime. Unfortunately health problems interfered and Mario’s true potential was never reached. However, in the 915 career regular season games he did play Mario had a staggering 690 goals and 1,723 points. He grabbed 6 Art Ross Trophies, 3 Hart Trophies, 2 Conn Smythes, a Calder, 2 Stanley Cups and an Olympic gold medal, and had he enjoyed a healthy 20 year career there is a good chance that at least some of Wayne Gretzky’s scoring records would belong to Mario.
3 – Gordie Howe
If you’ve got the nickname Mr. Hockey there is little doubt that you are one of the best hockey players ever. Gordie Howe was a dominant force, both physically and on the score sheet, in the NHL for decades. He played his first NHL game way back in 1946 and his last in 1980, consistently piling up points and penalty minutes along the way. Amazingly Howe only cracked the 100 point plateau once in his incredible career. Even more amazingly he did it at the age of 40! At the time of his retirement in 1980 he led in all major offensive statistical categories with 801 goals, 1,049 assists and 1,850 points. He won 6 scoring titles and was voted NHL MVP on 6 separate occasions, and helped the Wings win 4 Stanley Cups during their dominance in the early 50s.
2 – Bobby Orr
This one was closer than most people might have it. Bobby Orr was, in my opinion, the most dominant player in the game in any era, and if he, like Lemieux, had had the luxury of a long, healthy career I have no doubt he would be at the pinnacle of this list. Orr simply played the game at a different speed. He owned the puck, he owned the ice, and when he was on his game he was closer to unstoppable than any other player ever. He racked up 8 straight Norris Trophies, 3 Harts, 2 Conn Smythes and a Calder. However, most amazing was his 2 Art Ross Trophies. That’s right, he led the league in scoring twice, as a defenseman! He holds the single season record for points by a defenseman with 139, the 2nd highest total for goals with 46 and racked up 915 points in just 657 career games. It truly boggles the mind to wonder what this guy could have done in his NHL career with 2 healthy knees.
1 – Wayne Gretzky
With the incredible number of NHL records he holds it is very difficult for anyone to argue against Wayne Gretzky as the greatest NHL hockey player of all time. He not only holds the records in all major statistical scoring categories, he is a country mile ahead of his competitors! His 2,857 career points put him almost 1,000 points ahead of his next closest competitor. Considering that competitor (Mark Messier) played in the same era and on the same great team for the bulk of his career it is just mind-boggling that Gretzky was able to distance himself by such a margin. He owned the NHL in the 80s, winning the Hart and Art Ross year after year. He led the Oilers to 4 Stanley Cups, setting numerous playoff scoring records along the way. He is the undisputed greatest playmaker in NHL history and his 1,963 career assists are more than 700 ahead of Ron Francis who sits in 2nd place. There is so much more I could say, but I think you get the drift. Wayne Gretzky’s holds a deserving spot at number 1 on the list of the greatest NHL hockey players of all time, and I can promise you won’t see him dethroned any time soon.