A list of the greatest players of any sport is always sure to be controversial. While some NHL players are a given as a top-ten player ever, there are always at least a couple of players who someone disagrees with. But that's the fun of it, isn't it?
There are a multitude of factors that go into deciding what exactly makes a great hockey player. It’s not just goals, assists, points or wins, there's more to the formula than just that. While stats are of course a huge indicator, there are other things that you can’t put on a stat sheet when it comes to talent and impacting the game on the ice.
For the sake of this list, no current NHL players and no goalies were included. This is a list of the 10 greatest hockey players of all-time. It wouldn’t be right to include a current player such as Sidney Crosby or Alexander Ovechkin as their careers aren’t over quite yet. However, you can expect to see them on some of these lists in the near future.
Without further ado, these are the 10 best NHL players ever.
10. Jaromir Jagr
Did you notice I said no current NHL players? Jagr is 48 years old and is still playing hockey back in his hometown in Czechia. Jagr is the Iron Man of hockey and perhaps the most physically gifted player in league history.
Jagr is second in NHL career regular-season points and also fifth in career-playoff points. You can also find his name in the top 20 of almost every major statistical category. One of the best all-around players to ever play, this workhorse is still tearing it up back in his home country at nearly 50-years old.
9. Guy Lafleur
Lafleur scored 50-plus goals and 100-plus points in six consecutive seasons, making him the first NHL player to do so back in the 1970s. He also was a member of the Montreal Canadiens team that won four consecutive Stanley Cup titles.
Lafleur has all of the hardware to solidify his spot on this list. He's won five Stanley Cup Championships, two Hart Trophies and even a Conn Smythe.
8. Bobby Hull
“The Golden Jet” was years above his competition back in the ‘50s and ‘60s. Rumored to have a top skating speed of nearly 30 MPH and a slapshot that reached above 115 MPH, goalies were no match for Hull.
Hull had 50-plus goals in five NHL seasons and ended with 610 career scores. Although his son had 741 career goals, it was Bobby who helped revolutionize the game of hockey. Hull also won a couple of Hart Trophies to go along with his 12 All-Star appearances.
7. Maurice Richard
Like Bobby Hull, Maurice “The Rocket” Richard was years ahead of the game. At the time of his retirement, Richard held 17 NHL records. He was the first player to score 50 goals in a season and his name is on the trophy given to the league’s top scorer each season.
Richard made 14 All-Star appearances and won eight championships in his 18 seasons. At the time of his retirement, Richard's 544 goals were an all-time record.
6. Mark Messier
Mark Messier is certainly one of the greatest to ever play hockey. He is third in points (1,887) and second all-time in playoff points (295). Stats aside, Messier notched as many titles as Tom Brady has in his career, with six.
Messier managed to play a ridiculously long 26-year career that saw him earn 15 All-Star nods. Messier has multiple MVP awards and is known in New York as a legend for helping bring the Rangers their first title in more than 50 years.
5. Jean Béliveau
Béliveau is like the NHL's version of Bill Russell. Béliveau won a Stanley Cup title in half of the seasons he played in his career, winning a total of 10. He also surpassed 1,200 career points and won himself two Hart Trophies. Add in a Conn Smythe Trophy and 13 All-Star appearances and Béliveau is without a doubt one of the best to ever step on the ice.
4. Mario Lemieux
Like his teammate Jagr, Lemieux was as physically gifted as they come. Not only that, but he was also one of the best goal scorers the league has ever witnessed. He and Wayne Gretzky are the only two players to score 69 goals four separate times. That's nice.
Lemieux also holds the fifth-highest point total in a single season at 199. Lemieux has four of the 13-highest single-season points total, Gretzky has the other nine.
Lemieux ended his career with 1,723 points, three Hart Trophies, two Stanley Cups and nine All-Star appearances. If it wasn't for cancer, Lemieux’s career would have been even greater, as hard as that is to believe.
3. Bobby Orr
Orr was another player who was plagued by injury and who could have amassed even more amazing feats if not for some bad luck. Think of Orr as the NHL’s version of Ken Griffey Jr. You know, the player who makes you wonder what could have been if not for all of his injuries.
Still, despite his injury-plagued career, Orr scored 120 points and won the league scoring championship as a defenseman in the ‘69-’70 season. He surpassed 100 career points six times in his career. Orr also took home eight consecutive Norris Trophies as the league’s top defensemen. Playing just 10 seasons, Orr finished with 888 points in just 631 career games.
2. Gordie Howe
Mr. Hockey himself, Gordie Howe, could arguably be called the greatest hockey player ever. Howe scored 20-plus goals for 23 consecutive seasons, even scoring 15 goals when he was 52 years old. You read that right, 52 years old!
Howe was Gretzky before The Great One came around.
Howe became the first player to score 800 career goals until Gretzky showed up. Howe ended with 801 career goals in 26 NHL seasons and 174 additional goals in six WHA seasons. Howe has six MVP awards, six scoring titles, four Stanley Cup championships, and nobody has played more games (1,767) than him.
1. Wayne Gretzky
When your nickname is The Great One, clearly you are the greatest of all-time. Gretzky has more career assists than any other player in NHL history has total points. That alone may be the most dominating stat across the four major sports. Gretzky ended his career with 1,963 assists and 894 goals.
As mentioned earlier, Gretzky scored 160-plus points nine times in his career and 200-plus four times. The Great One managed to win four Stanley Cup Titles, 10 Art Ross Trophies, nine Hart Trophies and made 18 All-Star games. Gretzky no doubt deserves the title of greatest NHL player ever.
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