Try not to be too shocked by Gretzky’s inclusion on this list. He’s called “The Great One” for a reason, after all.
The fact that he captained the Edmonton Oilers to four Stanley Cup victories is just the start of his long list of achievements. He also won three Canada Cups, and he’s the only player in NHL history to rack up 200 points in a single season; a feat he accomplished four times. He reached the rare 50 goals in 50 games plateau three times (it’s only happened eight times in total), and in one season he only needed 39 games to do it.
The amount of records he holds is ridiculous; the NHL has it numbered at 61. That includes the obvious feats—like the most career goals, assists and points, as well as the most goals, assists and points in a season—along with some more obscure accomplishments, like the most overtime assists. And of course, we shouldn’t forget his most important achievement of all: coaching the Phoenix Coyotes to four straight losing seasons. Not just anyone could have done that!
There’s a reason Howe was given the nickname “Mr. Hockey” (along with about a dozen other nicknames, including the less flattering “Mr. Elbows”). For starters, he’s the only player in NHL history to play in five different decades, and he spent a few years in the defunct World Hockey Association as well. That longevity means he holds the records for most NHL games and oldest NHL player (remarkably, he was still playing at 52 years of age), both milestones that will probably never be broken.
Howe won four Stanley Cups with Detroit, along with half a dozen Art Ross and Hart trophies. In the WHA he won two Avco Cups, and he was the league MVP once as well (an award that was later named after him). Howe wasn’t just a star in one league; he was dominant in two, even though he didn’t enter the WHA until he was 46. Also, Howe was really good at punching people in the face. Like, really good.
Lemieux was often overshadowed by Wayne Gretzky, but he was the only contemporary of The Great One who even came close to matching Gretzky’s skills and achievements. He won Olympic gold and a World Cup for Canada—two things Gretzky never did accomplish—and he led the Pittsburgh Penguins to two Stanley Cups as well (and he was the owner of the Penguins for a third championship). Throw in three Hart Trophies, six Art Rosses and a pair of Conn Smythes and you have the quite the impressive hardware collection.
It’s a collection that no doubt would have been even more impressive if not for Lemieux’s health problems; tendinitis, chronic back pain and Hodgkin’s lymphoma cut his career short. He retired early, and while he did make a comeback his health issues ultimately forced him to miss out on several seasons. Still, the fact that he managed a comeback at all, in spite of all his health woes, is a remarkable feat in its own right.
Regardless of where you’d rank Orr on this list, it can’t be denied that he single-handedly revolutionised how hockey was played. His amazing speed, along with his offensive talent, turned the position of defenseman from a purely defensive role into a two-way position that focused on contributing to both sides of the game.
And contribute he did; Orr is the only defenseman to win the Art Ross Trophy, and he managed that twice. He also won three consecutive Hart Trophies, as well as a staggering eight consecutive Norris Trophies, a record number. Throw in two Stanley Cups and a Canada Cup and you have one impressive career, a career that a knee injury unfortunately cut short. If it wasn’t for that, he’d no doubt hold more records for defensemen than he already does.
Oh, and he’s also in the most famous photo in hockey history. You know the one.
Messier won six Stanley Cups in his career, and he’s the only player to captain two different teams—the Oilers and the Rangers—to a championship. Nicknamed “The Moose” for his size, power and possibly his deafening mating call, Messier’s strength and skill allowed him to reach second place on the all-time points list. He also won a pair of Hart and Lester B. Pearson trophies, as well as a single Conn Smythe; and he was named an All-Star an impressive fifteen times.
Messier was lucky enough to avoid major injuries during his lengthy career, which placed him second all-time in games played; when he retired in 2005 he was the last active player who had played in both the 1970s and in the World Hockey Association. In terms of pure skill Messier may not have been the greatest ever, but when it comes to leadership ability it’s hard to deny that he was the best.
Bobby Hull is most famous for his blistering slapshot (once clocked at 190 km/h) and incredible speed (he could get up to 48 km/h), but there was a lot more to his career than just those two remarkable talents. Hull was one of a select few superstars to succeed in both the NHL and the World Hockey Association; he won a Stanley Cup with the Blackhawks before winning three Avco Cups with the Winnipeg Jets. He was the MVP of both leagues twice, he won the Art Ross three times, and he was a key member of Canada’s 1976 Canada Cup victory. Despite trouble with injuries Hull managed to play 23 seasons, and he’s generally considered to be the greatest left wing the sport has ever seen.
Béliveau holds the record for the most Stanley Cup wins; he won ten as a player with the Montréal Canadiens, and another seven as part of Montréal’s management. Not bad for someone who wasn’t even interested in playing professionally.
The story of how Béliveau became pro is ridiculous, but it speaks to just how talented he was. Béliveau had signed a contract with the Canadiens that stated if he ever went pro he would have to play with Montréal; but he seemed content to spend his career in an amateur league. So the Canadiens’ bought the entire league he was in and converted it to a pro one, which forced Béliveau to play with them. That insane plan turned out to be a good investment, as in addition to all the Stanley Cups Béliveau would win an Art Ross, a Hart and the first Conn Smythe; and he would captain the team for a decade. Meanwhile, the league that was purchased only lasted another five years before collapsing.
Richard may be from an older generation than most of the other players on this list, but the fact that The Rocket remains iconic today should make it clear how talented and beloved of a player he was.
He helped the Montréal Canadiens win eight Stanley Cups, and while the trophy was a lot easier to earn back in the 50s and 60s that’s still an amazing accomplishment. On a personal level, he was the first player to hit the 50 goals in 50 games plateau, he won the Hart Trophy once and probably deserved to win it more, and when he retired he held numerous NHL records, as he was by far the most talented player of his era.
Richard is also one of the few athletes in history to inspire an all-out riot, as Montréal fans, upset with Richard receiving a lengthy suspension for punching a linesman, started a demonstration at a Montréal home game that eventually spilled out into the streets, resulting in roughly 100 arrests, 40 injuries and 100,000 dollars (nearly 850,000 dollars in modern terms) in property damage. Not bad considering that everyone outside of Montréal thought the suspension should have been even longer.
Guy Lafleur may have had the wimpiest nickname in sports history, “The Flower” (it’s also a lazy nickname, it’s just his last name translated to English), but that didn’t stop him from becoming one of the Montréal Canadiens’ most popular players. The fact that he was among the best skaters and goal scorers the sport has ever seen probably had something to do with that. Those skills helped him win five Stanley Cups in Montréal, and he became the Canadiens’ all-time leading scorer in the process. He also won three Art Rosses and Lester B. Pearson Trophies, two Hart Trophies, a Conn Smythe and a Canada Cup; not a bad haul for a 17 year season.
But all of that pales in comparison to Lafleur’s most remarkable accomplishment: his 1979 self-titled album, which featured Lafleur reciting hockey tips to a background of disco. It’s possibly the greatest innovation in the history of music, and the fact that it’s not being used to teach children around the world hockey skills is nothing short of a travesty.
The title of “greatest goaltender of all time” is one that can and should be fiercely debated, but I think we can all agree that Dominik Hašek easily takes the prize for the goalie with the greatest name. Plus his nickname is “The Dominator,” which is pretty sweet if you can ignore the unintentional erotic undertones.
Oh, and Hašek won six Vezina Trophies, he was the first goaltender to win back to back Hart Trophies, he led the Czech Republic to their only Olympic gold, he set a playoff record for shutouts and he became the first European goaltender to win the Stanley Cup (and gave other European goalies the chance to enter the NHL in the process). Did I mention that he holds the record for both the best save percentage in a single season, and the best save percentage in a career? Yeah, he’s good.