NHL Network Radio’s Top 100 NHL Players From The First 100 Years

Top 100 NHL Players From The First 100 Years
Gordie Howe and Wayne Gretzky #99 of the Los Angeles Kings hold pucks with the number of career points after Gretzky broke Howe's career points record during the game against the Edmonton Oilers on October 15, 1989 at the Northlands Coliseum in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.

With the National Hockey League celebrating its 100th birthday this November, the league saw fit to recognize the Top 100 Players over that first century.  The league chose not to rank the players numerically.

Here at Sirius XM NHL Network Radio, we decided to get into the celebratory mood with our own Top 100 NHL Players list.  Except we decided to rank them. 1 to 100.  Cue the debate.

The very nature of a Best of List mandates that it be exclusive, not inclusive.  There is no way a Top 100 list of anything (albums, films, great restaurants) will not end up offending someone somewhere.

What measuring stick is applied? How does one compare eras, particularly regarding players most of us never saw play?  The short answer is, you don’t.  Yet we sally forth, determined to measure the unmeasurable.

How much weight is given to individual accomplishments versus team accomplishments?  Did a player make his team better, or did he benefit from being part of a strong squad?  Or both? And is longevity key?

And, yes, being a part of a Stanley Cup-winning team matters in the rankings.

The general rule-of-thumb is this…how much of an impact did said player have on the era he played in?  Was he at, or near, the top of his position for at least half a decade? When it comes to comparing players from different eras, it is a thankless task.  The best manner in which to proceed with this vainglorious exercise is to determine which player made a bigger splash in their respective eras.

Proximity matters; notice that the official NHL Top 100 Players of All-Time list is comprised of 67% of players drawn from the post-expansion era (1967). There were more players around due to more teams in the league, yet more importantly, we feel we can somewhat realistically compare a Dave Keon to a Steve Larmer to a Jarome Iginla than we can compare those fine players to a Babe Siebert, or an Eddie Shore, or a Charlie Conacher.  In part that’s the product of televised games, increasingly intensified media coverage over the decades, and finally, the advent of social media.

Initially, I wanted to just keep the list to players from 1967 onwards, as I saw almost all of those gentlemen play.  Yet the challenge was to squeeze in the older stars, and that we have done.  At the expense of many great players from our era.

Meaning great players will naturally be left off this list.  You should see the roster comprised of players ranked from 101 to 150.  Stellar.  But that’s half the fun (pain) of compiling such a list; who makes the cut?  Who doesn’t?

There were no quotas to be met during this exercise.  If I thought a player should be on the list, they are there, regardless of nationality, teams played for, East or West Coast sensitivities, or prevailing public opinion.  If I were to start from scratch and draw up this list again, no doubt some names would be swapped out for others, and the running order would be altered, maybe even significantly.  The list is never static, though it will be for this one time.

As for younger players such as Connor McDavid or Auston Matthews, check back in five years; a half-decade is probably a big enough sample size to determine if any of the rising stars of the NHL can crack this list.

Keep in mind after the top 20, one could make the argument any of the other players could fit anywhere on this list.  Is player #25 that much better than player #73?  The answer is no. And while we’re at it, even the Top 20 is up for debate.

Already having shown this list of a number of people, everybody generally liked the names but couldn’t understand why “their guy” wasn’t higher in the rankings.  If you were to cobble together your own Top 100 List (and we encourage you to do so), you’ll see how unpopular you quickly become.

Here now, for your perusal, ridicule, and hopefully engaging enjoyment, is the Sirius XM NHL Network Radio final list of The Top 100 NHL Players from the First 100 Years of the National Hockey League:

  1. Wayne Gretzky
  2. Bobby Orr – D
  3. Gordie Howe***
  4. Mario Lemieux
  5. Mark Messier
  6. Martin Brodeur – goalie
  7. Jean Beliveau***
  8. Doug Harvey – D***
  9. Patrick Roy – goalie
  10. Nicklas Lidstrom – D
  11. Dominik Hasek – goalie
  12. Bobby Hull
  13. Terry Sawchuk – goalie***
  14. Denis Potvin – D
  15. Maurice Richard***
  16. Bryan Trottier
  17. Jacques Plante – goalie***
  18. Eddie Shore – D***
  19. Sidney Crosby
  20. Steve Yzerman
  21. Phil Esposito
  22. Bobby Clarke
  23. Jaromir Jagr
  24. Red Kelly – D***
  25. Guy Lafleur
  26. Mike Bossy
  27. Jari Kurri
  28. Alexander Ovechkin
  29. Scott Niedermayer – D
  30. Glenn Hall – goalie***
  31. Larry Robinson – D
  32. Ray Bourque – D
  33. Pavel Datsyuk
  34. Stan Mikita
  35. Joe Sakic
  36. Ron Francis
  37. Brett Hull
  38. Henri Richard
  39. Howie Morenz***
  40. Ken Dryden – goalie
  41. Dave Keon
  42. Chris Chelios – D
  43. Peter Stastny
  44. Pierre Pilote – D***
  45. Brendan Shanahan
  46. Frank Mahovlich
  47. Teemu Selanne
  48. Duncan Keith – D
  49. Marcel Dionne
  50. Bill Durnan – goalie***
  51. Serge Savard – D
  52. Georges Vezina – goalie***
  53. Andy Bathgate***
  54. Ted Kennedy***
  55. Jonathan Toews
  56. Max Bentley***
  57. Sergei Fedorov
  58. Zdeno Chara – D
  59. Jarome Iginla
  60. King Clancy*** – D
  61. Evgeni Malkin
  62. Ted Lindsay***
  63. Johnny Bower – goalie***
  64. Harry Howell – D***
  65. Bernie Parent – goalie
  66. Brian Leetch – D
  67. Peter Forsberg
  68. Borje Salming – D
  69. Norm Ullman
  70. Chris Pronger – D
  71. George Hainsworth – goalie***
  72. Jean Ratelle
  73. Milt Schmidt***
  74. Al MacInnis – D
  75. Syl Apps***
  76. Drew Doughty – D
  77. Paul Coffey – D
  78. Dale Hawerchuk
  79. Darryl Sittler
  80. Adam Oates
  81. Pavel Bure
  82. Brad Park – D
  83. Patrick Kane
  84. Eric Lindros
  85. Mats Sundin
  86. Mike Modano
  87. Babe Dye***
  88. Joe Malone***
  89. Johnny Bucyk
  90. Elmer Lach***
  91. Rod Gilbert
  92. Aurele Joliat***
  93. Tony Esposito – goalie
  94. Pat LaFontaine
  95. Bernie Geoffrion
  96. Denis Savard
  97. Bill Cook***
  98. Gilbert Perrault
  99. Alex Delvecchio***
  100. Bryan Hextall***

Just missing the cut:

The likes of Cam Neely, Lanny McDonald, Doug Gilmour, Michel Goulet, Joe Thornton, Rod Langway, Steven Stamkos, Bernie Federko, Tim Horton, John Tavares, Clark Gillies, Ed Belfour, Jeremy Roenick, Paul Kariya, Charlie Conacher, Erik Karlsson, Carey Price, Ryan Getzlaf, Daniel Alfredsson, Rick Martin, Patrick Marleau, Jacques Lemaire, Rogie Vachon, Corey Perry, Guy Lapointe, Olaf Kolzig, Steve Shutt, Doug Weight, Glenn Anderson, Gerry Cheevers, Brent Sutter, Gary Unger, Peter Bondra, Roger Crozier, Dennis Hull, Henrik Zetterberg, Brian Sutter, and Gary Doak.  There is only so much room on the list.

31 players predominately before 1967***
69 players predominately after 1967

22 NHL Teams represented

Montreal Canadiens 17
Toronto Maple Leafs 11
Detroit Red Wings 11
Boston Bruins 9
Chicago Blackhawks 9
New York Rangers 8
Edmonton Oilers 4
Pittsburgh Penguins 4
New York Islanders 4
Philadelphia Flyers 3
St. Louis Blues 3
Buffalo Sabres 2
New Jersey Devils 2
Calgary Flames 2
Quebec Nordiques 2
Colorado Avalanche 2
Kings, Stars, Canucks, Capitals, Jets, Whalers, & Ducks 1 each

Goalies – 13
Defencemen – 23
Forwards – 64

Canadian born – 79
American born – 5
European born – 16