The Greatest Players in NHL History from A to Z

Adrian Dater@@adaterNHL National ColumnistAugust 5, 2014

The Greatest Players in NHL History from A to Z

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    Aside from the elusive letter X, we have a winner for the greatest NHL players ever according to the first letter of their last name. A couple selections here came about by default because they had little competition in their rarefied nomenclature.

    But they're all worthy winners. Well, until your hate mail rolls in over who should have been named instead. I welcome your disagreements. But of course, that won't happen.

A: Dave Andreychuk

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    Why he's the best: He scored 640 goals in 23 NHL seasons and won a Stanley Cup in Tampa Bay. He's one of the greatest low-post scorers in league history.

    Edged out: Glenn Anderson, Daniel Alfredsson.

    In the ballpark: Sid Abel, Jason Arnott, Tony Amonte, George Armstrong.


B: Ray Bourque

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    Why he's the best: Wow, was this a tough one. There were some great B's here, but Bourque gets the nod because of his longevity—22 seasons—and his incredible play at both ends of the ice. He had 1,579 points as a defenseman—more than most forwards who played the game. He never had a bad season, and he won the Stanley Cup in his final year with Colorado.

    Edged out: Jean Beliveau, Martin Brodeur, Mike Bossy, Rod Brind'Amour, Johnny Bucyk.

    In the ballpark: Andy Bathgate, Brian Bellows, Rob Blake, Neal Broten.

    GLARING OMISSIONS AFTER I HIT "PUBLISH" AND WAS ADMONISHED BY READERS: Pavel Bure, Sean Burke, Frank Brimsek. Not sure how I overlooked Bure, but it happened. 

C: Paul Coffey

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    Why he's the best: Another tough choice here, given Sidney Crosby. But I need a couple of more great years out of Crosby to give him this nod definitively. Coffey gets it because he was one of the game's best skaters. He consistently put up points in his long career and won multiple Stanley Cups.

    Edged out: Bobby Clarke, Dino Ciccarelli, Chris Chelios, Sidney Crosby.

    In the ballpark: Roger Crozier, Wendel Clark, Yvan Cournoyer, Gerry Cheevers.

D: Ken Dryden

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    Why he's the best: He won six Stanley Cups as a starting goalie in eight seasons as a player. Enough said. Yes, it's very tough not naming Marcel Dionne (1,771 points), but it's about winning here.

    Edged out: Alex Delvecchio, Marcel Dionne, Pavel Datsyuk.

    In the ballpark: Vincent Damphousse, Pavol Demitra, Shane Doan.

E: Phil Esposito

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    Why he's the best: Not much debate on this one. Espo remains one of the game's greatest scorers ever. He posted scoring numbers that only Wayne Gretzky made more unimaginable. His 76 goals in 1970-71 remained the NHL record until Gretzky came along. He was also a great player in international competition, as his play in the 1972 Canada Cup illustrates.

    Edged out: Tony Esposito.

    In the ballpark: Ron Ellis, Don Edwards, Patrik Elias.

F: Ron Francis

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    Why he's the best: His excellent play spanned three decades, as he finished with 1,798 points in 23 seasons. He was a winner too, earning Cups in Pittsburgh and going to the Finals with Carolina in 2002.

    Edged out: Grant Fuhr, Sergei Fedorov, Bernie Federko, Theo Fleury, Peter Forsberg.

G: Wayne Gretzky

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    Why he's the best: OK, we're not going there here. He's the Great One. Enough said. But just in case you need a refresher: He had 2,857 points. Nobody else who ever played the game has had more than 2,000.

    Somewhere in the ballpark: Rod Gilbert, Doug Gilmour, Michel Goulet, Eddie Giacomin, Butch Goring.


H: Gordie Howe

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    Why he's the best: Mr. Hockey could do everything—score, pass, defend, even fight (Gordie Howe hat tricks are the most cherished in the game—a goal, assist and fight). He played into his 50s, for goodness sakes. It's tough not to name either Hull here, but when your name is Gordie Howe, you win.

    Edged out: Dale Hawerchuk, Brett Hull, Bobby Hull, Glenn Hall, Dominik Hasek, Doug Harvey.

    In the ballpark: Ken Hodge, Mark Howe, Dale Hunter, Ron Hextall, Kelly Hrudey, Marian Hossa, Milan Hejduk.


I: Jarome Iginla

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    Why he's the best: Not a ton of guys have played the game with the last name starting with this letter, but that's not to slight Iginla's selection. He has well over 1,100 career points and still going strong in Boston before he was sacrificed to the Cap Gods and signed with Colorado.

    In the ballpark: Arturs Irbe, Al Iafrate.

J: Jaromir Jagr

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    Why he's the best: He has over 1,400 NHL games and 1,700 points, which is something when you realize he took a few years off to go back to Russia. He'll go down as one of the most skillful—and most powerful—skaters in history.

    In the ballpark: Curtis Joseph, Craig Janney, Ed Johnston, Joe Juneau.

K: Red Kelly

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    Why he's the best: Tough call here, but Kelly gets it over Jari Kurri and Dave Keon because he was probably the greatest defenseman ever until Bobby Orr came along. He also won eight Stanley Cups.

    Edged out: Jari Kurri, Paul Kariya, Dave Keon.

    In the ballpark: Anze Kopitar, Ilya Kovalchuk, Mike Keane, Dave Kerr, Slava Kozlov, Rick Kehoe, Valeri Kamensky.


L: Mario Lemieux

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    Why he was the best: Le Magnifique was just an incredibly talented player. Even Wayne Gretzky was quoted as saying "I wish I had his talent." It's tough not to name Guy Lafleur or Nicklas Lidstrom here, but when you're up against Mario, you automatically come up a little short.

    Edged out: Guy Lafleur, Pat LaFontaine, Nicklas Lidstrom, Eric Lindros, Brian Leetch.

    In the ballpark: Claude Lemieux, Don Lever, Trevor Linden, Reggie Lemelin, Mike Liut, Harry Lumley, Vincent Lecavalier.

    GLARING OMISSION AFTER I HIT PUBLISH AND WAS ADMONISHED BY READERS: Reggie Leach. One of the best pure goal scorers of his era and I leave him off. Shame.

M: Mark Messier

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    Why he's the best: This looks like an easy pick—after all, it's Mess—but it wasn't. Other than S, more players have had the last name ending with M than any other, and there are great players after the former Oiler, Ranger and Canuck. But Messier scored more than 1,800 points and won six Stanley Cups. He gets the final nod.

    Edged out: Frank Mahovlich, Peter Mahovlich, Mike Modano, Lanny McDonald, Larry Murphy, Al MacInnis, Rick Middleton.

    In the ballpark: Joe Mullen, Kirk Muller, Peter McNab, Rick Martin, John MacLean, Andy Moog, Gilles Meloche, Cesare Maniago, Patrick Marleau.

    GLARING OMISSION AFTER HITTING PUBLISH AND BEING ADMONISHED BY READERS: Stan Mikita. I'm never doing one of these things again. 

N: Joe Nieuwendyk

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    Why he's the best: One of the more underrated players ever, Newy won Stanley Cups with three different teams (Calgary, Dallas and New Jersey) and scored 564 goals in 20 seasons. Scott Niedermayer is tough to overlook, and maybe on another day he'd be the choice, but Newy was a great player.

    Edged out: Scott Niedermayer.

    In the ballpark: Bernie Nicholls, Markus Naslund, Bob Nystrom.

    GLARING OMISSION AFTER HITTING PUBLISH AND BEING ADMONISHED BY READERS: Cam Neely. How did I do that? I grew up a Bruins fan who loved Cam Neely. What an idiot I was for that.

O: Bobby Orr

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    Why he's the best: One of the most legendary players not only in hockey but in all of sports, Orr revolutionized the position of defense and scored 915 points in just 657 games, winning two Stanley Cups.

    In the ballpark: Bert Olmstead, Ed Olczyk, Adam Oates, John Ogrodnick, Terry O'Reilly, Joel Otto, Sandis Ozolinsh, Chris Osgood, Alex Ovechkin.

P: Denis Potvin

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    Why he was the best: It's hard to name someone not named Gilbert Perreault, Jacques Plante or Bernie Parent in this letter category, but Potvin is one of the all-time great defensemen and won four Stanley Cups with the Islanders. He was a great player at both ends (people forget he scored 1,052 points in 1,060 games) and gets the nod.

    Edged out: Gilbert Perreault, Brad Park, Bernie Parent, Jacques Plante.

    In the ballpark: Wilf Paiement, Keith Primeau, Brian Propp, Bob Pulford, James Patrick.


Q: Jonathan Quick

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    Why the best: Only one player with the last name starting in Q has won a Stanley Cup, and it's the Kings goalie. He figures to go on to many more good years with the Kings.

    Edged out: Pat Quinn, Joel Quenneville, Bill Quackenbush, Stephane Quintal, Dan Quinn.

R: Maurice Richard

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    Why he's the best: The Rocket won eight Stanley Cups, was the first player to score 50 goals and brought about social change in the province of Quebec. Oh, and he has a trophy named after him.

    Edged out: Patrick Roy, Luc Robitaille, Henri Richard, Larry Robinson, Mark Recchi, Jean Ratelle, Mike Richter.

    In the ballpark: Gary Roberts, Stephane Richer, Cliff Ronning, Chico Resch, Bill Ranford, Brad Richards.


S: Joe Sakic

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    Why he's the best: A lot of candidates to choose from here—more than any other letter. Sakic gets the nod because of his two Stanley Cups and eighth all-time scoring ranking with 1,641 points in 20 seasons. He also gets added credit for being the MVP of the 2002 Olympics, leading Canada to a gold medal.

    Edged out: Denis Savard, Borje Salming, Brendan Shanahan, Darryl Sittler, Peter Stastny, Teemu Selanne, Marty St. Louis, Scott Stevens.

    In the ballpark: Tomas Sandstrom, Bobby Smith, Cory Stillman, Gary Suter, Brent Sutter, Brian Sutter, Petr Sykora, Ryan Smyth.

    GLARING OMISSIONS AFTER HITTING PUBLISH AND BEING ADMONISHED BY READERS: Billy Smith, Mats Sundin, Terry Sawchuk. I can only hang my head in shame over over all three. Maybe it's time to re-examine my life.

T: Bryan Trottier

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    Why he's the best: Six Stanley Cups and 1,425 points in 18 seasons. Not a tough call here. Joe Thornton might surpass the point numbers, but he needs to win some Cups to get into the serious conversation with Trots.

    In the ballpark: Esa Tikkanen, Rick Tocchet, John Tonelli, Steve Thomas, Dave Taylor, Ian Turnbull, Marty Turco, Joe Thornton.

    GLARING OMISSION AFTER HITTING PUBLISH AND BEING ADMONISHED BY READERS: Jonathan Toews. Guys who are still playing tended to fall to the back of my cranium when doing this thankless assignment. Yeah, that's the ticket.

U: Norm Ullman

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    Why he was the best: He scored 490 goals and 1,229 points in 20 seasons with Detroit and Toronto and was one of the better power forwards of his era.

    Edged out: Garry Unger.

V: Mike Vernon

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    Why he was the best: This was a tough letter to pick despite a dearth of candidates. But Vernon gets the nod because of his Conn Smythe trophy for Detroit in 1997 and previous Stanley Cup win with Calgary in 1989. He won 385 games in 19 seasons.

    Edged out: John Vanbiesbrouck, Rogie Vachon, Georges Vezina, Pat Verbeek.

    In the ballpark: Carol Vadnais, Ed Van Impe, Rick Vaive, Steve Vickers.

W: Gump Worsley

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    Why he's the best: He won four Stanley Cups in a 21-year career. He won 335 games, and his name was Gump.

    Edged out: Doug Weight, Doug Wilson, Kenny Wharram, Glen Wesley, Ray Whitney.

    In the ballpark: Tiger Williams, Ryan Walter, Ed Westfall.

X: Not Applicable

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    We're still waiting for the first NHL player with the last name starting in X to play. Until then, this space remains blank. How about Xcel Energy Center?

Y: Steve Yzerman

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    Why he's the best: One of the game's legends, he's an easy call at most any letter—but especially at Y. He scored 1,755 points and won three Stanley Cups, all with Detroit.

    Somewhere in the ballpark: Scott Young, Warren Young, Alexei Yashin.

Z: Henrik Zetterberg

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    Why he's the best: There's not a lot of other competition, but Zetterberg is a worthy choice because of his continued excellence with Detroit, including a great playoff run in 2008 that won him a Conn Smythe trophy and a Stanley Cup.

    Edged out: Sergei Zubov.

    In the ballpark: Dainius Zubrus, Alexei Zhamnov, Peter Zezel. The Zamboni.