Here we are. The stretch run. The final position for our All-Time NHL Team. And what a doozy it was to pick.
I would just like to note that this was the most difficult foursome to come up with as a ton of guys had every right to be here.
I'm omitting names like Jean Beliveau, Bryan Trottier, Joe Sakic, Ron Francis, Stan Mikita, Marcel Dionne and Phil Esposito from the list. That should tell you how special these four men are.
And with that, our first reserve is the longest serving captain in NHL history with 19 seasons of service. It's none other than Motown hero Steve Yzerman.
Steve Y broke into the league in 1983-84, placing second in the Calder voting. After his third season, he would take the helm as captain. Yzerman would continue racking up the points and led the Wings to their first Stanley Cup in 42 years in 1997, picking up two more victories in 1998 and 2002.
For all of his accomplishments, his trophy case is pretty bare, housing a Selke, a Conn Smythe, and a Pearson, most notably.
He did, however, appear in 10 All-Star games and finished his legendary career sixth all-time on the NHL scoring list and second in most team categories (Gordie Howe leading those) except assists, with his 1,063 being the best.
Why Yzerman? Steve was the consummate professional. Never an attention grabber with his words, Yzerman was all business on the ice and led by example.
He was also one of the most consistent scorers of all-time, as example by his 1,755 career points.
As great of a leader as Stevie Y was, our next reserve is known to be the ultimate leader. The master of guarantees, it's Mark Messier.
A third round pick, Messier started his pro career in the WHA, settling in with the Edmonton Oilers through the WHA-NHL merger.
Combining with Gretzky, Kurri, and others, Messier would become a key cog for those dominant Oilers teams of the '80s. After Gretzky's departure in '88, Messier managed to lead the Oil to another Cup win in 1990, taking the Hart trophy with him that season.
Messier would also become famous for his time as a member of the New York Rangers. During the 1994 playoffs, with his Rangers trailing the Devils 3-2 in the Conference Finals, Messier boldly guaranteed a win in game six.
In one of the greatest playoff moments in sports history, Messier delivered a hat trick to help the Rangers pull off the win, leading them to their first Stanley Cup in 54 years.
Messier would leave the game as the second leading scorer all-time, trailing only friend and former teammate Wayne Gretzky.
So why is Messier here? He's arguably the greatest leader the game has known. As clutch as you can get, Messier was as fierce and competitive a player as there's ever been.
He also turned out to be one of the most durable ever, as well, playing in 1,756 career games.
Next up, without a doubt the most talented of the guys on this list and possibly the most talented guy to ever come into the league. He dropped jaws everywhere he went, saved hockey in Pittsburgh; it's Le Magnifique Mario Lemieux.
Breaking into the league in 1984-85, Lemieux began dominating, even scoring a goal on his very first shift. He would break Gretzky's strangle-hold on the scoring and MVP races, taking three Hart's and six Art Ross' through his career.
He helped lead Pittsburgh to back-to-back Stanley Cups in the early '90s before injuries began to take their toll.
Finally getting the best of him, Lemieux retired following the 1997 season to battle lymphoma.
He would make a triumphant return to the game, taking his place as an impact player. It would be short lived, however, as he began to battle chronic back problems that plagued him until his second retirement in 2005.
Lemieux left the game with a tremendous resume but left many wondering what might have been. He registered an incredible 1,723 points in just 915 career games.
He battled Gretzky for several years for the title of "League's Most Dangerous Scorer.”
We'll never know just how far Le Magnifique may have gone, but he delighted and wowed fans for years and sparked the only legitimate debate of someone being better than Gretzky.
So why Super Mario? If all that didn't do it for you, his physical skills may never be matched.
Blessed with great size and reach, Lemieux dangled the puck on a string and placed it where ever he pleased, often embarrassing defenders and goaltenders alike. He simply was a joy to watch.
If it took you this long to figure out who the starter is, shame on you. It should have been obvious when I even started the team. Since I broke down everyone else, I have to do the same here.
Wayne Gretzky is the greatest player the game has ever seen. Doubted by some to be too small and fragile to play in the NHL, he broke into the league in 1979-80 and proceeded to dominate.
He would rip off 13 straight 100 point seasons, including an incredible four 200 point seasons. He would set NHL records for goals (92), assists (163) and points (215) in a season and hit 1,000 career points in just six seasons (!!!!!).
His hardware case is equally impressive. Capturing nine Hart Trophies (eight in a row), 10 Art Ross Trophies (seven in a row), five Lady Byng's, two Conn Smythe's and five Pearson's (four in a row). Those go nicely with his 45 (by my count) NHL records.
He left the game following the 1998-99 season with career marks of 894 goals, 1,963 assists, and 2,857 points, averaging a stupefying 1.921 points per game throughout his career.
So why...ok, you know what? There is no "why" here. The stats show it all.
Gretzky was simply the smartest player to ever play the game. He wasn't tremendously gifted and wasn't the best skater (described as deceptive). He made up for it by having hockey vision like no other, seeing plays before they unfolded and hitting teammates before they knew they were open.
Gretzky arguably made the career of Jari Kurri (500+ career goals) and led the Oiler juggernaut of the '80s. He was just as good in the playoffs as he was in the regular season (1.83 points-per-game in his playoff career).
Simply put: Wayne Gretzky was the greatest player of any lifetime. He did things that may never been seen again and dominated like no other.
These things make him "The Great One.” These things make him the greatest of all-time. These things make him the center of the All-Time NHL Team.
Note: I'm strongly considering an honorable mention piece, just doing a quick career look at each guy, followed by why they could have been on this team. Depends on what you guys think. Let me know if it's something you'd like to see.
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