Hockey is Canada's sport.
More than half of the NHL players are born in Canada, and even players born in the United States and Europe are increasingly playing their junior hockey in Canada to improve their chances of being drafted.
But who are the best Canadian players?
This debate comes up every time the Canadian national team is assembled for the Olympics or a World Cup, as players who would be stars for any other country are left off the roster.
I've decided to look at the best players of the last generation—roughly 1980 to the present—and pick an All-Canadian team comprised of 12 forwards, six defensemen and two goalies.
I've limited the field to 1980 for a few reasons.
First, the '80s were the start of the modern era of hockey. Players started training harder and being more professional, and the money was increasing as well.
Second, the further back in time I expanded the search, the harder it was to compare players. Even players from the early '80s played against players who are still playing today.
Third, and perhaps more importantly, video from that time is plentiful. Everyone has seen video of Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux working their magic, even if they didn't watch it live. The number of people who watched Gordie Howe in his prime with the Red Wings is quite a bit smaller.
Born: Jan. 26, 1961, in Brantford, Ontario
Do I really need to explain how the Great One made the list?
Aside from his tremendous playing career, Gretzky also played a huge role in the management of the 2002 and 2010 Canadian national teams that won Olympic gold, as well as the 2004 World Cup-winning team.
Born: Oct. 5, 1965, in Montreal, Quebec
Played 1984 to 1987 and then, after a brief retirement, 2000 to 2006 for the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Aside from his impressive Stanley Cups, Conn Smythe trophies and scoring titles, Mario Lemieux was a clutch player for Team Canada.
In the 1987 Canada Cup, he scored the game winning goal against the USSR. And in the 2002 Olympics, Super Mario captained Team Canada to Olympic gold for the first time in more than 50 years. He then followed it up by captaining the national team to another gold medal in the World Cup during the 2004 NHL lockout.
Born: May 9, 1965, in Cranbrook, British Columbia
Played 1983 to 2006 for the Detroit Red Wings.
More than perhaps any other player on this list, Steve Yzerman personifies leadership. Named captain of the Red Wings in 1986, Yzerman played more than 1,300 games wearing the C. He holds the record as the longest-serving captain in professional sports, not just hockey.
Under his leadership, the Red Wings won three Stanley Cups and took the President's Trophy five times as well.
Yzerman was a leader for Team Canada as well, winning gold in the 1984 Canada Cup, as well as the 2002 Olympics. He would go on to manage the 2010 Olympic team that won gold as well.
His personal stats weren't too shabby either, putting up 1,755 points in 1,514 career NHL games, and another 185 points in 196 playoff games.
Born: July 7, 1969, in Burnaby, British Columbia
Played 1988 to 2009 for the Quebec Nordiques/Colorado Avalanche franchise.
1,641 points in 1,378 regular season games.
188 points in 172 playoff games.
Two Stanley Cups.
A Conn Smythe Trophy.
A Hart Memorial Trophy.
Joe Sakic certainly had a productive NHL career. But he also was great when playing with a red maple leaf jersey on as well.
Sakic is the first player on this list that is a member of the exclusive Triple Gold Club. To be a member, you have to have won a world championship, an Olympic gold medal and also the Stanley Cup.
Burnaby Joe won a world championship in 1994, Stanley Cups in 1996 and 2001 and Olympic gold in 2002. During the gold medal game in 2002, Sakic came up big for Canada, recording four points in the decisive game.
He was part of the Team Canada incarnation that won the 2004 World Cup.
Born: Feb. 21, 1976, in Banff, Alberta
Played 1995 to present for the Edmonton Oilers, New York Islanders, Colorado Avalanche and LA Kings.
I'm sure that including Ryan Smyth, the only player on this list that hasn't won a Stanley Cup, is going to raise some eyebrows at the very least. The closest Smyth has come to the Stanley Cup was the Edmonton Oilers' run to the finals in 2005.
But to me, any team consisting of the best Canadian players has to include "Captain Canada."
Smyth earned his nickname by playing the most games for Team Canada of any player in the modern era. He has played 84 games for Team Canada, and has been named the captain in six different tournaments.
In 1995, Smyth won the World Junior Championships.
In 2003 and 2004, he won the world championships.
In 2002, he won Olympic gold in Salt Lake.
In 2004, he won the World Cup.
Smyth isn't the most talented player on this list by a long shot. But you'd be hard-pressed to find a harder worker, one who isn't afraid to go to the dirty areas to make a play.
And he is also someone who jumps at the chance to represent his country, unlike some other players who prefer to spend their summers on the beach.
Born: Aug. 7, 1987, in Halifax, Nova Scotia
Played 2005 to present for the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Like Super Mario, Sydney Crosby doesn't need much of an introduction. A Stanley Cup (2009), Rocket Richard Trophy (2010), Art Ross Trophy (2007) and a Hart Trophy (2007) are a pretty good start to stocking his trophy case.
Crosby also won a World Junior Championship in 2005, and scored the dramatic overtime goal that clinched the gold medal for Team Canada in the 2010 Olympics.
Not bad for a 23-year-old.
Born: Jan. 22, 1957, in Montreal, Quebec
Played 1977 to 1987 for the New York Islanders.
Mike Bossy had a career shortened by injury, but in his 10 seasons he definitely put his stamp on the NHL record book. Winning four Stanley Cups as part of the great Islanders dynasty in the early '80s, Bossy had a reputation as a clutch scorer.
He is the only player in NHL history to score back-to-back Stanley Cup-winning goals, and is also the only player in NHL history to score all four game winning goals in a single series.
Bossy also holds the NHL record with nine consecutive seasons of 50-plus goals.
The only season of his entire career when he didn't score at least 50 goals was his last season, when he was plagued with the back problems that caused his eventual retirement. Even then he still put up 38 goals and 37 assists in a mere 63 games.
With 573 goals in 752 regular season games, Bossy holds the NHL record with the highest goals-per-game ratio at 0.762 goals per game.
One of the game's best scorers, Bossy may not be familiar to younger NHL fans, but he definitely earns his spot on this list.
Born: July 17, 1956, in Val Marie, Saskatchewan
Played 1975 to 1994 for the New York Islanders and Pittsburgh Penguins.
Aside from his scoring prowess, 1,425 points in 1,279 games, Bryan Trottier has a record that no other player on this list can match.
He has an astounding seven (!) Stanley Cup rings.
As the top line center for the New York Islanders, he won four Stanley Cups as part of this dynasty, picking up the Conn Smythe during the 1980 playoffs as well.
Later in his career, Trottier moved to the Penguins to play the role of the veteran leader, and in this supporting role he earned another two Stanley Cups as the Penguins won back-to-back in 1991 and 1992.
He picked up his seventh Stanley Cup in 2001 as an assistant coach with the Colorado Avalanche.
Including Trottier may be cause for some criticism, as he did shun Canada to play for the US national team in the 1984 Canada Cup. However, despite his dual citizenship, I'd be remiss to not include him as one of the best Canadian players of his generation.
Born: Oct. 2, 1960, in Vancouver, British Columbia
Played 1980 to 1997 for the Edmonton Oilers, Toronto Maple Leafs, New York Rangers and St. Louis Blues.
Glenn Anderson has six Stanley Cup rings, winning five during the glory days of the Edmonton Oilers. He picked up the sixth as part of the Oilers reunion on Broadway when the New York Rangers won the Stanley Cup in 1994.
With 93 goals and 214 points in 225 playoff games, Anderson certainly produced in the playoffs. But it was the timing of goals that cemented his reputation as a clutch scorer. He scored five NHL playoff goals (third on the all-time list), and had a total of 17 game winning goals in the playoffs (fifth on the all-time list).
Born: April 29, 1988, in Winnipeg, Manitoba
Played 2007 to present for the Chicago Blackhawks.
Jonathan Toews earned his way onto this list by being both one of the NHL's rising young stars, but also one that embodies traditional Canadian hockey as well.
In his short career, Toews has managed to earn entry into the exclusive Triple Gold Club by winning the Stanley Cup in 2010, Olympic gold in 2010, and winning the world championships in 2007. He also earned a pair of gold medals in the 2006 and 2007 World Junior Championships.
Toews earned the Conn Smythe as playoff MVP in 2010, and was Canada's most productive forward with eight points at the 2010 Olympic Games.
The perfect example of his leadership and drive to win occurred during Game 7 of the first-round series between his Blackhawks and Vancouver Canucks during the 2011 playoffs.
Down a goal, and with less than a minute to play, Toews stole the puck and went end to end, scoring a dramatic game tying goal from his knees while being checked by two Canucks. All this while being shorthanded too.
The Blackhawks would end up losing in overtime, but they never would have gotten there if not for the gutsy play of their captain.
Born: Aug. 9, 1964, in Belleville, Ontario
Born to a hockey legend, the apple didn't fall far from the tree when it came to Brett Hull.
One of the NHL's best goal scorers, Hull scored 741 times in the regular season and another 103 times in the playoffs.
He won the Stanley Cup in 1999 with the Dallas Stars and again in 2002 with the Detroit Red Wings.
Hull scored 50 goals in 50 games twice in his career. The only other player to achieve this feat was Wayne Gretzky.
Hull's inclusion on this list is not without controversy, as he never played a game for Team Canada, despite his citizenship.
Early complaints about his all around game and fitness led Team Canada snubbing him, at which point Hull took advantage of his dual citizenship to play for the US national team, which actually wanted him.
Still, he was without a doubt one of the best Canadian born players.
Born: Jan. 23, 1969, in Etobicoke, Ontario
Played 1987 to 2009 for the New Jersey Devils, St. Louis Blues, Hartford Whalers, Detroit Red Wings and New York Rangers.
A member of the elite Triple Gold Club, Shanahan won the world championships in 1994, and Olympic gold in 2002. He also won three Stanley Cups with the Detroit Red Wings.
Aside from being a great goal scorer, Shanahan could also impact a game with his fists. He holds the unofficial record with 17 Gordie Howe hat tricks to his name.
Born: Aug. 31, 1973, in Edmonton, Alberta
Played 1991 to 2010 for the New Jersey Devils and Anaheim Ducks.
Arguably one of the best defencemen of his generation—or at least one of the few that could give Niklas Lidstrom a run for the title—Scott Niedermayer is simply a winner.
At every level since he was a teenager, he has won.
Memorial Cup? Check. (1992)
World Junior Championship? Yep. (1991)
Stanley Cup? Won it four times. (1995, 2000, 2003 and 2007)
World championship? He had time to win it in 2004, since he wasn't busy in the playoffs due to the lockout.
World Cup? Gold (2004) and silver (1996).
Olympics? Two gold medals. (2002 and 2010)
Niedermayer is so far past the fabled Triple Gold Club that they need to invent a new club just for him. If there is a championship of any worth, he has won it.
Born: Oct. 10, 1974, in Dryden, Ontario
Played 1993 to present for the Hartford Whalers, St. Louis Blues, Edmonton Oilers, Anaheim Ducks and Philadelphia Flyers.
Chris Pronger is one of those players that you loathe—unless he is on your team. A towering behemoth who actively looks to take cheap shots whenever possible, Pronger also holds the record for the number of times he has been suspended in the NHL playoffs.
However, he isn't just a Slapshot parody. He can actually play.
Pronger has won the Norris Trophy as the NHL's best defenceman and also the Hart Trophy as the NHL's most valuable player, both in 2000.
He helped the Oilers make it to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2005, and the Flyers to make it there in 2010. He also won the Cup while with Anaheim in 2007. And Pronger has picked up a pair of gold medals from the 2002 and 2010 Olympics.
Born: June 1, 1961, in York, Ontario
Paul Coffey won three Stanley Cups with the Oilers and then another Stanley Cup with the Penguins. However, his impact on the record book is far greater than the sum of his championships.
Coffey holds the following records:
- Most goals (12), assists (25) and points (37) by a defenceman in a single playoffs
- Most goals (48) in a season by a defenceman
- Longest point streak (28 games) by a defenceman
- And, unofficially, the player on this list who has played for the most teams, with nine franchises in a 21-year career.
Coffey is also second only to Ray Bourque for career goals, assists and points by a defenceman.
Born: Dec. 28, 1960, in Saint-Laurent, Quebec
Played 1979 to 2001 for the Boston Bruins and Colorado Avalanche.
While he only has a single Stanley Cup to his credit, Bourque was consistently good throughout his career. Over 21 seasons, he won five Norris Trophies as the NHL's best defenceman.
And no small feat, he holds the NHL records for career goals (410), assists (1,169) and points (1,579) by a defenceman.
Oh, and he was also named to the All-Star game every single year of his career, without fail.
Born: Oct. 29, 1953 in Hull, Quebec
Played 1973 to 1988 for the New York Islanders.
Potvin captained the Islanders in their dynasty years, collecting four Stanley Cups. Along the way, he also picked up three Norris Trophies.
When he retired in 1988, Potvin was the NHL's leader for career goals (310), assists (742) and points (1,052) by a defender, although those marks would be surpassed by Paul Coffey and Ray Bourque in latter years.
Born: Dec. 10, 1969, in Simcoe, Ontario
Played 1989 to 2010 for the LA Kings, Colorado Avalanche and San Jose Sharks.
A member of the elite Triple Gold club, Blake won Olympic gold in 2002, the world championship in 1994 and 1997 and the Stanley Cup in 2001.
Blake also won the Norris Trophy as the NHL's top defenceman in 1998.
Born: Oct. 5, 1965, in Quebec City, Quebec
Played 1985 to 2003 for the Montreal Canadiens and Colorado Avalanche.
Saint Patrick won a total of four Stanley Cups over his career, and more astoundingly he also holds the NHL record with three Conn Smythe trophies as the most valuable player in the playoffs.
Roy is also the youngest player ever to win the Conn Smythe, picking it up for the first time when he was only 20.
Roy can also be credited with both inspiring a whole generation of Quebec-born goalies, but also with making the butterfly style popular.
Born: May 6, 1972, in Montreal, Quebec
Played 1991 to present for the New Jersey Devils.
Three Stanley Cups and four Vezina trophies.
Barring injury, Brodeur will be atop every single statistical category for goalies by the end of his career.
He has also picked up a gold medal (2002) as the starting goalie and another as the backup goalie (2010) in the Olympics.
But that doesn't even encompass Brodeur's impact on hockey.
First, Brodeur was the goalie on the team that instigated the dead puck era, the 1995 New Jersey Devils. His stats might be inflated due to the system his team played, but if Brodeur wasn't good enough to win, we may not have had to live through that boring decade of trapping hockey.
Second, in 2005 the NHL brought in a new rule specifically to handicap Brodeur, and others who sought to imitate him, by limiting the areas where a goalie was allowed to handle the puck.