Ranking the Top 10 NHL Hockey Players of All Time
The greatest players in NHL history revolutionized the game. Whether it was Bobby Orr proving a defenseman can be a scorer, Wayne Gretzky owning the league or Gordie Howe playing in five different decades, they became transcendent figures in the sport.
But who's the greatest?
More than half of the top 10 was captured largely in black and white during their professional days, so most players featured are of yesteryear. Although past generations still rule, one current star managed to sneak onto the list.
The most notable exclusions are Nicklas Lidstrom, Terry Sawchuk, Dominik Hasek, Jaromir Jagr, Martin Brodeur, Patrick Roy and Doug Harvey. And that's one heck of an honorable mention group.
10. Sidney Crosby
After watching Sidney Crosby hoist the Stanley Cup for the third time in his career, it probably became difficult for hockey historians to deny Sid the Kid a spot in the top 10.
The No. 1 overall pick of the 2005 NHL draft, Crosby established himself as a legend before turning 30. In addition to the trio of Cup wins, he's won four Prince of Wales Trophies, three Ted Lindsay Awards and each of the Conn Smythe, Art Ross and Maurice Richard Trophies twice.
Through the 2017-18 regular season, he's amassed 411 goals and 705 assists. Crosby, who has notched five 100-point years, should continue rising up the top 10 before his career is over.
9. Bobby Hull
Although his son Brett eventually put up more impressive numbers in the NHL, Bobby Hull carved out a place in history thanks to his speed as a skater and shooter. That combination resulted in his nickname, The Golden Jet.
The left winger registered five 50-goal seasons in the NHL, ending a 15-year career as a member of the Chicago Blackhawks with 604 goals. He ultimately crept to 610—which at the time ranked second and is now 17th—following seven seasons with the Winnipeg Jets of the WHA.
Hull won the Hart Memorial Trophy (MVP) in 1964-65 and 1965-66 and secured 12 All-Star berths while in the NHL.
8. Guy Lafleur
Gut Lafleur was both productive and consistent at a legendary rate.
From 1974-75 through the 1979-80 season, the Montreal Canadiens right winger posted at least 100 points. Not only was Lafleur the first player to reach the century mark in six consecutive years, but he tallied no fewer than 119 in each of those seasons.
Though his Montreal career ended unceremoniously, he's remembered for winning five Stanley Cups with the franchise and a pair of MVPs. Lafleur's 1,353 points still rank 27th in NHL history.
7. Mark Messier
Mark Messier's 26-year NHL tenure included 12 seasons as a member of the Edmonton Oilers, two stints with the New York Rangers and a three-year stop for the Vancouver Canucks.
The 15-time All-Star celebrated the majority of his accomplishments with the Oilers, winning five Stanley Cups and claiming one MVP honor. He won another championship with the Rangers in 1994, providing clutch moments in both the conference and Cup finals.
Messier crested the 100-point mark six times—including 107 in a second MVP season, this time in New York—and sits third in NHL history with 1,887 career points.
6. Jean Beliveau
Even if you include the 1950-51 and 1952-53 campaigns when Jean Beliveau made a total of five appearances, the Canadiens legend won a Stanley Cup in exactly half of the seasons he played.
That's just absurd.
A 1972 Hall of Fame inductee, Beliveau won 10 championships and twice led the league in goals. He's one of only 47 players in history to hit the 1,200-point mark, amassing 1,219 for his career.
Beliveau won the Hart Trophy twice, the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP in 1965 and made 13 All-Star teams.
5. Maurice Richard
The first player in history to notch 50 markers in a campaign, Maurice "Rocket" Richard is the namesake of the award now given to the league's top goal scorer at season's end.
Richard, who earned 14 All-Star nods, accomplished the feat in a 50-game 1944-45 season. He won eight championships with the Canadiens over an 18-year career and also became the first player to 500 goals.
When he retired, Richard's 544 markers stood as an all-time record. He totaled 965 points in 978 appearances en route to a 1961 induction into the Hall of Fame.
4. Mario Lemieux
One of the greatest goal scorers ever, Mario Lemieux owns four of the 17 highest single-season outputs in league history. Wayne Gretzky is the only other player to tally 69 goals on four separate occasions.
Lemieux began his storied Pittsburgh Penguins days with six consecutive 100-point campaigns, peaking at 199—the fifth-most ever—prior to an injury-shortened 1990-91. He'd ultimately record four more 100-point years despite a bout with cancer interrupting the prime of his career.
After initially retiring in 1997, he soon became the majority owner of the financially ruined franchise. Lemieux eventually returned to the ice in 2000 and played five more seasons.
The Pittsburgh legend totaled 1,723 points, won three Hart Trophies and two Stanley Cups and made nine All-Star teams.
3. Bobby Orr
Famous for his leaping celebration in the 1970 Stanley Cup Final, Bobby Orr was the first historic offensive defenseman.
In 1969-70, he became the first defenseman to ever lead the league in points (120). Orr finished second with a career-high 139 the next season before returning to the No. 1 spot with 135 in 1974-75.
But his offensive contributions are only part of Orr's greatness; he secured eight straight Norris Trophies as the league's top defenseman.
Injuries shortened his career, but Orr notched 270 goals and 645 assists for 915 points—all of which were records for his position at the time—in just 657 games.
2. Wayne Gretzky
The Great One is the best scorer ever, and it's not close.
For a simple explanation of Wayne Gretzky's dominance, consider this: He totaled 1,963 assists over his 21 years. No player in history has collected more goals and assists combined than he has assists, and you can add 894 more goals to that account.
Mario Lemieux is the only other player to register 160 points in a season, hitting the mark four times. Gretzky did it nine times, maxing out at 215 and breaking 200 four times.
Gretzky, who hoisted the Stanley Cup four times, captured 18 All-Star nods, 10 Art Ross Trophies and nine Hart Trophies. He holds numerous career records—most notably points, goals and assists—in both the regular season and playoffs.
1. Gordie Howe
Gordie Howe broke into the NHL with the Detroit Red Wings in 1946. After 32 professional seasons—and even skating alongside his sons Marty and Mark—the right winger played his last game in 1980.
Mr. Hockey spent 25 years in Detroit, winning six league MVP awards, six scoring titles and four Stanley Cup championships. He became the author of the "Gordie Howe Hat Trick," which is accomplished with a goal, assist and a fight in a single game.
Howe, who also played six seasons in the WHA, wrapped up his career with 41 points as a member of the Hartford Whalers. Otherwise, 1,809 of his 1,850 NHL points happened in Detroit.
Nobody has appeared in more NHL games (1,767), and his 22 consecutive 20-goal NHL seasons remain unmatched. Those marks are likely to stand the test of time.