Who is the greatest NHL player of all time?
Easy, right? Wayne Gretzky.
Who else but the player with the most goals, assists and points in league history over a 20-year NHL career? At the time Gretzky retired, he held 61 NHL records and most still stand today.
Gretzky’s place on the charts hardly seems controversial, so we won’t discuss it. Instead, it’s the other 99 points following the number 99 that we need to handle.
Welcome to NHL99, a project that aims to update a familiar concept; Who are the top 100 players in NHL expansion history since 1967? Let’s face it, there have been many attempts in the past to name the greatest players of all time, so that’s our starting point and primary fix.
We didn’t want to go over the same old ground again. Instead, we wanted to try something new, and the post-1967 NHL seemed like a good starting point. Why? Because that’s when the game and the business of hockey fundamentally changed. Instead of six teams, suddenly there were 12. Instead of a league dominated almost exclusively by Canadians, a trickle and eventually a flood of players came from all corners of the globe.
The countdown begins today. We’re calling it NHL99 because there are 99 debaters on our Top 100 list, and the number 99 resonates with hockey fans everywhere.
So, spoiler alert, Wayne Gretzky is #1 on our list. It could be argued that Gretzky actually belongs in the Hall of Fame in two categories: as a player and as a builder. Arguably, no individual has done more to develop the game of the NHL on and off the ice than Gretzky.
But after Gretzky it gets interesting and controversial. Nine writers The Athletic Voices on this project include: Eric Duhaczek, Dom Luszczyzyn, Shayna Goldman, Ian Mendes, Scott Wheeler, Sean Gentile, Michael Russo, Sean McIndoe, and James Myrtle. Each selector submitted a list of 100 players for the spring of 2022 before the playoffs began, and points were awarded based on position: 100 points for No. 1 on the list, one point for No. 100, and so on. . Gretzky scored a perfect 900 points. At the end of the project, we will reveal everyone’s ballots and total points. If this sounds familiar, that’s because it is The Athletic has done similar projects with the NBA, NFL and MLB.
The countdown begins now with our Top 100 Collection list. But this is more than just a countdown. From now until February, we’ll be featuring one player a day, six days a week, as well as an in-depth feature that we hope is full of stories, angles and anecdotes about these players that you’ve never read before. Over 40 writers from around the area The Athletic newsroom contributed to this project.
Now, some important caveats about the process, starting with the fact that any list discussing the greatest of all time is going to be subjective and may include some recent bias. And again, our focus is strictly on the NHL from 1967 to the present.
It should be pretty clear because you won’t find Gordie Howe on our list. Is it sacrilegious to have a list of the greatest players of all time without Mr. Hockey? Maybe, but Howe only played 369 games in the NHL in 1967-68 and spent six seasons in the WHA. So he’s out. You won’t find Bobby Hull or Maurice Richard or Howie Morenz either.
Our toughest and most complex picks included players who straddled both ends of the spectrum. Some slipped through the cracks as their biggest impact didn’t happen until 1967. Some who would eventually qualify did not make the list because they are still early in their careers.
Our threshold was 400 games for skaters (300 for goaltenders) ending at the end of the 2021-22 regular season, which is the NHL’s retirement game criteria. So Auston Matthews (407 career games) barely made it. Kale Makar did not. he played just 173 regular season games in the NHL. It is difficult to draw a line, but it has to be drawn somewhere.
The overall goal was clear. to tell 100 impactful stories about 100 impactful NHL players, and ultimately perhaps spark a conversation about who might have made the list and been overlooked.
However, one caveat. If you want to add your favorite player or challenge one of our picks, you’ll also need to remove someone from the list.
What you’ll discover as the list counts down may be easier said than done.
(Photo by Bruce Bennett, Gregory Shamus, Mike Powell, Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)