The Best Players Ever - Round of 32 - First Heat

Jared Wickerham

Who among this group doesn't belong in the discussion about the best hockey players to ever play the game?

The wildcard vote is over, and there was at least one surprise for me among the five players voted in. Mike Bossy, Mark Messier, Sidney Crosby, and Patrick Roy all seem like reasonable choices to me, but that fifth and final slot went to the surprising Bryan Trottier, who snuck into fifth place with 5% of the vote. Adding those five to the players who had already qualified, there are now thirty-two contenders vying for a spot among the top ten players ever.

But as surprising as Bryan Trottier's inclusion was, it wasn't the biggest surprise for me as I was compiling the final list. There are, interestingly, very few players included from the 1940s. This makes some sense (World War Two), but it's surprising to me that players like Charlie Conacher, Max Bentley, Sweeney Schriner, and Bill Cowley were all snubbed in favor of players in previous or later eras.

Anyroad, I've broken the thirty-two players who were selected into four groups, and over the next two weeks, each of those groups will see two players eliminated. I've written a brief review of each of today's eight contenders below, and the poll at the end will ask you which of these eight should be eliminated from contention. The two players with the most votes are out. The voting will be open until Sunday afternoon, and the second group will be up on Monday.

Mike Bossy (1977-1987) - Bossy only played in the NHL for ten seasons, but he was named to a First or Second Team All-Star in eight of them, and was a top-ten goalscorer in nine. He won four Stanley Cups with the Islanders and won the Conn Smythe trophy in 1981-82. Bossy is one of just two players with five sixty-goal seasons (the other is Gretzky). Among players with at least 200 career NHL games, Bossy's goal per game rate of 0.76 is the best in the league's history and his point per game rate of 1.50 is currently good enough for third.

Wayne Gretzky (1978-1999) - Probably the best player ever, so there isn't much chance of The Great One being eliminated at any stage of these proceedings. Gretzky owns the NHL record for goals, assists, points, and points per game in both the "career" and "single season" categories. Gretzky won the Hart Memorial Trophy a record nine times, and was named to the First or Second Team All-Star fifteen times. He was named the Conn Smythe winner on two of the four occasions his team won the Stanley Cup, and produced at least a point per game in each of the seventeen instances his team made the playoffs.

Doug Harvey (1947-1969) - One of the best defensemen to ever play the game, Harvey didn't actually arrive in the NHL until he was almost 23 years old. In his fifth season, at age 27, Harvey was named a First Team All-Star for the first time (he would earn that honor nine more times). He wouldn't win his first Norris Trophy until he was 30, but would go on to win six more, the last Norris coming in 1961-62 at age 37 after being the Canadiens traded him to the New York Rangers because of his stumping for fairer wages.

Jaromir Jagr (1990-2014) - Jagr's currently tenth on the all-time goals list with 683 and eighth on the all-time points list with 1,691. This despite the fact that Jagr missed half of his 22-year-old season, all of his 32-year-old season, and half of his 40-year-old season because of labor stoppages, and spent three seasons from age 36 to 38 playing in the KHL. Since the end of the 1994-95 lockout, Jagr has seven of the top twenty point per game seasons (the Pittsburgh Penguins have 14!) and five of the top twenty-five goal per game seasons.

Newsy Lalonde (1906-1928) - Lalonde played in the first professional hockey league on record, the International Professional Hockey League, and was named a Second Team All-Star at age 18. He would go on to play on the first edition of the Montreal Canadiens, lead three different professional leagues in scoring (the NHA, the PCHA, and the NHL), and play in the first-ever NHL game in December of 1917. Lalonde was 29 when the NHL came into existence, yet among players with at least 50 NHL games, Lalonde is the all-time leader with 1.26 goals per game (in 99 games), and one of just two players in the history of the NHL to have played at least 20 NHL games and average at least one goal per game.

Stan Mikita (1958-80) - Mikita won the Art Ross Trophy four times in his twenty full seasons (plus bits on either end) with the Chicago Blackhawks, and finished among the top five scorers five more times. He never led the league in goals, but he did finish in the top six on seven different occasions, and currently sits 29th on the all-time list with 541 goals and 14th with 1,467 points. Mikita was named a First or Second Team All-Star eight different times and won the Hart Trophy in both 1966-67 and 1967-68.

Howie Morenz (1923-37) - Morenz played during a very interesting transition time for hockey. We talk some about rule changes impacting the game now, but that's nothing compared to what Morenz had to deal with. When he started his career, the forward pass was illegal full-stop, but the league began experimenting for the 1927-28 season, and by 1929-30 forward passes were allowed in all three zones. Morenz excelled regardless. He won he Hart Trophy three times (1927-28, 1930-31, and 1931-32), was a top-ten goalscorer for nine consecutive seasons from 1923-24 to 1931-32 and a top-ten point-getter for ten consecutive seasons from 1923-24 to 1932-33.

Patrick Roy (1984-2003) - Roy played eighteen full seasons in the NHL, and his save percentage was better than average in exactly eighteen of them. Roy faced 28,353 shots during the regular season and stopped 25,807. An average goaltender would have stopped 25,376 over that time period for a difference of 431 goals, or about 23.9 better than average (not replacement level) per season. That's an enormous impact, and would be even higher if we were to take Roy's numbers out of the average. Roy was also an excellent playoff performer, and is, in fact, the only player in NHL history to have won the Conn Smythe Trophy (at least) three times.

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