The Best Players Ever - Round of 24 - Fourth Heat

Bruce Bennett

Who among this group isn't one of the ten best players ever?

I'm writing this article before the last votes come in for the third heat, and the voting is close enough that I don't even know who for sure who was eliminated, although things didn't look good for Guy Lafleur when I left. Regardless, I can say that we're down to just twenty-one players with one more heat to go in the round of twenty-four. This vote also promises to be close with Jean Beliveau, Sidney Crosby, Dominik Hasek, Mark Messier, Maurice Richard, and Patrick Roy all competing for a spot in the final twenty. Indivdual profiles for each player can be found at the links below:

Patrick Roy
Sidney Crosby and Dominik Hasek
Jean Beliveau and Mark Messier
Maurice Richard

Before writing this post, I consulted with the Copper and Blue writers, and six shared their picks, with the vote being split three ways for the second time in a row. Three writers voted to eliminate Mark Messier (Alan, Derek, Scott), two voted to eliminate Jean Beliveau (DB, OilYYC) and Ben somehow decided to vote for Maurice Richard.

I was pretty surprised by the votes. I think Messier is the clear out here, but thought we might see a vote for Crosby or Roy. I can't imagine either Richard or Beliveau going so I won't spend too much time defending them. Richard was the most dominant offensive player of the 1940s and was only outclassed by Gordie Howe in the 1950s; he was the first player to score fifty goals in fifty games; and he's a fourteen-time All-Star. He's not going anywhere.

Beliveau is probably a bit less safe because he was never the best player of his generation, but he did win two Hart Trophies, make an All-Star team ten times, and have one of the longest impressive peaks, as evidenced by his tenth-place finish all-time in the chart below:

Best_ever

By way of reminder, this chart is a tally of marks awarded based on offensive performance. A player received five marks for leading the league in goals during a particular season, four marks for finishing second, three marks for third, two for fourth, and one for fifth. I did the same with points and added the totals. A tenth-place finish is pretty impressive.

What's not impressive? Not finishing in the top ten in any of the thirteen-season segments:

Best_ever

I've highlighted all of the forwards in today's vote. Notice that all of the forwards are present in at least two segments with the exception of one who isn't present in any of them. Mark Messier is second on the all-time points list, but that has a lot to do with the era he played in (it was high-scoring, but he also didn't lose a season to lockout or part of his prime playing in the WHA), and the length of his career. That last thing isn't really a negative, just an explanation. It's actually one of Messier's great strengths. But is it enough to get him through this vote? I don't think so.

I tend to value peak performance quite a bit, and when we look at individual seasons, Messier was never among the top five in goals, and was among the top five in points just four times. He was named a First or Second Team All-Star just five times in his entire career, and never more than three times in a row. Like Beliveau, he won two Hart Trophies, but I'm not sure he won them because he was the best player so much as because he was much better than people expected once Gretzky was playing for another team. Mark Messier was a great player, certainly one of the twenty best players of his era. One of the twenty best ever? I can't see it.

That's my opinion. Voice yours by voting and in the comments below! Voting will be open until Wednesday afternoon, with the next installment coming on Thursday.

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