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Gretzky Index Finale: The Best Possible All-Time Teams Through Different Age Ranges

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2020 Honda NHL All-Star Game Photo by Chase Agnello-Dean/NHLI via Getty Images

After a long hiatus created by the NHL playoffs, I’ve returned to finish my Gretzky Index series.

In the past, I examined the greatest Oilers team possible, as well as the NHL’s all-time team. I’ve outlined the statistical methodology for making those teams in those articles, so if you’re curious about that, give them a click.

In picking these teams, I noticed that Connor McDavid stacked up pretty well against the best in history, despite having only played five seasons so far. My methodology, which combines rate stats and stats that are accumulated against a threshold are designed to give more credit to how good a player’s peak was (or is), as opposed to judging players simply by counting stats, as people often do when making all-time teams in any sport.

Still, McDavid fell short of making the most prestigious teams (all-time NHL), according to the Gretzky Index, mostly because he hasn’t played long enough yet. So, I decided to look at where he ranks against the best players of all-time through their age-23 seasons.

Here are the results (Top 50 skaters since the start of the original 6 era (1942-43)):

Here are the goalies:

And here they are, sorted into positions for a hypothetical all-time 23 and under team, like the one from the last world cup of hockey, but also in a world where time machines exist or whatever:

I also looked at who ranks the highest in certain other age ranges. I’ve found, particularly in baseball, that the majority of great players have established their legacies by the end of their age-33 seasons, and, after that, are as likely to torpedo their career-long rate stats as they are to strengthen their Hall-of-Fame credentials, at least from a value added over the threshold of a league-average player.

Keeping this in mind, here is the Gretzky Index all-time team through age 33:

To highlight my point about how most legacies have essentially been cemented by 33, I’ve highlighted all of the players in green from the 33 and under Gretzky Index all-time team who also appear on the Gretzky Index all-time team for their entire careers. Blue means they fell off the all-time team.

Here is the all-time team with no specified age range. Yellow means they ascended to the all-time team, despite not meeting the criteria through age 33:

Selanne and Lidstrom make sense here, as they remained very productive even in the late stages of their careers. Bossy retired early, which doesn’t seem to make much sense, but, he makes this list because other players hurt their career rate stats by continuing to play beyond their prime seasons, while he retired at his peak. That hurts him in the Points Above Threshold part of the Gretzky Index, but it hurts other players more in the Point Shares per game aspect of the Gretzky Index.

Finally, I applied the same treatment to the 23 and under team. How many of the players with the greatest ever starts to their careers stayed the course, and became all-time inner circle greats?

That’s a pretty good look for McDavid, who’s still only 23 years old. Stamkos still has time to secure his spot on the other all-time teams, as does Erik Karlsson, but it will be a tough feat for both of them.

The others played the best hockey early in their careers, though all of the skaters still made the Hall of Fame.

So, basically, at this point we can assess the low-end of McDavid’s career potential as Hall-of-Fame level, and the high-end is Mount Rushmore-esque legend. Which is nice.