NHL99 – a project that ranks the best players in modern NHL history

NHL99 – a project that ranks the best players in modern NHL history

Who is the greatest NHL player of all time?

Easy, right? Wayne Gretzky.

Who else but the player who, over a 20-year NHL career, scored the most goals, assists and points in league history? At the time Gretzky retired, he held 61 NHL records and the most that still stands today.

Gretzky’s place at the top of the charts hardly seems debatable, so we won’t debate it. Instead, it’s the other 99 places that follow the number 99 that we need to solve.

Welcome to NHL99, a project that aims to put a new spin on a familiar idea: Who are the 100 greatest players in post-1967 NHL expansion history? Let’s face it, there have been several previous attempts to name the greatest players of all time, so this is our starting point and main adjustment.

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 place to start. Because? Because that’s when the game and the business of hockey fundamentally changed. Instead of six teams, there were suddenly 12. Instead of a league dominated almost exclusively by Canadians, there came a trickle and eventually a flood of players from all corners of the globe.

Today the countdown begins. We’re calling it NHL99 because there are 99 spots up for debate on our top 100 list, and the number 99 resonates with hockey fans everywhere.

So, spoiler alert, Wayne Gretzky is #1 on our list. One could argue that Gretzky belongs in the Hall of Fame in two categories: as a player and as a builder. Arguably, no individual did more to grow the game of the NHL, on and off the ice, than Gretzky.

But it gets interesting and controversial after Gretzky. Nine writers of The Athletic Voted on this project: Eric Duhatschek, Dom Luszczyszyn, Shayna Goldman, Ian Mendes, Scott Wheeler, Sean Gentille, Michael Russo, Sean McIndoe and James Mirtle. Voters each submitted a list of 100 players in the spring of 2022, before the start of the playoffs, and points were awarded based on position: 100 points for No. 1 on the list, one point for No. 100, etc. . Gretzky scored a perfect 900 points. At the end of the project, we will announce everyone’s ballots and point totals. If this sounds familiar, that’s because The Athletic has done similar projects with him N.B.A, NFL i MLB.

With our top 100 list established, the countdown begins now. But this is more than a countdown. From now until February, we’ll be unveiling one player a day, six days a week, along with an in-depth feature, we hope, full of stories, angles and anecdotes about these players that you’ve never read before. More than 40 writers from all over the world The Athletic writing has contributed to this project.

Now, some important caveats about the process, starting with an acknowledgment that any list discussing the best of all time will be subjective and may involve some recency bias. And again, our focus is strictly on the NHL from 1967 to the present.

This should be made abundantly clear because you won’t find Gordie Howe on our list. It’s sacrilege to have a list of greatest players of all time without Mr. Hockey? Maybe, but Howe only played 369 NHL games since 1967-68 and spent six seasons in the WHA. So it’s out. You won’t find Bobby Hull or Maurice Richard or Howie Morenz either.

Our thorniest and trickiest picks involved players straddling both ends of the spectrum. Some slipped through the cracks because their biggest hits came before 1967. Some, who will eventually qualify, didn’t make the list because they’re still in the early stages of their careers.

Our threshold was 400 games completed by the end of the 2021-22 regular season, which is the criteria for games played to qualify for an NHL pension. So Auston Matthews (407 career games) made it, just barely. Cale Makar did not; he has played in only 173 NHL regular season games. It’s a hard line to draw, but it has to be drawn somewhere.

The overall goal was simple: tell 100 compelling stories about 100 impactful players in the NHL, and ultimately, perhaps, spark a conversation about who might have made the list and been overlooked.

One caveat though: if you want to add your favorite player or dispute one of our selections, you’ll also need to subtract someone from the list.

What you’ll discover over time, as the list grows, can be easier said than done.

(Photo: Bruce Bennett, Gregory Shamus, Mike Powell, Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

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