All hockey fans have their own opinions and that’s what makes it so hard to put together an all-time best list. It’s hard to get everybody to agree on the selections, but the statistics don’t lie and that’s why some players simply can’t be ignored. This list of the top 25 NHL players of all time consists of three goaltenders and 22 skaters from various teams. Twenty three of them have at least one thing in common as they’ve all been inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. The other two will certainly join them when their time comes.
Just one player, centre Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins, is still active and another, goaltender Martin Brodeur just retired this past season. Since the game of hockey went through some major changes over the years, this list consists of players who skated from the 1940s onwards. There are some excellent players who have been omitted, but each player here deserves his spot. These players had the skills to shine in any of hockey’s eras, but fortunately for fans there is plenty of film footage and information out there on each one of them.
Great hockey players don’t just excel at their positions, score goals, set up teammates and win trophies. They also exude great leadership qualities and easily fit into a team atmosphere. None of these players got where they did on their own as they were all helped and supported by their families, friends, teammates and coaches along the way. This list could easily change decades from now, but these players’ achievements will never be forgotten and will stand the test of time.
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25 Sidney Crosby
Pittsburgh Penguins’ centre Sidney Crosby leads off this list even though he’s still got a few years to go in his career. The 28-year-old captain has played just 627 regular-season games up to now, but has scored 853 points in them on 302 goals and 551 assists. His 1.360 points per-game ranks him number five all time. Crosby has a Stanley Cup to his name and the first-overall draft pick became the youngest player ever to lead the NHL scoring in his second season with 120 points. He also won the Hart and Pearson Trophies the same campaign and was still just a teenager. The five-time all star still has a long way to go as long as he can stay healthy and is a certainty for the Hall of Fame.
24 Doug Harvey
Bobby Orr may have changed the way defencemen played the game, but Doug Harvey had the same idea several years earlier. Harvey combined excellent defensive skills with his passing prowess and was a playmaker supreme. Harvey’s career spanned from 1947 to 1969 and he skated with the Montreal Canadiens, New York Rangers, Detroit Red Wings and St. Louis Blues. Harvey appeared in 1,113 regular-season fixtures and scored 540 points on 88 goals and 452 assists. The Hall of Famer racked up seven Norris Trophies as the league’s best defenceman along with 10 first all-star team nods and one second-team spot.
23 Terry Sawchuk
Terry Sawchuk tended goal for 20 years in the NHL from 1950 to 1970 with the likes of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Detroit Red Wings, Boston Bruins, Los Angeles Kings and New York Rangers. He played 971 regular season games and posted a W-L-T record of 447-330-173 with a goals-against average of 2.51. Sawchuk also recorded 103 shutouts, which ranks second on the all-time list behind Martin Brodeur’s 125. Sawchuk ranks fifth in both games played for goalies as well as wins. The seven-time all star and Hall of Famer won the rookie of the year award as well as four Vezina Trophies and helped the Red Wings win three Stanley Cups and the Maple Leafs one.
22 Marcel Dionne
A lot of fans may not realize centre Marcel Dionne ranks number six on the NHL’s all-time scoring list with 1,771 points in 1,348 games. He accumulated 731 goals and 1,040 assists between 1971 and 1989 with the Los Angeles Kings, Detroit Red Wings and New York Rangers. The Hall of Famer was a three-time all star who led the league once in scoring. Dionne also ranks fourth all-time in goals, 10th in assists and sixth in points per-game at 1.314. Unfortunately, Dionne’s teams made the playoffs just nine times in 18 seasons and he didn’t win a Stanley Cup. However, he scored 45 points in 45 postseason contests.
21 Paul Coffey
Nobody in NHL history skated as effortlessly as high-scoring defenceman Paul Coffey. He launched his career in 1980 with the Edmonton Oilers and retired 21 years later after 1,409 regular-season games. Along the way he also had stints with the Pittsburgh Penguins, Los Angeles Kings, Detroit Red Wings, Hartford Whalers, Philadelphia Flyers, Chicago Blackhawks, Carolina Hurricanes and Boston Bruins. Coffey’s career consisted of 396 goals and 1,135 assists for 1,531 points at 1.087 points per-game. He’s the second-highest scoring defenceman in NHL history behind Ray Bourque, but had better goals, assists and points per-game numbers. Coffey skated on three Stanley Cup winners with Edmonton and another with the Penguins. The Hall of Famer was an eight-time all star who won three Norris Trophies.
20 Ken Dryden
Never has a goalie accomplished so much in such a short time in the NHL as Ken Dryden of the Montreal Canadiens. Incredibly, Dryden played eight playoff seasons, but just seven regular seasons as he was called up to the Habs late in 1971. He led the team to the Stanley Cup and won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoff MVP. He won the rookie of the year award the next campaign and carried Montreal to another five Stanley Cups. He played just 397 regular season games and posted a record of 258-57-74 with a winning percentage of 75.8 to go along with 46 shutouts and a 2.24 goals-against average. Dryden went 80-32 in the playoffs with another 10 shutouts. The Hall of Famer was a six-time all star and took home five Vezina Trophies before retiring in 1979.
19 Bryan Trottier
Bryan Trottier is often overlooked when it comes to all-time greatest lists, but the Hall of Fame centre certainly deserves recognition. Trottier spent 18 NHL season from 1975 to 1994 and skated with the New York Islanders and Pittsburgh Penguins. He scored 524 goals and 901 assists for 1,425 points in 1,279 contests for an average of 1.114 points per match. Trottier was also an excellent playoff performer as his 184 points in 221 postseason games helped him win four Stanley Cups with the Islanders and another pair with the Penguins. He captured a few individual awards too as Trottier was a four-time all star and rookie of the year won the Art Ross, Smythe and Hart Trophies once each.
18 Ron Francis
Classy centre Ron Francis played 1,731 regular-season games between 1981 and 2004 with the Hartford Whalers, Pittsburgh Penguins, Carolina Hurricanes and Toronto Maple Leafs, with just a dozen games being with Toronto. Francis contributed 549 goals and 1,249 assists for 1,798 points at 1.039 points per-game. He currently sits at number five on the NHL’s all-time scoring list and is second all-time in assists as he posted 0.722 per outing. He helped the Penguins win two Stanley Cups and the Hall of Famer won a Selke Trophy along with three Lady Byng’s during his distinguished career.
17 Guy Lafleur
Whatever hair Guy Lafleur had would flow in the wind as he streaked down the right wing for 20 years from 1971 to 1991. The Hall of Famer made a name for himself with the Montreal Canadiens, but also had brief stints with the New York Rangers and Quebec Nordiques near the end of his career. Lafleur posted 560 goals and 793 assists for 1,353 points and added 134 more in 128 playoff encounters. His postseason play helped him win five Stanley Cups with the Habs and the six-time all star led the league in scoring on two occasions. He also won two Hart and a Smythe Trophy. Lafleur’s 1.202 points per-game rank him 11th of all time
16 Jean Beliveau
Even though he could take care of himself when he had to, there was no classier NHLer than centre Jean Beliveau of the Montreal Canadiens. ‘Le Gros Bill’ skated with the Habs for 18 seasons from 1953 to 1971 and appeared in 1,125 regular season games. The Hall of Famer scored 507 goals along with 712 assists for 1,219 points at 1.084 points per-game. He was even better during the playoffs as he added another 176 points in 162 contests. His postseason performances helped him win 10 Stanley Cups and the 10-time all star also earned a pair of Hart Trophies to accompany his Smythe and Art Ross awards.
15 Maurice 'Rocket' Richard
The first NHL player to reach the 50-goal mark was the one and only Maurice ‘Rocket’ Richard of the Montreal Canadiens back in the 1944-45 campaign. To make it an even more amazing feat, he managed to do it in 50 games. Richard played 978 games with the Habs from 1942 to 1960 and contributed 544 goals and 421 assists for 965 points at a pace of 0.987 points per-game. The Hall of Famer and 14-time all star also won a Hart Trophy and now has an award named after him for the player who scores the most goals each season. Richard added 126 points in 133 playoff games to help the Canadiens win those eight Stanley Cups.
14 Phil Esposito
Centre Phil Esposito was a player who got the most out of his limited skating skills by hanging around the opposition net and pouncing on garbage goals and rebounds between 1963 and 1981. He was very good at it too as he retired with 1,590 points in 1.282 games on 717 goals and 873 assists. The eight-time all star won a pair of Stanley Cups with the Bruins before moving onto the New York Rangers. However, he spent the first four seasons of his career with Chicago. Esposito led the league in scoring five times and also took home two Hart Trophies. He’s number 10 on the all-time scoring list and number two in game-winning goals with 118. Esposito produced 1.240 points per-game, which also ranks him in 10th place.
13 Mike Bossy
Winger Mike Bossy patrolled the right side of the ice for the New York Islanders from 1977 to 1987 and helped them reach the postseason all 10 years. Not only that, the club won four Stanley Cups during Bossy’s tenure. The young Montreal native was a pure sniper who found the back of the net 573 times in 752 regular season games and added 85 more in the playoffs. He also managed to score 50 goals in 50 games. The Hall of Famer also earned 553 assists to retire with 1,126 points. Bossy’s point per-game average of 1.497 rank third in history behind Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux. In addition, his goals per-game mark of 0.762 is the best in NHL history with 82 of his markers being game winners. The rookie of the year and eight-time all star also won three Lady Byng Trophies along with a Conn Smythe.
12 Stan Mikita
Stan Mikita was actually the first European-born player to hit it big in the NHL as he was born in the former nation of Czechoslovakia. Mikita’s birth name was Stanislav Goth and he moved to Canada as an eight-year-old and took the last name of relatives. He fell in love with the game of hockey and would become one of its greatest players. Mikita’s first few years in the league were spent mainly in the penalty box, but he adjusted his attitude and started concentrating o scoring goals and setting up his teammates. The slick centre spent 21 seasons with the Chicago Blackhawks from 1959 to 1980 and scored 541 goals and 926 assists for 1,467 points in 1,394 games. He was an eight-time all star who won a Stanley Cup with the Hawks as well as two Hart and Lady Byng Trophies. Mikita also led the league in scoring four times and put up 1.052 points per-game during his career.
11 Ray Bourque
Ray Bourque makes this list at number 11 and ironically he’s the 11th highest scorer in NHL history and ranks as the top-scoring defenceman ever in goals, assists and points. Bourque played in 1612 games with the Boston Bruins and Colorado Avalanche from 1979 to 2001 and scored 1,579 points on 410 goals and 1169 assists. He produced .980 points per-game and had 60 match-winners. Bourque won the Stanley Cup once with Colorado in his very last season in 2000/01. The five-time Norris Trophy winner and Hall of Famer holds numerous Bruins records and is also the NHL’s all-time leading player in shots on goal with 6.206, which is almost 1,000 more than runner up Marcel Dionne.
10 Bobby Hull
The Golden Jet, otherwise known as Hall of Famer Bobby Hull, was known to fly down the left wing at the old Chicago Stadium at 30 miles per hour and could shoot the puck close to 120 mph. Hull played with the Blackhawks from 1957 to 1972 and then jumped ship to the WHA to play with the Winnipeg Jets. After seven seasons and 300 more goals in the WHA Hull and the Jets joined forces with the NHL. He played his final season split between Winnipeg and the Hartford Whalers. He retired with 610, goals, 560 assists, and 1,170 points to his name in 1,063 regular-season NHL contests for an average of 1.101 points per-game. Hull was a 12-time all star who led the league in scoring three times, won two Hart Trophies and a Lady Byng.
9 Joe Sakic
At number nine on the NHL’s all-time scoring list you’ll find Joe Sakic, who played centre with the Quebec Nordiques and Colorado Avalanche when they moved to Denver. Sakic skated with the franchise from 1988 to 2009 and racked up 1,641 points on 625 goals and 1,016 assists in 1,378 games. He scored 86 game winners and his 1.191 points per-game ranks him 13th all time. Sakic captained the Avalanche to the Stanley Cup in 1995-96 and again in 2000-01. He won several individual awards including the Hart, Conn Smythe, Lady Byng and Lester B. Pearson Trophies. Sakic was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2012 and the Canada Sports Hall of Fame the following year.
8 Martin Brodeur
Goaltender Martin Brodeur, who played from 1991 to 2015, leads the league in several categories. These include games played at 1,266, wins with 691, most playoff shutouts at 24, and regular season shutouts at 125. He leads these categories by quite some margin as he has 23 more shutouts than runner-up Terry Sawchuk, played 237 more games than Patrick Roy, and won 140 more than Roy. He wasn’t a bad puck handler either as Brodeur scored a pair of regular-season goals and added 45 assists with one goal being a game-winner. He also scored a playoff goal and holds numerous other records.
Brodeur also leads the league in losses at 397, which is 45 more than Curtis Joseph. He ranks 12th all-time with a 2.24 goals-against average and his .912 save percentage ties him for 13th place. Brodeur won three Stanley Cups with the New Jersey Devils and spent his entire career with the club other than his final seven games when he joined the St. Louis Blues. Brodeur is a former rookie of the year who also captured seven all-star spots, along with four Vezina and five Jennings Trophies.
7 Steve Yzerman
Centre Steve Yzerman played his entire career with the Detroit Red Wings from 1983 to 2006 and captained the squad for most of those years. He was named captain in 1988 and became the youngest skipper in Red Wings history with the honour. Yzerman played on some terrible teams early in his career, but hung around long enough to win three Stanley Cups. He’s currently number seven on the league’s all-time scoring list with 692 goals and 1,063 assists for 1,755 points at 1.159 points per-game. He scored 50 shorthanded goals along with an eighth-best 94 game winners. The 10-time all star won numerous individual trophies and was named to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2009.
6 Jaromir Jagr
Even though Jaromir Jagr is still playing in the league, there’s no point in waiting until he retires to name him to this list. Heading into the 2015-16 season, Jagr sits fourth in all-time scoring with 1,802 points on 722 goals and 1,080 assists. He’s posted 1.163 points per-game in 1,550 contests with the Pittsburgh Penguins, Washington Capitals, New York Rangers, Philadelphia Flyers, Dallas Stars, Boston Bruins, New Jersey Devils and Florida Panthers. The 43-year-old won two straight Stanley Cups with the Penguins and is the league’s all-time leader in game-winning goals with 129.
Jagr left the NHL in 2008 and played three seasons in the Russian KHL before returning with the Flyers. He’s the leading scorer among active players and the top-scoring European ever in the NHL. Jagr has won several individual awards including five Art Ross Trophies for leading the league in scoring, with four of them coming in a row. There’s no doubt Jagr will be inducted into the Hall of Fame as soon as he’s eligible.
5 Mark Messier
Former Edmonton Oiler, New York Ranger and Vancouver Canuck Mark Messier occupies the spot right behind Wayne Gretzky on the NHL’s all-time scoring list. The centre won five Stanley Cups with the Oilers and added another with New York. He scored 694 goals and 1,193 assists for 1,887 points at an average of 1.075 points per-outing. Messier managed 62 shorthanded goals and 92 game winners. Messier collected 295 playoff points, which is second all time. The 15-time all star won two Hart’s and a Conn Smythe Trophy and is the only NHL player to captain two different teams to a Stanley Cup triumph.
4 Mario Lemieux
Centre Mario Lemieux came on the scene in 1984 and gave Wayne Gretzky a run for his money as title of the greatest player until retiring in 2006. Lemieux was an all star numerous times and won over a dozen individual trophies and a pair of Stanley Cups with the Pittsburgh Penguins. He led the league in scoring half a dozen times and took home the rookie-of-the-year award. He managed to rack up 1,723 points in 915 games for 1.883 points per game, which is second best to Wayne Gretzky. The big centre scored 690 goals and added 1,033 assists and currently sits in eighth place on the all-time scoring list.
Lemieux sat out three years from 1997 to 2000 as he was battling a bad back. He returned, won the Masterton Trophy for dedication and perseverance and played five more years before calling it a day. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame shortly afterwards.
3 Bobby Orr
The game was revolutionized when defenceman Bobby Orr showed the world that blue liners could also lead their teams in scoring if they applied themselves. The Hall of Famer and nine-time all star won 16 individual trophies during his career with the Boston Bruins and Chicago Blackhawks from 1966-78. He won the Norris a record eight times as the league’s best defenceman and also led the NHL in scoring on two occasions. Orr won a pair of Stanley Cups with Boston and the former rookie of the year retired with 270 goals and 645 assists for 915 points in just 657 regular-season games for an average of 1.393 points per game, which is fourth best in history. Sadly, Orr’s career was cut short due to knee injuries.
2 Gordie Howe
Gordie Howe could do it all. He could score, set up teammates, body check and fight. In fact, he was considered by many to be the toughest and perhaps dirtiest player in NHL history. The right-winger ranks number three on the all-time scoring list with 1,850 points on 801 goals and 1,049 assists in 1,767 games. His numbers would be even higher if he hadn’t taken off to the WHA for six seasons. Howe played his entire NHL career with Detroit other than his final season, which was with the Hartford Whalers in 1979-80. He scored 22 points as a rookie in 1946-47 and posted 41 as a 52-year-old before retiring.
Howe won four Stanley Cups as well as a dozen individual trophies with six Hart and six Art Ross awards. The 21-time all-star was known as Mr. Hockey and was elected to the Hall of Fame as quickly as possible. He’s second all-time in goals scored, just 83 behind Wayne Gretzky, and posted 1.047 points per-game.
1 Wayne Gretzky
Critics said Wayne Gretzky was too small and couldn’t skate well enough to succeed in the NHL. But not only did the skinny centre from Brantford, Ontario succeed, he more or less dominated from 1979 to 1999 while skating with the Edmonton Oilers, Los Angeles Kings, St. Louis Blues and New York Rangers. There’s hardly any type of offensive scoring record in the league that Gretzky doesn’t own. His individual trophies are too numerous to mention as there are more than 25 of them, but he is the all-time leader in goals with 894, assists at 1,963, shorthanded goals at 73 and points with an incredible 2,857. He’s also first in points-per game at 1.921 and fourth in plus/minus at plus-518. Gretzky won four Stanley Cups with Edmonton and the Hall of Famer played on three Canada Cup winners. No one other than The Great One could take the top spot here.
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