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Big Bad
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#1 Posted on 12.8.03 2153.18
Reposted on: 12.8.10 2154.48
On the heels of a remarkably heated argument with a Bruins fan friend of mine over who was the greatest hockey player of all time (Gretzky or Orr), I've decided to open the floor up to the Wienerboard. Gretzky, Orr, Howe, Lemieux, Richard, other?
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The Thrill
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#2 Posted on 13.8.03 0428.12
Reposted on: 13.8.10 0429.01
Eric Lindros.


*ducks*
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#3 Posted on 13.8.03 1003.09
Reposted on: 13.8.10 1004.20

    Originally posted by Big Bad
    On the heels of a remarkably heated argument with a Bruins fan friend of mine over who was the greatest hockey player of all time (Gretzky or Orr), I've decided to open the floor up to the Wienerboard. Gretzky, Orr, Howe, Lemieux, Richard, other?


I'm old and I'm an old Bruins fan. I am old enough to have seen Bobby Orr play. The greatest player of all time is not Robert Gordon Orr, it is Wayne Gretzky. If I am agreeing with you, Big Bad, I feel dirty.
StaggerLee
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#4 Posted on 13.8.03 1116.46
Reposted on: 13.8.10 1127.20
You shouldnt feel dirty, you should feel ashamed. Because Mario Lemieux is the best player EVER.
vsp
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#5 Posted on 13.8.03 1243.21
Reposted on: 13.8.10 1249.18
Rob DiMaio.

Seriously, I'll take Gordie Howe over Gretzky any day. He played in a different era, so I won't compare their point totals directly, though both are obviously impressive.

But Howe could fight as well as score; they don't call a goal, an assist and a brawl a Gordie Howe Hat Trick for nothing. His scoring was as consistent at 41 as it was at 31 and 21. (It dropped off a little by 51, but you might've expected that.) His longevity was legendary and unmatched.
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#6 Posted on 13.8.03 1400.30
Reposted on: 13.8.10 1400.31
Gretzky, Orr, Lemieux, Howe, Richard? Those are the nominees? Sounds like a fair list...

Richard is out because he's from more or less the same time period as Howe and Howe's numbers eclipse Richard's easily. The Habs were loaded back then, so you could have replaced Richard with Howe and not missed a step as far as Stanley Cups are concerned. They were a result of the team, not the individual player. Scratch The Rocket.

Mario Lemieux's career will always be a "coulda been" because of his injuries. He MAY have proven to be the best ever if he had been healthy but he wasn't, so to say he was the best is only a guess at what might have been. He did miss a lot of prime playing time, but along with that comes the fact that he was spared a lot of day-to-day grind that players like Gretzky, who played most if not all games every year and missed very little time due to injury, face. His numbers today are not as impressive as their face value suggests because he picks and chooses when he plays. Find me an elite NHL player whose per-game numbers wouldn't be better if they didn't have to play back to back nights, didn't have to play strong opponents if they didn't want to, didn't have to travel if they didnt' feel 100% etc. Gretzky scored more goals, made more assists, won more Cups, and created the SoCal market. I'll take the tangible over the hypothetical any day. Le Manifique? Mais oui. Le mieux? Non.

Gordie could fight? Good for him. The Oilers had Dave Semenko and Marty McSorley for that. Fighters are a dime a dozen. Gordie Howe also had a reputation for being one of the dirtiest players around, who got away with murder because he was Mr. Hockey. Ask anyone who was a fan in that era and they'll tell you. If I want a cheap-shotting thug I'll find myself a Bryan Marchment and stick with Gretzky's near 100 more goals and over 1000 more points (in fewer seasons, including time on an expansion team). When you're talking "best ever" you need results, you need numbers. Being a goon doesn't cut it.

Finally, Bobby Orr. Bobby Orr was a great player no doubt and a few years before my time, but it seems to me he gets a lot of run because of the time he played. He was revolutionary, no doubt. But if a Ray Bourque or a Paul Coffey comes along 15 years earlier, we might well be having the same discussion about one of them. Without diminishing what Orr accomplished, I think he stands out more in a historical sense because he stood out more in his time as a unique player. But 3 MVPs is less than the 9 MVP awards that Gretzky won by my count, so that leaves only one choice...

Wayne Gretzky: 894 G, 1963 A, 2857 PTS, 9 MVP awards, 4 Stanley Cups (oh yeah, and 100+ playoff goals as well). That will never be topped.
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#7 Posted on 13.8.03 1512.25
Reposted on: 13.8.10 1513.49

    Originally posted by BigVitoMark
    Gordie could fight? Good for him. The Oilers had Dave Semenko and Marty McSorley for that. Fighters are a dime a dozen.

Fighters who also won scoring titles at the same time aren't.

    Originally posted by BigVitoMark
    Gordie Howe also had a reputation for being one of the dirtiest players around, who got away with murder because he was Mr. Hockey. Ask anyone who was a fan in that era and they'll tell you.

All the more reason why I rank Howe over Gretzky. C'mon, this is hockey, not figure skating with sticks...

    Originally posted by BigVitoMark
    If I want a cheap-shotting thug I'll find myself a Bryan Marchment and stick with Gretzky's near 100 more goals and over 1000 more points (in fewer seasons, including time on an expansion team). When you're talking "best ever" you need results, you need numbers. Being a goon doesn't cut it.

Again, you speak as if Howe was _merely_ the Tie Domi of 1955, instead of a top-ten scorer for 21 years in a row.

But numbers are hard to compare from different eras; the number of teams was dramatically different, the seasons varied in length, some rules were different (often from year to year), the playoff structure was different... it's like saying that Barry Bonds could've hit 70+ homers in 1968 because he did it in 2001.

If you're going to say that Howe didn't have superlative numbers _for his era_, we have problems.
BigVitoMark
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#8 Posted on 13.8.03 1633.07
Reposted on: 13.8.10 1634.00
Gordie Howe had great numbers for any era. I'm not disputing that Howe was a great player, nor that he should be on the short list for a discussion of this nature. But he's no Gretzky.

I'm surprised to see you value dirty play so highly. There's a difference between being a tough player, like a Shanahan or a Primeau, and being a dirty player, like a Bryan Marchment or a Darcy Tucker. Being dirty doesn't make you a better player, because the legitimately toughest don't need to be dirty.

I agree that the eras were different and that Howe probably played against a more talented league than Gretzky did based on the number of players in the league. Then again, the league opened up to then-Soviet and European players during Gretzky's era. To use a baseball analogy, that's in the same vein as debating whether the early Major Leagues were really the best of the best because they were racially segregated.

For the sake of argument, I'll concede that Gretzky's numbers would have been less had he played in Howe's era, but consider this one: 99's career PPG is nearly 2. Howe's is 1.04. I can't imagine conditions were so different back then as to account for a nearly 1 PPG difference over a near-1500 game career.
Big Bad
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#9 Posted on 13.8.03 1903.29
Reposted on: 13.8.10 1904.23
I vote for Gretzky, simply because if (for example) a basketball player was the all-time leader in points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks, he'd be number #1 too.
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#10 Posted on 14.8.03 1022.14
Reposted on: 14.8.10 1025.24
    Originally posted by BigVitoMark
    For the sake of argument, I'll concede that Gretzky's numbers would have been less had he played in Howe's era, but consider this one: 99's career PPG is nearly 2. Howe's is 1.04. I can't imagine conditions were so different back then as to account for a nearly 1 PPG difference over a near-1500 game career.


Once again, the game was _very_ different in the Original Six years.

Take a look at the all-time NHL points leaders. Gretzky is #1, of course, with his staggering assist total putting him in his own statistic world. Howe is #2. How much farther down do you have to go to find other players from Howe's era?

80's and 90's, with expansion bringing the league to 20+ teams: #1 (Gretzky), #3 (Messier), #4 (Marcel Dionne), #5 (Ron Francis), #6 (Lemieux), #7 (Yzerman), #9 (Bourque), #10 (Coffey), #13 (Doug Gilmour), #14 (Dale Hawerchuk), #15 (Adam Oates), #16 (Jari Kurri), #19 (Denis Savard), #20 (Mike Gartner), #22 (Brett Hull), #23 (Luc Robitaille), #24 (Joe Sakic), #25 (Dave Andreychuk).

Post-expansion '60s and '70s, with 12-18 teams: #8 (Phil Esposito, whose numbers really took off after expansion and when Orr arrived), #12 (Brian Trottier), #18 (Guy Lafleur), #21 (Gilbert Perreault).

Who's left for the Original Six in the top 25? #2 (Howe), #11 (Stan Mikita, whose numbers stayed steady before and after expansion) and #18 (Johnny Bucyk, who had a solid career but benefitted from both expansion and playing with Orr and Esposito). If you go top fifty, it doesn't get much better for the old-timers; #33 (Norm Ullman, who played with Howe), #34 (Jean Beliveau), then #39 (Bobby Hull, who'd be higher if he hadn't gone WHA), and then you have to go all the way down to #56 (Henri Richard).

Six out of the top fifty, and only one of those (Mikita) is really within shouting distance of Howe. I'd say that that illustrates not only how much the game has changed, but also that Howe was as far above the rest of his era as Gretzky was of his. Take into account what Howe could do (play physically) that Gretzky could not, and my vote stays the same.

This isn't to slight Gretzky, who was the centerpiece of the definitive offensive machine of the 80's. (That would be #1, #3, #10 and #16 above, all from the same squad. The joys of synergy.) He didn't get 200-point seasons by accident. But if Lemieux had stayed healthy and kept his strong supporting cast, he could've put up similar numbers. Nobody else from Howe's era even came close to his NHL numbers -- and he went on to put up five more solid years in the WHA when he was pushing _50_.

(edited by vsp on 14.8.03 0919)
tarnish
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#11 Posted on 14.8.03 1723.45
Reposted on: 14.8.10 1724.09

There are an awful lot of factors to "great," but the ones I believe in are:

- pure goals/assists/points
- having a "complete" game
- dominance in any given era
- acting as an ambassador for the game
- revolutionizing the way the game or a particular position is played


Howe is Mr. Hockey, yes, but he was never what you'd call "pretty to watch," he didn't make people excited in the same ways as Gretzky or Lemieux or Orr or Richard or Howie Morenz. Sure, he put an awful lot of points on the board, but he had more years to do it than any of those other candidates other than Gretzky. And the other thing I'd like to cite is that Howe had a physical size advantage--he played in an era when the average hockey player was way shy of 6 feet tall. Would Wilt Chamberlain have dominated quite so much if every team had had a seven-footer? Howe had the first four above, but not the fifth. And quick, name me a famous goal by Gordie Howe. I can't do it either; he was the greatest garbage scorer in history (next to Wilt the Stilt, maybe).

Lemieux, who I used to hate (*hatehateseethinghate*) was an example of an incredible offensive player with wonderful vision, but he lacked either defensive skills or the passion to play both ways and to play "tough." Granted he got a lot better in later years, but he was never the two-way player he could have been. He also had a huge size advantage over Gretzky. Lemieux could have been more dominant than he was had it not been for cancer and injury, but he also could have been a better ambassador of the game.

Richard was another great scorer who lacked a complete game. Exciting? Hell yeah. But not complete. It wasn't a big deal, as he played on teams that hardly needed to play defense, but it eliminates him from contention. Also, Richard wasn't much of an ambassador outside of Montreal until after he retired.

For me, that leaves Orr and Gretzky. I never got to see Orr play live, but I've seen plenty of film. I also met him when he was on a political tour with Brian Mulroney back in 1984. The guy could hardly walk. He left everything he had on the ice and he played only 8 or 10 years. He revolutionized the way defensemen played (which directly affected how everyone else played); say what you want about Bourque or Coffey, but they were able to do what they did because Orr came before them--neither one could have done it on their own like Orr did--they either would have played more "defensively" or they would have moved up to forward.

Gretzky, on the other hand, holds some un-fucking-believable records. He played with aplomb, both ways, and with passion every minute he was on the ice. I got to watch him play for the Kings at the old Forum in Montreal in 1993; he didn't look like anyone else that I'd ever seen. He could find the open ice better than anyone, find the open man better than anyone, and "predict the play" better than anyone. Well, better than anyone except Orr. As much as I love the legend of Richard, the physicality and endurance of Howe, and (grudgingly) the offensive dominance of Lemieux, this is a two-horse race(*).

If Bobby Orr had been given 5 more years on two good knees, it'd be even closer. Give him 10 more years and he'd probably have had Gretzky's number. But I think Gretzky has to be given the nod--yes, he was lucky to have remained in good health and played for twenty years, yeah, he was lucky to have played on some great teams. But when it all comes down to it, nobody has ever accomplished more; and I have a really tough time believing anyone ever will.

What if Orr had been given those 10 years? We'll never know, just like we'll never know just how good Pistol Pete Marovich and Ernie Davis and Pele Lindburg were. Just like maybe we don't really know just how good Mario was or Orr was. At some point I think that accomplishment has to win out over "coulda been."


(*) Footnote: to be entirely fair, there's at least one more player who could have given Gretzky and Orr a run for their collective money: Valery Kharlamov. He wasn't a record-breaker, even in Russia, but if you can find a way to watch the tape you'll see that he played the game differently and more beautifully than pretty much everyone else in the historic Canada Cup. Tretiak, who played with and against many of the greatest of all time holds him a cut above Gretzky and Orr. That's got to count for something.
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#12 Posted on 14.8.03 1840.47
Reposted on: 14.8.10 1847.17
As a fan, I've always preferred Mario...but, as has been said, there were/are too many "what ifs" to classify him as the greatest.

This arguement rages on every now and then, but I've always enjoyed Keith Olbermann's take on it...paraphrased from "The Big Show" book from 1997.

"Gordie Howe scored over 1000 goals lifetime and the first 600-plus were in a six-team league. This meant that every night, Howe was going up against one of the six best goalies in the world...against four of the twenty-four best defemsemen in the world...against one of the six best teams in the world. There were one or two seasons in the 50s when every goalie Howe scored on went to the Hall of Fame."

And Ron Francis IS the most underrated player in the history of the NHL. Just wanted to throw that in...
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#13 Posted on 15.8.03 0554.41
Reposted on: 15.8.10 0559.01

    Originally posted by Bullitt
    And Ron Francis IS the most underrated player in the history of the NHL. Just wanted to throw that in...


Heh. I almost ragged on Francis when I was compiling my list, but I looked closer at his stats, and thought "You know, his Hartford numbers don't look bad, either, and he was stuck there for a decade." He racked up about as good stats feeding Kevin Dineen and Blaine Stoughton as Mario and Jagr, which oughta count for something.

The Goon
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#14 Posted on 15.8.03 1529.49
Reposted on: 15.8.10 1532.29
Where's the love for Mike Bossy?
JayJayDean
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#15 Posted on 15.8.03 1713.42
Reposted on: 15.8.10 1717.06
I can't believe there can be a debate about this. Gordie Howe played until he was 52? Fine. George Foreman won the heavyweight title at 45, but that doesn't make him the best boxer ever. Nolan Ryan threw a no-hitter at 44, but he's not the best pitcher ever. Howe was a badass on the ice? Mike Tyson had some vicious KO's, but he's not the best boxer ever.

Between 1950 and 1964 Howe won 6 scoring titles. If you take out his worst year (1961, see below) in comparison to the next best scorer (in years he led the league) or leading scorer (in years he didn't), Howe's point total is -4, or almost exactly the same. He was great for that period of time, but hardly far and away the best player from year-to-year.

Between 1980 and 1994, Gretzy won 10 scoring titles and tied for an 11th (as a rookie). If you take out 1993 (due to injury, and why I removed Howe's worst year) he scored 462 more points than the next best scorer from year-to-year. If you take Gretzky out, the leading scorers in the 80s scored similar point totals to those in the 70s, so you can't say there was an offensive upsurge like there are with home runs nowadays, and between 1981 and 1986 Gretzky outscored those guys by an average of 73 points per year. 73! That's 56% more than the next best player! Consider...

If the average league leading running back rushed for 1500 yards, and someone were to come along and average 2342 yards for 6 years...

If the average leading scorer in the NBA scored 32 ppg, and someone were to come along and average 50 ppg for 6 years...

If leading pitchers averaged 22 wins per year and 250 strikeouts and someone came along and averaged 34 wins and 380 strikeouts per year...

That's what Gretzky did. Howe played a looooong time at a high level, but on his best day he was never as far and away better as the second best player in the league the way Gretzky was, ever.

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#16 Posted on 15.8.03 2026.03
Reposted on: 15.8.10 2029.01

    Originally posted by The Goon
    Where's the love for Mike Bossy?


If you caught the NHL awards you might have caught the love my man Buck 65 gave to Mike Bossy at the end of the opening bit.

Turns out Bossy was a complete prick backstage. Who knew...
Big Bad
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#17 Posted on 16.8.03 0042.22
Reposted on: 16.8.10 0045.09
Vladislav Tretiak is the best goalie ever, btw.
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#18 Posted on 16.8.03 1514.51
Reposted on: 16.8.10 1521.28
Somewhere out there, you know Blaine Stoughton is elated to hear his name come up in a discussion of the greatest hockey player of all time.

I don't think Ron Francis is treated that unfairly in a historical perspective, but he sure gained a couple points with me when he got back up (or at least tried to) after Stevens killed him a couple years ago.
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#19 Posted on 16.8.03 1539.12
Reposted on: 16.8.10 1540.39
Well, I always compare the "greatest" to two of the best players I've witnessed: Theoren Fleury & Jarome Iginla. Fleury was never supposed to be able to play in the NHL. He was too damned small. But the Flames scouts took a chance on him and drafted him, and he helped them win a Cup in '89. Sure, then he got all into the drugs and whatnot and left the team and badmouthed the city. But hey, nobody's perfect.

On the other hand, Iginla was just a swell trade. He can fight, he can score. I always thought that it made more sense to have a scorer not fight, and that's what they did in Edmonton. They loaded up the team with guys whose sole purpose was to protect Gretzky. Why? Because he was the best ever.

And you should've heard the heel heat he got in the Saddledome every damned time he came here.
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#20 Posted on 16.8.03 1608.47
Reposted on: 16.8.10 1609.00

    Originally posted by BigVitoMark
    I don't think Ron Francis is treated that unfairly in a historical perspective


It's not so much that's treated unfairly, he's just been largely ignored for such a long time.

Yes, he won the Cup twice, but was overshadowed by Mario and then Jagr in Pittsburgh. He's just a guy that goes out hard every night, is second all-time in assists (behind Gretzky, of course) and fifth all-time in points scored.
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