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Debating the Greatest Player of All-Time

Steve's article about life on Long Island after JT, coupled with the NEFHL HOF conversation served as my inspiration to write this article.  

 

Everyone has an opinion about who the greatest hockey player of all time is. Everyone feels differently, and there are many players you could make a case for. You could argue for Jean Beliveau, Doug Harvey, Gordie Howe,  Mario Lemieux, Denis Potvin, Maurice Richard, or Eddie Shore, just to name a few.

 

But no matter who you talk to, when you talk about the greatest players to ever lace ‘em up, two names are always at the top of everyone’s list: Wayne Gretzky and Bobby Orr.

 

I’m here to argue that there is a case to be made for someone who is still alive and active in the NHL today. Gretzky and Orr, while worthy of respect and admiration, are not the best player ever.

 

Before you go on about Gretzky’s scoring achievements, it’s important to recognize that he led the league in scoring during seasons when Vezina trophy winning goalies were putting up sub .900 save percentages. When using Gretzky’s scoring achievements as the pillar for the argument of him being the greatest player ever, it’s important to keep something else in mind: In the 1981-1982 season, when Gretzky scored 92 (!!) goals, he had a shooting percentage of 24.9 (William Karlsson shot 23.4% last year). Billy Smith won the Vezina Trophy that year with an .898 save percentage. No, that’s not a typo. Let that sink in for a second…. The best goalie in the league couldn’t even save 9 of every 10 shots put his way. In fact, between 1981 and 1988, seven different goalies won the Vezina Trophy; their save percentages: .898, .903, .893, .899, .887, .902, .881.  

 

I’m not trying to argue that Gretzky’s achievements aren’t worthy of recognition, just that it’s not a slam dunk.

 

Bobby Orr is famous not only for his possession and scoring abilities, but also as the best player on the ice (despite his starting position as a defenseman). He’s probably equally as well-known for his knee and his injuries, which essentially shortened what would have been a prolific career. But any player whose legacy is defined by injuries and, with all due respect, washed up by age 27 is, in my opinion, not worthy of being labelled as THE best ever.

 

But Gretzky and Orr stand out above the pack for one simple reason: they changed the way the game of hockey is played. No one mentions them for their individual achievements alone - those two players single-handedly - and forever - changed the game we love. But there’s someone else that we often overlook who has changed the game of hockey.

 

Gone are the days when a player could hover at the blueline, take a pass from the back end, skate in and take a slapshot, firing the puck along the ice, and score 87 times a year, and be called the best. In today’s NHL, you cannot be a one-dimensional specialist and be considered the best.

 

My take on who the greatest player of all time is? Sidney Crosby, and it’s not even close.

 

Sidney Crosby does everything that Wayne Gretzky did, and he does it while playing a 200-foot game. His skates touch every inch of the ice, and he is the hardest working player on his team, both on and off the ice. He’s changed the game of hockey forever, redefining what it means to be the best, and set an impossibly high bar for those who come after him.

 

In order for Connor McDavid, Auston Matthews, and whomever comes after them, a player cannot just win scoring titles or Stanley Cups and be called the best player who ever lived; they need to do so much more. Yes, they’ll have to lead the league in scoring, and lead their team in the playoffs, win the Stanley Cup, be an MVP (both in the regular and postseason). Time will tell about the importance of also winning an Olympic Gold and World Championship, which Sid can cross off his list. He’s also won gold at the World Cup of Hockey, and tournament MVP, so feel free to argue about its merit.  

 

Sidney Crosby has responded to every criticism against his game.

 

Question his durability? He’s missed only 16 games the last five seasons, while also playing in 78 playoffs games during that span.

 

He needs to score more? He won the Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy his fifth season in the league, and sits 86th all-time, but ranks 17th in goal/game amongst players with at least 850 games.

 

He takes too many penalties (He’s the first rookie to ever have 100 points and 100 PIMs)? He hasn’t had more than 47 PIM this decade.

 

Question his leadership? You all know about his back-to-back Conn Smythe and Stanley Cup winning seasons. He’s the only person to captain every team of the exclusive Triple-Gold Club.

 

Granted, he didn’t win the Calder Trophy in his rookie season, but in his sophomore season he led the NHL with 120 points, and won his first Art Ross Trophy. In doing so, he became the youngest player and the only teenager to win a scoring title in any major North American sports league. Not to be forgotten, is the fact that he went on to win the Hart Memorial Trophy as the league’s most valuable player, and the Lester B. Pearson Award for being the most outstanding player (as judged by his peers).

 

We are fortunate enough to be witnessing history right now, and Crosby is so amazing that his success and achievements no longer impress us; he may not be the most exciting player in the NHL, but there isn’t a player in the game today who has had as much of an impact on it as he has. He’s redefined the criteria to be considered the greatest of all time, improving on the parameters established by Bobby Orr then advanced by Wayne Gretzky, and deserves to be recognized for doing so.  

 

 

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The following article was published on July 4th, 2019, but for some reason didn't stay posted. Rather than re-post it, I've attached it below:

What a rush!

 

Within minutes of word getting out of their availability in the trade market, Mikael Grabner, Jonathan Bernier, and Philipp Grubauer have quickly become the most sought after commodities on the Vegas Golden Knights.

 

Having received over a dozen offers from close to half the league, it has quickly become apparent that the cost of purchasing any of those three players will be high. But, given each of their circumstances, the team that acquires them will be glad that they did. Let’s take a look at each of those three players now:

 

Mikael Grabner: two years remaining on an incredibly friendly $1.1M contract. His scoring (73), speed (84), and skating (83) make him unique among most players who are available, and separate him from many of the other players in the league. His 25 5-on-5 goals last year (NHL) outpaced Laine, Kane, Tavares, Kessel, and Crosby, providing just a glimpse of what he is capable of.

 

Jonathan Bernier: three years remaining on a $1.425M contract. Where can you find a goalie with decent ratings for less? Having been placed into a situation where he should experience far more success (Detroit vs Colorado), his stock will only rise throughout the duration of his contract. He’ll provide an excellent backup or 1B option for any team looking for an extremely affordable insurance policy.

 

Phil Grubauer: Making just $660k this year, Grubauer’s value will continue to rise. He had two shutouts in 23 games last year (NEFHL), and Colorado (NHL), believes so much in this guy that they let Jonathan Bernier walk away for nothing, so they could pay Phil $10M over the next three years.

 

Where will these guys end up? Who can say. When will they be dealt? While the Knights GM isn’t in a hurry to deal any of these guys, he plans to send them as soon as he gets the offer that he’s looking for. The hope is that the team acquiring them will get full years of service for them, but that depends entirely on the 30 other GMs in the league.