BY BRANDON MURPHY
To mark its 100th season, the National Hockey League decided to release a list of the 100 greatest players to ever lace up the skates.
On Jan. 1 at the Centennial Classic in Toronto, the first 33 players were named. Those were the ones who played the majority of their careers during the NHL’s first 50 years, from 1917 to 1967. Players like Gordie Howe, Jean Beliveau, Ted Lindsay, Maurice Richard and Howie Morenz were amongst the nominees.
The remaining 67 players, who mostly played in the second half-century, were introduced on Jan. 27 in Los Angeles where the All-Star Game took place. On this list, you could find more greats, such as Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Bobby Orr, Mark Messier, Jaromir Jagr, Bobby Hull, Martin Brodeur and many more. Despite the 100 players not being ranked, it still caused a ruckus throughout the hockey community.
The voting committee was composed of 58 voters, ranging from commissioner Gary Bettman to veteran general manager Lou Lamoriello to analyst Ray Ferraro. All of them were tasked with putting together one of the most challenging lists ever seen by hockey fans.
Dave Stubbs, a veteran reporter who worked for the Montreal Gazette for 28 years and is now a columnist for NHL.com, says the list could have had more than 100 players on it.
“There could have been at least 200 or 300 players on that list. I really didn’t envy their [voters] work, because of the controversy it would spark,” says Stubbs, who wrote a total of 13 biographies for the NHL Top 100, including those for Wayne Gretzky, Jean Beliveau and The Rocket.
Controversy certainly was instore after the complete list was released, as multiple fans and analysts wondered where players like Dale Hawerchuk, Joe Thornton, Evgeni Malkin and Jarome Iginla were to be found.
Stubbs didn’t think there was a snub that stood out on the list.
“Who do you take off?” said Stubbs, who grew up a Habs fans but is now a fan of great, quality hockey. “I’m glad they [NHL] didn’t rank these guys, because of the different eras they played in. Guys like Elmer Lach, Maurice Richard and Dave Keon could have played in any era because of their size, speed and skill.”
In addition to the list, the National Hockey League has gathered footage of each individual player to create small highlight packages. These can be found on NHL.com and Facebook for fans to see the players they could not watch.
Stubbs’ favourite hockey memories centre on some Habs greats. The one that stands out the most for him was watching a Montreal Canadiens game with legend Jean Beliveau.
“I grew up on the ‘back nine’ of Beliveau’s career, he retired when I was 14 but I got to know him later on in my career. He was a fabulous ambassador,” said Stubbs. “I sat in his seat and watched the game. To sit there and hear how he described players from his team when playing was truly a remarkable experience. I couldn’t write fiction as well as these guys described their own lives. If you were talking to Jean Beliveau in a room of 100 people, in his eyes, you were the only person in the room.”
Legendary Canadiens’ forward Dickie Moore once told Stubbs “Players make 10 times more money now, but won’t ever have the same amount of fun we had.”
Stubbs says that hockey players are the greatest athletes.
“I remember talking to Yvan Cournoyer, and he told me he was going to sign autographs as long as people recognize him.”