Best NHL Players Of All Time: Top 5 Legends, According To Experts

The puck stops here. Okay, it really stops in the National Hockey League with acrobatic netminders making near impossible split saves. Acrobatics aside, let’s talk top players. More specifically, let’s talk about the five best NHL players of all-time. We know, it’s probably not possible to pick only five, but we’ve compiled here a list of the big names showing most frequently across the experts’ lists that we visited on the web. But we can’t get to our list just yet, because if this cool sport warms your heart, we need to first discuss that ticker of yours.

If you love hockey, then you certainly know the Montreal Canadiens. They’ve raised the Stanley Cup a few times – twenty-four to be exact, which makes them the winningest team in the league when it comes to Stanley Cup titles. But what you probably didn’t know is that your heart may be at risk if you’re rooting for the Habs as they win.

If you’re a male Canadiens fan under age 55, research shows that cardiologists see a clear rise in ST-elevation myocardial infarction (STEMI), or heart attack, according to the study. The research also reveals that the highest admission rates occurred after nail-biter home victories, with a 40 percent increase in younger and middle-aged men. Interestingly, more heart attacks were seen after wins than losses. And don’t worry, ladies, “women, on the other hand, were found to be less likely to suffer from heart attack symptoms” the same study notes. But really, man or woman, what are the chances of hockey breaking your heart? Well, it depends.

A Canadian study had fans wear heart rate monitors while watching a hockey game. Ten watched at home and ten attended the game. The research showed the at home viewers had an average 75 percent increase in heart rate during key points in the game, while the live attendees had a 110 percent increase. Results indicate that viewing a hockey game can likewise be the source of an intense emotional stress, as manifested by marked increases in heart rate. It turns out that if hockey excites you too much, it may well break your heart.

But we’re not here to bring you down, quite the opposite. We’re just looking out for that hockey-loving heart of yours. StudyFinds compiled a list of the top five best NHL players of all-time, according to sports and hockey pros. Of course, we want to hear from you, so comment below to let us know which player you think deserves to be ranked number one!

The List: Best NHL Players of All Time, Per Experts

1. Wayne Gretzky

The Great One. If upon searching that phrase the results show your name and pictures plastered on the internet, you’re doing something right. And Gretzky did many things right, displaying greatness on the ice in so many aspects.

Gretzky was a phenom at an early age – also a goalie’s nightmare well before making it into the NHL: “The Great One served notice to the hockey world that he would be a force to be reckoned with way back in his Pee Wee hockey days, when he scored 378 goals in a single season,” writes Half Clapper Top Cheddar!.

Rookie Road shares some of Gretzky’s amazing accomplishments, including winning his first league MVP at age 19, and then going on to win it the following seven seasons; being the first player in history to record 200 points in a single season, and then going on to do it in three more seasons; owning 61 NHL records; and also being honored by the league with every team retiring his famous number 99.

Included in those 61 NHL records are “the record for all-time goals, assists, [and] points,” according to At the Buzzer. They go on to write that Gretzky is “commonly idolized as the greatest athlete to ever grace the ice with his superb hockey game” and that “he has also bagged four Stanley Cups.”

And as a fun fact, all these records and trophies come from a man that was told he was too small and too slow to play hockey. Oh, also that he’d never make it to the NHL.

2. Gordie Howe

Mr. Hockey. Yup, he was dubbed that nickname because he was just that good on the ice. This man played 26 seasons in the NHL, 25 of them with one team, the Detroit Red Wings. Longevity of that sort is not common in any sport, let alone a physically demanding one like hockey.

“Nobody has appeared in more NHL games (1,767), and his 22 consecutive 20-goal NHL seasons remain unmatched. Those marks are likely to stand the test of time,” writes Bleacher Report. They also note that he “[won] six league MVP awards, six scoring titles and four Stanley Cup championships,” and “he became the author of the ‘Gordie Howe Hat Trick,’ which is accomplished with a goal, assist and a fight in a single game.”

USA Today says that “the late Detroit Red Wings general manager Jack Adams liked to refer to Howe as the ‘Babe Ruth of hockey.’  Because of his movie-star handsomeness and chiseled physique, Howe was depicted as a Superman-like athlete in 1950s newsreels.” They go on: “What separated Howe from Gretzky and Orr was an ability and willingness to physically dominate opponent. He was as ruthless as he was skilled.” And, amazingly, “Howe scored his last NHL goal, at age 52, during the 1979-80 season.” It’s hard to find athletes still playing into their forties, never mind fifties.

Some argue that Howe beats out Gretzky because Howe had skill and grit; he played a physical game and had no issue with dropping the gloves, thus the famed “Gordie Howe Hat Trick.”

3. Bobby Orr

All hockey fans have seen the iconic picture, and possibly statue, of Bobby Orr stretched in the air like Superman after scoring the game winning overtime goal in the Stanley Cup Finals for the Boston Bruins against the St. Louis Blues. And you’ve likely heard the famous call that accompanied the soaring Orr, shared here by Sports Net: “CBS Sports broadcaster Dan Kelly is the voice behind the famous call: ‘Orr … behind the net to Sanderson … to Orr…. Bobby Orr… scores… and the Boston Bruins win the Stanley Cup!’” That play and play call still lands on highlight reels today.

The Hockey Fanatic writes that Orr is “the greatest defenseman to ever play in the NHL.  If you watch old tapes of Mr. Orr, you can see why so many think that he was the greatest player of all-time. The eight-time Norris trophy winner had exceptional hockey sense and was ahead of his time.”

Defensemen aren’t known for scoring a lot of points, unless their name is Bobby Orr. Lines shares that “Orr scored 120 points and won the league scoring championship as a defenseman in the ‘69-’70 season. He surpassed 100 career points 6 times in his career.” Not too bad for a D man. They go on: “Playing just 10 seasons, Orr finished with 888 points in just 631 career games.” Unfortunately, injuries shortened Mr. Orr’s career.

But while healthy he certainly dominated the league. Encyclopedia Britannica writes that “he was named the league’s MVP three times (1970–72). He also won two Stanley Cups (1970, 1972).”

Though Bobby Orr didn’t have the longest career, retiring at age 30, he did make the most of his time in the NHL, amassing the sort of amazing stats that typically don’t come from defensemen.

4. Mario Lemieux

Super Mario. One of the greatest Pittsburgh Penguin’s players ever that now owns the team. Yup, Lemieux purchased the club in ’99 and brought them out of bankruptcy. Though the club was again sold in 2021, he remains part of the ownership group. Ownership aside for a moment, let’s talk about this man’s amazing playing career.

“Lemieux began his storied Pittsburgh Penguins days with six consecutive 100-point campaigns, peaking at 199—the fifth-most ever—prior to an injury-shortened 1990-91. He’d ultimately record four more 100-point years despite a bout with cancer interrupting the prime of his career,” writes Bleacher Report. “After initially retiring in 1997, he soon became the majority owner of the financially ruined franchise. Lemieux eventually returned to the ice in 2000 and played five more seasons.” That is, he came back to play for the team he owned – he played alongside his employees.

Franchise Sports writes that “looking at Lemieux’s stats shows how unbelievable of a player he was. He averaged 1.883 points per game, which is only 0.038 behind Wayne Gretzky for the best points per game average in NHL history. Lemieux sits 8th all-time in points with 1,723 points, which he did in just 915 games. He is the only player in the top 35 in career points to have played less than 1000 games.”

They go on to note that “Lemieux led the team to back-to-back Stanley Cups in 1991 and 1992 and was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy both times.”

Much like Bobby Orr, Lemieux made the most of his time in the NHL, racking up unbelievable stats. Unlike Orr, Lemieux became the “first player in North American sports history to own the team he played for,” according to

5. Maurice Richard

Maurice “Rocket” Richard played 18 seasons in the NHL, all of them for the Montreal Canadiens. Amazingly, eight of those seasons ended with Richard and teammates hoisting the Stanley Cup, which places Richard in the number five spot on the list of NHL players winning the most Stanley Cups in their playing careers.

“The NHL regular-season goal-scoring trophy is named after Richard because his career epitomized what it means to have a scorer’s mentality. He was the first to score 50 goals in a season, and the first to score 500 goals in his career. He led the league in scoring five times and finished with 544 career goals,” writes USA Today.

Half Clapper Top Cheddar! writes that “Howie Morenz may have been the NHL’s first superstar, but Maurice Richard was its first legend. A fiery competitor who could score goals like no one before him, and few since, Richard dominated his era, standing above his contemporaries by a wide margin, much the same way Gordie Howe, Bobby Orr and Wayne Gretzky did in subsequent decades.”

They also compare Richard to the Washington Capital’s Ovi: “Richard had a hunger to score goals that perhaps only Alex Ovechkin has managed to match in the history of the game, and that hunger, combined with his speed and his shot allowed him to rewrite the NHL goal-scoring record book.”

“Maurice Richard is a legend in the NHL.  There have been stories and movies made about him, heck people rioted over him.  The greatest French Canadian to ever play the game. Richard had a certain “rage” about him that translated into his play on the ice.  When people describe The Rocket, they use words like tenacity and intensity,” says The Hockey Fanatic.

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