The NHL is 100 years old. They grow up so fast.
To celebrate that centennial anniversary, the league announced its 100 best players list; the first 33 announced recently before the final 67, all 67 of whom played in the post-1967 expansion era, were announced on Friday night.
Of course there were the slam-dunks, from Gretzky to Orr to Lemieux to Lafleur to Crosby to Robinson to Esposito (both of them) to Hull (father and son) to Jagr. Then there were the debatables and the inevitable snubs that come with these lists. There was no ranking, but the NHL did essentially proclaim Bobby Orr, Mario Lemieux, Wayne Gretzky, and Gordie Howe the league’s Mount Rushmore, as Orr, Lemieux, and Gretzky spoke with the press together in what was one of the highlight moments of Friday night. The three spoke at length of the greatness of Howe, who passed away this past June, all agreeing that Howe was the greatest to ever play.
That didn’t stop many from making the daring, all-subjective ranking like Ken Campbell of The Hockey News did, giving a preliminary Top 100 ranking prior to the list’s reveal (some players on the list weren’t in the top 100), in which he named Wayne Gretzky the greatest player ever, Jaromir Jagr second-best before surprise picks in Jen Beliveau and Dominik Hasek at three and four, respectively. Kevin Allen on USA Today did something similar, but stopped at 25 and went with a more conventional top four of Howe, Gretzky, Orr, Lemieux, in that order.
People made clear who were the snubs, who should’ve been on the list, which comes with the territory of making any type of list or all-star team or greatest-ever argument. It’s what makes things like this so much fun, the bar room debate and discussion that ensues. It’s what would’ve made a ranking so much fun, given plenty in Boston and Pittsburgh and beyond would have something to say when Gretzky was (presumably) named the greatest player ever.
The discussion and debate is what the game needs centered around events like this. Which is what makes this all just another home run hit by the NHL when it comes to the approach taken to the All-Star Game. The league knows what this is – a fan event, an exhibition of the best talent in the game, and above that, a convention of the NHL’s best to celebrate the game of hockey. It’s what the league did last year in moving to the current three-on-three, short tournament format and doing away with those mind-numbing East vs. West contests where the score more resembled a football game than a hockey game.
The 100th anniversary of the league made this a slam-dunk, and well, something the NHL had to acknowledge. Something that brings the hockey community together, as Frank Seravalli characterized the top 100 festivities. In the coming years, the league needs to find similar headliner events like Friday night to generate excitement, enthusiasm, and discussion around the game.
In other words, keep up the same gameplan as recent years.