There is a never-ending debate among hockey fans as to which player of Gretzky, Lemieux and Orr was the greatest. There are certain areas where each stands supreme.
Our vote is for Orr because we think he played the more difficult and more important position and because he revolutionized the position as well. (Also, the skating.) But at least one of us thinks there’s room for debate.
Why is it that we (our generation anyway) have trouble thinking of Esposito as one of the greatest hockey players of all time? Is it because he was on the same team as Bobby Orr, whose legend has endured far better? Is it because of Esposito’s extraordinarily unathletic physique? Is it because everything he did has since been done multiple times by multiple players so those records feel less important?
Sure, Espo benefited from playing more games per season in the newly expanded league (someone was going to set records) and, yes, he benefited from playing with the Greatest of All Time, but lesser players wouldn’t have excelled the way he did, over such a long period of time.
By regular season numbers, Jean Ratelle was one of the best forwards of his era. And, had he been healthy in his best season, he might have competed for the scoring title. (His peers awarded him with the Pearson for that.)
However, his playoff numbers are noticeably worse. And, of course, he never won a Cup.
So, how great was Jean Ratelle? Is he one of the greats of his era or does his longevity make him look better than he was? Listen to us discuss Ratelle’s Hall of Fame case here:
Bobby Clarke is one of the most notorious players in NHL history but he’s also one of the most decorated, one of only a few players to ever win the Hart three times. (He also became a star in spite of his diabetes.)
He was extremely hard to play against but also an offensive star. He only won one Selke because it was introduced half way through his career.
So where does Clarke rank all time among defensive forwards? Listen to us discuss his Hall of Fame case here:
For 6 seasons – more than half a decade – there was arguably no better hockey player on earth than Guy Lafleur. And there is arguably no better team in NHL history than Lafleur’s Canadiens of the late ’70s.
For the rest of his career, Lafleur was, um, not the best hockey player in the world. And so the question is, was he good enough in those six seasons to rank among the very, very best forwards in history, who managed longer peaks but less consistency?
Listen to us talk about Guy Lafleur’s case for one of the Greatest of All Time here:
Through a career riddled by injuries – including one induced retirement – Lemieux was one of the most dominant forwards the game has ever seen. He temporarily led the NHL in both career Goals Per Game and Points Per Game, despite debuting after Gretzky and despite playing more of his career in the Dead Puck Era.
But Lemieux never reached Gretzky’s accomplishments either in terms of his peak or his longevity. He has fewer scoring titles and Cups than Gretzky, and Gretzky achieved Lemieux’s offensive feats many times over.
Listen to us discuss whether or not Lemieux is the Greatest Hockey Player of All Time, the Greatest Centre of All Time, or something else, here: