Who is the greatest NHL player of all time?
Easy, right? Wayne Gretzky.
Who else but the player who has scored the most goals, assists and points in league history over the course of a 20-year NHL career? At the time of Gretzky’s retirement, he had 61 NHL records, and most of them still stand.
Gretzky’s place at the top of the charts hardly seems debatable, so we’re not going to argue about it. Instead, we need to figure out the other 99 spots that follow number 99.
Welcome to NHL99, a project that aims to put a new spin on a familiar idea: who are the top 100 players in the history of the NHL expansion after 1967? Let’s face it, there have been several previous attempts to name the greatest players of all time, so that’s our starting point and the most important adjustment.
We didn’t want to go over the same old terrain again. Instead, we wanted to try something new, and the post-1967 NHL seemed like a good starting point. Why? Because then the game and the business of hockey changed fundamentally. Instead of six teams, there were suddenly 12. Instead of a league dominated almost exclusively by Canadians, a stream arrived and eventually a stream of players from all corners of the world.
The countdown begins today. We call it NHL99 because there are 99 places for debate on our Top 100 list and the number 99 resonates for hockey fans everywhere.
So, spoiler alert, Wayne Gretzky is #1 on our list. You could argue that Gretzky actually falls into two categories in the Hall of Fame: as a player and as a builder. Undoubtedly, no individual has done more to make the NHL game grow, on and off the ice, than Gretzky.
But it gets interesting and controversial after Gretzky. Nine writers from The Athletic received votes in this project: Eric Duhatschek, Dom Luszczyszyn, Shayna Goldman, Ian Mendes, Scott Wheeler, Sean Gentille, Michael Russo, Sean McIndoe and James Mirtle.