We continue with naming the Mount Rushmore of the four Major Sports with the National Hockey Association. The NHL has lost in the popularity contest ever since the strike of the 2004-2005 season, but it still has a loyal fan base. Again, these aren’t the best players, but the ones who changed the game the most.
Number 1 – Wayne Gretzky
The Great One, when people think of the NHL, they think Wayne Gretzky. Gretzky’s name could be considered for the best player in any sport ever, that’s how good he was. He holds several NHL records that don’t seem in danger of being broke anytime soon. Gretzky also won nine Hart trophies, 10 Art Ross trophies, two Conn Smythe trophies, and four Stanley Cups.
Besides being supremely talented, he also advanced the game. Gretzky grew the NHL market more than any other player. When he was traded from the Oilers to the Kings, it made the NHL mainstream. No player helped the game more than Gretzky did.
Number 2- Bobby Orr
Orr is the one player who could argue is better than Gretzky. Hands down the best defender of all time, he revolutionized the position. He was one of the original defenders who could score at a high level, being the only defender ever to lead the league in scoring.
His speed from end to end was breathtaking, allowing him to score as many goals as a forward would, and giving him chances to set up goals to get an assist. Orr’s goal to win the Stanley Cup for the Bruins in 1970 is one of the most epic moments in NHL history and has been immortalized in possibly the best sports photo of all time with Orr flying through the air after his goal. He inspired many future defenders to show some offensive ability, forever changing the position, and adding new intensity to the game.
Number 3- Gordie Howe
Known as Mr.Hockey, Howe was the first player to fit the title of power forward. He popularized the title, describing a big, mean, and physical forward who used his strength rather than speed and elusiveness to score.
Howe was unstoppable in his time. he blended his great strength with his elite skill and hockey IQ to become a force hockey had never seen before. Still third in all-time scoring, second in all-time goals, his mark can still be seen in the NHL with the number of great hockey Power forwards we have seen since his retirement.
Howe revolutionized the position, creating the common day hockey player of the big guy who will rip your head off if you get in his way of scoring. The big guys were never the scorers before him, they were always defenders or enforcers. The same way Orr would later open up the possibility of scoring for defenders, Howe opened it up for the big guy.
Number 4- Jacques Plante
Plante was a pioneer of the goalie position in hockey. He was the first to do many things, but most importantly he was the first goalie to wear a mask as everyday equipment. A change many goalies thank him for today. Plante first donned the mask in a game against the Rangers, where he was hit in the face with a puck and had to get stitches. Plante refused to go back into the game without the mask, and Canadiens head coach Toe Blake agreed upon the condition Plante threw the mask out once his wound healed. Plante
refused to throw the mask away after that, and with the Canadians on a winning streak, Blake allowed him to keep the mask. The win streak went up to 18 games until Blake finally convinced Plante to take the mask off. The Canadians would lose the next game, after which the mask would return for good. Masks would become standard equipment for goalies because of Plante.
This wasn’t Plante’s only innovation though. He was also the first goalie to skate behind the net to stop the puck, which at first drove his coach and fans crazy, but would also become a mainstay for goalies. He would always raise his hands on icings to let his defenders know what was happening. He was the first goalie to stick-handle the puck, where as before Goalies generally just deflected pucks back to their defenders. Plante completely changed the position of Goalie, and many of his innovations can still be seen in today’s game.