The Top Canadian Hockey
Interestingly, none of the top ten top Canadian hockey players of all time played in the 1972 Summit Series.
At the turn of the 21st century The Hockey News commissioned a poll of 50 hockey experts to determine the top 50 players in National Hockey League history. For every intent and purpose the list doubles as the top Canadian hockey players of all time as well. Canada's top players have always played in the NHL since the formation of the league in 1917. And other than a sprinkling of non-Canucks the list is dominated by Canadians.
None of the members of the 1972 Summit Series cracked the top 10. The highest ranking member of Team Canada 1972 weighed in at number 17, and even that is a bit of a misnomer. Stan Mikita was a worthy pick at number 17, but he only played in 2 Summit Series games.
So if you count only regular contributors to Team Canada 1972, the greatest player to play on the team was Phil Esposito who filled in at number 18. Bobby Clarke (#23), Ken Dryden (#25), Frank Mahovlich (#26), Marcel Dionne (#38), Gilbert Perreault (#47) and Brad Park (#49) cracked the top 50.
So who were the top NHL players and thus Canadian of all time?
Narrowly capturing the crown as the top player was Wayne Gretzky. Gretzky, who was just 12 in 1972, bettered nearly every NHL scoring record by insane amounts while collecting nearly every award including 4 Stanley Cups. He is one of the few NHL legends to have an equally fabled international career.
Coming in a close second was Bobby Orr. Orr transformed the way defensemen play the game. His offensive attack from the blueline was in every bit as impressive as Gretzky's assaults from the forward position, if not more so. Had he not been hobbled by knee injuries Orr very possibly would have topped this poll. Orr of course was technically a member of the 1972 Summit Series, but he never played in the games because of the knee injuries. Had the best player in the world in 1972 been able to play, perhaps the series would have been somewhat different.
The legendary Gordie Howe was a close number three. Gordie was the most complete player of three eras, all of which he was a dominant force. His offensive statistics were mind boggling in eras of low scoring, very physical hockey. And no one has ever been tougher than Gordie. "Mr. Hockey" was retired at the time of the 1972 Summit Series, but came out of retirement the following year.
Mario Lemieux was only 7 years old in 1972, but he grew up to become the 4th greatest player of all time, according to this survey at least. Mario the Magnificent overcame debilitating back injuries and cancer to become a legend of the game. It would be hard to find a more perfect specimen for the ultimate hockey player.
Maurice "Rocket" Richard, considered by many the greatest pure goal scorer in hockey history, ranked in a number at number 5. The explosive and violent Richard retired 12 years before the Summit Series.
The remaining top 50 NHL players of all time were:
6. Doug Harvey - defenseman