The NHL is in full blown celebration of its 100th anniversary, all starting with the Outdoor Classic in Toronto on New Year’s Day.
The Toronto Maple Leafs won a wild affair against Detroit, 5-4 in overtime.
We’ve already gotten into the spirit and published our 100 greatest players of all time. Purely subjective, but we think most would agree the picks were solid.
Since it’s a global game now, we got to thinking, who were the best NHLers to come from each country? Again, a subjective list that excludes greats like Vladislav Tretiak, who would have been a star in the NHL.
Looking at historical representation, Canada leads the list with over 5,000 (5,071 to be exact), naturally. The U.S. has put just over a fifth of that total in the league with 1,145. It’s a sliding scale from there, with talent born in far flung places like Japan and Lebanon.
So, we’ve come up with a pretty fair list that will include a team (two goalies, six defencemen, 12 forwards) each from Russia, Sweden, Finland, the old Czechoslovakia (combined), Europe (all other nations), the U.S. (two teams) and Canada (five teams: Maritimes, Quebec, Ontario, Prairies, B.C.).
Now that we have chronicled the best from Europe, the U.S., the Maritimes, Quebec and Ontario, here are the greatest from the prairie provinces and the choices are extremely difficult to make (from goalies to defencemen and then forwards).
20. Terry Sawchuk, G
Terry “Uke” Sawchuk might just be the one of the toughest hockey players ever. The Hall of Famer played 971 NHL games (third most, all-time), often through excruciating pain caused by a host of ailments like: three operations on his right elbow, an appendectomy, a broken instep, a collapsed lung, ruptured discs in his back, severed tendons in his hand and plenty of cuts that resulted in approximately 400 stitches to his face (including three in his right eyeball). Through all that, Winnipeg-born Sawchuk won 446 games, the Calder Trophy in 1951, four Vezina Trophies and four Stanley Cups in a career spent mostly in Detroit (with stops in Boston, Toronto, Los Angeles and New York). Sawchuk’s final tallies were 115 shutouts (03 regular season, second most all-time) and a regular season goals against average of 2.51.
19. Glenn Hall, G
With a nickname like “Mr. Goalie” it doesn’t defy logic that Glenn Hall is among the greatest goalies of all-time, much less from the prairie provinces. Hailing from Humboldt, SK, Hall ventured east to play with the Windsor Spitfires as a teenager and parlayed two good seasons there into a pro contract with Detroit in 1949. He bided his time in the minor leagues before strutting his stuff with the Winged Wheels. Starting in 1955-56, Hall would play every game in the Wings net for two years, and then an astonishing five more with the Chicago Blackhawks, resulting in a record consecutive games started streak of 502. Among his many accolades, Hall won the Calder in 1956, three Vezina Trophies (two with Chicago and one with St. Louis), a Conn Smythe in 1968 and a Stanley Cup. The Hall of Fame netminder finished his career with 407 wins (ninth all-time), 84 shutouts (fourth) and 10 First and Second Team All-Star nominations.
18. James Patrick, D
Through the years, the North Dakota Fighting Hawks collegiate hockey teams has been fortunate to feature a few great players from the prairies, particularly defenceman James Patrick. The Winnipeg native played two great years at UND, then apprenticed with the Canadian Olympic Team, when they were still an “amateur” team, going to the Winter Olympics in Sarajevo in 1984. He was drafted ninth overall by the New York Rangers and broke in with the team immediately after the Olympics, scoring eight points in 12 games. The offensively gifted rearguard enjoyed a lengthy run on Broadway, starting in 671 of his 1,280 games there and collecting 467 points and a +70. In all, Patrick scored 639 points and a +104 rating, while garnering Norris Trophy votes on three separate occasions. In addition to his Olympic play, Patrick was part of the successful 1987 Canada Cup team.
17. Eddie Shore, D
The late, great Eddie Shore was more than just an inspirational fodder for the Hanson Brothers in the movie “Slapshot.” The rock hard defender from Fort Qu’Appelle, SK won the Hart Trophy an incredible four times, the most of any defenceman ever and only surpassed by Wayne Gretzky and fellow Saskatchewan native Gordie Howe. For 14 years, he was the face of the Boston Bruins, starting in 1926-27. The ever controversial and hard-as-nails Shore once watched while a doctor sewed his ear back on after an altercation with a teammate in Boston and would later become a pariah for ending Toronto Maple Leafs star Ace Bailey’s career with a vicious hit from behind. Shore scored 105 goals and 179 assists in 550 NHL games, won two Stanley Cups, was a seven-time First Team All-Star and was voted into the Hall of Fame in 1947.
16. Bobby Baun, D
Tiny Lanigan is a typical prairie town located in the rolling wheat fields of Saskatchewan. The pit stop on the “Yellowhead” trail, Lanigan has produced a decent number of NHLers, including former Toronto Maple Leafs great Bobby Baun. While he was never a big offensive threat, Baun was a feared (and clean) hitter and stay-at-home defenceman. The legend of Baun was cemented during the 1964 Stanley Cup finals between the Maple Leafs and Detroit Red Wings when Baun broke his ankle in game 6 with the Leafs down three games to two. He returned in overtime of that game to score the winner, propelling Toronto to win in game 7 for their third straight championship. Baun played 964 regular season games, 739 with Toronto, and scored 37 goals and 187 assists. He also appeared in 96 post-season tilts, scoring three times and assisting on 12 others.
15. Duncan Keith, D
Winnipeg certainly gets recognition as a major supplier of NHL talent. Chicago Blackhawks superstar rearguard Duncan Keith is on top of that list, having already won two Norris Trophies and a Conn Smythe as playoff MVP n 2015. A product of the B.C. junior hockey league, Keith moved east to play for Michigan State University for parts of two seasons before going back west to play for the Kelowna Rockets in 2002. He was drafted 54th overall that year (while with the Spartans) by Chicago and after two seasons with the Norfolk Admirals made his debut with the Hawsk in 2005. Four seasons later in 2009-10, he posted career totals of 14 goals and 55 assists, along with a +21, winning the first of his two Norris trophies. He also tallied 17 points in 22 playoff games as Chicago won its first Stanley Cup in 49 years. He’s won two cups since and has 489 points in 882 regular season games. In 122 post-season contests, Keith has added 18 goals and 62 assists.
14. Bill Gadsby, D
Before a kid named Orr came along, Bill Gadsby was one of the premier puck-moving defencemen in the NHL. The Calgary-born rearguard broke into the league in 1946 with the Chicago Blackhawks and prove to be a durable, offensive oriented d-man with enough jam in his game to keep opponents honest too. In 1958-59, Gadsby, already in his 13th season, set a record for assists with 46 in 70 games. For that, he was named to his second of three First-Team All-Star berths and the second of three times he finished as a runner-up in Norris voting (losing twice to Doug Harvey). Gadsby, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1970, never did win a Stanley Cup, but he did finish his 1,248 game career with 568 points in 1966, making him the leader in all-time points at that time.
13. Scott Niedermayer, D
Scott Niedermayer would never have been confused with Bobby Orr, however, there is one thing he did well and that was win, baby. The Edmonton born defenceman won a Memorial Cup title with the Kamloops Blazers, a world junior championship in 1991, two Olympic gold medals (2002 and 2010), a IIHF world championship, a World Cup of Hockey title and four Stanley Cups. He and former Anaheim stable-mate Corey Perry are the only players ever to win each of hockey’s six Holy Grails. The New Jersey Devils drafted the defenceman third overall in 1991 and in his first season he collected 40 points in 80 games. After three Stanley Cups with the Devils, he would win his first and only Norris Trophy in 2003-04. Niedermayer got better with age, recording his best statistical season with the champion Anaheim Ducks in 2006-07 with career highs in goals (15), assists (54) and points (69). He played in 1,263 career games, finishing with 740 points (23rd all-time) and was inducted to the Hall of Fame in 2013.
12. Sid Abel, F
We’re not sure if Sid Abel ever got used to his odd nickname “Old Bootnose” but it sure sounds funny. What wasn’t funny for Abel’s opponents was the fact that he played on one of hockey’s all-time great lines, “the Production Line” with Gordie Howe and Ted Lindsay. That super troika would be responsible for two Stanley Cups in three seasons spanning 1949-50 and 1951-52. The three would often finish among the top 10 in scoring and top three on the Detroit Red Wings. Abel, from Melville, SK, had a superlative season in 1948-49, scoring a league high 28 goals and adding 26 assists to win the Hart Trophy and earn ins first of two First-Team All-Star selections. Abel finished his 14-season career having played 612 regular season games and recording 472 points. In 97 playoff games, the Hall of Famer had 28 goals (including a league high six during the 1950 playoffs) and 30 assists.
11. Elmer Lach, F
Nokomis, SK is not a place many would go to on purpose, unless they lived there. It would most likely be a nice little village a driver would stumble upon while touring the endless, flat prairie of south central Saskatchewan. One of its most famous inhabitants, and who would star at hockey’s holiest shrine, the Montreal Forum, was Elmer Lach. Like list-mate Sid Abel, Lach was also one-third of a great line with Maurice Richard and Toe Blake — dubbed the “Punch” line. The slight (5’9″, 172 lbs.) Lach was a great playmaker, leading the league in assists three times and garnering an Art Ross Trophy as the leading scorer in 1947-48. Lach also won a Hart Trophy when he scored a career high 80 points in 50 games during the 1944-45 season. A three-time First Team All-Star, Lach ended his career in 1954 as the all-time leading scorer with 623 points in 644 games. He won three Stanley Cups with the Habs and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1966.
10. Theoren Fleury, F
Theoren Fleury, from Oxbow, SK was a pint-size, aggressive and sublimely talented forward who his foes and their fans loved to hate. In 1,084 NHL regular season games, the 5’6″ Fleury scored 455 goals and 633 assists, good for a smidge over a point per game and ranking him 61st all-time in scoring. Being the combative sort, Fleury also racked up 1,339 penalty minutes. Due to his size, the Calgary Flames didn’t draft him until the eighth round, 166th overall in 1987. He would make an immediate impression in his first full season, 1989-90, when he scored 31 goals and 35 assists and sit in the sin bin for 157 minutes. The season previous, Fleury scored 34 points in 36 games and contributed 11 points in 22 playoff games as the Flames won their first and only Stanley Cup. Fleury was also a member of the 1988 world junior champion Canadian team, the 1996 Canada Cup team and the 2002 Olympic champion Team Canada.
9. Jarome Iginla, F
As of this writing, Edmonton’s Jarome Iginla is 16th all-time in goal-scoring with 616 goals in 1,518 games. Now in his 20th season, the Avalanche veteran is winding down his career and is within range of 15th all-time in sniping, nine behind his GM, Joe Sakic. Iggy was a hot commodity in 1995 when the Dallas Stars picked him 11th overall. While in the midst of a 63-goal season with the Kamloops Rockets in late 1995, Iginla was dealt to the Calgary Flames, where he would do his best work. He twice cracked the 50-goal barrier with the Flames and won the Rocket Richard Trophy (as well as the Pearson) in 2001-02 when he fired a personal best 52. Iggy has been a First Team All-Star three times, has been a Hart Trophy runner-up and also claimed a King Clancy trophy in 2004 for his outstanding work on and off the ice. In addition to all his goals, Iginla has 1,284 points, which is 34th all-time. He is a Stanley Cup shy of the “Triple Gold Club” having won a world junior championship and two Olympic golds.
8. Jonathan Toews, F
There is very little that Jonathan “Captain Serious” Toews can’t do well on the ice. The Winnipeg born center can score, make plays, kill penalties, score on the powerplay and take face-offs like a champ. He has been the Chicago Blackhawks leader through three Stanley Cup winning seasons, even winning the Conn Smythe trophy during the 2010 championship, scoring seven times and assisting on a league high 22 others in 22 games. During Chicago’s next Stanley Cup bound season, 2012-13, Toews scored 48 points in 47 games, was +28 and won the Selke as best defensive forward. Drafted third overall by the Blackhawks in 2006 out of the North Dakota Fighting Hawks program, Toews has thus far played 685 games and has 259 goals and 331 assists. Toews is a certified “Triple Gold Club” member, with two world junior gold medals and two Olympic golds.
7. Butch Goring, F
When the New York Islanders traded veterans Billy Harris and Dave Lewis to Los Angeles for Butch Goring in March 1980, the St. Boniface, MB native was considered to be “the final piece of the puzzle.” Goring had 68 points in 69 games for the Kings before the deal and then added 11 points in 12 games the rest of the way. It was in the 1980 playoffs where Goring put his name in the pantheon of all-time Stanley Cup greats. On a team that included Bryan Trottier, Denis Potvin and Mike Bossy, Goring scored seven goals and 12 assists in 21 games, laying claim to the Conn Smythe as playoff MVP. He would win three more championships in succession with the Islanders. Over his 1,107 game career, Goring scored 375 goals and 513 assists and won a Lady Byng and a Masterton Trophy in 1978. In the post-season, he had 38 goals and 50 assists in 134 games. Goring was also a trend setter, being credited for starting the playoff beard phenomenon.
6. Johnny Bucyk, F
Johnny Bucyk, also from Edmonton, started his NHL career with Detroit in 1955 and went on to enjoy his best statistical seasons when he was pushing 40. The “Chief” was an imposing physical specimen — 6’0″, 215 lbs. was considered big in the mid-1950s — who played in 1,540 career games, mostly with Boston, and would be the oldest player ever to score 50 goals, when he notched a career high 51 as a 35-year-old during the 1970-71 season. Among this Hall of Famer’s career accomplishments were two Lady Byng Trophies, two Stanley Cups with the Bruins, 16 seasons of 20 or more goals, 1,369 career points (25th all-time) and a First All-Star Team nomination. Part of Boston Bruins’ lore, Bucyk is second only to Ray Bourque in career games, assists (813) and points. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1981.
5. Andy Bathgate, F
Like a player who would perform much like him later — Jonathan Toews — Andy Bathgate was yet another outstanding product of Winnipeg. Bathgate was a junior star for the old Guelph Biltmores of the OHA before turning professional and bouncing between the Vancouver Canucks of the WHL, the New York Rangers of the NHL and Cleveland Barons of the AHL. His first full season with the Rangers, 1954-55, Bathgate scored 20 goals and 20 assists in 70 games and would never look back. He was a popular player on Broadway and would be a two-time First and Second Team All-Star in 12 seasons there, as well as the Hart Trophy recipient in 1958-59, when he scored 40 times and added 48 assists. A trade to Toronto in 1964 resulted in his first and only Stanley Cup triumph. The Hall of Famer ended his NHL career with 973 points in 1,069 games.
4. Bryan Trottier, F
Bryan Trottier, from tiny Val Marie, SK, was one of the most sound defensive forwards ever to play the game, without sacrificing dynamic offence. Evidence of this could be found in his Art Ross and Hart Trophy winning season of 1978-79, when Trottier scored 47 goals and 87 assists for a league-leading 134 points (a career high, too) and was an astounding +76. In fact, he would log two more seasons at +70, in 1981-82 when he scored 129 points and 1983-84 when he tallied 111 points. The Hall of Famer retired having won four Stanley Cups with the New York Islanders and two with the Pittsburgh Penguins. He recorded 1,425 points (16th all-time), including 524 goals and 901 assists in 1,279 regular season games and was twice a First Team and Second Team all-star. In the post-season, Trottier was just as dangerous, registering 184 points in 221 playoff contests.
3. Mark Messier, F
If Wayne Gretzky was the engine that made the Edmonton Oilers machine go, Mark Messier was the lubricant, keeping everything else humming. No slouch in the goal-scoring department — Messier is third all-time in points with 1,887 — the Moose was a great leader who was confident, tough and gritty. He was a hero in his native Edmonton, winning five Stanley Cups with the dynastic Oilers and then later a God in New York, helping the Rangers win their first Stanley Cup in 54 years in 1994. The two-time Hart Trophy winner was also the 1984 Conn Smythe trophy recipient, leading the Oilers to their first of five Stanley Cups. As for post-season heroics, Messier finished his illustrious career with 109 goals and 186 assists for 295 points, second only to longtime teammate Wayne Gretzky, all-time. The Moose was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2007.
2. Bobby Clarke, F
There is a fairly lengthy list of former NHLers from the mining town of Flin Flon, Manitoba, none more famous than Philadelphia Flyers’ great Bobby Clarke. A pioneer who proved that people with Type 1 Diabetes could compete at the NHL level, he became the most popular player in Flyers history and one of the game’s true greats. In Philly’s heyday in the 1970s, Captain Clarke led the team to back-to-back Stanley Cup championships in 1974-75. He was awarded two Hart Trophies in back-to-back seasons, a Masterton and a Selke Trophy in 15 seasons. Clarke sored 358 goals and 852 assists in 1,144 regular season games and added another 42 goals and 77 assists in 136 post-season tilts for Philadelphia. Clarke, who was chosen 17th overall by Philadelphia in 1969, would later play an integral role in Canada beating the Soviet Union in the 1972 Summit Series. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1987.
1. Gordie Howe, F
As if he wasn’t talented or tough enough to play against, the late and great Gordie Howe was also ambidextrous. “Mr. Hockey”, whose name would become synonymous with the “Gordie Howe Hat Trick” — for a goal, assist and a fight — used a straight stick so that he could shoot both ways. That lethal combination led to 801 NHL goals (second all-time), 68 playoff goals (17th all-time) and another 174 WHA goals. In 2,416 total professional games including playoffs, Howe scored an incredible 1,071 goals and 1,518 assists for an astounding 2,589 points. He also logged considerable time in the penalty box, with well over 2,000 minutes. In his long and illustrious career, Howe won the Hart Trophy six times (second to Wayne Gretzky), the Art Ross six times, was a First Team All-Star 12 times, Second Team All-Star nine times and a Stanley Cup winner four times. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1972.