Joe Pelletier of the Legends of Hockey blog has polled his many readers and fellow hockey nuts with blogs, to come up with a list of the greatest hockey players of all time.
I've tons of respect for Joe, as savvy and astute a historian of the game as there is online, and when he e-mailed me to participate in his poll, I anxiously replied that all I needed to do was tweak a post from a year back and fire it off.
He had it within 30 minutes.
Since sending out the requests, Joe has received an enthusiastic number of replies, and seems to be having a ball in tallying out and analyzing the results on a daily basis. The post is definitely popular with readers, and having not been born yesterday, Joe has smartly been milking it for all it's worth since last week. Joe has authored a book or five, and knows what he's doing.
For reasons I do not know of, Joe has chosen to make it a Top 36, rather than the usually round and nifty 50. Maybe he did this to enliven the debate, who knows. Perhaps it's akin to bra sizes, wherin a 36 contains more than enough to have fun with, and a 50 is just being greedy. I love analogies!
When speaking of the game's all time best, the term "greatness" is subjected to all its inherent angles and Joe is letting readers bash it out in terms of who's in and who's out.
Wisely choosing to do the color commentating on the choices so far, and unpersonalizing himself from the results on the sidelines, the good Joe has raised a quandry that has hit this Habs historian squarely between the eyes.
I am perplexed in my campaigning, but so far it looks as though Henri "The Pocket Rocket" Richard is on the outside kicking the door with his skates, looking in.
I don't get it one bit! 11 Stanley Cups has not been enough to resolve the issue in voters eyes.
Perhaps it has to do with the readers demographic and appreciation of things historically that is amiss. Some are suggesting that the greatness that surrounded Pocket in the day resulted in his accomplishments. I'd argue that the many great Habs teams of two, almost three era's, all had one thing in common - the Pocket himself.
Some add in that he did not do one single thing great that added up to greatness, but simply tallied enough accomplishments to be considered so, and is therefore not shrouded in a unique greatness, and thusly is on the outside.
That's a steaming clump of horse hockey if you ask me!
Eleven Cups! Since when was that not unique! Here's the deal - pass me a million bucks, and the night someone beats that total, I'll hand deliver a hundred times the amount!
How unique is he? Pocket was born on Febuary 29th, he's only had 17 birthdays!
Henri Richard has been described with a multitude of paradoxical adjectives and accolades. He might well be the best small player to ever play the game so big!
Pocket defied the most insurmountable of odds considering the stacked deck of prejudices in being a little player as well as the Rocket's kid brother. It's no easy feat breaking into the league as the Rocket's little brother and he went on to record over 1,000 career points.
In 1999 Top 50 list, The Hockey News ranked Henri 29th and compared him to his legendary brother this way:
"Maurice Richard was very good at being great. Henri Richard was great at being very good."
Being "very good", it is being argued, is not greatness, or so say the posters at Joe's site. The thin line dividing the extremeties is split over the terming of the pocket as a complete player of the highest degree, rather than a great player.
A lot of great players never won as many Cups as Henri Richard. None of them, in fact!
The complete player tag that suggests that the Pocket merely did everything well, rather than doing one particular thing with greatness, is missing the point completely.
Henri Richard, a consumate team man, chose to play the game he did. He surely had the talent to play for padded stats but elected to pursue the most logical path to victory. And win he did! Being an integral componant of so much success does not arrive by hazard. He lasted as long as he did, as a result of the choices of roles he chose to perfect. Legendary dogged determination surely helped.
It's no coincidence then, that he holds hockey's most unattainable record of 11 Cups. It's testament to his team orientated dedication and his longetivity.
I put alot of stock in the opinions of THN experts. With their experience and ages combined, they surely have a better grip on who the greatest players of all time were over anyone in my 35-45 demographic.
I saw Richard play from 1969 to 1975 - the twilight of his career. He was a case study in fire and determination. In 1971, it was he who undid the Chicago Blackhawks in game seven of the SCF.
He was a grizzled and proud vet still, and it was he who had the game capabilities to make the difference as he picked Chicago apart. I remember being told then - taught is a more proper word - that certain players were great in great games, but these games were often decided by players rising to greatness. Henri Richard would rise to greatness often, and remain there.
Legends of Hockey is a tribute site, in most parts to retired NHL'ers, and Mr. Pelletier knows his players. Having written tons on Internation Hockey events starting with the Summit Series, he attracts many fans from around the globe.
So far, players such as Vladislav Tretiak, Viacheslav Fetisov, and Valeri Kharlamov have ranked higher in the listings than Richard has. While all three are greats, giants in fact, of Russian hockey history, they achieved their status playing against subpar competition on the whole.
Their battles were won differently. They did not playout 70 to 80 games seasons and gruel through weeks of playoff bumps and bruises to acheive their supremecy. The Red Army and Moskow Dynamo's teams surely studied the game and likely trained harder than their North American counterparts. They won tournaments in which they would face an opponant once ot twice in the round robin and playoff rounds.
I don't see any of this as making their greatness unworthy - just different. It's a stretch to assume or believe that players we've seen perhaps only a dozen times are superior to ones we've watched for decades, including Henri Richard.
It is quite unfornate that until the two hockey societies merged in the early 1990's, the basis for honest comparisions has on unbalanced competitive fields. It's even more unfortunate, that events on the scale of ther 1972 series, and later Canada Cups weren't staged earlier.
We'll never truly know which players from that era were best.