Top 3 best NHL players: as picked by the greats

pic via NHL.com

pic via NHL.com

In the second of a three-part series examining the hockey elite of the past, present and future, Postmedia picked the brains of three legends to find out who they consider to be the best of the best of the NHL crop through 100 years.

 If the Great One, Super Mario and No. 4 had to pick an NHL 1, they would all choose Mr. Hockey, the late Gordie Howe.

When it comes the best, there’s Wayne Gretzky, the NHL's all-time leading scorer (2,857 points). Then there’s Martin Brodeur, who accrued the most victories of any goalie (691) in the NHL's first century of existence. And last — but not least — is Scotty Bowman, who has more wins (1,244) than any NHL coach. So hearing the top 3 best players from these individuals blew my mind.

So much talent, so much passion and so much they offered to us over that past years. Here are the greats as picked by the greats.

Wayne Gretzky

GOALIE — Grant Fuhr

DEFENCEMEN — Bobby Orr, Paul Coffey

FORWARDS — Gordie Howe, Jean Beliveau, Mark Messier

In Gretzky's own words:

“For me, (Howe) is the greatest player ever. I say this all the time. Bobby Orr or Gordie Howe, pick who you think is better. I happen to be a little biased. I was a forward, so I’ll take Gordie.

“But more importantly he was the nicest man I ever met.

“Gordie was around 50 the first time I played against him. I thought it was pretty cool that he kept winking at me during warmup. Then, on about my fourth shift, I’d just taken the puck from him when, before I knew it, this big stick was pounding me on the hand. I thought I’d broken my thumb. He took the puck and said, ‘Don’t ever take the puck from me.’ All I could say was, ‘OK.’

“I remember meeting Jean Beliveau during the Quebec peewee tournament in 1974. He came into our room before our first game and took at photo with me. He said he’d heard there was a good player on our team. He then told me, 'Don’t let me down.' I think I scored seven goals. Afterward I asked my dad: 'I hope I didn’t let Mr. Beliveau down.'

“(Messier and Coffey) are Hall of Famers I was privileged to play with. And the goalie? Grant Fuhr. He had no defence; we were mostly an offensive team. If he would have played somewhere else, he probably would have had a really good goals-against average. A lot of 6-5 games in Edmonton.”

MARTIN BRODEUR

GOALIE — Patrick Roy

DEFENCEMEN — Ray Bourque, Scott Stevens

FORWARDS — Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr

In Brodeur's own words:

“One of the things I look for from a great player is durability and longevity. I know that goes against Mario, but that shows how special he was for me to put him in. You look at Ray Bourque, Scott Stevens, Wayne Gretzky, how long they played — and at a high level too. Patrick, he played over 1,000 games. So, that’s one of the things I looked at — to be that good for that long in your career.

“My dad was part of those great Canadiens teams with the Beliveaus, the Lafleurs, the Drydens, all those all-time greats. But I didn’t have the hockey background with those guys. I did meet Rocket Richard, Henri Richard a bunch of times, Guy Lafleur, Yvan Cournoyer — I was fortunate I got to meet so many of the Canadiens all-time greats.

“Patrick was a guy all us young goalies looked up to through AAA and junior, a French Canadian who in some ways changed the way the game was played. He was so important to the Canadiens, other teams started getting goalie coaches because Patrick had a goalie coach.

“I think the second game I played against him was in Montreal at the Forum. And that really sunk in with me. You never forget something like that.

“Jagr, that guy’s a freak of nature. I had a chance to play with him. So impressive what he’s been able to do and the high level he’s been able to compete at. He deserves to be on everyone’s ballot.”

SCOTTY BOWMAN

GOALIES — Patrick Roy, Martin Brodeur, Ken Dryden, Bernie Parent, Terry Sawchuk, Glenn Hall, Jacques Plante

DEFENCEMEN — Bobby Orr, Doug Harvey, Nicklas Lidstrom, Eddie Shore

FORWARDS — Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Maurice Richard, Gordie Howe, Jean Beliveau

In Bowman's own words:

“It’s so hard ... I can’t narrow it down.

“The easiest one is on defence. Orr, Harvey — Eddie Shore, I didn’t see him play but I know what people told me about him -— and Lidstrom. I don’t think anyone would argue about those four. Those are mine.

“Up front, I’d still have Gretzky, Lemieux, Howe, Richard. I’d have a hard time pushing any of them out. Jean Beliveau, you could throw him in there. But to me, Howe and Richard, their accomplishments speak for themselves. Gretzky, Lemieux as well. I mean, who else would you have in there?

“The Rocket, a lot of people never saw him play. I saw him play a ton. Talk about putting people in the rink. Do I want to be excited to go and watch this guy play? Oh my God.

“I talked a lot to (Hall of Fame Canadiens coach) Toe Blake when I was working in Montreal. And this is amazing. He said the three players that pulled him out of his seat continuously — Howie Morenz, Rocket Richard and Bobby Hull. Those were his guys.

“A lot has to do with excitement. Before Gretzky, before expansion — and I lived through this — the argument always was, who’s the better player, Howe or Richard? This is what people always said: If you want to fill your building, you pick the Rocket. If you want to win championships, you pick Howe.

“In goal, well, in the modern day era, it would be hard to go against Brodeur and Roy. I had Dryden with me and I know how good he was. Dryden was an exceptional goalie on a great team. It’s not easy to get 18, 20 shots, you’d better be ready for every one of them. Sawchuk, Hall, Plante, Frankie Brimsek. I go to those four but Brimsek, he only played 10 years. The next era, Dryden, Parent, Roy, Brodeur. Patrick and Brodeur, longevity.”