The Starting Six series comes to you to dive into the best player at each position all-time for every organization. The biggest and best at each position, with the most memorable moments in franchise history. Here is the NHL all-time lineup.
Starting Six: NHL All-Time Lineup
Center: Wayne Gretzky (1979-99)
If there was one choice for the NHL All-Time lineup that required no thinking, it was this one. Any all-time best list that doesn’t include Gretzky is wrong, it’s as simple as that. He was the greatest player of an elite generation of hockey, and is undeniably the best of all time.
Gretzky had a 1,487-game career that was almost at a two points-per-game pace. He was that good. His 894 goals and 1,963 assists throughout his career ranks as top in both of those categories.
There isn’t a single argument you can make against The Great One. He is the all-time leader in regular season goals, playoff goals (122), goals in a single season (92), and even holds the record for most goals in the first 50 games to start the season, with 61 in both the 1981-82 season and the 1983-84 season.
He holds almost all of the most important records for assists as well. Gretzky has the most regular season assists, most career playoff assists (260), most assists in a single season (163), most assists in a seven-game playoff series (14), most assists in a single game (seven), and many more.
While the argument is made undeniable by the statistics and records above, was it even really necessary? If you think there is a better center, or hockey player for that matter, to ever play the game, you need to rethink your view of the sport. Gretzky is the best, plain and simple.
Gretzky was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1999.
Gretzky was chosen to the Edmonton Oilers all-time lineup earlier in the Starting Six series.
Right Wing: Gordie Howe (1946-71, 1979-80)
The second name in this article is yet another name synonymous with the sport of hockey, “Mr. Hockey” himself. He even has a form of hat trick named after him: the Gordie Howe hat trick. That being a goal, an assist, and a fight in one game. What symbolizes hockey more than that?
Howe was an elite talent in his generation. He finished his 1,767-game NHL career with 801 goals and 1,049 assists. He is second in goals to only the aforementioned Wayne Gretzky and ninth in career assists, leaving him fourth all-time in total points. Beyond his counting stats, Howe’s longevity made him uniquely valuable. In a time where the hockey world marvels at the competitiveness of a 45-year-old Jaromir Jagr, it perfectly contextualizes the incredible feats Howe was able to achieve before finally retiring at the age of 52.
Howe is a name that almost every hockey fan knows, and his legacy has survived multiple generations. Although there are plenty of other fantastic right wings in NHL history, Gordie Howe takes the title as the representative in the NHL all-time lineup.
Howe was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1972.
Howe was also chosen to the Detroit Red Wings all-time lineup earlier in the Starting Six series.
Left Wing: Luc Robitaille (1986-2006)
There were multiple names that had an argument to make the list as the best left wing, but Luc Robitaille was the final choice. During the course of his 1,431-game career he scored 668 goals and added 726 assists to go along with his 1,177 penalty minutes. Robitaille is 12th all-time in goals, 48th all-time in assists, 21st in total points, and 29th all-time in games played.
While “Lucky Luc” didn’t win multiple individual accolades, sitting in the top 50 in every major statistical category is an impressive feat. And despite not winning major trophies, he did win the Calder Trophy in his first season, scoring 45 goals and adding 39 assists in just 79 games.
Another impressive feat that Robitaille was able to accomplish is that he had four 100-plus point seasons. This includes his 125-point season in 1992-93. Had it not been for Gretzky having so many seasons of 100-plus points, this would be much higher up the all-time list of single season point totals.
The one main competitor for the left wing spot in the NHL All-Time Lineup was Bobby Hull. While Hull did have more individual accolades, Robitaille finished with more goals and assists throughout his career. Despite playing more games in the NHL than Hull, his four 100-point seasons compared to the one that Hull was able to put up is another case in favor of Robitaille.
Robitaille had his number (20) retired in January of 2007 by the Los Angeles Kings. He was also inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2009.
Robitaille was also chosen to the Los Angeles Kings all-time lineup earlier in the Starting Six series.
Defenseman: Bobby Orr (1966-77, 1978-79)
Another name synonymous with the sport of hockey, Bobby Orr has truly one of the most impressive resumes on this list. The one argument against Orr was the longevity of his career, or lack thereof. Orr only played in 12 seasons in the NHL, playing in 657 games during that time.
Despite his career being by far the shortest on this list, his resume is just as impressive as the rest. Orr finished his career with 270 goals, 645 assists, and 953 penalty minutes. His 270 career goals are good for seventh all-time among defenseman, his 645 assists are 13th, and his 915 points are 11th all-time. This is all while playing 403 less games than the next closest defenseman in the top ten list (Denis Potvin).
The trophy case for Orr is very likely a large one, probably taking up an entire wall. He started his career off with a Calder Trophy, but he wasn’t done there. Over his 12-year career he won the Norris Trophy eight times, the Art Ross Trophy twice, the Hart Memorial Trophy three times, the Conn Smythe twice, and the Lester B. Pearson once. His eight Norris Trophy wins is most all time, one more than Doug Harvey and Nicklas Lidstrom.
Bobby Orr was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1979.
Orr was chosen as part of the Boston Bruins all-time lineup earlier in the Starting Six series.
Defenseman: Doug Harvey (1947-64, 1966-69)
It’s an undeniable fact that Harvey is one of the greatest defenseman to ever play the game. The two things that play against Harvey are that most hockey fans today either didn’t see him at all, or saw him only a little bit, and the other is that defenseman did not join the rush in his playing days like they have in the last few decades.
Despite these two arguments, Harvey is among the all-time leaders in both assists (452), where he ranks 36th all-time for defenseman, and total points (540), where he ranks 50th all-time. On top of that it’s his absence from the top 50 all-time list for defenseman in penalty minutes showcasing the discipline he played with that adds to his resume.
One of the more impressive individual feats of his career was that he was selected to the NHL All-Star team for 11 consecutive seasons; 10 of them on the First Team. This was just one of the many impressive additions to the resume he would have before retiring, a resume that included winning six Stanley Cups, all with the Montreal Canadiens.
Along with his impact on the ice, Harvey has had a massive impact on the league, even being almost fifty years removed from his last season playing. He was pivotal in the eventual creation of a players’ union.
Harvey’s number was retired by the Montreal Canadiens in 1985. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1973.
Harvey was chosen to the Montreal Canadiens all-time lineup earlier in the Starting Six series.
Goalie: Martin Brodeur (1991-92, 1993-2015)
This is surely going to be the one decision on this list met with the most conversation, and rightly so. There are multiple names that could have been chosen as the NHL all-time best goalie, like Patrick Roy or Dominik Hasek. They each have an argument with the records they hold or the trophies they won during their respective careers, but Brodeur makes the spot on the NHL all-time lineup.
If there is one thing that isn’t up for debate at this position, it’s that Brodeur was stellar between the pipes throughout his entire career. He finished his career with a 691-397-154 record, a 2.24 goals-against-average, and a .912 save percentage. Given the era he played in, that .912 is impressive.
Brodeur has multiple individual records for a goalie during a career. He has the most regular season wins all-time (691), most wins combined between regular season and playoffs (804), most wins in a single season (48, tied with Braden Holtby), most regular season shutouts (125), most playoff shutouts (24), most 30-or-more win seasons (14), most 40-or-more win seasons (8), and many more.
Along with all of the individual regular season and playoff records Brodeur holds, he also has a nice trophy case to boot. Brodeur won the Calder Trophy in 1993-94 when he went 27-11-8, with a 2.40 goals-against-average, and a .915 save percentage. From there he won the William M. Jennings Trophy five times in his career, a number only Roy could match. Brodeur also won the Vezina Trophy an impressive four times throughout his career, one more than Roy and two less than Hasek.
On top of all the individual records and accolades, Brodeur was part of a Stanley Cup-winning team on three separate occasions. This, however, was the least influential factor taken into account when picking the goalie for the NHL all-time lineup, as this is something that could be heavily influenced by the team in front of the goalie in that respective season, or playoffs. Still, three Cups is another good argument point for best goalie of all-time.
Brodeur’s number 30 was retired by the New Jersey Devils organization on February 9th, 2016. Brodeur has not yet been inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. This is due to the fact that you cannot have played within the last three seasons, meaning Brodeur will be eligible as part of the class of 2018.
Brodeur was chosen to the New Jersey Devils all-time lineup earlier in the Starting Six series.