The Greatest NHL Photographs of All-Time

In the modern sports world, classic, even iconic moments are being captured in simple, yet increasingly accessible manners. Access to various forms of media such as videos, Vines and .gifs alike are at their peak, providing fans with an ever evolving media inventory in which to indulge.

Did Connor McDavid score a highlight-reel goal? Was there a potentially suspendable play in your favorite team’s game last night? Chances are if you are interested in reliving a specific event, you will immediately turn to video in order to satisfy your desires.

However, a particularly important and historic, yet decreasingly popular form of media, one which has been present throughout the years and since the creation of the NHL, is the photograph.

Although of seemingly decreasing prevalence in the sports world, the photograph remains an incredibly important medium, allowing moments to be captured and preserved in time, some of which marking the most iconic events in the history of sport. While video certainly has its benefits, retaining the ability to capture moments in their entirety, a given photograph, one single frame, can retain so much more.

Quite commonly, this is raw emotion. Photographs captured over time have the ability to display relief, such as that of capturing an elusive Stanley Cup; determination, as cemented in images of sheer exhaustion and pain, as well as respect, as witnessed between two harrowing, yet ultimately admiring opponents. Finally, photographs have the power to immortalize the monumentality of historic moments throughout history.

Photographs throughout the years in the NHL have been able to capture exactly this. In most cases, what has been photographed has come to define the sport. These images, which I argue are amongst the best in NHL history, symbolize not only the pain, intensity and skill of the sport, but also the respect, determination and camaraderie which is shared between the players who play the game all hockey fans hold close to their hearts.

As follows, in no particular order, are a number of the greatest photographs in NHL history.

“The Elusive Prize” – Lanny McDonald – 1989

Lanny McDonald is one of the most recognizable players to ever play in the NHL. An elite offensive producer on the right-wing throughout his 15-year career, McDonald netted a Bill Masterton Trophy, as well as a King Clancy Memorial Trophy along his way to induction in the Hockey Hall of Fame.

McDonald had done it all in his career, enjoying incredible personal success, most notably by scoring 66 goals in 1982-83. However, at the age of 35, he had failed to win a Stanley Cup. In what was his last year in the League, McDonald’s Calgary Flames battled the Montreal Canadiens in the Finals, where the Flames eventually came out victorious.

Lanny McDonald of the Calgary Flames
Canadian ice hockey player Lanny McDonald of the Calgary Flames yells triumphantly as he holds the Stanley Cup (Photo by Bruce Bennett Studios/Getty Images)

As one of the hardest working players in the NHL, and one that had played in 117 career playoff games prior, winning the Cup was long overdue for McDonald. In this photo, the incredible emotion, most notably elation, but also relief, are more than evident on Lanny’s face.

“Superman” – Bobby Orr – 1970

Having already captured a number of prestigious awards, notably the Calder and James Norris Trophies, Boston Bruins defenseman Bobby Orr was quite arguably the best defender in the NHL in 1970.

Having failed to win a Stanley Cup since 1941, the Bruins were more determined than ever setting foot in the 1969-70 Finals against the St. Louis Blues. Led by an incredibly skilled team which featured Phil Esposito, Orr, and Gerry Cheevers in goal, the Bruins trounced the Blues for a 4-0 series victory.

Orr, who would score nine goals and 20 points over 14 games in the playoffs, secured the Championship in overtime of the fourth game. After receiving a pass from Derek Sanderson out of the corner, Orr stepped in front of the goal and scored a mere 40 seconds into the frame. Blues defender Noel Picard tripped Orr as he skated by the net, sending Orr into mid-air, where he immediately begins to celebrate despite his dangerous ascent.

It is one of the most iconic photographs in NHL history.

“A Promise Fulfilled” – Mark Messier – 1994

It was the fitting end to one of the most monumental guarantees in NHL history.

Trailing the New Jersey Devils three games to two in the Eastern Conference Finals, Mark Messier put his reputation on the line, promising a game six win which would bring the series back to Broadway for game seven. Messier made good on his promise, leading his Rangers with a third-period hat-trick against the Devils to capture game six, before eliminating New Jersey in game seven.

In the Stanley cup Final, Messier and the Rangers defeated his future team in the Vancouver Canucks over a thrilling seven games. It marked Messier’s fifth career championship, and one which was well deserved, as he led the Playoffs with 31 points over just 22 games. This iconic photograph illustrates the relief and jubilation which comes with capturing hockey’s greatest prize, especially so given Messier himself played 98 games in 1993-94 to accomplish the feat.

“Give it to Bourque!” – Ray Bourque, Joe Sakic – 2001

Ray Bourque is a household name in the hockey world.

Arguably one of the greatest defenseman to ever play the game, Bourque was best characterized by his incredible offensive talent, alongside his ability to play a defensively sound game. Recording 1579 points over 1612 games, with a plus 528 rating certainly serve as proof.

In his career, Bourque would attend 19 NHL All-Star games, while also capturing the Calder Trophy, as well as five James Norris Trophies. However, through 22 years of regular season play, hockey’s grand prize, the Stanley Cup, had eluded Bourque despite reaching the playoffs in an incredible 20 seasons prior!

In 1999-00, Bourque left the Boston Bruins, where he had spent his entire career, in a trade with the Colorado Avalanche. It was the right move. Seeking his first Stanley Cup, Bourque teamed with the likes of Joe Sakic, Peter Forsberg and Patrick Roy, reaching the Finals in 2000-01. Although it took seven games to defeat the highly skilled New Jersey Devils, Bourque and the Avalanche had secured the Cup, where Sakic immediately passed Stanley to Bourque who hoisted it high.

Not only does this image capture the pinnacle of a lifetime’s work, it also illustrates the respect held between teammates. Sakic passing the Cup immediately to Bourque remains one of the classiest and respectful gestures in hockey history.

“A Painful Evolution” – Jacques Plante – 1959

NHL Photographs

History was made on November 1st, 1959.

During a game between the Montreal Canadiens and New York Rangers, goaltender Jacques Plante was hit in the face by an Andy Bathgate backhand. The shot opened up a significant gash near Plante’s nose, who was forced to the Canadiens’ locker room.

After getting stitched up by team trainers, Plante return to the bench, indicating to Head Coach Toe Blake that he could return to the game, but he would have to wear his mask, one which he had been using in practice for some time. Plante returned sporting the mask, marking the first time a goaltender had worn one in League history.

The Canadiens went on to win the game.

This picture, taken following the victory, encapsulates a moment of evolution in NHL history. Still bleeding relatively significantly from his gash, Plante showcases his mask, one which allowed him to, quite surprisingly, return to play. Although he did not know it at the time, the use of masks by goaltenders would sky-rocket in the coming years, as net-minders were simply suffering too frequently from horrifying facial injuries.

The beat up faces of goaltender had long displayed the toughness necessary to play goal in the NHL, yet, as any current goaltender would now tell you, they could not imagine having ever played without one.

“The Great One” – Wayne Gretzky – 1999

Wayne Gretzky is the greatest player in NHL history, of this there is no doubt.

With 2857 points over 1487 games played, including 894 goals, Gretzky’s offensive totals are unmatched, and will in all likelihood remain untouched in the NHL record book. A 19 time All-Star who captured five Lady Byng Trophies, five Ted Lindsay Trophies, nine Hart Memorial Trophies, 10 Art Ross Trophies as well as two Conn Smythe Trophies, his final NHL game is a moment which the vast majority of hockey fans surely remember.

His induction to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1999 serves as an appreciation to a man who gave, and did, such an incredible amount not just for the NHL, but the game of hockey as a whole. Following his final game, the NHL retired the number 99 league-wide.

“You have always been and will always be The Great One. There will never be another.” – Gary Bettman

“The Ultimate Sign of Respect” – Maurice Richard, Jim Henry – 1952

Maurice Richard

This photograph, taken by Roger St. Jean on April 8th, 1952, is one of the finest moments captured in NHL history.

I say this is one of the greatest not because of who is in the picture, Jim Henry and Maurice Richard, but because of the context of the situation. In the 1951-52 playoffs, the Bruins and Canadiens went to battle in the Stanley Cup Semi-Finals. In the seventh and deciding game, Richard suffered what was likely a concussion, one which forced his departure from the game – momentarily. In the third period, Richard returned, skating end to end with the puck, past the Bruins defense and into the corner before speeding out front, beating a surprised Henry.

The goal would stand as the game winner.

Following the contest, the two teams shook hands, where Henry congratulates Richard, seemingly bowing to the Montreal star. Both players boast clear indications of the physicality present in the series, Henry with black eyes and Richard with a bandage on his head, blood running down his face.

Yet, despite the apparent brutality of the game, both players pay one another their well due respect, illustrating both the physicality and sportsmanship which make hockey a truly unique sport.

Have a favorite photograph not mentioned here? Comment it below!