Wayne Gretzky’s Best Lineup

When filling out an all-time Wayne Gretzky roster, one may run into 99 problems but 99 ain’t one.  Surely there is no dearth of talent, especially considering the team’s that Gretz laced ’em up for.  Ah but therein lies the problem, trying to piece together a roster as great as “The Great One.”

Like any roster there are certain considerations to be made.  For instance, does one choose players regardless of position?  Should one include the “best” players or the best “role players” to fill out the roster?  It’s also a daunting proposition when one considers that virtually any of Gretzky’s Edmonton Oilers teams could qualify for this, long before taking into consideration the Los Angeles, St. Louis and New York days.

Alas, here is my list of the best Gretzky lineup.

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1.) Wayne Gretzky (C): Of course!  This is an easy call.  Four Stanley Cup titles and six trips to the Final overall.  Recorded 894 goals, 1,963 assists and 2,857 points overall and broke countless NHL records.  Count his WHA totals and NHL Stanley Cup playoff goals and that’s well over 1,000 tallies.  Gretzky also has 31 combined regular and postseason awards to his credit, included within that are nine Hart Memorial Trophies and two Conn Smythe Trophies as well.  His number 99 is retired in every single NHL building and he is responsible for helping grow and popularize the sport of hockey in markets which have now realized just how truly special this sport is.  A Hockey Hall of Famer.

Wayne Gretzky (Phil/Flickr)

2.) Mark Messier (C): Another obviously choice when considering a second line center.  Messier was teammates with Gretzky on the Edmonton Oilers and New York Rangers.  Chances are that you know the numbers on “Mess” too.  Six Stanley Cup titles, 694 goals, 1,193 assists and 1,887 points overall.  Messier also has a Conn Smythe and two Hart Memorial Trophies on his ledger.  Also a Hockey Hall of Famer.

Mark Messier {Photo: Gary B – Flickr}

3.) Bernie Nicholls (C): We move to the first Los Angeles Kings teammate of Gretzky and that is Bernie Nicholls.  When Gretzky arrived on the Hollywood scene in 1988-89, Nicholls posted his most impressive NHL season.  While Gretzky led the squad in overall points, Nicholls put up 70 goals and 80 assists for a total of 150 points.  Across his career, Nicholls racked up 475 goals and 734 helpers, totaling 1,209 points.  Plus, Nicholls was even eventually traded for the number two guy on this list.

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4.) Pat LaFontaine/Craig MacTavish (C): Wait, there’s no tying in hockey anymore!  Well at least there was when these two guys played, so I’m allowing it.  This is the first “conundrum” on the list for me and here’s why.  Overall LaFontaine had the better career statistically with 468 goals, 545 assists and 1,013 points.  Heck, being a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame, one could argue that he deserves a higher spot in the pecking order than Nicholls.  Although (no offense to Pat) he only played one year on the Rangers with Gretzky and would you want him on your fourth line?  I guess that depends on your philosophy.  MacTavish on the other hand (the last helmet-less player) was more of a grinder, an excellent face-off man and was teammates with Gretzky on the Oilers and St. Louis Blues.  MacTavish also has four Stanley Cups to his name.

Craig MacTavish, seen here as coach of the Edmonton Oilers, was the last active NHLer to play without a helmet. (Icon SMI)

5.) Jari Kurri (RW): Moving along to the wingers, Kurri takes top billing at right wing on this list.  A member of the Hockey Hall of Fame and five-time Stanley Cup champion.  Kurri was teammates with Gretzky in both Edmonton and Los Angeles.  Over his career, Kurri notched 601 goals, 797 assists and 1,398 points.  On four of those Cup winners with Gretzky, Kurri led all players in playoff goals.

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6.) Brett Hull (RW): Based on his numbers, Hull could arguably be top right wing on this list.  However I’m factoring in time played together here as well.  Hull and Gretzky were teammates on the Blues.  Hull is a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame and has two Stanley Cups and a Hart Memorial Trophy to his name.  Three times Hull led the NHL in goals scored and on his career, Hull registered 741 markers, 650 assists and 1,391 points.

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7.) Glenn Anderson (RW): On the third line it’s another member of the Hockey Hall of Fame, Glenn Anderson.  Anderson was teammates with Gretzky on the Oilers and Blues.  In his career, Anderson won six Stanley Cups, scored 498 goals, 601 assists and 1,099 points.  In addition to being a four-time All-Star, Anderson was something of an iron man, finishing first in games played three times.

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8.) Dave Taylor (RW): This was a close call here between Taylor, Alexei Kovalev, John MacLean, Rick Tocchet and Tomas Sandstrom.  Each netted over 400 goals but I’ll give Taylor the nod since he played with Gretzky a little longer with the Kings.  To be precise, Taylor scored 431 goals, had 638 assists and 1,069 points.  Taylor is also a four-time NHL All-Star and won the Bill Masterson Memorial Trophy and the King Clancy Memorial Trophy as well.  Although upon further review by the video below, Wayne may beg to differ on this choice.

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9.) Luc Robitaille (LW): Another unanimous choice and another member of the Hockey Hall of Fame, Luc Robitaille tops the list for left wing.  Robitaille and Gretzky played together in Los Angeles and New York.  The two helped guide the Kings to their first Stanley Cup Final appearance in 1992-93.  During that campaign, Robitaille posted a career high 63 goals and 125 points.  In his career, Robitaille was an eight-time All-Star, won the Calder Trophy and one Stanley Cup title.  Overall, Robitaille tallied 668 goals, 726 assists and 1,394 points.

(Jayne Kamin-Oncea-US PRESSWIRE)

10.) Esa Tikkanen (LW): I like Tikkannen here because of the versatility he gives you.  Tikkannen won five Stanley Cups, scored 244 goals and three times ranked in the top ten in shorthanded markers.  On a team like this, Tikkannen gives you 20-to-30 goals and he’s not afraid to throw is weight around and drop the gloves.  Gretzky and Tikkannen were teammates in Edmonton, St. Louis and New York.

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11.) Adam Graves (LW): I could’ve gone with Graves or Kevin Stevens (both of whom finished with an identical career goal total of 329) or even Geoff Courtnall or Craig Simpson or Tony Granato.  However, Gravy played with Gretzky a little bit longer in New York.  Graves also won two Stanley Cups, a King Clancy Memorial Trophy and a Bill Masterson Trophy.

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12.) Dave Semenko (LW): Oh sure you could go with more skill here but you gotta protect “The Great One!”  On a pair of Stanley Cup winners in Edmonton, Semenko did just that.  Over his career Semenko racked up 1,175 penalty minutes and fits just fine on the fourth line.

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13.) Paul Coffey (D): As we shift to the defence, we’ll begin with yet another member of the Hockey Hall of Fame.  Coffey was teammates with Gretzky in both Edmonton and L.A.  A four-time Stanley Cup champion, three-time Norris Trophy recipient and 14-time All-Star, Coffey gets the nod.  Coffey also had five 100-point season’s, four 30-goal season’s, two 40-goal season’s and nearly topped 50 during the 1985-86 campaign.

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14.) Larry Robinson (D): Another member of the Hockey Hall of Fame, Robinson was teammates with Gretzky on the Kings.  Had they played longer together or were Robinson’s prime years in L.A. rather than Montreal, I might put him higher on this list for defence.  Did you know that Robinson once had a +/- rating of +120, during the 1976-77 campaign for the Canadiens?  That’s crazy!  Of course Robinson was also a six-time Stanley Cup winner and took home Conn Smythe honors once, was twice a Norris Trophy winner, a ten-time All-Star and is boasts a career plus/minus rating of plus 730.

Robinson playing at the Alumni Legends Classic in Toronto in 2008. The Sharks hired him for what’s behind the gray hair and long-depleted skating skills. Credit: By Horge (Own work) via Wikimedia Commons.

15.) Brian Leetch (D): Also a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame, Leetch and Gretzky were teammates in New York.  Over his career, Leetch won a Stanley Cup and earned the Conn Smythe.  Leetch also won the Calder Trophy and twice took home the Norris Trophy.  Additionally, Leetch is a nine-time All-Star and totaled 1,028 points on the blue line.

Brian Leetch, captain of the NHL’s New York Rangers, during a game in Vancouver, BC.

16.) Rob Blake (D):  Teammates with Gretzky on the Kings, I placed Blake here over the latter two defencemen, due to his time played with “The Great One” and his All-Star status.  Plus Blake adds some toughness to the blue line, having racked up 1,679.  Both were on the Kings’ runner-up squad in 1992-93.  Blake also has a Stanley Cup, Norris Trophy and seven All-Star appearances to his credit.

Rob Blake (used by permission from Ivanmakarov at en.wikipedia [CC-BY-3.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)]
17.) Al MacInnis (D):Would’ve been much higher on the list had he and Gretzky played together longer on the Blues or elsewhere.  A Hockey Hall of Fame member, MacInnis tallied 340 goals, 934 assists and 1,274 points, along with a plus/minus rating of +373.  Six-times MacInnis topped the 20-goal plateau.  Additionally, MacInnis has won a Stanley Cup, Conn Smythe Trophy and a Norris Trophy to go along with his 12 All-Star appearances.

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18.) Chris Pronger (D):  The lone still active player on this list, I changed my stance a bit here with picking Pronger over say a Kevin Lowe, Mathieu Schneider and Marty McSorley.  Both played together in St. Louis.  Pronger is a Hart Memorial Trophy winner and a Norris Trophy winner.  Additionally, Pronger has won a Stanley Cup, is a five-time All-Star and twice led the league in plus/minus rating.

Chris Pronger
(Bruce Fedyck-US PRESSWIRE)

19.) Grant Fuhr (G):  Another position (goalie) and yet another member of the Hockey Hall of Fame.  Fuhr and Gretzky played together in Edmonton, Los Angeles and St. Louis.  Fuhr was quite the workhorse in his day, logging 868 games and 48,945 minutes in net.  Fuhr also recorded over 19,403 saves.  A four-time Stanley Cup champion, Fuhr also won a Vezina Trophy and the William M. Jennings Trophy and had six All-Star appearances to his ledger.  Additionally, Fuhr twice led the NHL in wins, saves and games played.

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20.) Mike Richter (G):  For me, Richter edges out Andy Moog, Kelly Hrudey, Bill Ranford, Glenn Healy and Jon Casey.  Richter won a Stanley Cup and 301 games.  Once led the league in wins and games played.  While the others played more during the free wheeling 1980’s, Richter tops them with a save percentage of .904.  Richter also posted a goals against average of 2.89, along with 24 shutouts.  Richter was also a three-time NHL All-Star and played with Gretzky on the Rangers.

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Alright, so now that you’ve read the names and numbers, let the great (one) debate commence.