LOS ANGELES – The 101st greatest NHL player to ever live got shafted Friday night in Los Angeles.
Not only did he miss out on an opportunity to swap war stories with Mario Lemieux and Bobby Orr and Red Kelly, mingle with Jaromir Jagr in a black-tie setting, and consume what we can only assume was some epic shrimp cocktail, but he got left standing on the cold side of the red rope to the most exclusive party in the sport.
“To be part of this top 100 list is the elite of the elite,” said Chris Pronger, who’d make a terrific bouncer for Club 100.
Sure, you’re totally great. Everyone thinks so. Just, y’know… not one of the greatest. Sorry, no wristband for you.
Teemu Selanne mentions Dale Hawerchuk and Paul Kariya as bubble guys from his era that weren’t included but deserve honourable mention.
Reminded there are 270 Hockey Hall of Famers but only 100 on The List, Mario Lemieux surveyed the stage and chuckled: “Some missing, huh?”
You know Mr. 101. You’ve admired his creativity, his longevity, his tenacity, his leadership, and the numbers that pop off the back of his hockey card like a 3-D film. So it pains you to see him left on the sidewalk.
“He’s way more deserving that Jean Ratelle!” you scream at your television. “Grant Fuhr had a career .887 save percentage, for Dryden’s sake! Pat LaFontaine couldn’t tie my guy’s skates with a 10-foot pole.” (At this point you’re furious and nonsensical.)
The 101st greatest, in your mind, is so much more deserving. And, chances are, he has a different name than your son’s Mr. 101 or your dad’s Mr. 101. Or your mom’s.
“There’s so many wonderful players that are not going to be part of this 100. I feel bad for them and their parents and their grandparents,” said Wayne Gretzky. Easy for him to say. He made the cut. “But the 100 guys who are here, we’re so thrilled. We’re like little kids.”
The little kid in all of us is thinking, No fair.
At the risk of dating myself, I never saw Newsy Lalonde live.
So I will narrow this snub piece — my ode to the 101s — to the active players who should’ve received an invite to the gala.
The NHL 100 was determined by a blue-ribbon, 58-member panel with a combined 1,800 years of experience around the game. They were handed a list of 200 or 300 candidates and instructed to make choices along lines of era and position. Write-in votes were encouraged.
“Nobody on the panel got all 100 correct,” commissioner Gary Bettman said. “A lot of people are going to say, ‘How could you omit this one? How could you omit that one?’ ”
How could you omit Evgeni Malkin, who ended up pulling out of all-star weekend at the last minute citing a lower-body injury? (Conspiracy theorists, have at ’er.)
“Of course, it’s hard to see lots of Russian players not on the list,” Alex Ovechkin said. “I’m pretty sure lots of great players are going to be on there in the future.”
Malkin ranks 14th all-time in points per game (1.178), more than every other active player not named Sidney Crosby. He owns two Art Ross trophies, two Stanley Cups, a Hart, a Ted Lindsay, a Calder, a Conn Smythe, three First All-Star Team nods, and permanent residency in Crosby’s shadow.
I asked Lemieux who his Mr. 101 is.
“Certainly Malkin would be close to 101,” said the Penguins owner, surprised by the omission. “There’s a lot of Hall of Famers that are not here, a lot of great players that are not here, like Malkin.”
Zdeno Chara has won the Cup, been named to seven First or Second All-Star Teams, and is a six-time Norris finalist (one win). Easily the tallest snub.
Three Canucks (Pavel Bure, Mats Sundin, Mark Messier) made the list, but none have the surname Sedin. I felt strongly Jarome Iginla, likely to rank top-15 in points when he retires, should be in. Others have made the case for Erik Karlsson (age 26) or Carey Price (29), but their youth likely hurt them.
So did this: “[A] Stanley Cup is important,” Gretzky said of his personal criteria, which also includes work ethic and Hall of Fame status.
“I grew up in an era where it didn’t matter if you were a great player or not—if you didn’t win a Stanley Cup, you were not an elite player. To me, that’s part of it.”
Three members of Chicago’s three-Cups modern dynasty strolled the stage, and it came at the expense of my Mr. 101.
I’m not mad at Duncan Keith’s entry; he can eat all the expensive shrimp he wants. But I do think Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews (both 28) —dynamic winners, no doubt—needed a few more years of excellence on their resumes.
My personal Mr. 101 is Joe Thornton. Should’ve been a lock, in my humble, non-voting opinion.
One of the greatest passers period, Thornton ranks 13th all-time in assists. He has 1,372 points over 1,417 career games. He’s won a Hart Trophy and finished top-10 in MVP voting six times. He also has an Art Ross and the undying respect of anyone who’s ever tried to grow a beard.
He never won a Cup, true, but neither did Sundin or LaFontaine, for example.
“It’s almost like some guys like apples, some guys like oranges. There’s so many great players who deserve to be here,” Selanne said. “Whoever chose the 100 players had a tough job.”
Finally. Something we can agree on.