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The NHL is one of the most storied professional sports leagues in the world. You can see that in the structure. Pro hockey in North America has long been linked to Canadian identity. For a long time, the NHL’s major awards were named after incongruous figures like former Canadian PM Lester Pearson. The conferences were named after the Prince of Wales and Clarence Campbell. Much of hockey’s fandom still loves all this history. And along with the nuts and bolts of the league, they enjoy healthy debate about all-time greats in the sport. 

In the 1980s and early 1990s, the debate raged on about who was better: Gretzky or Lemieux. Why they each had an incredible touch when it came to scoring goals, Lemieux had a physicality that Gretzky lacked. In his early seasons, it seemed like Super Mario could literally do anything. Lemieux never quite caught up to Gretzky’s professional scoring totals. But fans have often wondered what might’ve been if Lemieux had been totally healthy instead of battling cancer in 1993. 

The most legendary defender in hockey history is surely Bobby Orr. Orr was famous from the time he was a teen playing junior hockey in Sault Ste. Marie. With a humble demeanor and incredible moves on the ice, Bobby Orr proved that a defender could play both ways. He was the inspiration for a later high scoring defender like Paul Coffey, Ray Bourque, and Brian Leetch. Over the years, there have been rumblings that the NHL needs an award for an offensive defender and that it should definitely be named after Orr.

Finally, Gordie Howe was the template for a star hockey player during much of the Original Six era of the NHL. Playing for Detroit, Howe could put up incredible scoring numbers and still be a fearsome physical presence on the ice. Gordie Howe played 30-plus seasons of professional hockey in both the NHL and WHA, at one time on the same team as his sons Mark and Marty. Howe’s legacy to the game remains the so-called “Gordie Howe Hat Trick.” In a standard hat trick, a player scores three goals. Howe’s version involved a goal, an assist, and a fight. For many viewers, he remains the ideal for a complete hockey player.