Whimsy time. The NHL has no present – just a future and a past. I cover the future, in the form of prospects, a lot, but today I want to talk about the past. Specifically, a game that could never exist, but would sure be a lot of fun to watch. Sort of like Field of Dreams but with less corn and more bodychecking. It’s a Rink of Dreams. Speculating about which players throughout the NHL’s history were the best is always going to be a comparison of apples and oranges, but here’s who I would like to see in an all-time game. Two goalies, six defense, nine forwards each – no fourth liners needed; I want these guys to get a lot of ice time.
Goalies: Patrick Roy, Martin Brodeur, Dominik Hasek, Tim Thomas
Defense: Bobby Orr, Larry Robinson, Chris Pronger, Eddie Shore, John Mayasich, Nick Lidstrom, Drew Doughty, Paul Coffey, Doug Harvey, Denis Potvin, Serge Savard, Zdeno Chara
Forwards: Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Gordie Howe, Guy Lafleur, Maurice Richard, Jean Beliveau, Herb Carnegie, Paul Kariya, Pavel Bure, Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Jaromir Jagr, Valery Kharlamov, Bobby Clarke, Bobby Hull, Brett Hull, Sergei Makarov, Mark Messier
The first thing you’ll notice is that Patrick Roy and Dominik Hasek are the oldest netminders. There’s a reason for this: I’ve seen footage of the best Hall of Famer goaltenders in their prime and their kick-save attempts wouldn’t cut it against modern competition. Ken Dryden would get ventilated by Pavel Bure and no history-making mask would save Jacques Plante from Zdeno Chara’s slapshot. The goaltending position revolutionized by Roy has simply changed too much.
Other than that, I tried to pick my rosters for maximum whimsy. Obviously today’s players are the biggest and most fit of any throughout time, but there were intangibles to some greats that stands the test of time. For instance, if Gordie Howe goes into a corner with Chris Pronger, how many times out of 10 does Mr. Hockey end up with the puck? I bet Gordie wins his share of battles. Could Bobby Orr go wide on Nick Lidstrom? And what would Sergei Makarov do to NHL competition in his prime, instead of the reality that saw him excel as a 31-year-old “rookie?” Who wins a foot race between Guy Lafleur and Paul Coffey? How liberal with the rules would Eddie Shore be if Mark Messier was the one staring him down?
To really drive home the Field of Dreams concept, I also included a couple players who never got their shot. Herb Carnegie was a smooth-skating offensive dynamo in the 1940s, but because he was black, no NHL team would sign him. Instead, he had to settle for lighting up lesser circuits with brother Ossie and buddy Manny McIntyre.
John Mayasich is a legend in Minnesota, but he never stepped foot on NHL ice either. The swift defenseman won four state high school titles and is still the all-time career scorer for the University of Minnesota with 298 points. His No. 8 is the only jersey retired by the Golden Gophers and he won Olympic gold with Team USA at the 1960 Olympics. But he never played in the NHL.
Valery Kharlamov never skated in the NHL, but his legendary play for the Soviet Union speaks for itself. Wonder what he’d do with Evgeni Malkin as his center.
Finally, there’s Paul Kariya. I know he had a great NHL career, but his prime was interrupted by a lockout in 1994-95 and a concussion that limited him to 22 games and no Olympics in 1997-98. Plus, he played through the Dead Puck Era and retired early due to concussions. Let’s give him one more spin.
On top of the legends, it would also be fun to see what Drew Doughty could do out there. He’s still young, but the dashing defenseman already has a Stanley Cup ring and a lot of hockey ahead of him. And I feel he would have the right enthusiasm, particularly since the other guys would call him “rookie” in the dressing room.
Ryan Kennedy, the co-author of Young Guns II, is THN’s associate senior writer and a regular contributor to THN.com. His column appears Wednesdays and The Hot List appears Tuesdays. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/THNRyanKennedy.