Which current player will people still be talking about 100 years from now?
Greg Wyshynski: If Alex Ovechkin stays on his current scoring pace this season, he’s going to clear 600 goals — and add a few more after that to his career total. He’s on track to become the eighth player to break the 700-goal mark. Even if he doesn’t hit 800 goals in his career — and he certainly could — we’ve witnessed one of the greatest goal scorers in the history of hockey doing his thing in this era.
He’s a dominant force, a rare combination of power and speed. He’s a rock star, helping to lift the Washington Capitals and the NHL out of the abyss of the lost 2004-05 season. Unlike Marcel Dionne, Mike Gartner and Brett Hull — all in the 700 club — Ovechkin could retire today with a trophy case’s worth of hardware: the Calder Trophy, the three Harts, the three Lindsays, the six Rocket Richards for leading the NHL in goals. He could also retire today and make the Hall of Fame.
Yes, I know: This is where you mention that other bit of hardware he’s yet to win. It’s a valid point about Ovechkin’s legacy, considering how differently we view all-time great goal scorers without a Stanley Cup (Gartner, Dionne) from those with multiple ones (Hull, Jagr, Gordie, Messier, Yzerman, etc.).
But if we’re talking about “Who will be remembered 100 years from now?” Well, wouldn’t being the best hockey player of all time to never win a Stanley Cup make Ovechkin quite memorable? Honestly?
Emily Kaplan: We’ll be talking about Sidney Crosby and this Pittsburgh Penguins dynasty for a long, long time (sorry, non-Yinzers). We’ll also be gushing about Connor McDavid for decades to come — as long as he and the Edmonton Oilers inevitably win all those Stanley Cups we prematurely handed them this offseason. But you know who I hope my grandchildren and great-grandchildren will be talking about? The legend of Jaromir Jagr.
There’s something mythical about hockey’s most famous mullet — and, of course, the man who sports it too. I’ll never not be fascinated by the longevity of the 6-foot-3, 230-pound lumbering Czech, who somehow found a way to stay relevant at age 45 while the NHL universe shifted younger, faster and smaller. Jagr’s name will be atop the record books for some time. As of this writing, he trails only Wayne Gretzky all-time in points (1,921), he’s third in goals (766) and, at 1,728 career games played, he just needs to suit up four more times to pass Ron Francis for third on the all-time list.
Jagr bridges generations; he’s only five degrees separated from the first NHL season. As Jonathon Jackson discovered last month, Jagr played against Guy Lafleur, who played against Gordie Howe, who played against Dit Clapper, who played with and against Cy Denneny … who played on opening night on Dec. 19, 1917.
Jagr was drafted with Keith Tkachuk in 1990 and now plays with his son, Matt Tkachuk, who was born in 1997. He has suited up for nearly a third of the league’s teams (nine) in good times and bad. And the more guys he skates with, the more we’ll hear stories about his unusual midnight workouts, the time he launched his own peanut butter product, his odd pregame nap habits and his grooming habits. And those are the types of stories that tend to stick.
Chris Peters: Have we not already been talking about Jagr for 100 years? That’s a great pick by Emily, as Jagr’s career is unique among any in professional sports. He truly is a treasure. As I thought about my own choice, a lot of different names popped into my head. I think we’ll all be talking about Crosby and Ovechkin for generations. I also thought about Erik Karlsson, who has changed the way we view defensemen — like Bobby Orr did — as Karlsson arrived not so long after the dead puck era. The “shutdown defenseman” is not extinct, but if you look at the NHL draft picks over the past few years — and ahead to the 2018 draft — you’ll see that defensemen who aren’t good skaters and can’t move the puck quickly wait a long time to hear their names called. Many will try to duplicate Karlsson’s style, but it takes special talent to even get close.
Ultimately, however, I think Connor McDavid will be the player of this exciting young wave whom grandparents will be telling their grandkids they got to see years down the line. There simply has never been a player like him, and I doubt that many future players will be able to even mimic him. He is the most breathtaking skater I’ve ever seen, period. Playing the game at the speed he does, with the ease he does, makes him truly exceptional. There will be video to preserve all of his highlights, and I’m sure it will be compatible with whatever technology exists in 100 years, but McDavid is best experienced live. Watching him cover the length of the ice in a blink, seeing him weave through defenders without breaking stride, hearing the puck as it hits the back bar of the net is all part of the McDavid experience. Those of us living in the present are the only ones who get to experience that.
Now, all of this comes with a big ol’ caveat. A big reason I opted to not go with Karlsson is that, as remarkable as he is to watch, legacies are built, solidified and literally preserved when one’s name is etched on the Stanley Cup, especially if it’s multiple times. Karlsson, 27, is deep enough into his career that getting a Cup is going to be more complicated. McDavid has time on his side, but in the salary cap era, a GM has to be able to build a contending team around him. As we’ve seen this season, the Oilers remain in a somewhat precarious place and are going to need to do even more building before they can be viewed as a serious Cup contender. McDavid is a singular talent, and I expect that one day he will lead a team to the Stanley Cup, but it’s not going to be entirely up to him.