NHL’s Mount Rushmore belongs to its game-changers: Gretzky, Howe, Orr, and Roy

These four legends forever changed the game.

NHL Mount Rushmore
NHL Mount Rushmore: Gretzky, Howe, Orr, and Roy (Daily Goal Horn)

One of the coolest things in every sport is they all have their own version of Mount Rushmore. The monument which was completed in 1941 depicts four U.S. Presidents that define the birth and history of the country. George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln are carved into a mountain in South Dakota as a testament to American history.

So who should be on the NHL’s Mount Rushmore? There are many writers and sites that have tackled this subject over the years. Many of them almost all have the same faces carved in. My version is likely very similar to theirs except for one name.

NHL’s Mount Rushmore: The Criteria

I could easily just drop four Hall of Fame names here and harp on their stats. Give the same tired platitudes that accompany any article about one of the player’s mentioned. Some would read it and agree, others may cry foul as to why Maurice “the Rocket” Richard is missing. Or how come no Mark Messier or Mario Lemieux? The debates will never end.

My NHL Mount Rushmore isn’t just about statistical greatness, these four legends changed the way the game is played. Hockey as we know it today was greatly influenced by these individuals who stood out in a true team sport.

That is why I selected them for my monument to the game.

Wayne Gretzky

wayne gretzky
Wayne Gretzky’s rookie card just sold for $1.29 million (Bruce Bennett / Getty Images)

Wayne Gretzky is the greatest player to ever lace up skates. He may also be the greatest player in all of team sports because he absolutely dominated his like no other has. Not Michael Jordan, not Tom Brady, or even Babe Ruth.

The “Great One” as he’s been dubbed, started shooting tennis balls at his grandmother as soon as he could stand. He learned the game being glued to Hockey Night in Canada with a notepad and a pencil. While watching he would just draw where the puck was going. Call him your first analytics guru if you will.

Why did he do this? He told people it was because he wanted to see where the puck was on the ice most of the time.

It soon became apparent to him that setting up behind the net was a great way to generate offense and pick up points. That spot behind the goal is now officially known as Gretzky’s Office.

Number 99 holds or shares 61 NHL records. He is the game’s all-time leading goal scorer (894), assist getter (1962), and point producer (2856). Matter of fact, had Gretzky never scored a goal, he’d still be the all-time leader in points by 41, over Jaromir Jagr’s 1921 points.

He simply revolutionized offense in the NHL. He also inspired a new generation of stars, and continues to be the game’s most recognizable face.

Wayne also popularized the sport to a broader U.S. audience with his trade to the L.A. Kings in 1988. He’s widely considered a key reason why there are hockey teams in the Sunbelt. The state of California saw the Sharks come on in 1991 and the Ducks in 1993. Florida also joined in with the Panthers in 1993 after the Lightning joined in 1992.

“Everything I have in my life, I owe to the game of hockey,” Gretzky once said. The game owes him just as much.

Gordie Howe

gordie howe
Sep 23, 2017; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Red Wings fans walk by the statue of Gordie Howe prior to the start of the Red Wings preseason game against the Boston Bruins at the new Little Caesars Arena. Mandatory Credit: Diane Weiss-USA TODAY Sports

Gordie Howe should be on this list solely because he inspired Wayne Gretzky to play hockey. Howe was a larger than life figure in the sport, and defined the way the game was played during his time.

He was tough, but he could score with the best of them. Howe was the definition of today’s power forwards.

“Mr. Hockey” as he was known, was the face of the NHL for decades. His impact is still felt today, especially if a player picks up a goal, assist, and a fighting major. That’s known as a “Gordie Howe Hat-Trick.” Oddly enough, for a man that played in 1767 NHL games. he’s only credited with two of those.

Yes, that’s how formidable and scary an opponent Gordie Howe was. His reputation as one of the game’s toughest players is unparalleled. Having 1685 penalty minutes will do that.

Howe finished the game as its leading scorer with 1850 points back in 1980. That was before Wayne Gretzky shattered it, and eventually Jaromir Jagr and Mark Messier passed him. Gordie still sits comfortably 4th all-time and should remain there for awhile.

Bobby Orr

Bobby Orr
Bobby Orr flies through the air after Cup winning goal (NHLI)

Before Wayne Gretzky revolutionized the way offense was played, Bobby Orr absolutely caused a seismic shift on defense.

Orr was breathtaking.

Many who have seen Wayne and Gordie play believe that Orr is the greatest hockey player ever. Never before had a defenseman rushed the puck up ice and score the way this kid from Parry Sound, Ontario did. The role was changed forever thanks to this offensive wizard.

Sadly, his career was cut drastically short. After 12 incredible years, Orr was forced to retire at the age of 30 due to his knees. In reality, he was done by 27 playing just 36 games from 1975-76 to 1978-79.

Orr finished his career with 915 points in 657 games which is good for 11th all-time. He scored an astonishing 270 goals from the blue-line.

So how great was Bobby Orr that he deserves to be on NHL’s Mount Rushmore? Ray Bourque is the all-time leading scorer for defenseman with 1579 points. However; his points per game average was .98 while Orr’s was 1.39. By the way, that’s the highest among all blue-liners in NHL history.

Patrick Roy

Patrick Roy
Patrick Roy hoists Cup in 1993 (NHLI)

This is going to be the most debated selection of the four. Patrick Roy is my pick for the last spot on NHL’s Mount Rushmore.

Patrick Roy? I mean Marty Brodeur is the NHL’s all-time leader in wins with 691, so it should be him is a valid argument. However; these selections are not just about stats but revolutionizing the sport.

When Roy came on the scene, goaltenders in the NHL were small and not necessarily the best athletes on the team. St. Patrick as he became known in Montreal was a monster in goal at 6-2 and 185 lbs. Yes, he’d be considered average to small by today’s standards, which brings me to my point about changing the game.

Today, if you see a goalie under 6′ feet it’s a shock. The NHL is a copycat league, and once GM’s saw Roy they knew it was time to look at goaltending different.

While there’s some debate as to which Blackhawks goalie between Tony Esposito and Glenn Hall were the first to play “the butterfly” style, Patrick Roy hybridized and perfected it.

He stormed onto the scene as a rookie in 1986 and won the Stanley Cup as teams could not solve the young netminder. Roy using his size would drop down into the butterfly, expand his pads, raise both his glove and blocker to become impenetrable.

Roy continued to win Stanley Cups and played with a confidence and swagger most goalies simply did not share. Beyond his on ice heroics, he also was instrumental in revolutionizing goalie equipment and remains an advocate for tenders to this day.

Marty Brodeur may be the all-time leader in wins, but it helped he played for one of the NHL’s greatest defensive teams in New Jersey. Everything about Brodeur was shaped by Roy who happens to be the second all-time winning goalie with 551 wins in 237 less games than Brodeur.

Patrick Roy’s career stats also come with a .910 SV% and 2.54 GAA. His 4 Cups and 3 Vezina Trophies don’t hurt either. WINK.

NHL.com used for stats and some research