In every sport there is a common debate. Who is the G.O.A.T? In football you have Brady and Montana. In basketball you have LeBron and MJ. In baseball you have Bonds and Ruth. I’m going to attempt to effectively compare players across generations. However, goals and assists don’t tell the whole story when comparing players across generations. So to compare these players I used more than points, instead I also used analytics and adjusted scoring.
Howie Morenz was the original G.O.A.T of hockey as he was the best player of the 20s then making him the first to break all sorts of records and then you have Patrick Kane, the 2007 1st overall pick and the greatest American in NHL history. Howie Morenz vs Patrick Kane. Morenz was the first in league history to score 50 points and 40 goals. He would average 56 goals per 82 games played and probably more considering how much more grittier the game was and how different the rules were. For example, Morenz shattered records in the 20s even though the forward pass wasn’t even a thing until the 1929-1930 season! He also won a Hart Trophy (MVP) and two Stanley Cups. Patrick Kane is the most prolific scorer of the decade with 792 points. So far in his career he has won a Hart Trophy and three Stanley Cups just in the 2010s. Each player owns a spectacular resume. Even without rules and analytics factored in you can see Morenz is better. Per 82 games he averaged 56 goals per season and Kane averages 31. But with analytics such as point shares and adjusted points Morenz also beats out Kane. Simply put, Morenz is a better player than Kane but never got to put up the same stats because the era he played in the seasons were shorter and the rules were different.
These players play a very similar brand of hockey. Goals, goals, and even more goals. In fact, the award for the most goals in a season is called the Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy. So this comparison will be between the award’s namesake and the nine-time winner. Maurice ”Rocket” Richard vs Alexander Ovechkin. One difference is icing was permitted which allowed there to be less premium shots. Without icing causing a neutral zone faceoff like it does today it was allowed other teams could get a fresh unit on the ice and prevent scoring chances versus a tired unit. Richard in his career won a Hart Trophy and two Stanley Cups. Ovechkin has won three Hart Trophies and one Stanley Cup. Now let’s move on to the stats Ovechkin and Richard both average 50 goals a season. Ovechkin has 706 career goals over a 15 year career. If Richard played a 82 game season like we do today he would’ve amassed 700 goals and Ovechkin would be the 9th player in NHL history to score 700 goals. Both are prolific goal scorers but let’s move on to analytics. Point shares show how much a player contributes to his team. Through an 18 year career Richard has a 105.3 in point shares. However, in only 15 years Ovechkin has a 145.7 percent in point shares. Clearly, Ovechkin was more valuable thus the Hart Trophies. Overall, Alex Ovechkin is better accolade wise, stats wise they’re even, but he is also better analytics wise.
For my final comparison I will use two players that are in the top five for all scoring categories even though their primes were 20 years apart: Gordie Howe vs Wayne Gretzky. Gretzky wore 99 in honor of Gordie Howe, his childhood idol. These are two of the greatest to ever do it. When Gretzky played, two huge rule changes were implemented. A five-minute sudden death overtime allowed there to be a chunk more of hockey for Gretzky to score. Also, the high sticking penalty was adjusted so you could score goals while lifting the puck which influenced scoring. Gretzky has nine Hart Trophies and four Stanley Cups. Howe has six Hart Trophies and four Stanley Cups. Howe averaged 38 goals a season and scored 804 career goals compared to Gretzky’s 894. Both of these players were incredibly valuable to their respective franchises. Howe had 186.6 percent of point shares amassed in a 26 year span. Gretzky had 223.3 career point shares. All in all these players dominated their eras and were the best to do it. Gretzky is the better player though.
In conclusion, you can evaluate players from different generations as long as you weigh all the factors. Points, analytics, adjusted points, and the rule changes to account for some point gaps. Sometimes you will see a player from the 20s (Morenz) can be much better than a modern player (Kane). Or a modern all time great (Ovechkin) be better than a hockey legend (Richard). And when you compare two of the best (Gretzky and Howe) one will always be better than the other.