All-Time Ranking Guide

With the PPS leaderboards and Patreon released, here’s a handy FAQ guide offering additional insight on the rankings, how they might differ from public perception, and how they reflect the NHL’s evolution over a century-plus.

Friendly reminder: While PPS is an attempt to rank and compare players systematically, no two people will rank anything the same way — let alone athletes spanning decades. It’s important to have fun and bring an open mind in this space.

🪜 Leaderboard FAQs

◾ Should forwards, defencemen, and goalies be compared directly?

When comparing players, positions should be considered separately. Each position accumulates value much differently — both on the ice and in PPS. The HHOF standard also differs significantly between positions in terms of inclusivity. As a result, comparing players across positions is not the intended purpose of the PPS system.

◾ Why do the rankings lean so modern?

In 1950-51, approximately one in 13,000 Canadian men aged 20-39 played an NHL game. Fast forward to 2019-20 and the figure was eerily similar. The difference? Canada’s population has since tripled and the NHL has become a global sport. So, despite expansion and larger rosters, that same slice of Canadians now competes against the entire hockey world. Being the 3rd-best forward in the Original Six is roughly like being 20th best today. So, with Post-Expansion players outnumbering Pre-Expansion players about 3:1, any sensible all-time ranking has to be heavy on modern players.

◾ Why does PPS have a timeline penalty?

As much as this project has been about leveling the playing field, the playing field has improved over time. Advancements in fitness and technology have irrefutably raised the standard of NHL play. As any standard of play rises in sport, it becomes more difficult to dominate. Each player inherently moves closer to the pack. The timeline penalty acknowledges this. So, while all you Swifties know this already — Eras matter.

◾ Why is a player’s 7-year peak assigned significant value?

Most hockey fans would agree with the following statements:

  1. Bobby Orr is the greatest defenceman of all-time;
  2. Guy Lafleur and Ken Dryden are among the all-time best players at their positions;
  3. Cam Neely warrants inclusion in the HHOF.

Why? Because their best stretches of dominance — even if relatively brief — were exceptional. For these statements to be accurate, prime years have to be a valuable measure. The wonderful symptom of Peak score is that it highlights other exceptional players for HHOF consideration that didn’t compile eye-popping career totals.

◾ Why does your list differ from conventional public rankings?

When it comes to all-time rankings, nostalgia usually dominates. At its centennial, the NHL’s 100 Greatest list had six active players. Yes, six. Even ignoring the massive growth in player count, routine arithmetic would tell you at least 15 or 20 active players should have been included. These leaderboards omit subjectivity, so they won’t look like your dad or your grandmother’s order. If Evgeni Malkin is a neutral-era 100-point scorer and Rocket Richard an 80-point scorer, then legacy aside, he gets that credit. The rankings have some alignment to the excellent NHL99 project by The Athletic — only covering all players in history vs. the 100 best, post-1967.

◾ Which type of players does the PPS system “like”?

Players that stand out in the rankings vs. public perception look something like this:

  • Skater: goal scorer; played in low offence era; shorter career but elite peak; plays on upper-tier defensive teams (example: Marian Gaborik);
  • Goaltender: high save percentage for era; played in high offence era; shorter career but elite peak; plays on lower-tier defensive teams (example: Kelly Hrudey)

The opposite is therefore true, as the anti-PPS prototype resembles:

  • Skater: assist-heavy point totals; played in high offence era; longer career but no defining peak; plays on lower-tier defensive teams (example: Vincent Damphousse)
  • Goaltender: low save percentage for era; played in low offence era; longer career but no defining peak; plays on upper-tier defensive teams (example: Jonathan Quick)

◾ How definitive are the rankings?

When all-time rankings and individual scores are assigned to a player’s career, they leap off the page. That said, there are limits to the underlying data, particularly the further back you go. PPS doesn’t attempt to incorporate contemporary analytics. The NHL didn’t measure ice time before the late-1990s. Or even plus/minus before the late-1950s. Or shots on goal pre-1955-56. No positional awards existed prior to 1930-31. So, if players are ranked similarly or their PPS scores are in the same ballpark, off-ice considerations and your instincts should always serve as the tiebreaker.

◾ What about off-ice impact, character, and play outside the NHL?

PPS scores are a starting point for career evaluation and HHOF worthiness. The system doesn’t attempt to assign a number to qualitative factors. But we need to acknowledge the importance of off-ice considerations in measuring a player’s complete hockey life. So, bump a player up or down for impact however you see fit!

◾ Why are active stars ranked so high?

We rarely appreciate greatness in our own time. Whether it’s Auston Matthews, Leon Draisaitl, or Cale Makar, they’ve all consistently played at a level most HHOF inductees never reach in a single season. The catch? They need to do it a little longer. The modern induction threshold for skaters has settled around 700 career games played (i.e., Peter Forsberg, Pavel Bure). Active star players need to stay healthy and relevant long enough to get there. That’s why they have an asterisk beside their name in the leaderboards and why their PPS cards have a ⚠️ sign in the HHOF verdict. Their outstanding PPS scores, however, appropriately reflect the extraordinary heights they’ve already reached.

◾ How much does a player’s PPS score move each year?

It depends where you’re at in your career! Here are examples from 2022-23:

  • Players that pass three seasons’ worth of games played first qualify for a Peak score (example: Adam Fox) and make their biggest move in PPS. Fox rose +121.
  • Players still extending their 7-year Peak score (example: Connor McDavid) continue to rocket upward. McDavid’s near-perfect season bumped his PPS +29.
  • Players past their peak still playing at a high level (example: Sidney Crosby) see modest gains. Crosby’s Career value rose faster than his Pace value dropped, so he jumped +4.
  • Players past their peak that struggle (example: Jeff Carter) see modest drops. Carter’s Career value did not rise faster than his Pace value dropped, docking him -2 in PPS.

PPS is designed so that once a player exits their prime, the score will move up slightly by continuing to be valuable and will drop only in instances when a player continues as a shadow of themselves. Bonuses for playoffs, international, or award shares remain attainable at any stage.

◾ Why are players known for defensive prowess not rated higher?

Even today, using new-age analytics that isolate defence extremely well, elite defensive players that provide modest offence aren’t considered top NHL players. Take Jordan Staal. He’s in the upper echelon of defensive forwards by any measure, but with only 34 points last year, he isn’t considered a top-tier star. So, while respected Hall of Famers like Bob Gainey or Guy Carbonneau were all-world at their craft, a specialist is exactly that — a specialist. Honouring specialties like defensive genius in rare cases is understandable, but it’s dual threats like Patrice Bergeron and Pavel Datsyuk that stand out in PPS.

◾ Why are winning goalies lower on the list?

PPS rewards goalies that prevent goals. Imagine that. Publicly, however, Vezina voting and Hall of Fame selections have largely leaned toward goalies on winning teams, full stop. While there are meaningful bonuses for Cup wins and Vezina shares in PPS, you’ll find some fascinating deviations from popular opinion. Whether it’s how high Roberto Luongo appears or how low Mike Vernon rates, save percentage relative to era and a heavier workload are difficult to refute as key indicators of providing a team value.

◾ How can you possibly have Doug Harvey ranked 18th?

I know, I know. Harvey, a seven-time Norris winner, was an invincible force in the Original Six. While commonly among the NHL point leaders by a defenceman, it was a different time. Defencemen were a lesser part of a team’s offence. In a neutral era, Harvey’s 82-game career pace is 6 goals, 36 assists, and 42 points. Reputation was king. The same handful of Canadian-only players on two or three teams competed annually for the same awards. So, while PPS gives him credit for his solid offensive game, stalwart defensive play, Cup count, and awards, a statistical approach won’t encompass Harvey’s legacy.

◾ Why are the Pre-Expansion standards so low?

The NHL’s first 50 years are extremely well represented in the HHOF. Incredibly, 1 in 13 players have been elected from the period 1917-1967. That’s not full-time players, either. If you played one NHL shift, you had a 7.8% chance of induction. That’s excluding players from the same time frame that played principally in pre-NHL leagues and competing pro leagues. Post-Expansion players, meanwhile, are elected at a rate of 1.4%, a figure that will grow slightly given players are still being inducted. This seismic gap in exclusivity is both why standards are split pre/post-1967 — and why the pre-expansion standard is so light.

◾ Are PPS scores predictive?

PPS isn’t designed to be predictive. If it were, it would weigh raw career numbers, reputation, Cup count, and outright award wins more heavily based on past precedent. By evaluating player performance with consideration to scoring environment and ignoring notoriety, PPS eliminates the noise. It seeks to answer the question “who should be in the HHOF” — not who will be. PPS will only become predictive to the extent it’s further accepted as a career measurement tool. #Goals