In public HOF opinions, a player’s career point total is often the most frequent argument. Absent any context, the same top point leaders outside the Hall of Fame surface as candidates, such as Pierre Turgeon, Jeremy Roenick, Bernie Nicholls, or Rod Brind’Amour. However, value is not created simply by banking points over an arbitrary number of games in a variety of scoring environments.
Career value will comprise the first of five factors in the PPS system. It’s not easy to stay in the NHL for a season, let alone five, 10, or 20 seasons. Few players have the talent, motivation, good health, adaptability, and luck to hang in hockey’s best league. Fewer still have the ability to contribute meaningfully for a long time. That ability to contribute meaningfully is what we want to capture through career value.
In our review of adjusted point shares, we illustrated, analyzed, and amended Hockey Reference’s point shares to form a holistic measure of yearly value. Logically, career adjusted point shares will drive our assessment of career value within PPS.
Keep in mind, AdPS reflect season length, roster size, and loser-point adjustments, retrofitting every player’s career as best as possible.
Let’s consider Roenick. An outstanding player and outsized personality, he impressively sits 45th in career points. But since players receive point shares for contributions above replacement, J.R. will only get credit in our system to the extent he added value. A fixture in the NHL from his 19th through 39th birthdays, Roenick accrues a total of 125.8 career AdPS:
- Seasons 1-16: a dynamic and relentless contributor to three franchises, he earns an impressive 119.1 AdPS;
- Seasons 17-20: an aging veteran chasing a Stanley Cup, he earns a modest 6.8 AdPS, his twilight adding little to his career value.
Roenick will be one of many intriguing candidates once we establish a complete picture of the PPS standards by era and position. Continuing with him as an example, the conversion of career value in our methodology is simple:
125.8 career AdPS ÷ 15 = 8.4
PPS Factor #1: Career ValueCareer adjusted point shares ÷ 1.5
Why divide by a constant of 15? We noted that we want each of the values for career, pace, and peak to be the foundation of PPS. As a result, we need them on an equitable scale. Given career value is the sum of a player’s career, 15 is a logical divisor as a mid-point of career length for typical Hall of Fame members and candidates. Experimenting with a constant of 20 tended to undervalue long careers, whereas a constant of 10 weighted long careers too heavily in the overall formula. A divisor of 15 works neatly to calibrate career value with that of pace and peak.
The Era Leaderboard
Armed with our first factor in PPS, the natural inclination is to look at who earns the most career value within the methodology. Given a constant divisor, the career value leaderboard is a listing of career AdPS.
Top Players by Era, PPS Career Value
|1||Nels Stewart||93||King Clancy||90||Clint Benedict||124|
|2||Gordie Howe||154||Red Kelly||104||Terry Sawchuk||115|
|3||Wayne Gretzky||170||Ray Bourque||167||Tony Esposito||129|
|4||Jaromir Jagr||144||Nicklas Lidstrom||136||Patrick Roy||135|
Stats through 2021-22
As we’d expect, the names form a who’s who of NHL legends, specialists in durability in their day. The quality of the names at the top allow us to gain confidence in the first factor.
Of note, Era 1’s Stewart and Clancy lag behind subsequent generation leaders by career value. There are several reasons for this trend among Era 1 players:
- When the NHL began in 1917-18, many pioneering stars had already debuted in other pro circuits.
- Players had relatively short careers by number of seasons due to war service, major injury, and incentives toward securing post-hockey lives.
- Given smaller roster sizes and fewer teams, there were simply fewer NHL players to potentially carve out long careers.
The Position Leaderboard
Next, we’ll review the top five players overall under the same lens, sorted by position. As we navigate into PPS and its results, the need to separate all players by position and/or era will become an ongoing theme; such disaggregation is required to set appropriately streamlined standards. As a bonus, we’ll add in the active leaders at the bottom of the chart, denoted with an asterisk (*).
Top Players by Position, PPS Career Value
|1||Wayne Gretzky||3||170||Ray Bourque||3||167||Patrick Roy||4||135|
|2||Gordie Howe||2||154||Nicklas Lidstrom||4||136||Roberto Luongo||4||134|
|3||Jaromir Jagr||4||144||Al MacInnis||4||132||Martin Brodeur||4||133|
|4||Alex Ovechkin||4||119||Paul Coffey||3||129||Tony Esposito||3||129|
|5||Steve Yzerman||3||113||Larry Murphy||3||121||Clint Benedict||1||124|
|*||Alex Ovechkin||4||119||Brent Burns||4||81||Marc-Andre Fleury||4||104|
Stats through 2021-22
An outstanding group, without question. Gretzky, Bourque, and Howe as the top three overall in career value is sound based on the breadth of their careers. While Gretzky, the all-time leading scorer by a mile (or kilometre, for us Canadians), earns the most career value, you likely noticed it’s closer than perhaps expected. The Great One’s career points lead is an unfathomable 49% over second place, but his lead in the offensive component of career value is “just” 17%. Career AdPS factors in how wild offence was in Gretzky’s day, yet still assigns significant credit his dominance, only relative to the times.
Perhaps only the inclusion of Murphy and Luongo jump out as mild surprises. However, each player sits third at their respective positions in career adjusted games played (through 2020-21), having capably suited up for an extremely long time. You also won’t find Lemieux, Orr, or Hasek on the leaderboards, their career length shorter in duration. It will be interesting to see how the other factors of PPS shape up for any of the above highlighted players, career value being only the first element of their aggregate score.
Another notable consideration is how heavily the leaderboard leans toward the second half of NHL history (i.e., Eras 3 and 4). Whenever reviewing all-time rankings, we have to keep in mind the breakdown of players by time period summarized in NHL Eras. The significant growth in number of teams and roster size over the years results in total player splits by era (1 through 4, respectively) of 8%, 9%, 32%, and 51%. While some current Era 4 players will ultimately shift to Era 5 as their careers unfold (e.g. Auston Matthews), the last quarter-century of hockey has featured a majority of all NHL players. As such, our leaderboards will logically tilt modern by virtue of player volume.
This is not a critique on the NHL’s pre-World War II talent or the Original Six period, but rather a reflection that the pool of players has risen exponentially from those days. Most fans are understandably quick to praise bygone eras, given they likely featured their childhood heroes. However, a list of all-time greats that prominently features pre-expansion players does not hold up well to routine arithmetic. The NHL’s centennial top 100 player listing’s lack of active players is a clear illustration of the phenomenon of over-representing history and under-representing greatness in plain view. Given the increase in players over time, Eras 3 and 4 will be frequently represented in any objective ranking, including PPS.
Career value is just the first slice of the PPS pie. We still have to consider each player’s pace, peak, timeline adjustments, playoff and international success, and award voting against their peer group to draw any conclusions. But with our deep dive into the first factor of the PPS system, we’re one step closer to determining the game’s greatest players.
As we’ll do with each PPS factor after its introduction, it will get added to Jarome Iginla‘s example player card. With 147.6 career AdPS, Iggy scores 9.8 for career value, filling in the first core slot highlighted below. If curious, this is an incredible figure – 17th among all forwards in NHL history. The value is a reflection of the sustained excellence of Iginla’s career.
Era Names, Era development concepts, Adjusted GP, Adjusted Yrs, Adjusted PS, Adjusted Pace data, PPS System and Player Card from Adjusted Hockey;
All other data from Hockey-Reference.com.