Eras and Positions

Before detailing the PPS system, we’ll first separate all players into distinct historical time periods and positions. You may be thinking: “If the HHOF recognizes the best players in history, why should it matter when or what position they played?” In theory, it shouldn’t. In practice, however, we have to appreciate that the NHL has grown exponentially since it began.

“Jarome Iginla” by Dinur is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

Consider the following table, highlighting the head count of full-time NHL player spots over the years.

NHL Full-Time Player Pool, Selected Seasons

Number of Teams36122631
Skaters per Team914161818
Full-Time Skaters, Total2784192468558
Goaltenders per Team11222
Full-Time Goaltenders, Total36245262
NHL Full-Time Player Pool3090216520620

The full-time player pool demonstrates the massive growth of the league’s personnel over the years.

  • There are about 20 times more NHL jobs today than in the league’s earliest days.
  • There are about seven times more jobs than in the Original Six.
  • The 2021-22 season alone featured 1,123 players dressing in at least one game.

If the HHOF inducted members in line with its player population, it would not fairly represent hockey’s history. As a result, HHOF standards must be set by era under the methodology to ensure an appropriate balance between generations.

The Eras

With 104 seasons on record through 2021-22, what is the right number of distinct periods?

Splitting the past four ways is the most sensible choice, allowing a century or so of hockey to be divided across roughly four quarter-centuries. NHL history lends itself well to such slices, as major events and changes in demographics align neatly to the following cutoff points.

#1: Founding Era (1917-42)

  • This era represents a period of great instability, bookending two World Wars and encompassing the Great Depression.
  • On the ice, the NHL was similarly unstable, as major rule changes, franchise counts, and scoring levels were in constant flux.
  • The NHL established itself as North America’s major professional hockey league.
  • Think of players like Charlie Conacher, Eddie Shore, and Clint Benedict.

#2: Original Six Era (1942-1967)

  • This era represents the stabilizing of the NHL, coinciding with North America’s post-WWII recovery.
  • On the ice, the same sextuplet of teams battled for 25 years as helmetless faces gradually ushered in television’s debut.
  • The NHL schedule grew from 50 to 70 games during the Original Six.
  • Think of players like Milt Schmidt, Tim Horton, and Terry Sawchuk.

#3: Expansion Era (1967-1993)

  • This era represents rapid NHL growth, doubling its team count to 12 in 1967 and doubling again to 24 by 1993.
  • On the ice, scoring and fighting exploded, the NHL won its battle for talent with the rival WHA, and best-on-best international play was introduced.
  • The NHL grew as a business enterprise, leaving behind the cozy confines of regional play and becoming a coast-to-coast sport.
  • Think of players like Guy Lafleur, Ray Bourque, and Ken Dryden.

#4: Modern Era (1993-2020)

  • This era represents a time of labour instability, an influx of European and American talent, and the creation of a salary cap in 2005 after a lost season.
  • On the ice, the league’s scoring descent began, as teams prioritized goal prevention while the goaltending position advanced.
  • The NHL introduced shootouts as tie-breakers, a point for losing after regulation, and NHL talent first debuted at the Olympics.
  • Think of players like Steven Stamkos, Nicklas Lidstrom, and Martin Brodeur.

#5: COVID Era (2020-present)

  • This era represents the first two seasons to date played under the shadow of the global pandemic.
  • On the ice, speed and skill launch the pace forward, and scoring ticks upward in 2021-22 to levels not seen since the mid-1990s.
  • While the ultimate duration and impact of the pandemic on the NHL and its economics is unknown, hopefully we’ll soon have a better name for the present era 🙂
  • Think of players like Jack Hughes, Cale Makar, and Igor Shesterkin.

The Visual

The Positions

  • Forwards
  • Defencemen
  • Goaltenders

Each player is assigned a position for their career. Centres, left wingers, or right wingers are all considered forwards under the methodology. A skater that switched between forward and defence is designated to the position in which they played the most career NHL games (example: Red Kelly is identified exclusively a defenceman).

With our approach to eras and positions established, we will use these labels regularly moving forward. These classifications create peer groups for HHOF analysis.

Era concepts from Adjusted Hockey;
All other data from