LOS ANGELES — Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux and Bobby Orr were among the easiest choices for the NHL 100, the group of enduring superstars chosen and honored by the league Friday night as the best players in hockey history.
Yet if the Great One, Super Mario and No. 4 had to pick an NHL 1, they would all choose Mr. Hockey, the late Gordie Howe.
Wondrous athletes and incredible achievements were in abundance in Los Angeles, the site of Sunday's All-Star Game and the celebration of the league's centennial. Dozens of the NHL 100 members were honored in the gala ceremony, from 1970s stars Guy Lafleur and Yvan Cournoyer to current Blackhawks stars Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith and Jonathan Toews.
Many of the greats spared a thought for Howe, who died in June. He featured prominently in the memorial highlight reel shown to the audience at the Microsoft Theatre.
"Gordie is, in my mind, the best that ever played the game," Orr said while flanked by Gretzky and Lemieux. "I'm not sure if we'll ever see another one. I sometimes sit and look at his numbers, as I sit sometimes and look at the numbers that these two guys put up. I think, 'How in the world did they do it?' "
The NHL 100 was selected by a 58-person panel of league executives, former players and media members. The league revealed 33 selectees largely from the league's first half-century on New Year's Day, and the rest were named Friday, with most of the greats in attendance for a ceremony hosted by actor Jon Hamm.
Bobby Hull and Brett Hull both made the 100, as did numerous members of the Canadiens' various dynasties.
Lightning founder Phil Esposito made it, as did general manager Steve Yzerman. No current or former Lightning player was named.
Five players either retired of playing overseas were recognized for their careers in the 2000s: Martin Brodeur, Pavel Datsyuk, Nicklas Lidstrom, Chris Pronger and Teemu Selanne.
Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby joined the Blackhawks' championship-winning trio among the active players among the 100. Jaromir Jagr, the Panthers forward who turns 45 next month, was the final player named, getting a standing ovation in the theater when he took the stage.
The league deliberately decided not to rank the NHL 100, preferring to allow fans to have their own debates. Gretzky realizes the essential futility of comparing players from different eras of any sport, yet he appeared to enjoy the hypothetical exercise as much as any hockey fan.
"The game has changed," Gretzky said. "Obviously it's more defensive now. It's tougher to score. Although they get more power plays now. Used to get one 5-on-3 every 10 weeks. Now we get three a game. That's pretty nice."
One other change has caught Gretzky's eye recently, and he thought of it while sitting next to Lemieux and Orr.
"And 3-on-3 in overtime, I like that, too," Gretzky said with a wry grin. "The three of us would have been pretty good in 3-on-3."
The NHL 100