Continuing on with our Top 10 Pre-Original Six players, we will now go on to the best of the best in the days before the NHL was just a six-team league. Onward to the final five:
Joe Malone is a fairly hard guy to place on this list because although he was extremely dominant, it was for a fairly short period of time. Malone was already 27 years old when the NHL began and so didn’t have as many years left in his career as some younger players. Many consider Malone the greatest NHL goal scorer of the Pre-Original Six era and it wasn’t until Maurice Richard came along that he had some competition for that title. Malone’s 44 goals in 20 games during the first NHL season set a goals-per-game mark of 2.2 that has still never been beaten. Even with a weak Quebec Bulldogs team in the 1919-20 season, Malone scored 39 goals in 24 games, leading the NHL in goals for the second time. His last season as a full-time player was 1921-22 and he retired with 143 goals in 126 games.
Of the entire Pre-Original Six era from 1917 to 1942, no player had more points than Nels Stewart. He had a remarkably long 15-year career that saw him win two Hart trophies. Always more of a goal scorer than a play-maker, Stewart led the NHL in goals twice, 12 seasons apart. Stewart was the all-time points (515 points) and goals (324 goals) leader all the way until Maurice Richard passed him in both categories during the 50s. Stewart rarely had a bad season and even if he did, he was quick to bounce back the next year.
Hainsworth entered the league as Georges Vezina’s replacement and did so with style. He won the award for three consecutive season with the Canadiens and led the NHL in wins during the 1927-28 season. The 1928-29 season was a legendary one for Hainsworth, in which he had 22-7-15 record, but more amazingly had a 0.92 GAA and 22 shutouts in 44 games, both NHL records to this day. Following those three years, Hainsworth won two consecutive Cups with the Montreal Canadiens and leading the NHL in wins the year after that before being traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs, where he would lead the NHL in wins for two more seasons. Hainsworth had the 2nd most wins during the Pre-Original Six Era behind Tiny Thompson, but did have a notably higher winning percentage. His 94 shutouts remained the NHL record until Terry Sawchuk surpassed it many years later.
Howie Morenz was considered by many to be the NHL’s first superstar. He finished 2nd in Hart voting in just his second year and was a dangerous scoring threat throughout his career. In the 1927-28 season, his fifth season, he led the NHL in goals (33), assists (18), and points (51), a feat rarely accomplished. Fittingly, he also won his first Hart trophy. Morenz was one of only four players to score 40+ goals in the Pre-Original Six era when he potted 40 in the 1929-30 season. Morenz led the NHL by winning two consecutive Hart trophies in the 1930-31 and 1931-32 seasons and also leading his team, the Montreal Canadiens to two consecutive cups in that time. Morenz passed away suddenly in 1937 as his career was winding down due to complications from a dangerous on-ice collision. Morenz is one of only seven players to ever win the Hart trophy at least three times.
Eddie Shore was everything you could ask for in a defenseman. He could hit, he could skate, he could shoot, and he could defend. Shore would even fight and was not hesitant to do so. Shore broke into the league with five straight seasons of 10+ goals, led the NHL in PIM during the 1927-28 season, and was a Hart trophy finalist three times, finishing third twice and second once. Shore had already won the Cup with the Bruins in 1929 but needed individual accolades to distinguish himself as one of the best, and without an award for the best defenseman (the Norris wasn’t awarded until the 50s), he would have to try to be the best of all players, not just defensemen. Shore won his first Hart in 1933 and two more in 1935 and 1936. His last one was won at the ripe age of 35 in 1938. Shore retired with the most points in the era with 284 points, one more than offensive defenseman, King Clancy. The amazing part about that is that Shore wasn’t specifically known for his offense like Clancy was. He was an all-around defenseman who could do it all and still surpassed the offensive specialists like Clancy. Only Gordie Howe and Wayne Gretzky won more Hart trophies than Shore’s four.
Honourable Mention: King Clancy
Clancy was a consistent offensively dominant force for the Ottawa Senators from the blue line and the Toronto Maple Leafs who was a constant contender for the Hart Trophy, but never quite won it, finishing as high as third twice in his career. He scored 17 goals and 40 points in 44 games during the 1929-30 season.
Honourable Mention: Frank Boucher
Boucher was both a stellar play-maker and a gentleman. He won the Lady Byng trophy a record seven times and led the NHL in assists on three separate occasions during his career. Boucher was also on the First All-Star team three times during his career and the Second All-Star Team once.