Howe’s presence is too much for one player to possess

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News
Detroit Red Wings Gordie Howe in the locker room March 1961.

Gordie Howe had just finished making the rounds in the Red Wings locker room, and Chris Chelios grinned.

Chelios, a Hall of Famer like Howe, was asked about “Mr Hockey’s” abilities, and he was blunt and to the point.

“You’re talking about one of the greatest, if not the greatest, player of all time,” Chelios said.

But what made Howe so special?

Some players could have had — or have — one or two unique qualities that allow them to rise above all others.

Howe, however, had all the breathtaking offensive skills and a physical presence that made him one of the most feared players in the game — past, present, and maybe future.

“I don’t think there is anyone even close to him,” legendary coach Scotty Bowman once said. “Some say Bobby Orr, but he only played 10 years. Gordie was the ultimate forward, and he could play center. He could play wing and he could play defense.”

Red Wings general manager Ken Holland ranks Howe among the greatest players and “certainly the best power forward who’s ever lived.”

The endless numbers and statistics really don’t do Howe justice when taken into account the type of a player he was, one with an unequaled passion for the game and the life around it.

He loved being a hockey player, loved his family, and loved life.

Head (thinker, hockey instincts)

Pavel Datsyuk

Howe was much more physical, ornery, and bigger. But Datsyuk, the Red Wings center, like Howe, has the ability to think two or three plays ahead and react. Datsyuk has that special “feel” for the game, just like Howe.

Arms/stick (shooting)

Zdeno Chara

Many players can shoot the puck better than 100 mph, but few can do it accurately, get it on net, and create offense. Chara, the 6-foot-9 Bruins defenseman, has the powerful body to propel those shots into the blur category. You can’t even see the puck.

Legs (power skating)

Sidney Crosby

Crosby probably is the closest to a Howe replica, but one attribute stands out — power skating. Crosby’s tree-trunk-like thighs can drive him up and down the ice with speed, power and leverage, and help with endurance. Like Howe, Crosby’s a powerful athlete who can play endlessly — and can’t be knocked off the puck.

Upper body (power)

Jaromir Jagr

Howe was powerful, head to toe. Jagr is like that, too. Even at age 42, Jagr is a unique, special athete, arguably the best-conditioned player in the game. Jagr trains year-round and plays a power game similar to Howe’s, impossible to get the puck from.

Hands (ability to fight)

Milan Lucic

Lucic isn’t nearly the player Howe was. But in term’s of today’s power forwards, blending power and skill, Lucic has the unique ability to fight and protect himself and his teammates, while also being a force around the net and score some goals.

Feet (pure skating ability)

Erik Karlsson

The Senators defenseman is a blur on the ice, with his breathtaking speed and ability to get to a necessary scoring spot in a blink of an eye. Karlsson isn’t nearly as strong as Howe was — few players ever will be — but the skating leaves you awestruck.