Wayne Gretzky, Bobby Orr and Mario Lemieux, the three greatest living hockey players of all time, made a rare appearance together Friday night and agreed on one important fact: The greatest player of all time was not sitting among them.
The three Hall of Famers, part of the National Hockey League's naming of the top 100 players of all time, agreed that Detroit Red Wings great Gordie Howe was the best who ever played.
Howe died last spring at the age of 88.
"I think we're all in pretty much in agreement that Gordie was pretty special," said Gretzky, the game's all-time points leader with 2,857.
"These two guys here are pretty special also, and we all have so much respect for what Gordie did and what he accomplished," Gretzky added. "It's not a bad thing to be named in the top 100 behind a guy like Gordie Howe. I think we all feel the same way."
Orr, widely regarded as the greatest defenseman to ever play, agreed.
"Absolutely," Orr, 68, said. "Gordie in my mind is the best that ever played the game. I'm not sure if we'll ever see another one."
As for the player these Hall of Famers feel is the best current player, there seemed to be consensus that it's Sidney Crosby. Although the current scoring leader, Connor McDavid, who is just 20, did come up in the conversation.
Lemieux is part owner of Crosby's Pittsburgh Penguins and at one point was Crosby's landlord as Crosby lived with Lemieux and his family when he first broke into the league.
"I think his work ethic first of all, just like Wayne was when he played, he's the hardest-working guy out there," Lemieux said. "Whether it's a practice or a 3-on-3 game at practice, he wants to win, he wants to be the best."
Gretzky, who recently took on a senior management role with the Edmonton Oilers, for whom McDavid plays, is unequivocal that Crosby is the best in the game even as McDavid is making a case that he might soon be that kind of player in just his second NHL season.
Interestingly, Orr, who is McDavid's agent, did not offer an opinion on the question of the current game's best player.
"I know Bobby's very close to Connor," Gretzky said. "Connor sees [Crosby] in his vision and that's what makes the game wonderful, that you want to be as good as the best player. Right now Crosby's the best player. Until someone knocks him off the castle, that's the way it's going to be."
Although there was surprisingly little intersection between the three greats -- Gretzky played in one charity game with Orr and played internationally just once with Lemieux in the 1987 Canada Cup -- there is much that unites them.
"We all had the same dreams growing up as kids," Gretzky said. "Mario probably wanted to be [Jean] Beliveau, Bobby Orr probably wanted to be Doug Harvey. Of course I wanted to be Gordie. So we all had the same dream."
"That's the interesting thing when we all meet, we all had the same dreams as kids, we wanted to play in the National Hockey League," Gretzky added. "The game is in better shape today than it's ever been. These players, from Auston Matthews and Connor McDavid, they're just tremendous players."
The NHL unveiled its top 100 players Friday night at Staples Center as part of the NHL's annual All-Star Weekend, although the list did not rank the players in any particular order.
The annual skills competition takes place Saturday with the games featuring All-Stars from all four divisions set for Sunday.
Dozens of the NHL 100 members were honored in the ceremony, from 1970s stars Guy Lafleur and Yvan Cournoyer to current Chicago Blackhawks stars Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith and Jonathan Toews.
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.