Which NHL players have played the most games of all time? | LeoVegas

NHL Players with Highest Number of Games

When it comes to NHL records, you can throw a dart at the list and likely hit Wayne Gretzky. The Great One amassed seemingly unassailable records in just about every scoring category. Luckily for other skaters seeking a place in the record books, despite playing 20 seasons in the NHL, Gretzky could only muster 1,487 regular season games or 1,695 games when you include postseason. These records rank the former Oilers, Kings, Blues, and Rangers superstar 24th and 17th all-time.

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Let’s find out which NHL players rank above The Great One in playing the highest number of games.


Records Held by NHL Players

Games played are a badge of honour in the high-speed, incredibly physical world of the NHL. Players who reach and eclipse the 1,000 and 1,500 mark are rightly revered by the league, its players, and fans alike. That said, you can go one better than amassing a long career with loads of games played.

Most Consecutive Games Played

The most consecutive games played category strictly refers to regular season games, otherwise, the all-time and active leader wouldn’t have such a high tally. That player is Phil Kessel (Bruins, Maple Leafs, Coyotes, Penguins, Golden Knights). The fifth overall pick in the 2006 draft certainly didn’t get it easy coming into the NHL. In fact, he won the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy in 2006/07 for continuing his career while overcoming testicular cancer.

During the 2020/21 season he reached 900 consecutive games, followed by his 1,000th consecutive game on November 17, 2022. The streak that began alongside the opening of the 2009/10 season concluded with the start of the 2023/24 season, as Kessel remained a free agent. So, while the player is still active, the Wisconsin native boasts the longest active and all-time NHL Ironman record at 1,064 consecutive games.

Most Career Games Played

For a long time, Detroit Red Wings legend Gordie Howe, who played across five decades, held the record for the most games played in an NHL career at 1,767, a record in place since 1980. It took until 2021 for a player to amass enough games to beat him. That player was long-time San Jose Sharks winger Patrick Marleau, who ended his career with 1,779 regular season games played.

When it comes to the overall total for NHL players with the highest number of games, Marleau drifts back from top spot. Including playoff games, the leader with the most career games is Mark Messier, with 1,992 games – 18 games more than Marleau. The former Oiler, Ranger, and Canuck star played fewer regular-season games than Marleau, but made up for it with a good 41 more in the playoffs.

NHL Early Pioneers

In the top 15 of the NHL players with the most games, 14 of them were born in the 1960s and 70s, ranging from the 1960-born Ray Bourque (1,612 games, Bruins, Avalanche) to Marleau, born in 1979. Still, the first true pioneer of setting such crazy records was Gordie Howe.

Gordie Howe’s Enduring Legacy

Still second in regular-season games played and fourth for regular-season and playoffs games played, Gordie Howe set a record that many assumed would never be beaten. Predominantly for the Red Wings, but finishing his NHL career with 80 games in one season with the Hartford Whalers in 1979/80, Howe played 26 seasons in the NHL, as well as six in the WHA between 1973 and 1978.

The number of games played in an NHL season varied greatly throughout his career, which we’ll get into shortly. So, if he were to stay as resilient in the modern game, there’s a good chance that Howe would have amassed even more games. Technically with five decades in the NHL, Howe played 1,767 regular season games and added 157 in the postseason.

The Remarkable Career of Mark Messier

In the final season of Howe’s NHL career (1979/80), Mark Messier broke into the league as a rookie, having been drafted 48th overall. Messier would go on to amass six Stanley Cups, the second-highest clip of playoff points (295), and what is still the most total games played in an NHL career.

The last former WHL player to be active in the NHL ended his career in 2003/04 just 11 games short of Howe’s regular-season games record, but was clear atop the total games standings with 1,992. His 236 playoff games that buoyed his total count rank third on their own to Nicklas Lidström’s (Red Wings) 263 and Chris Chelios’ (Canadiens, Blackhawks, Red Wings, Thrashers) 266.

Historical Context of their Era

Importantly, the NHL season has increased a great deal over the decades. From 1931 and for 11 subsequent seasons, the NHL played over 48 regular season games. In 1942, that count grew to 50, and then to 60 four years later.

In 1949, the schedule reached 70 games and managed to stay there for 21 years. The expansion of 1967 bumped the game count up to 74, and by 1974, there were 80 games. From 1992 to 1995, 84 games were played in an NHL regular season, but the count then settled at 82 games, which remains to this day.

Modern NHL Players with the Highest Number of Games

Phil Kessel could become an active NHL player once again this season to add to his tally of 1,286 total games. He may even get signed by a Stanley Cup contender for his near-guaranteed availability. Still, it will take some renaissance for the 36-year-old to catch the other active leaders.

Just behind the active leader (see below) for NHL regular-season games played is Alexander Ovechkin (1,361, Capitals), Brent Burns (1,348, Wild, Sharks, Hurricanes), and Anže Kopitar (1,306, Kings). As for consecutive games, 38-year-old Brent Burns is leagues clear of the rest at 776 games in a row. Still, plenty of other modern greats have muscled their way among the all-time stats.

Jaromír Jágr

Having played for nine teams by the end of his career, which ran from 1990 to 2018, Jaromír Jágr (Penguins, Capitals, Rangers, Flyers, Stars, Bruins, Devils, Panthers, Flames) eventually managed to collect 1,733 games in the regular season and 1,941 in total. These counts rank him fourth and third for regular season and total games, respectively. Those figures could have been higher if some of his 1994/95 season, the 2004/05 season, 2008/09 to 2010/11 seasons, and 2012/13 season weren’t spent out of the NHL.

Patrick Marleau

Patrick Marleau was very nearly a career Shark until 2017/18, when he departed San Jose to search for his first Stanley Cup. The Cup would never come for Marleau, but he was given one more season at the then-flailing Sharks in 2020/21 to help the legend break Howe’s record for the most regular seasons played. From 2009/10 to 2018/19, he played in every single regular-season game for the Sharks and Toronto Maple Leafs.

Zdeno Chára

The towering 6 '9'’ Slovakian who stood 7’ on skates, holds a special place among the all-time games played leaders. Zdeno Chára's (Islanders, Senators, Bruins) is seventh overall, which is a great achievement in itself, but his 1,680 games also put him as the defenseman with the most games. Including the playoffs, the incredibly physical blueliner amassed 1,880 games in the NHL.

Joe Thornton

Another long-time San Jose Shark, Joe Thornton (Bruins, Sharks, Maple Leafs, Panthers) was a mainstay in the NHL for decades, regularly being pivotal to any success that the Sharks experienced. Playing from 1997 to 2022, “Jumbo” ended sixth in the most games played category with 1,714 appearances and seventh in total games with 1,901. The centre and his long-time teammate Marleau rank as having played the most NHL games without winning the Stanley Cup.

Ryan Suter

Still a staple on the blueline for the division-leading Dallas Stars, who are now among the favourites to win the Stanley Cup, Ryan Suter (Predators, Wild, Stars) has the most games played by an active NHL skater. At the time of writing, with 15 games played in 2023/24 to date, Suter has amassed 1,377 regular season games in the NHL and he’s a defenseman. Including his 114 playoff games, Suter ranks 50th in the all-time total games table, which is 17 short of Ovechkin – who is also active.

Milestones in NHL Career Games Played

Playing just 500 games in the regular season of the NHL is incredibly taxing, requiring at least six-and-a-bit seasons of injury-free hockey. Those who reach 1,000 games and 1,500 games are praised. In the 106-year history of the NHL, just over 380 players have made it to 1,000 games. For perspective, the current 32 NHL rosters each have 23 active players, making for 736 players in the NHL on any given day.

1,000 Games Club

The 1,000 games club features over 350 NHL players to date. Most recently, Ryan O’Reilly (Avalanche, Sabres, Blues, Maple Leafs, Predators), Steven Stamkos (Lightning), Kris Letang (Penguins), Derick Brassard (Blue Jackets, Rangers, Senators, Penguins, Panthers, Avalanche, Islanders, Coyotes, Flyers, Oilers), Sam Gagner (Oilers, Coyotes, Flyers, Blue Jackets, Canucks, Red Wings, Jets), and John Tavares (Islanders, Maple Leafs) broke into the club and started to climb up the ranks.

At the high end, those who just missed out on the even more prestigious club include Rod Brind’Amour (1,484 games, Blues, Flyers, Hurricanes), Wayne Gretzky (1,487), Phil Housley (1,495, Sabres, Jets, Blues, Flames, Devils, Capitals, Blackhawks, Maple Leafs), and, cruelly, Mike Modano (North Stars, Red Wings) with 1,499 games. Also in the mix are all-time greats Ken Daneyko (1,283, Devils), Stan Mikita (1,396, Black Hawks), and Jean Beliveau (1,125, Canadiens).

1,500 Games Club

There are only 21 players in the 1,500 games club. The minimum number of seasons played in the league to achieve this is 20, which is all it took for Jarome Iginla (Kings, Avalanche, Bruins, Penguins, Flames) and Nicklas Lidström to break in. Getting into the club all but guarantees a place in the Hall of Fame, so Marleau, Thornton, Chára, Shane Doan (Jets, Coyotes), and Matt Cullen (Ducks, Panthers, Hurricanes, Rangers, Senators, Wild, Predators, Penguins) – all of whom are fairly recently retired – can expect a call-up when eligible.

Right at the top of the club is, of course, Marleau in 1,779 games. Other all-time greats in the club include Ray Bourque (1,518 games, Bruins, Avalanche), Steve Yzerman (1,514, Red Wings), Alex Delvecchio (1,549, Red Wings), Chris Chelios (1,651), and Ron Francis (1,731, Whalers, Penguins, Hurricanes, Maple Leafs).

As for total games, you could create a rather exclusive 1,900 games club. Only seven players have competed in 1,900 games or more across the regular season and playoffs in the NHL. Thornton, Howe, Jágr, Chelios, Messier, Francis, and Marleau comprise this club. Messier was only eight games from making his own 2,000 games club.

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