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10 Years Ago: THN’s Top 50, #1

Well, we’ve made it to the end of our stroll down The Hockey News memory lane. As a quick refresher, here are the players selected from #5 to #2:

#5: Sergei Fedorov/Vincent Lecavalier
#4: Jaromir Jagr/Pavel Datsyuk
#3: Peter Forsberg/Henrik Zetterberg
#2: Paul Kariya/Alexander Ovechkin

You know you’re NHL gold when you show up on a commercial that isn’t sponsored by the league or its cable broadcasters. Presenting The Hockey News’ #1 player from the 1998-99 yearbook, Dominik Hasek.

Simply put, Dominik Hasek in the late 1990s scared the living crap out of everyone. You just didn’t know what he was going to do but you knew that he’d pull a magical save out of nowhere—and you knew that it’d be so spectacular (most likely because he was somewhat out of position to begin with) that it’d be seen on highlight shows across North America that night. There’s a reason why Hasek won the most Vezina trophies of any player in the modern era; while you couldn’t quite explain his style, you knew that he’d get the job done.

In the 1997-98 season, Hasek led the league in games played (72), save percentage (.932), and shutouts (13). You have to remember that the Buffalo Sabres teams that he played for weren’t the run-and-gun squads seen after the lockout; no, Hasek’s Sabres were known for gritty role players who hoped that Miroslav Satan would score. This particular season—Lindy Ruff’s first—was particularly nasty when it came to Sabres scoring: the leading scorer was Satan with a whopping 22 goals and 46 points. Ouch.

Don’t forget that Hasek was the key player in the 1998 Nagano games where the Czech Republic played the role of the Little Engine That Could, knocking off the powerhouse Canadian squad before beating the Russians in the gold-medal game. Hasek’s shootout performance will go down in history as one of the great clutch moments in international hockey, and it only padded his standing as the year’s best hockey player. This was cemented by his second consecutive Hart trophy in the summer of 1998.

(Fun side note: One of my college roommates was a die-hard Hasek fan and we stayed up late to watch the gold medal game live. After the Czechs won, we sang a made-up version of the Czech national anthem to the tune of O Canada. Our other roommate, the die-hard Red Wing fan, came out at 2 AM and yelled, “What the hell are you guys doing?”)

Ten years later and we’ve seen the best (the 1999 Cup run) and the worst (the on-again off-again retirements, the bizarre roller hockey beating incident) of Hasek. However, when all is said and done, history will judge Hasek as one of the best, if not the best, goaltenders of all time, and probably the only NHL goalie to be prominently featured at a Wrestlemania.

This year’s #1 player, not surprisingly, is Sidney Crosby. I can hear Alex Ovechkin supporters clammoring away right now but I’m not going to get into a Sid vs. AO debate. All I’ll say is this—if and when Ovechkin leads the Caps to the Cup final and leads the league in playoff scoring, I’m guessing THN’s writers will put him over the top. That’s not dismissing any of Ovechkin’s talents or skills, it’s just noting that THN tends to put an emphasis on playoff performance (or lack thereof) when making these calls. Sid supporters, Alex advocates, debate away in the comments.

Filed in: NHL, | Mike Chen's Hockey Blog | Permalink
  Tags: dominik+hasek, sidney+crosby

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