by PuckStopsHere on 09/07/12 at 04:46 PM ET
Over the past few weeks I have been looking at the most recent era in the NHL. This is the time from the 2004/05 lockout until the end of the 2011/12 season when another lockout is almost certain to occur. This is first salary capped era in the NHL history. I have ranked players by several statistics including goals, points and goaltender wins. I made a first attempt to put things together to rank all of the players of the era overall using point shares. This was unsatisfactory because it doesn't treat all of the different positions equally enough and tends to pick goaltenders preferentially as the best players. Today I want to be more subjective and pick the players I feel have been the ten best in the era. They are listed below alphabetically by last name (and not for example 1-10).
Zdeno Chara - Chara is the best defenceman in the game today. He is a puck possession master who led the league in team and zone adjusted Corsi ratings in both of the last two seasons. He won the Norris Trophy in 2009 and should have won more than one more. He has gone from being a bit of a curiousity in the NHL as its biggest player ever to being one of the most dominant players in the game. Opposing players hate playing against him.
Sidney Crosby- Crosby was a rookie in 2005/06 when the lockout ended. He was an immediate 100 point scorer and he never looked back. He has a Hart Trophy and an Art Ross Trophy to go with the "golden goal" in the 2010 Winter Olympics. Were it not for recent concussion problems he would likely be the point leader in the era. Despite the time he missed he is third in scoring in the era. He is the best player in the game today and would be the favorite to win the MVP when another season is played.
Pavel Datsyuk- Datsyuk's best offensive seasons were 2007/08 and 2008/09 where he posted 97 points each. While those are good offensive totals they only give part of his value. Datsyuk is a very good defensive forward and has won the Frank J Selke Trophy as best defensive forward three times - though I criticize some of the picks do to his lack of penalty killing, his skill is clear. He is a four time Lady Byng Trophy winner as the most sportsmanlike player. No player won as many NHL awards in this time period as Datsyuk - though they haven't been the top awards in the league. He did receive a Hart Trophy nomination in 2009, but that is the closest he has come to that award. Datsyuk's defensive talent is a significant part of the reason he led the time period in +/- ratings. He is the best two-way forward of the era.
Ilya Kovalchuk- Kovalchuk is second in goal scoring despite not playing on any particularly strong teams in the era. His trip to the finals in New Jersey in 2012 was the first time his team made it past the first round and only the third time he had ever made the playoffs. His dominant scoring ability was held down and overlooked in his time in Atlanta because he lacked much support. Now that he is in New Jersey he has his big contract and a better chance at a spot in the national limelight. He was the most dominant goal scorer in the league when this era began and he remains one of the best goal scorers in the league.
Nicklas Lidstrom- Lidstrom is the best defenceman in this era. His retirement in 2012 have had people wondering how long it will be until we see another seven time Norris Trophy winner (or if we ever will). People wonder if the Red Wings will remain a top team without him. Lidstrom won four of his Norris Trophies during this era. He dominated his position at a higher level than anyone else in this era. Before one interprets that to mean he was the best of the era, there were a few forwards who competed against one another for top spot and thus no forward was dominant on the level of Lidstrom among defencemen.
Henrik Lundqvist- Lundqvist was a rookie in the 2005/06 season (along with Crosby and Ovechkin) and was the somewhat overlooked third rookie star. He failed to receive a Calder nomination as best rookie though he was nominated for the Vezina Trophy as best goalie. He was a perennial Vezina nominee gathering four nominations in the era. Many picked him as the best goalie in the game who had not won the award when he finally won it in 2011/12. That season was so strong he was also nominated for the Hart Trophy. He also has a gold medal win in the Olympic in 2006 to show for a strong era.
Evgeni Malkin- Malkin did not even make his NHL debut until the second season of the era. That didn't stop him from great things. He quickly became the third young superstar to join Crosby and Ovechkin in the media. He won the scoring title in 2008/09 and in 2011/12. His 2012 scoring title also gave him his first Hart Trophy as NHL MVP. He had already won the playoff MVP award with his 2009 Conn Smythe win. Malkin does not measure up as well as some of the other offensive players on this list in his totals for the era because of time missed to injury and because of his late debut. Nevertheless his highs are high enough to place him in the top 10 players of the era.
Alexander Ovechkin- Ovechkin is the top point scorer and the only player to win multiple MVP awards in the era. As such I think he is the best player of the era. He too was a rookie (along with Crosby and Lundqvist) in the first season of this era and was the Calder Trophy winner in this group. His scoring rate has dropped recently. Perhaps this is due to the defensive system that Dal Hunter had his team playing under. Under a new coach when hockey returns it is hoped that he will again rise to his previous heights.
Tim Thomas- Thomas was a career minor league goaltender who had only played four NHL games before this era began. He was too old to be technically classified a rookie in 2005/06, but he had very limited NHL experience. He spent the first part of the 05/06 season in the AHL before making his way to the big leagues. From there his star grew. Thomas posted the best saves percentage among players who were in the league for the majority of the era. He was a two-time Vezina Trophy winner and had a dominant 2011 Stanley Cup win where he won the Conn Smythe Trophy and set records along the way. As the era ends, his future is uncertain. Thomas opted to take the upcoming season off - that may not be a loss if there is a long lockout. It will be interesting to see how much desire he has to make a comeback after that layoff is over.
Joe Thornton- Thornton leads the era in assists and is its first MVP. He is criticized because he has not won a Stanley Cup, but his dominance is clear. He is the second highest scorer in the era and has been one of its most consistent players. Thornton is the only player on this list to be traded during the era. Early in the first season the Boston Bruins gave him away to San Jose. That trade goes down as one of the most lopsided deals in NHL history - although apologists try to claim that Boston's 2011 Stanley Cup win where none of the players obtained for Thornton were on the roster is vindication.
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