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Top 50 Hockey Players

Now that I am essentially finished with this summer’s look at Corsi numbers, before I move onto some other sabermetric problems I would like to present my top 50 players.  This is something done by the Hockey News annually.  My list will differ from the Hockey News list and I will try to justify my selections especially when they significantly differ from those of THN.

When I rank the top 50 players, I ask myself which fifty players would I most want on my team going into the upcoming season.  I am not sure that is the same question asked by THN.  They do not specify exactly how they come up with their list and a different selection procedure might explain some discrepancies.

1. Alexander Ovechkin - The most logical reason that THN rates Crosby number one is that he is a Canadian and Ovechkin is an “evil foreigner”.  Ovechkin has been MVP more recently and came closer to MVP this year than Crosby (in fact he should have won).

2. Sidney Crosby - The second best player in the world benefits from his nationality and a Stanley Cup his team won to be number one on the THN list.

3. Duncan Keith - I think most people do not realize just how good his 2009/10 season was.  He looks like the best defenceman of the next several years to come.

4. Tomas Vokoun - He has consistently been the best goaltender in the NHL since the lockout.  THN didn’t even rank him on their list.  He has been hidden in Florida and been unable to get much playoff time in his career.  He is frequently overlooked in Vezina votes.  I think we may finally see a change to that when Vokoun probably leaves Florida as an unrestricted free agent next summer, if not before that in a trade.

5. Steve Stamkos - His breakthrough sophomore year rocketed him to tenth on the THN list.  I think he is an even better pick than that.  Stamkos has a very real chance of joining Ovechkin and Crosby atop the rankings in the years to come.

6. Zdeno Chara - One year removed from a Norris Trophy, THN had him at 37.  That seems ridiculously low to me.  I think he could have future Norris Trophies in him.

7. Roberto Luongo - He hasn’t made the jump to become the best goalie in the league as most would have predicted him to in 2007 or 2008.  He gets a lot of blame for the Canucks failure to have a deep playoff run despite being a gold medal winning goalie in the Olympics.  He is a very good bet to win or at least be a strong candidate for the Vezina Trophy this year and in the years to come.

8. Nicklas Lidstrom - He has been downgraded on this list for a few years due to advancing age.  At age 40, THN lists him at 17.  He has consistently outpaced the expectation of his slowdown with age and likely will do so again.

9. Henrik Sedin - He may be MVP, but there is no strong argument that he will do so again.  I wouldn’t bet on him to be a Hart Trophy nominee again, but he is a very good player.

10. Drew Doughty - He and Stamkos made huge improvements this past season.  I pick both a few positions above where THN picks them.  I think they are a bit slow to recognize young talents who are making rapid ascents.

11. Nicklas Backstrom - The best “second best forward” on his team in the NHL.

12. Evgeni Malkin - Most people do not realize how soft an offensive role he filled when he won the Art Ross in 2009.  Nevertheless he is a very good player, but not consistent Art Ross material.

13. Jonathan Toews - A Conn Smythe rocketed him up to number five on the THN list.  Despite his NHL accomplishments, I think some forget that he is yet to have a point per game regular season in his career, though it is a good guess that he will do that easily this year.

14. Ryan Miller - THN lists him at number three.  That is too high given the well-established level before this past season’s Vezina Trophy and strong Olympic performance.  He is a good goalie, but I do not see him as the NHL’s best.

15. Chris Pronger - The concern might be a minor off-season knee surgery, but it is likely nothing to fret about.

16. Daniel Sedin - A top point per game scorer this year, but he missed some time due to injury.  It is clear that Henrik Sedin deserves a higher rank due to his Hart and Art Ross Trophies, but it is debatable just how much lower he should be.  I drop both Sedins a bit further than THN.

17. Mike Green - The best offensive defenceman in hockey.  His defence is not nearly as poor as many caricature it to be, but it is the weakest of the defencemen ranked so far.  Nevertheless, his offence is enough that he could be the top defenceman in the league in win shares at some point.

18. Martin St Louis - Often overlooked because he plays in a weak market, but THN doesn’t make this mistake ranking him at 13th, which may be a bit high.

19. Dany Heatley - One of the best goal scorers in the NHL.  He is a player who might take a run at the Richard Trophy.  I think THN drops him a bit in their ranking due to San Jose’s perceived playoff failure and the unceremonious way he left Ottawa.

20. Ryan Getzlaf - A very good offensive player in a market that has been overlooked since they fell out of the playoff race.  Getzlaf is a little better than the 29th he gets on the THN list.

21. Henrik Lundqvist - He has been the driving force behind the Rangers for several years.  I think the team’s playoff miss dropped his ranking to 40th, which is unreasonably low.

22. Shea Weber - A very good young defenceman who is better than many realize since he plays in Nashville, which isn’t exactly the centre of the hockey media.

23. Eric Staal - He hasn’t replicated his 100 point season of 2005/06, but he is a far better defensive player than he was in those days. 

24. Pavel Datsyuk - He is a very good two-way player, who was a Hart Trophy nominee as recently as 2009 but he took a big step backward this season and I am not confident that he will bounce back to previous levels now that he is into his 30s.  THN disagrees and gives him the number four spot.

25. Zach Parise - The top player on the Devils, but i think his position as top scoring American player in the league makes him a bit overrated.  THN has him at 15.

26. Ilya Kovalchuk - I feel more obliged to comment on his recently declined contract than his ranking.  I hope he remains in the NHL next year.  Given his contract uncertainty, the KHL does remain as a possibility.

27. Henrik Zetterberg - Another very talented Red Wing forward.  Most likely he will outscore Datsyuk, but may not be quite as valuable.

28. Patrick Kane - A Stanley Cup goes a long way to raise a player’s ranking on the THN list.  They rank Kane at 12th place.  Kane was used in an offensive role with little defensive responsibility in 2009/10 and that counts against him a bit in my book.

29. Dan Boyle - To some degree he is Mike Green - lite.  His main skill is offence, but he cannot score on the level Green can.  His defence is not at the level of his offence, but it is above Green’s level by a bit.

30. Joe Thornton - He appears to beginning his decline phase after a Hall of Fame career where he led the league in scoring over the last decade.  He has a stigma attached to him due to his lack of Stanley Cup success which is largely unfair.

31. Jarome Iginla - Another player who is entering the decline phase of a Hall of Fame career.  I think he has a bit more left than THN does.  They rank him at 41.

32. Rick Nash - He is the man in Columbus, but has been unable to make the leap to one of the best players in the league that was predicted when he shared in the 2004 Richard Trophy.

33. Vincent LeCavalier - THN ranks him at 50, which is consistent with his failure of the last couple of years.  When a player can score 70 points in a “bad” year he must be a very good player.  I think the “new” Tampa Bay Lightning will be a place where he can return to form somewhat.

34. Anze Kopitar - He was the early season scoring leader and gets a bit of a higher ranking by THN for that.  They have him at 21

35. Marian Gaborik - THN has him at 18.  I think that is a bit high given that he remains a significant injury risk despite staying healthy most of last season.  He is a top player when healthy, but I don’t expect 76 games each season like he had last year.

36. Marian Hossa - He has had a good career to date, but he wasn’t one of the driving forces in his Stanley Cup win in 2010 and thus gets ranked behind those that were.

37. Ilya Bryzgalov - He gets too much credit for the Phoenix Coyotes Cinderella season.  He was considered a Hart Trophy candidate and is ranked 20th by THN.  Bryzgalov is a good goalie, but not quite at that level.

38. Brian Rafalski - He was omitted from the THN list.  I think he is underrated because he is the second best defenceman on his team.  THN usually rates fewer defencemen in their top 50 than is expected from the fact that about 30% of the NHL’s players are defencemen, so about 30% of this list should be defencemen too.

39. Patrick Marleau - The San Jose Sharks playoff failures have not led to an unreasonable downgrading of him on the THN list in my opinion.  He comes in at 42nd there.

40. Jason Spezza - This Senator is too talented to be left off of this list.  THN omitted him.

41. Miikka Kiprusoff - A very good goaltender who reversed a statistical decline last season. 

42. Brad Richards - THN has him at 28th.  I think that is a bit high.  Sure he had 91 points last year, but it follows a couple years that were a bit subpar.  I think his offensive output regresses a bit this season.

43. Marc Savard - Injuries kept him to 41 games last year.  As a result, THN omitted him, but I think he is worthy.

44. Andrei Markov - Injuries kept him to 45 games play last year, that and the general overlooking of defencemen on THN lists led to his omission.

45. Brenden Morrow -  He missed most of the 2008/09 season due to injury and only scored 45 points last year, but he is a very talented checker and I think his offense will still rebound.  THN disagrees and omits him.

46. Tyler Myers - Rookie of the year defenceman who looks ready to take another step forward in the future.

47. Mikko Koivu - Minnesota’s key player was overlooked by THN.  He is a strong two-way talent.

48. Alexander Semin - He is a player with talent to burn.  Sometimes his worth ethic is in question, though he has definitely been a success so far.  THN thinks more highly of him than I do rating him at 32nd.

49. Martin Brodeur - A Hall of Fame goalie who is into his decline phase.  THN ranks him at 26th with is a bit high given his age.  I think they are a overrating him in part due to a Vezina nomination that he won in 2010 on reputation more than any other reason.

50. Mike Richards - THN ranks him at 22nd, which seems a little high.  He is a very good two-way player who is overrated due to being in a big media market that made the Stanley Cup finals.  I do not see why he is much different from Mikko Koivu in his 2010/11 expectations.

Ranked by THN but not me:  Daniel Alfredsson, Alexandre Burrows, Mike Cammalleri, Jaroslav Halak, Ryan Kesler, Corey Perry, Tuukka Rask

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Tony's avatar

I don’t know… In retrospect, I think in the Detroit defensive point of view, I think they lost not because Crosby or Malkin did anything spectacular, but because they let guys like Tyler Kennedy and Max Talbot beat them….

Posted by Tony from Virginia Beach, VA on 08/23/10 at 03:31 PM ET

J.J. from Kansas's avatar

Interesting they seemed to have much more problems with the bigger, stronger, and more physical Malkin the second time around, when they were 1 year older and 1 year’s worth of playoff games more tired.  You’re kind of helping me prove my point.  You also have to take into account that in 07-08 the Pens had Hossa, and in 08-09 the Wings had him.

Datsyuk and Zetterberg matched up against Malkin less in the 2nd finals series.  Crosby was Zetterberg’s man and Datsyuk missed the first four games of that series with a foot injury (the kind that happen to people of any age when they block a slapshot from the blueline in the conference finals).

Posted by J.J. from Kansas on 08/23/10 at 03:33 PM ET

Avatar

In retrospect, I think in the Detroit defensive point of view, I think they lost not because Crosby or Malkin did anything spectacular, but because they let guys like Tyler Kennedy and Max Talbot beat them….

Yeah, but the Pens didn’t let the scrubbier Wings players beat them, in part because the relative youth and health of Crosby and Malkin (and others) made them more capable of carrying the team.  You could argue that Datsyuk and Zetterberg weren’t on the ice against those guys, but that ignores the fact that neither of those guys was really lighting it up in that series, which created a situation where the goals scored by the likes of Kennedy and Talbot could have such an impact.  If you’re top guys are lighting the lamp, and keeping the other team’s best players off the score sheet, you can withstand some goals by 3rd and 4th line players.  If you’re top guys aren’t lighting the lamp those 3rd and 4th line goals get magnified.

Posted by RoneFace on 08/23/10 at 03:41 PM ET

Tony's avatar

If you wanna talk Penguins defensively in that series, Jordan Staal was out-frickin-standing…

Posted by Tony from Virginia Beach, VA on 08/23/10 at 03:44 PM ET

mrfluffy's avatar

If you wanna talk Penguins defensively in that series, Jordan Staal was out-frickin-standing…

Him and the Talbot Monster…the things nightmares are made of.

Posted by mrfluffy from Long Beach on 08/23/10 at 03:59 PM ET

J.J. from Kansas's avatar

Seriously, Datsyuk missed four games with a foot injury. He rushed back as soon as he could and it was made very clear it was too soon the instant he took that cheap slash to the injured foot by Max Talbot.

If you want to say that foot injury has anything to do with Datsyuk’s age or rest, then so be it.  Have fun on that slippery slope.

It’s a totally different topic anyway.  The point remains that Datsyuk and Zetterberg are two of the top two-way guys in the game still.  Whether the Penguins depth beat the Red Wings in 2009 is immaterial.  If Crosby shut down Zetterberg as effectively as Zetterberg shut down Crosby, then credit to captain Penguin.  That doesn’t make Z’s defensive contribution worthless.  Datsyuk doesn’t even belong in the conversation as far as what happened in the 2009 finals.  Ask the three teams he faced in that playoff year though to find out how good defensively he was.

Posted by J.J. from Kansas on 08/23/10 at 04:00 PM ET

mrfluffy's avatar

If Crosby shut down Zetterberg as effectively as Zetterberg shut down Crosby, then credit to captain Penguin.  That doesn’t make Z’s defensive contribution worthless.  Datsyuk doesn’t even belong in the conversation as far as what happened in the 2009 finals.  Ask the three teams he faced in that playoff year though to find out how good defensively he was.

And now you know why Zetterberg was as mentally tired this year as he was, and maybe you know why his point total was as low as it was (completely disregarding the injury bug). Maybe…just maybe…he was trying to shut down Crosby and Malkin on his own. Impossible yes, hence losing the Cup to the Pens…but…think about it. Allow your mind to expand outside the spreadsheet.

Posted by mrfluffy from Long Beach on 08/23/10 at 04:09 PM ET

Avatar

JJ, I’m not arguing any of the points you’re making.  I’m simply saying if you’re expecting two guys in their 30’s to be 2 of the top 5-10 players in the league, for 82 games + playoffs, with their top 2 dmen in decline, you’re just not being realistic.  Datsyuk’s injury was a fluky thing that could have happened to anyone, but you’re in denial if you don’t think a. those things take longer to recover from when you’re 31 than they do when you’re 21, and b. they don’t start happening more often when you’re over 30.  Just about every injury you see can be described as a fluke, and yet guys over 30 start getting them more and more.  Why is that?

The Red Wings will be no better than they were last year, and probably drop a few points (though how that impacts their place in the standings will depend on how other teams do).  On any given night Hank and Datsyuk can absolutely dominate a game, just like they did 5 years ago, but they won’t be able to do that every night at this age anymore, and as time keeps rolling on those games where they dominate both ends of the rink will become fewer and further between.  Right now they seem to be able to handle one end of the ice or the other, but struggle to put both ends together for extended periods (during the SJ series last year they seemed to either be able to score, or defend, but couldn’t do both in any game).  With Lidstrom at the end of the line, Rafalski nearly 37, and a forward group that can only be described as thin past its top 3 players, no one should be expecting Hank, Datsyuk, or the Red Wings to improve on last year’s point totals.  The Wings will not go away completely and will still be a tough out in the playoffs, but the days of challenging for the cup with a core of Datsyuk, Zetterberg, Lidstrom, and Rafalski are done.

Posted by RoneFace on 08/23/10 at 04:15 PM ET

J.J. from Kansas's avatar

The Red Wings will be no better than they were last year, and probably drop a few points

This is simply just another area where we disagree.  This Red Wings squad is better than the one last year and depth-wise will probably be going into the season with one of the best bottom-six forward groups in the league.

but you’re in denial if you don’t think a. those things take longer to recover from when you’re 31 than they do when you’re 21, and b. they don’t start happening more often when you’re over 30.  Just about every injury you see can be described as a fluke, and yet guys over 30 start getting them more and more.  Why is that?

I will not deny (a).  Injuries do take longer to heal the older a player gets.  It probably doesn’t matter over the course of a week with a finals series, but I definitely do not deny that point.  As for (b), I still have yet to have seen a comprehensive list of injuries by age in the NHL.  I agree that it stands to basic reasoning that a 32-year old would get injured more than a 22-year old, but it also stands to reason that the older player knows better how to avoid the situations that lead to common injuries.  Crosby has missed more games in the last three years than Datsyuk.

I think Lidstrom will greatly surprise you this season with what he’s still capable of doing night in and night out.

Posted by J.J. from Kansas on 08/23/10 at 04:24 PM ET

Avatar

As for (b), I still have yet to have seen a comprehensive list of injuries by age in the NHL.  I agree that it stands to basic reasoning that a 32-year old would get injured more than a 22-year old, but it also stands to reason that the older player knows better how to avoid the situations that lead to common injuries. 

I don’t know that they get injured more often than younger players, but I think that the recovery time gets longer and things that would be bumps and bruises that they could play through become injuries that cause them to miss time.  Maybe the injuries aren’t more frequent or more serious, they just seem that way (and I’m not picking on Hank and Datsyuk here, the same thing applies to everyone else at their age).  If you want to try and win the cup when your very best players are over 30 you’d better have a number of supporting players that are capable of carrying the team at times throughout 82 games and the playoffs, and I don’t think the Wings have that type of depth anymore.

Posted by RoneFace on 08/23/10 at 04:29 PM ET

J.J. from Kansas's avatar

If you want to try and win the cup when your very best players are over 30 you’d better have a number of supporting players that are capable of carrying the team at times throughout 82 games and the playoffs, and I don’t think the Wings have that type of depth anymore.

Posted by RoneFace on 08/23/10 at 02:29 PM ET

Fair enough and well-argued. 

I still think they belong ahead of the Sedins on this list.

Posted by J.J. from Kansas on 08/23/10 at 04:36 PM ET

Avatar

I still think they belong ahead of the Sedins on this list.

Based solely on past performance and track record you’re 1000% correct, but I think if you’re looking at who will be able to duplicate what they’ve done over the past 3-4 years in 2010-2011 I think the Sedins are a much safer bet than Datsyuk and Zetterberg.  It’s not about the top 50 careers, it’s about who are the top 50 players right now. 

And regarding me being surprised by Lidstrom, it would be pretty tough for that guy to surprise anyone with quality play at this point.  He’s arguably one of the 3 best defensemen ever and has earned the benefit of the doubt, and by no means do I think he’s about to fall off a cliff and be a detrimental player.  He’s accomplished too much and got too much pride to put himself in a position to fail.  Having said that, I would not be at all surprised to see him missing a few games here and there to rest and recover from things he would have been able to play through (and play at a high level) in years past.  I also would not be surprised to see his range shrink a bit, especially if the Wings are forced to continue playing him heavy minutes in big games due to a lack of reliable depth.  It’s not that he’s going to suddenly morph into a bad player, but instead of being clearly the top dman I’d expect him to be in the top 10-15.  Still a helluva a year for most people, and damn enar amazing considering his age.  The problem with that for the Red Wings is that they aren’t a deep team and with the way they are constructed, for them to really challenge for a cup, they need Lidstrom to be that top dman.  As we saw last year, they can’t absorb any injuries or decline by their top players and still be a dominant team because they don’t have the depth they used to.

Posted by RoneFace on 08/23/10 at 04:48 PM ET

mrfluffy's avatar

How many goals is Dany Heatley going to score this year?

Posted by mrfluffy from Long Beach on 08/23/10 at 11:45 PM ET

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imageThe Puck Stops Here was founded during the 2004/05 lockout as a place to rant about hockey. The original site contains over 1000 posts, some of which were also published on FoxSports.com.

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