Mike Brophy ranks who he thinks are the top players as we get close to the 2009-10 season. The debate begins right at No. 1 as Sidney Crosby edges out last year’s Hart Trophy winner Alex Ovechkin for top spot. The reasoning behind it: Crosby is a winner at the game’s highest level.
Send us your comments and tell us if you agree or disagree.
By MIKE BROPHY, sportsnet.ca
1. Sidney Crosby
Please forgive Sid the Kid, as he is affectionately known in the hockey world, if you don’t see many changes in his game this season. He simply hasn’t had the time.
“I usually try to work on things in the summer, trying to bring new elements to my game, but because of the way the past two summers have gone, I really have only been able to get back to square one,” the Stanley Cup champion told sportsnet.ca.
What he is referring to, of course, is the fact his Pittsburgh Penguins have gone to the final two years in a row, losing in six games to the Detroit Red Wings in 2007-08 before beating the Wings in seven just a few months ago. It has been all he can do to simply rest and recharge his batteries in the summer.
That’s just fine with us. With a Hart Trophy and Stanley Cup to show for his efforts in his still very young career, Crosby is sportsnet.ca’s choice as the No. 1 player in the National Hockey league. At just 22 years old Crosby has more than lived up to the hype that preceded him and has shown signs he can still take his game to an even higher level.
With 132 goals and 397 points in 290 regular-season games and 24 goals and 63 points in 49 playoff games, Crosby has proven beyond a shadow of a doubt he is a player for the ages. He made no bones about the fact he wanted to be the best player in the world prior to joining the NHL and he has achieved his goal. That said, Crosby says his attitude has altered somewhat.
“I think I try to be my best,” he said, “and if that’s where it puts me, that’s great. If it doesn’t, I’m still working hard to get better, but it’s not just about that. It’s about being the best that I can be.”
Even though resting was his No. 1 priority in the off-season, it doesn’t mean Crosby didn’t put some thought into the pending campaign.
“I’d say my first priority is to shoot the puck more,” he said.
Some would suggest he actually started to shoot more toward the end of last season. A wonderful playmaker, Crosby seemed to put the accent on passing ahead of shooting, at least until the playoffs rolled around. In the post-season, he led all goal-scorers with 15, up nine from the year before.
“I think I put it in my mind that I wasn’t going to pass up good scoring opportunities,” Crosby said. “I don’t know if I actually shot more, I was just focused on making sure I didn’t pass up good scoring chances. I take pride in being a good playmaker and making nice passes and hopefully giving guys good looks. As the season went on I tried to be a little bit smarter and didn’t pass up some of the shots I passed on before.”
The following is the rest of sportsnet.ca’s Top 50 list. The list is based on what players have done in the past, but is mostly a reflection of how we think they will contribute to their teams this season.
2. Alexander Ovechkin
There is no denying Ovie is the most entertaining player in the NHL and a great ambassador for the sport, but what separates The Gr8 One from Sid the Kid is winning. Ovechkin has two Hart Trophies, but Sid’s Stanley Cup trumps it. To win, Ovechkin needs to use his teammates better in the crunch and not try to do it all himself.
I used to wonder about this guy’s passion, but no longer. Malkin showed in last season’s playoffs he is a player who can be counted on, the perfect No. 2 for the NHL’s best 1-2 punch. He was involved in 43.8 per cent of his team’s goals last season, tops in the NHL.
Armed with a new lifetime contract, captain Luongo will set out to prove he is the NHL’s best stopper and the right man to lead his country to Olympic gold. General manager Mike Gillis has done a nice job surrounding Luongo with talent; now it’s up to him to prove he’s worthy of the big bucks.
The old joke was Getzlaf could be as good as he wants to be, so why isn’t he as good as Wayne Gretzky? The reality is this guy is the NHL’s best power forward and the Anaheim Ducks are now his team.
6. Pavel Datsyuk
One goal in 16 playoff games is downright frightening. But Datsyuk should easily bounce back to the form that saw him lead the Red Wings in scoring during the regular season. He remains one of the league’s best two-way threats.
7. Henrik Zetterberg
When Datsyuk faltered in the post-season, Zetterberg stepped up to the plate. That said, playing two more games than he did the year before, Zetterberg registered 19 fewer points. That trend must change.
8. Jarome Iginla
Can a player actually finish eighth in league scoring and have an off-year? Yes and no. There is no denying Iginla remains a dynamic power forward, but he suffered through some nasty dry spells in terms of scoring goals. He’ll need to find his consistency if the Flames are to rise in the West.
9. Zdeno Chara
You won’t find Chara among the NHL’s elite scoring defenceman (he finished 12th with 50 points last season), but he is the league’s best combination of offence, defence and toughness along the blue line. The Bruins took a giant step toward respectability last season with Chara leading the way.
10. Chris Pronger
Can you think of a more proper setting for the NHL’s nastiest player than the City of Brotherly Love? Pronger showed in last season’s playoffs he has plenty left in the tank. A great first-pass player, Pronger could benefit by using his skating skills more, just to keep the opposition on their toes.
11. Zach Parise
The NHL’s fifth leading scorer last season improved by 29 points over the year before. Question is, will new coach Jacques Lemaire suck the life out of Parise’s offensive game with his defence-first strategy?
12. Cam Ward
The Carolina netminder was the NHL’s best goalie in the second half of last season and will now be charged with trying to put a halt to his team’s history of good year/bad year/good year/bad year …
13. Daniel Sedin
On a team poised to take the next step, Daniel’s consistency will be a key component in taking the Canucks deep into the playoffs.
14. Vincent Lecavalier
Given the soap opera that was the Tampa Bay Lightning’s 2008-09 season, Lecavalier can be forgiven for slipping from seventh in NHL scoring to 43rd. This is a new year and Lecavalier must shake off the bad year and get back to being a dominant scorer.
15. Eric Staal
The oldest of the four Staal brothers popped 40 goals last season and looks primed to take his place among the best scoring forwards in the game.
16. Dany Heatley
His popularity took a massive hit after he insisted the Ottawa Senators trade him, but Heatley remains one of the NHL’s most potent goal scorers and he should return to form skating on a line with Joe Thornton in San Jose. Heatley should be in contention for the Rocket Richard Trophy.
17. Miikka Kiprusoff
Despite leading the NHL with 45 wins last season, Kiprusoff ranked 32nd in goals-against average (2.84) and save percentage (.903). Improved play from those who skate in front of him will go a long way in improving those numbers.
18. Henrik Lundqvist
Averaging 36 wins a year since joining the NHL four seasons ago, Lundqvist is unquestionably one of the game’s best and most consistent stoppers. But he needs help.
19. Jeff Carter
Second in goal scoring with 46 last season, Carter rewarded the Flyers for holding onto him rather than trading him to Toronto for Tomas Kaberle.
20. Jay Bouwmeester
Never mind he has yet to participate in an NHL playoff game, Bouwmeester established himself as one of the game’s top two-way defencemen under trying circumstances. He hasn’t even begun to hit his prime.
21. Marc Savard
Can’t blame this guy for being upset at being snubbed by Team Canada. He has finished ninth in league scoring in three of the past four seasons and deserves more recognition for his efforts. He went from minus-19 two years ago to plus-25 last season.
22. Marian Hossa
Assuming he bounces back from a shoulder injury that hampered his play in last year’s playoffs, Hossa is a horse that makes players around him better and he should be a top 10 scorer.
23. Daniel Alfredsson
With the foundation of the team crumbling around him, Alfredsson remains the voice of reason in Ottawa and a damn fine two-way star as well.
24. Jonathan Toews
One of the league’s brightest young stars, Toews is trending upward in goals, points and leadership.
25. Ilya Kovalchuk
A one-dimensional scoring ace on an otherwise awful team needs both support and a better understanding of how to play a more complete game to reach his potential. Otherwise he’ll remain a novelty act.
26. Martin St. Louis
There isn’t a better corner man in the NHL. With all the nonsense going on around him, St. Louis still managed a pretty good year with 30 goals and a team-leading 80 points. He is the perfect candidate to skate with Crosby in the Olympics.
27. Nicklas Lidstrom
Age is starting to catch up to Lidstrom, but he remains one of the best scoring threats from the blue line and looks like he could play comfortably for two or three more years.
28. Martin Havlat
One of the league’s most exciting players, Havlat will be motivated to produce this season to prove the Blackhawks were nuts for letting him walk.
29. Nicklas Backstrom
Ovechkin gets most of the ink when it comes to the Caps, but Backstrom is proving himself to be a perfect sidekick who could reach the 100-point plateau this season.
30. Evgeni Nabokov
Just like teammate Joe Thornton, the pressure is on for Nabokov to translate regular season success into playoff heroics. If it doesn’t happen this season, changes may be in store in San Jose.
31. Henrik Sedin
A career-high 143 shots led to a career-best 22 goals and an elevation in Sedin’s overall game. No reason to think he can’t score 30 if he puts his mind to it.
32. Rick Nash
There is no denying this kid’s offensive prowess, but like Kovalchuk, he needs to be more of a complete player if the Blue Jackets are to be a serious threat in the Western Conference.
33. Alexander Semin
This kid has the skill and potential to challenge Ovechkin for the Rocket Richard Trophy and his rise from minus-18 to plus-25 suggests he’s becoming more of a team player.
34. Tim Thomas
Having transformed himself from minor-league journeyman to NHL star, Thomas must still prove he can be counted on at the most crucial time of the season – in the playoffs.
35. Mike Green
There are few players who are as much fun to watch as Green, especially when he is rushing the puck. But the wheels came off in the playoffs when he had just one goal in 14 games. A word of caution: If you want to show up with a goofy playoff haircut, you need to play better.
36. Shea Weber
If there is one player capable of flying up this list this season, it is the Predators defenceman who only lacks recognition because he plays in a hockey wasteland.
37. Ales Hemsky
Few will deny Hemsky is one of the most gifted players in the NHL, but if the Oilers are to take the next step, he’ll have to take his game to the next level.
38. Bobby Ryan
It was a while coming, but Ryan established himself as a bona fide scoring threat on what just might be the best line in the NHL along with Getzlaf and Corey Perry.
39. Marc-Andre Fleury
So much for the ‘can’t win the big one’ tag. Fleury played a huge role in Pittsburgh’s upset of the Red Wings in the Cup final, particularly in Game 7 on the road.
40. Mike Richards
This guy excels in all facets of the game, but is particularly strong on special teams where he has 16 power play and 12 shorthanded goals in the past two seasons.
41. Joe Thornton
You know the deal – great regular season player who disappears in the playoffs. If Thornton manages 200 points this season, it won’t mean squat unless he produces in the spring.
42. Thomas Vanek
The NHL’s best Austrian-born scoring ace has managed to continue to light it up even as his team has slid down the standings. Imagine how lethal he’d be if he had a play-making centre on his line?
43. Jason Spezza
Despite playing six more games last season than he did the year before, Spezza finished with 19 fewer points and now he won’t have sharp-shooter Dany Heatley skating on his line. One can only hope Jonathan Cheechoo rediscovers his scoring touch.
44. Shane Doan
Despite the soap opera that is the Phoenix Coyotes, Doan remains a consistent scorer and solid two-way player as well as a cherished leader on a team of mostly youngsters.
45. Dion Phaneuf
After three solid seasons that had many believing he’d be a solid candidate to win the Norris Trophy, Phaneuf took a significant step backward last season. He was neither as physical nor as productive as he was in his first three NHL seasons. There is no reason to believe Phaneuf won’t have a bounce-back year this season.
46. Johan Franzen
With 25 goals in his past 39 playoff games, it is easy to understand how The Mule has supplanted Tomas Holmstrom as the Red Wings’ net presence on the power play. At six-foot-three and 220 pounds he is nearly impossible to move and he has hands of gold.
47. Corey Perry
Coming off a career year with 32 goals and 72 points, Perry has shown the skill and tenacity needed to be a top 10 scorer in the NHL. His role continues to grow on a team that shouldn’t slide despite the loss of Pronger and Francois Beauchemin.
48. Martin Brodeur
Wonder if new/old coach Jacques Lemaire will finally be the one who reduces Brodeur’s workload in the regular season? The future Hall of Famer’s play has dipped the past few years in the playoffs.
49. Scott Niedermayer
Although his defensive zone play has slipped in recent years, Niedermayer is still regarded as one of the best offensive defencemen in the game as well as a great puck rusher.
50. Marian Gaborik
It is going to be interesting to see if Gaborik is able to take advantage of playing for a coach, John Tortorella, who allows his players to use their creativity.