If we were voting for this year’s NHL first and second all-star team today, who would the top 10 candidates be at centre? That’s the question we’ll try to answer here, looking solely at statistics from this season. Here’s our monthly update on the top 10 performers of 2015-16.
1. Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins (69GP | 31G | 42A | 73PTS)
Sidney Crosby started the year poorly. October was a disaster, November was subpar and he was off to a sluggish December before the Penguins fired then-head coach Mike Johnston. At the time of Johnston’s firing, Crosby had just 19 points in 28 games and the Pens were being outshot (46.2 Corsi percentage) and outscored (46.7 goals for percentage) when he was on the ice.
Since Johnston was fired, however, Crosby has 25 goals and 53 points in 41 games. The Penguins are outscoring the opposition at a clip of nearly 2:1 when he’s on the ice (63.1 goals percentage) at five-on-five and his Corsi number has improved by 12 points.
It’s taken a while for Crosby’s overall offensive numbers to get to a point where he could land him on this list, but he now has the best points/game figure of any centre in the NHL and is just one point back of Tyler Seguin for the overall scoring lead at this position. Just for good measure, he is among the league leaders in quality of competition and hasn’t been getting a zone-start push from new coach Mike Sullivan.
2. Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins (69GP | 28G | 33A | 61PTS)
Based solely on point totals, Bergeron doesn’t belong at the top of this list. He’s had a pretty good season offensively, particularly as a goal-scorer, but his points-per-game total is actually the lowest of the 10 centres here, coming in narrowly behind Claude Giroux.
He does so much defensively that it almost doesn’t matter.
Bergeron’s on-ice Fenwick number is more than seven points better than Boston’s team average. No other centre on this list comes close to being as dominant a possession player relative to his team as Bergeron does. Bergeron also starts a higher percentage of his shifts in the defensive zone than anyone else on this list; the only other player in this group who doesn’t get more offensive than defensive starts is Nicklas Backstrom and he isn’t close to Bergeron’s 3:2 ratio.
Bergeron is just a touch shy of the 30-goal and point-per-game marks while playing the toughest defensive assignments of any top-six centre in hockey.
3. Tyler Seguin, Dallas Stars (72GP | 33G | 40A | 73PTS)
Seguin built up a massive scoring lead early on the rest of the league’s centres, but he hasn’t been able to keep up the pace he established early in the year.
On Jan. 1, Seguin had posted 23 goals and 50 points through 39 games played. Since then, he has 23 points in 33 games played. Much of the problem comes at five-on-five. Seguin’s line was shooting at a ridiculously hot 11.4 per cent clip through the end of 2015, but in the new year they’ve converted at just a 6.4 per cent rate. Seguin’s shooting percentage has fallen, as has that of his linemates, costing him both goals and assists.
He’s still had a very good year but without that kind of superlative offence his two-way game isn’t strong enough to maintain him in the top spot in these rankings.
4. Joe Pavelski, San Jose Sharks (70GP | 32G | 34A | 66PTS)
Pavelski is one of just nine players so far this season to reach the 30-goal plateau in the NHL. He leads the Sharks in faceoffs taken this year, winning better than 55 per cent of them, but has also spent most of the season playing on a dominant line with Joe Thornton, making his actual position this year somewhat ambiguous. He plays and contributes in all situations in San Jose.
5. Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles Kings (69GP | 24G | 40A | 64PTS)
Kopitar doesn’t just play on the Kings’ penalty kill; he is the team’s most-used forward in shorthanded situations. He doesn’t get the same kind of even-strength offensive push as other top offensive centres, though he does play top quality opposition. He outperforms the shot metrics of the NHL’s most dominant possession team and is scoring at just under a point-per-game pace.
6. Nicklas Backstrom, Washington Capitals (66GP|18G|45A|63PTS)
With the emergence of Evgeny Kuznetsov as a top-end scorer, Backstrom has increasingly taken on more defensive responsibility. He’s the only centre on this list other than Bergeron to start more shifts in the defensive than offensive zone, he’s leaned on in shorthanded situations and he takes tough matchups.
7. Joe Thornton, San Jose Sharks (70GP | 16G | 52A | 68PTS)
Is there another elite centre in the NHL who gets less attention than 36-year-old Thornton, who is often overshadowed in the press by teammates Pavelski and Logan Couture? Thornton is tied for the league lead in assists and his possession numbers are through the roof (on this list only Bergeron has better Fenwick numbers relative to his team; only Kopitar has better raw Fenwick totals). Since Jan. 1 he has 42 points in 34 games.
8. Evgeny Kuznetsov, Washington Capitals (69GP | 20G | 50A | 70PTS)
Kuznetsov sits second in the NHL with 2.74 points per 60 minutes in five-on-five situations; among players with at least 40 games played he ranks first. As mentioned above, Backstrom does the heavy defensive lifting in Washington but 20 goals and 50 assists are hard to ignore.
9. Claude Giroux, Philadelphia Flyers (66GP | 18G | 41A | 59PTS)
Giroux is well-known as an offensive weapon, but his two-way credentials may surprise some. At even-strength he faces tough competition and starts nearly half of his shifts in his own zone. His possession numbers are significantly better than the Flyers’ team average. He’s also won 57 per cent of his faceoffs this year and is playing 1:34 per game on the penalty kill.
10. Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh Penguins (57GP | 27G | 31A | 58PTS)
Malkin is one of just four centres in the league who is scoring at better than a point-per-game clip. Unfortunately, injury seems set to obscure another strong season from the Penguins pivot.