Saturday, August 25, 2007

Hockey News Top 50 List

The annual Hockey News Top 50 players list has been released and can be found here. Here is this year's list along with the player's rating on last year's list and my comments on each player:

1. Sidney Crosby (up from 6th). It is clear Crosby should be ranked number one. He is the NHL's MVP and top scorer and is likely still improving.

2. Alexander Ovechkin (up from 5th). This ranking looks like an attempt to keep the idea alive that the next decade or so will be a battle between Crosby and Ovechkin for supremacy over the NHL. Although Ovechkin was a better player than Crosby in their rookie seasons (he was also older) and won the Calder Trophy, he did not progress nearly as quickly as Crosby did last year. This number two ranking seems generous. I wouldn't pick him as a likely Hart Trophy nominee this season - at best he has an outside shot.

3. Roberto Luongo (up from 25th). His ranking of 25th was far too low last season, but this one is a bit high. I think he is the best bet to be the top goaltender in the NHL this season, as his main rival Martin Brodeur is getting into his upper 30's and should be playing behind a weaker defence core than he has in the past.

4. Nicklas Lidstrom (up from 15th). His 15th place ranking last year was ridiculously low and although this one is better, it still seems low. He is the most dominant defenceman in the game and has been for years. His career should rank him among the best defencemen ever and most people don't think of him that highly. Would it be different is he was Canadian? Is it an anti-European bias?

5. Chris Pronger (down from 2nd). This ranking seems about right. He could easily have won back to back Conn Smythe Trophies (though he won neither) and is the main challenge to Lidstrom's reign as the NHL's to defenceman (assuming Scott Niedermayer retires).

6. Jarome Iginla (up from 7th). There was a crazy idea last year that was floated on many message boards that Iginla's best days were over (since he hadn't scored 50 goals in a season since 2002). Though he didn't hit 50 this year, he tied his career best output with 96 points while playing in the lower scoring west conference.

7. Vincent LeCavalier (up from 21st). We always knew he had talent to be a bonifide superstar, but his Richard Trophy winning 52 goals was the first definite sign that it was really going to happen.

8. Joe Thornton (down from 4th). Why does he drop this far when he is the second highest scorer in the league, while playing in the lower scoring conference? If it wasn't for some early season injuries he played through, he could have been the top scorer last year.

9. Dany Heatley (up from 10th). The highest goal scorer over the past two years. There is a popular argument from Ottawa that he is not the Sens best player, as Daniel Alfredsson is in fact a better player despite being a lower scorer. This is mostly a sentimental choice (Alfredsson has been a popular Sens captain for quite a while) and overthinking (goals are a very good indicator of hockey talent. You don't lead the NHL in goals without being a star).

10. Martin Brodeur (up from 11th). This ranking seems a bit low. There is not this big a difference between him and Luongo. Brodeur is getting the chance to show how much of his success was from the defence in front of him (Brian Rafalski is the latest to leave) and if he puts up another season as great as last year it should go a long way to silence critics.

11. Patrik Elias (up from 12th). Why is he up? Last season he disappointed with only 69 points and some defensive lapses. Surely a season like that should lower him in the rankings.

12. Joe Sakic (up from 17th). 37 years old and scores 100 points. This guy is one of the all time greats.

13. Miikka Kiprusoff (down from 1st). His first place ranking last season was crazy. This one seems much more reasonable. A very good goalie who could win some more Vezina Trophies before he is done.

14. Jaromir Jagr (down from 3rd). He is being punished for playing through injuries last year. Jagr should have a higher ranking than this one and could get into the MVP race again this year.

15. Martin St Louis (up from 47th). Bounced back very well from a poor 2005/06 season. A workhorse who logs an incredible number of minutes for a forward and is strong on both ends of the ice.

16. Marian Gaborik (up from 27th). He has a great partial season last year (limited to 48 games). If he can score at the same rate over a full season, he could be in the Art Ross race.

17. Dion Phaneuf (up from 32nd). Phaneuf has been consistently overrated on these lists. Sure he is a good young defenceman, but he is not the third best defenceman in the league. He is yet to be a serious Norris candidate and still makes immature defensive lapses at times.

18. Eric Staal (down from 14th). His 70 points last years was a disappointing drop and I expected he would drop further in these rankings. Still, he is the future of the Carolina Hurricanes and I expect big things.

19. Marian Hossa (up from 24th). He should be ranked higher. Atlanta may be off the hockey map and thus Hossa is overlooked. He is one of the top consistent scorers in the game.

20. Ryan Miller (debut). Miller is not this good a goalie. I think it is a case of a good goalie playing behind a very good team and having his wins totals inflated in the process. A goalie's wins are largely a team result (and not an individual one).

21. Daniel Alfredsson (up from 21st). This is approximately where he belongs. Alfredsson is a very good player. Second best on the Sens. It's not a surprise he had his two best offensive seasons once he had Dany Heatley on his line.

22. Chris Drury (debut). He is a 69 point scorer who has defensive value (but was not a Selke nominee). He finished third on his own team in scoring. Why is he rankled this high? Why is he ranked above his teammates who outscored him? Is it because the New York Rangers paid him a bunch of money? Everyone knows the Rangers don't overpay free agents (right Bobby Holik?).

23. Marty Turco (up from 49th). Last year's ranking was too low and based on a ridiculous idea that Turco is not a playoff goalie. Amazingly, he shed this myth with a first round playoff loss in 2007, though he played exceptionally well in the loss.

24. Jason Spezza (down from 22nd). He has put up two very good offensive seasons in a row while playing less than 70 games a season. If he can stay healthy he could be in the scoring race.

25. Henrik Zetterberg (up from 38th). Zetterberg had a very good season and might have been a post-season all star on left wing if he didn't get hurt.

26. Jonathan Cheechoo (up from 36th). Cheechoo's 69 points was well down from his 2006 totals and yet he rises in the ranking? I think this is an admission his 2006 ranking was too low.

27. Daniel Briere (debut). Briere was a glaring omission last season who takes a spot this year. I have no idea why he is ranked below teammate Chris Drury. Even if free agent money somehow gets taken into account, Briere sure got a lot of it from Philadelphia.

28. Tomas Kaberle (debut). He is a good defender but I find this a bit high. This list has not had enough defencemen on it so far, but ranking Kaberle the 4th best dman in the league seems a stretch.

29. Dominik Hasek (debut). He was left off last year due to injury issues. In 2006/07 he managed to stay healthy and put up a good year. I have little doubt he could do that again in 2007/08 if he stay healthy. I doubt that he can do that.

30. Brad Richards (down from 23rd). He dropped to 70 points last year, which was a disappointment, but I think he should have no trouble bouncing back up this list this season.

31. Martin Havlat (down from 26th). Had a great start to the year before getting injured and slowing down. He has never put up a great full season, but if Chicago's young talent makes some noise and he can stay healthy, this should be a career best season for Havlat.

32. Daniel Sedin (debut). Along with brother Henrik took over the first line duties in Vancouver when Markus Naslund showed he wasn't up to the task last season. It is a bit odd that he makes this list and Henrik doesn't when they posted similar offensive stats. I suppose it is because left wing is a weaker position.

33. Jean-Sebastien Giguere (debut). Amazing that a former Conn Smythe Trophy winner got left off the list last year. I guess it was unclear if he would be the Anaheim number one goalie (or if Ilya Bryzgalov could win the job). Giguere proved he belongs here by backstopping a Stanley Cup win for the Ducks.

34. Ryan Smyth (down from 33rd). As long as Smyth can stay healthy (and given his style of play that is no given) he deserves this spot. Some have criticized it as another player who was overrated due to his free agency press (see Chris Drury), but I think Smyth is good enough for this ranking.

35. Simon Gagne (down from 31st). A very good sniper who had an off year (as did everyone related to the Philadelphia Flyers last year). He could show us this ranking is low with a good season this year.

36. Pavel Datsyuk (down from 35th). I am not sure why he doesn't get more respect. It's not because he plays in a seldom seen market. Detroit gets a lot of press coverage. On would think the reigning two time Lady Byng winner would be ranked higher than this.

37. Rick Nash (down from 9th). Last year he was ranked ridiculously high. How can an offensive forward who had a career best of 57 points be in the top 10? Another season has passed and he equalled the 57 point mark. Last year, some argued (see comments) that Nash should have been ranked ahead of Jarome Iginla.

38. Rod Brind'Amour (stays at 38th). Repeated as Selke Trophy winner. Some wonder if at 37 he is won't start to slow down, but he is in incredible shape, plays an incredible amount of minutes and is very valuable to the Hurricanes.

39. Zdeno Chara (down from 19th). I think this is too big a drop. He is one of the top defenders in the NHL and has an outside shot at a Norris Trophy.

40. Rick DiPietro (debut). A very good goalie. This debut position seems about right. He is the most valuable player on the Islanders.

41. Scott Gomez (debut). Signing a big contract with the New York Rangers seems to lead to overrating on this list. Last year his offensive totals fell to 60 points. So why did he make the list?

42. Sergei Gonchar (debut). A very good offensive defenseman, who is likely worthy of a top 50 spot.

43. Henrik Lundqvist (debut). Two years in the NHL with two Vezina nominations. Why can't he get a higher ranking than this? Does he have to sign a large contract as a New York Ranger free agent or something?

44. Evgeni Malkin (debut). Rookie of the year last year. He could take a big leap forwards next season or hit a sophomore jinx. This position is hedging their bets on his future.

45. Zach Parise (debut). He had a great playoff last year (as far as New Jersey went), but given that he had a career best 62 points last year, that is not enough for this ranking.

46. Dan Boyle (debut). Boyle made the second team all star last year on defence. Generally, an accomplishment like that should have him higher in the rankings. It was his biggest offensive year of his career and probably his best defensively as well and was a bit of a surprise. That keeps his ranking down, coupled with the fact not enough defencemen made this list.

47. Brendan Shanahan (debut). How often does a player turn 38 during a season, drop 19 points off his offensive totals and rise in these rankings? He would have to have joined the New York Rangers as a free agent to do that. Shanahan did, but in 2006 and not 2007. I guess the effect on his ranking was slower than that of Drury and Gomez.

48. Ilya Kovalchuk (down from 18th). This drop is much larger then it should be. Sure he dropped to 76 points, but he is ranked here with players who scored in the 60's of points and do not have his upside.

49. Mathieu Schneider (debut). He is a good defender but hasn't been worthy of a spot on this list for a few years. I guess signing as a free agent in Anaheim is worth a boost on the list (just like signing in New York is).

50. Niklas Backstrom (debut). It takes more than 41 games to convince me that Backstrom deserves a spot on this list. He played on a defensively sound Minnesota Wild team that allows low shot quality. Are you telling me Backstrom should be ranked ahead of Tomas Vokoun or Evgeni Nabokov or several other goalies who have established track records through several NHL seasons and play behind less disciplined defences?

Here is last year's list and here was my list last season.

Comments:
mike brophy leaving zubov off the list of top 50 players, discredits his cred as a sports writer, as does putting visnovski ahead of zubov on last year's list. you're dead on about phaneuf. he wasn't the best d on his team last year as hamrlik was the best overall d and regehr was the best defensive defencemen. sure, phaneuf was the best offensive d, but these phaneuf lovers obviously didn't watch the last two years of playoff screw-ups and his subpar d-zone coverage, not to mention being the player in the league whose shot is most often blocked because he seems incapable of noticing legs in front of him when he's on the point. backstrom on the list? wrong, period. and cheechoo ahead of brierre. i could score 30 playing on thornton's line. cheechoo is a complete player, but there aren't 5 players in the nhl with brierre's talent. cheers.
 
Where is Sundin?
 
Mats Sundin tied for 36th place in scoring in the NHL this past season. Since this list contains many goalies and defenceman who should not do as well in a scoring race as a forward, that position is at best questionable for inclusion in a top 50 players list. However, it could be reasonable if there was reason to believe that last season had been a bit below expectation and better things were ahead. However given Sundin's age (36) and his hip injury that he is going to play through this season (instead of undergoing surgery) his totals appear more likely to continue to decline.
 
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