Starting tonight (with a little bit of a break before the next post so the season can start) we’ll be documenting and ranking the best players by the three broadest categories: Forwards, Defensemen and Goalies. The updates will go up every other Monday to ensure that there has been enough game action in between to have these rankings hold some substance. Also, midway through the year, the rankings will morph into what will essentially be an Awards Watch for the major trophies: Hart, Norris and Vezina, with several others, including the Jack Adams thrown in for good measure. As always, the views expressed within these rankings would be all mine and reflective of every and any reasonable hockey fan, nay human being, on Earth. Just wanted to throw that out there before anyone took the following pre-season rankings to shreds. So let’s get to it, shall we?
1. Corey Perry: Unless there has been a drastic change during the off-season in some fashion, whether it is injury or any other matter that could affect future on-ice performance, I’m a firm believer in the “you have to start the conversation with last year’s MVP” rule. I understand that the main criticism lobbed against Perry’s candidacy for MVP was that he accumulated a staggering amount of points during the Ducks’ late-season charge. And I understand the reasoning that if you had simply reversed his season, where the torrid ending would now come during the first month of the season, Daniel Sedin had the actual better case for MVP. It’s a very solid point for a good argument. But, just as a critic would argue that it is unfair to reward Perry for his performance during a portion of the season (when the award should take into account the whole season), I would contend that it is equally unfair to penalize the man for his not-as-ridiculously-stellar performance during the other half of the season. At the end of the day, when people look back on his numbers years from now, the book won’t come with an asterisk breaking down his performances over each quarter of the season. It doesn’t work like that. He is last year’s MVP. His line is returning with another collective year under their belts. I honestly believe he has the chance to go even bigger in 2011. And that’s why he’s sitting pretty at number 1.
2. Steven Stamkos: I’ll be honest, I almost put Stamkos up at number 1. It’s insane how great he is, and how much hockey he still (hopefully) has left in his career. He’s just as valuable and dangerous as Perry and Ovechkin. In fact, the top five in this category can be interchangeable. And while we would still all argue over it, you can easily find other rankings all over the web that basically interchange this top five in some form. But for me, based on last year, his age and the fact that there’s nothing really pointing towards him taking a step back, Stamkos takes number 2.
3. Alex Ovechkin: I know he had a rough year last year. But you can’t keep a guy with his level of beast mode down for long. The Caps have gotten better, and while I’m still pretty much unconvinced that they have the pieces to actually win the whole thing (as does the rest of the world, I know), it doesn’t mean that #8 won’t bounce back to terrorize most of the Eastern Conference during the regular season.
4 & 5. The Sedin Twins: Maybe you guys are better at this than me, but I find it almost impossible to separate these guys within this kind of criteria. Unless there was tangible, static proof of the capabilities of each brother when playing on a line that does not include the other twin, I can’t say with conviction that these guys shouldn’t be back-to-back on a rankings list or, at least, the same entry. Regardless, you and I and everyone else know they’re going to have another great year in Vancouver. At least until April… what?
6. Pavel Datsyuk: Arguably the best, most complete player in the league. And I totally agree with that. I would straight up sacrifice all of my future kids if it meant Datsyuk somehow was on my team. You think I’m kidding, so let’s just not show you my knife collection…
7. Anze Kopitar: It’s unfortunate that injuries derailed the end of his season and significantly impacted any chance the Kings had of taking out the Sharks. I mean, they still came close, but no one’s going to argue that a healthy Kopitar might have made that a completely different series. In any case, dude is a beast and deserves every penny as the highest paid member of the Los Angeles Kings.
8. Jonathan Toews: Some call him “The Captain,” I call him “the guy whose age I once found out and then for the first time in my life started feeling old.” But for the sake of brevity, I’ll concede “The Captain” for now. To put it simply, he’s clutch. And while that has little to do with the all-around top 10, I can’t imagine a scenario where he isn’t one of the top 10 forwards in the league. Unless, he like, lost both of his legs in a freak jet-skiing accident or something.
9. Ilya Kovalchuk: I almost feel like I should just show his stat line after Lemaire came on as coach and started whipping that team into some semblance of shape. You’re kidding yourself if you seriously didn’t think the Devils might actually make the playoffs during their take-no-prisoners charge up the ladder during the second half of last season — especially if you’re a fan of an Eastern Conference team. I know I was terrified of them. And it had a lot to do with Kovalchuk. And now this coming year, they hopefully have a competent coach, but more importantly, Parise’s back. And Zach will draw some attention and skilled defensemen away from Kovalchuk.
10. Evgeni Malkin: An unstoppable force at times. He just needs to stay healthy, and he will have an extra burden on his shoulders for as long as Sid is out. The good news is that the Penguins showed last year that they are a rock solid team without their two best players. A healthy Malkin can only help.
Full disclaimer: As much as I do not like him, I’ve not forgotten the NHL’s Golden Boy, Sidney Crosby. He’s not in the top 10 for the simple matter that we have absolutely no idea when he’s coming back. And yes, it is definitely a when and not an if. It should go without saying that if Sid was starting the season at full health, he would probably have led off the list. Happy?
1. Zdeno Chara: I’m going to break my own rule here, so much for that, huh? In any case, the single most intimidating man in the NHL and the single most hated man in Montreal has a very strong case for the best defenseman in the league. It’s tough to pick this category apart as an argument can be made for any one of these guys in the Top 5 to start at number, depending on the criteria and perspective. But for me, I’m going to start with the Captain of the defending Stanley Cup Champions.
2. Shea Weber: I spent four years in Nashville going to school at Vanderbilt University. In that time I had the privilege of going to numerous Preds games and seeing this absolute force of a man do his work on the ice. For a team that has been as sound defensively as a team can get over the last half decade, Shea Weber rightfully stands above the pack. As much as I would love to see him or any of the other guys on this list on the Rangers, I hope Weber stays in Nashville. That’s his team and his town.
3. Drew Doughty: He is without a doubt one of the top five defensemen in the league, and he still has a long way to go before he calls it a career. Provided that he, you know, figures out how to handle a contract negotiation and actually ends up allowing himself the opportunity to play hockey. Get your house in order Drew.
4. Nicklas Lidstrom: You guys heard about this guy? He’s pretty good. You should check him out if he’s ever in town. He plays for the Red Wings, just in case you didn’t know.
5. Duncan Keith: Won the Norris Trophy two years ago. While he seemingly lost a step last year, I feel like it was just one of those years. I think he, and that entire team for that matter, comes back strong in 2011-2012.
1. Tim Thomas: Next.
2. Henrik Lundqvist: While Ryan Callahan is deservedly the Captain of the New York Rangers, I’ve always felt that they were Lundqvist’s team. One of the most consistent performers in net over the last half decade, while playing in front of either inexperienced or ineffective defensemen. And he comes into this coming season with a group of D-men all under the age of 28. So why number 2? Because that was the same defense he played with last year, and you can see how that turned out by taking a gander at his stat line.
3. Pekka Rinne: Similar to Lundqvist in that he’s also from Europe. Just kidding. As great defensively as the Nashville Predators are, they would be absolutely nowhere with the insane acrobatics of Rinne in net. I’ve seen him astound many a star forward and make it look difficult (because, well, it is really difficult). He’s going to be around for a while. Unless, of course, I just jinxed it.
4. Carey Price: For a long time I thought Carey Price was overrated. Don’t get me wrong, I knew he was extremely gifted. But so have been a lot of other goalies who never really put it together. When Halak took his job and carried the Canadiens to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2010, I thought Price was done in Montreal. But hey, the team and, more importantly, Price himself made me look foolishly wrong (tends to happen more than I care to admit). Just like the three guys above him, he was the rock standing tall almost every night last season. Well, unless they played the Bruins (sorry, had to go there).
5. Roberto Luongo: Oh Luongo, Luongo, Luongo. It’s almost better off not saying anything because I don’t think there is another goalie in this league who brings out the comment wars more than you do. In fact, there’s probably not many other players in general in hockey who inflame both fans and critics alike. I’ll just stick to what I know. I know that I’ve seen too many games where Luongo clearly seemed to be the weak link for the Canucks. I’ve also seen many games where he was almost invisible, and that’s a compliment as it is a testament to Luongo’s skill and technique that doesn’t require you to be pulling a Hasek or Thomas on every shot. In the end, the stats and awards pretty much speak a lot of the whole truth. You’re a consistently great goalie, but you’re never going to be the best in the league. (hides)
And there you have it kids, a thorough initial version of the Player Power Rankings. Do come back next time when I ignore this list (after I’ve been proven wrong on almost all matters and predictions that is) and pretend I know everything with an entirely new set of rankings.
You can find Sahil Patel on Twitter at @sahilness.
Tags: Alex Ovechkin Anze Kopitar Carey Price Corey Perry Drew Doughty Duncan Keith Evgeni Malkin Henrik Lundqvist Ilya Kovalchuk Jonathan Toews Nicklas Lidstrom Pavel Datsyuk Pekka Rinne Player Power Rankings Roberto Luongo Shea Weber Steven Stamkos The Sedins Tim Thomas Zdeno Chara