Highs and lows of #NHLrank
Scott Burnside, Craig Custance, Pierre LeBrun and Katie Strang break down the player rankings to tell you who they think was overrated, who was underrated and what surprised them in the panel's voting:
Burnside: No. 28 Rick Nash, Rangers -- The decline in stock for an elite player can be linked to a number of things: injury, slumps, advancing age. Not sure where Nash fits into that list, but it still remains shocking to see Nash, a key member of Canada's gold-medal effort in Vancouver in 2010, a former Rocket Richard Trophy winner (shared) and a sought-after missing Stanley Cup puzzle piece settled in at 28th in our list of forwards. Maybe that's a function of Nash's messy departure from Columbus, maybe it's a function of his struggles with the Rangers in the postseason last spring when he managed just one goal in 12 playoff games. Regardless, that Nash's stock has sunk as low as it has suggests maybe folks just don't believe in the Nash mystique anymore -- assuming they believed in the first place.
Custance: No. 14 Corey Perry, Ducks -- He has a Hart Trophy and isn't a guy who is enjoyable to play against, but his lone 50-goal season also came during a year in which he had a 17.2 shooting percentage. His career stats suggest he's more of a 30-goal scorer, which is a nice asset to have on your team, but not better than both Sedins, Martin St. Louis, Anze Kopitar, Marian Hossa or Phil Kessel -- all below Perry in the rankings.
LeBrun: No. 64 Johan Franzen, Red Wings -- I don't know what it is, but I always feel like Franzen leaves me wanting more. I just feel like he's always had the talent to be a 40-goal scorer in this league given his 6-foot-3, 223-pound frame, his soft hands and wicked shot. He scored 28 goals in 2010-11, 29 goals in 2011-12 and 14 goals in 41 games last season in the lockout-shortened year. Those numbers are good, but I feel like his talent should produce more.
Strang: No. 44 Chris Kunitz, Penguins -- This pains me to write because there is a lot to like about Kunitz's game. He's an undrafted underdog with a great story who's easy to pull for, but I can't in good conscience rank him in front of players like Milan Lucic, Andrew Ladd and Ilya Kovalchuk. Kunitz had a spectacular season last year, but don't forget that he posted those dazzling numbers in 2013 -- 22 goals and 52 points in 48 games -- while playing alongside Sidney Crosby for a significant portion of the lockout-shortened season. Kunitz is the type of complementary player who flourishes while playing with top talent -- not just in Pittsburgh, such was the case in Anaheim as well -- but he's not a franchise guy you build around or the type of piece that will make or break your lineup.
Burnside: No. 6 P.K. Subban, Canadiens -- Hey, I know he's the defending Norris Trophy winner. Fair enough. I had Ryan Suter as my best defenseman last season and didn't think Subban was in the same area code when it came to the award. I would simply like to see a better-rounded player as high as sixth in the rankings. Subban finished sixth in average ice time per game while killing penalties among defensemen on his own team, which suggests Montreal head coach Michel Therrien does not have the confidence that Subban has a mature enough game to get on the ice when the Habs are shorthanded. Doesn't diminish what Subban accomplished offensively, as he finished tied for the league lead in points among defensemen, but if we're talking the top defenders in the game, I would like a little more complete game at that ranking.
Custance: No. 20 Kevin Shattenkirk, Blues -- You have to appreciate the strides Shattenkirk has made defensively in St. Louis along with his more disciplined play. And his advanced stats are strong -- a 10.0 Relative Corsi led all Blues defensemen last year -- but I still am not ready to rank Shattenkirk ahead of more complete defenders such as Francois Beauchemin, Jay Bouwmeester or Dan Hamhuis.
Strang: No. 9 Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Coyotes -- Ekman-Larsson was one of my dark-horse candidate for the Norris Trophy at one point, as the 22-year-old had a terrific season in Phoenix with 24 points while defending against the opposition's top lines. The only knock on him is that his body of work is still too small for me to feel comfortable placing him above veterans such as Mike Green, Dan Boyle, Dion Phaneuf, and Keith Yandle.
Burnside: No. 9 (tied) Cory Schneider, Devils -- No slight against the popular, well-spoken Schneider, but a guy who was only a starter for about an hour and a half shouldn't be top 10 among all NHL netminders. Now, maybe he becomes the goaltender of the future in New Jersey. But anyone who saw Schneider's performance when the Vancouver Canucks were swept in the first round by the San Jose Sharks would be hard-pressed to see Schneider as a top-10 goalie in the NHL. Maybe sometime soon. But not now.
Custance: No. 4 Sergei Bobrovsky, Blue Jackets -- He would have been at the top of my Hart ballot if the Blue Jackets made the playoffs last season and certainly deserved the Vezina, but one outstanding stretch of 38 games doesn't put you in my top five overall. It was only two years ago that he had a save percentage of .899, and he has only one season in which he's played more than 50 games. By comparison, the guy he's ranked immediately in front of, Pekka Rinne, played in 73 games in the last full NHL season and has a higher career save percentage (.919) in 172 more games played.
LeBrun: No. 20 (tied) Viktor Fasth, Ducks -- The debate last season was whether Fasth or Jonas Hiller was better. The answer: John Gibson is Anaheim's best goaltender. Whether the young American netminder has to wait another year to make his NHL debut remains to be seen. Once he does, it's lights out in the Anaheim net; Gibson is not going to relinquish it.
Strang: No. 9 (tied) Cory Schneider, Devils -- I still think it was a shrewd move for Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello to acquire Schneider; the Devils need to groom someone as Brodeur's successor, and I think this could be a fantastic opportunity for the former Canuck. But, the 27-year-old netminder has never handled the workload of an NHL starter -- he has a combined 98 regular-season starts over the past five seasons -- so it's hard to draw conclusions about what he can do until he's proven capable of doing that. Schneider does seem keen on accomplishing that, however. His Devils' debut could not have gone much better, as he turned away all 22 shots faced in his first exhibition game against the Rangers, including one spectacular stick save that robbed Brad Richards of a goal in the second period of the Devils' 2-1 win over the Rangers.
Burnside: No. 23 Patrick Sharp, Blackhawks -- It's pretty much standard now to marry Sharp with the term "underrated," and it is so with our rankings. Here's a guy who has won two Stanley Cups and collected 38 postseason points combined in those 2010 and 2013 playoff runs, both times earning considerable playoff MVP discussion. He is a consistent 30-goal guy during the regular season and has played a variety of positions up front with the Hawks. With all due respect to guys such as Phil Kessel, Joe Thornton and Logan Couture, who finished ahead of Sharp in the rankings, it's hard to argue with the Thunder Bay, Ontario, native's body of work and specifically his ability to deliver the goods when it matters most. Not that it should surprise anyone that he was overlooked.
Custance: No. 82 Justin Williams, Kings -- This spot could have gone to Loui Eriksson, the perennially underrated Bruins winger, but that's too easy. And Jamie Benn gets consideration, but I didn't want our underrated section to be too Stars-centric (see Lehtonen, Kari) so we'll go with Williams. Not necessarily because of his regular season, where he's usually good for a 20-goal season, but instead for his propensity to come up big in big games. It was his two goals that finished off a really good Sharks team last spring in Game 7 of the Western Conference semifinals, and he's the first player in NHL history to score in each of the first four Game 7s in which he played. He doesn't have two Stanley Cups with two different teams by accident.
LeBrun: No. 47 Andrew Ladd, Jets -- He had more points last season than the likes of Henrik Sedin, Nazem Kadri, Alexander Semin, Matt Duchene, Nash, Anze Kopitar and Thomas Vanek, among others, but I doubt few people outside of Winnipeg knew that about Ladd. The Jets captain is a terrific, well-rounded player who continues to push his game to new heights, a great leader oozing with character and has the ability to protect his teammates while leading the team in scoring. That's the one guy I'm sure Chicago wishes it didn't make part of the salary-cap purge of 2010.
Strang: No. 37 (tied) Loui Eriksson, Bruins -- It was a hard choice to pick between Jamie Benn and Loui Eriksson, both of whom I feel are so often overlooked, perhaps because of where they play. Ultimately, I put a lot of stock into what a player's peers feel, and there is a reason Eriksson is a consistent appearance among the NHLPA's poll of most underrated players. Teammates love him and opponents hate playing against him. He's the type of heady player whose game is understated but absolutely vital to the success of his team.
Burnside: No. 27 (tied) Jay Bouwmeester, Blues -- Always a little hard to figure where to slot the former third overall draft pick. He has never had the impact at the NHL level most assumed he would, yet he became such an important figure for the St. Louis Blues when he was acquired at the trade deadline last spring. I'm a bit surprised he was only 28th on our list of defensemen. Bouwmeester averaged 23:23 a night in ice time after coming over to the Blues, and he chipped in seven points in 14 games during the regular season. If, as some believe, the Blues are a legitimate Stanley Cup contender this season, Bouwmeester will be a key part of any championship run.
Custance: No. 59 Jason Garrison, Canucks -- He's got a big shot and quietly got better as the season went on in his first year with the Canucks. He has 24 goals the past two seasons and, after finishing second among defensemen in goals during his final year in Florida, only six defensemen had more goals than Garrison did last season. He's never going to be mistaken for a shutdown defenseman, but it's hard to believe there are 58 better players on defense.
LeBrun: No. 11 Alex Pietrangelo, Blues -- Pietrangelo is an all-world blueliner and people need to realize it. The depth and talent of the Blues' defense is unmatched in the NHL, and Pietrangelo is a big reason for that. Pietrangelo led the team's defensemen with 24 points -- five goals and 19 assists -- and was among the league leaders with an average of 25 minutes per game. After all, there is a reason the Blues gave him a seven-year, $45.5 million contract with a no-trade clause over the final three years after a brief holdout.
Strang: Marc Staal, Rangers -- Granted, Staal has missed significant time over the past two seasons with a couple of frightening injuries -- a serious concussion that sidelined him for 36 games in 20011-12 and a frightening eye injury that forced him to miss 27 games last year -- but when healthy, I believe he's the best defensemen of the Rangers' back end. Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi have proved to be a tremendous tandem during Staal's prolonged absence the past two years, but the 26-year-old blueliner still has all the tools of a top-10 defenseman in the league. His game isn't flashy and he'll never be a major points-producer, but his steady presence is critically important to the Rangers' success.
Burnside: No. 18 Martin Brodeur, Devils -- OK, we get that Martin Brodeur is old, so old in fact that the 41-year-old has been sitting next to his son at the New Jersey Devils' training camp. But to see the future Hall of Famer all the way at 18th overall and behind guys such as James Reimer, Braden Holtby and even Carey Price or Schneider is in our minds an oversight. Yes, Brodeur was injured last season and the Devils missed the playoffs, but let's think back only a short time ago to the spring of 2012 when Brodeur carried the Devils to the Stanley Cup finals boasting a 2.12 goals-against average and .917 save percentage. Enough said.
Custance: No. 22 Kari Lehtonen, Stars -- Lehtonen must still be paying the price for his disappointing time in Atlanta because there's no way that 21 goalies should be ranked ahead of him, including guys who aren't even the clear-cut No. 1 on their own team. His work with Dallas Stars goaltending coach Mike Valley has paid off, and his three seasons in Texas have been mostly successful. His worst save percentage during any full season with the Stars is .914, and when he's on, he steals games.
LeBrun: No. 22 Kari Lehtonen, Stars -- Some people point the finger to Lehtonen for the Stars' leaky defensive play last season, placing 24th in goals against per game. But Lehtonen has been super-solid in Dallas, and his .916 save percentage was middle of the pack among NHL starters. I'd point the finger to a lackluster blue-line corps in Dallas. The guy should be higher for sure.
Strang: No. 7 (tied) Corey Crawford, Blackhawks -- What's a guy gotta do to get some respect around here these days? The 28-year-old, who finished third in the regular season with a 1.94 goals-against average and tied for fifth with a .926 save percentage, entered the 2013 season with a healthy number of skeptics, but he squashed the doubters en route to a Stanley Cup championship. Yes, Crawford had a stout defense in front of him and a stellar backup in Ray Emery (with whom he won the William M. Jennings Trophy), but he deserves credit for leading his team to and winning the ultimate prize.
Burnside: Time (and voters it appears) are merciless, so a couple of guys who will definitely get Hall of Fame consideration at the end of their careers and who are looking for major bounce-back seasons saw their stock fall dramatically in our rankings. Specifically, I was a bit surprised to see former Calgary captain Jarome Iginla finish at 84th, a function, no doubt, of his disappointing turn in Pittsburgh after eschewing the Boston Bruins' advances at the trade deadline (he ended up signing with the Bruins as a free agent in the offseason). We're looking for Iginla to prove he's still got game with the B's, where he'll be counted on to deliver top minutes and production likely on the team's top line. And then there's former playoff MVP Brad Richards whose difficult transition to life in New York with the Rangers -- he finished up last season a healthy scratch during the playoffs -- saw Richards ranked 97th out of 100. Look for the proud, classy center to rebound this season under new head coach Alain Vigneault.
Custance: Voters seemed to be especially hard on veterans, but it's surprising to see Brendan Morrow (No. 99) barely crack the top 100 of NHL forwards, even if he is still looking for a contract. It's not like he wasn't good down the stretch last year, either. In 15 games after being traded to the Penguins, he put up 14 points. He might not have as much tread left on the tires as he once did thanks to his physical style of play, but he's still a guy you want on your side.
LeBrun: Not sure how "surprised" I am that Ryan Suter ranked ahead of Shea Weber in the rankings, but it is indeed telling how differently the players themselves feel about it. When Scott Burnside and I interviewed some 25-plus NHL stars in New York City during the Player Tour event earlier this month, Weber was the runaway leading answer when we asked each player to name who he believed was the top defenseman in the NHL. Zdeno Chara was second. Suter wasn't mentioned once. Nothing speaks louder than the respect of your own peers, which is why Sidney Crosby's winning the Ted Lindsay Award as most outstanding player (as voted on by his peers) compared to Alex Ovechkin's winning the Hart Trophy as MVP (voted by writers) shows you the difference in opinion sometimes between the athletes and the media. In this case, I personally believe you can flip a coin between Suter and Weber, but as one NHL head coach told me last week when we had this exact conversation, Weber gains more notoriety with opposing players because his physical dimensions scare the heck out of them.
Strang: As much as this is a "what have you done for me lately" league, I have learned my lesson underestimating Martin Brodeur. That's not to say I haven't always recognized him as one of the best goaltenders to play the game -- I have and I do -- but each preseason I question his age and his durability, and each year he finds ways to prove me wrong. I can think of a few acrobatic saves he made last season, ones in which he contorted himself in ways even my yoga instructor couldn't dream of, that left me feeling particularly chagrined. The season prior, he led the Devils to the Stanley Cup finals. Yes, Brodeur's best years might be behind him, but it's somewhat baffling that the future first-ballot Hall of Famer is ranked below several goaltenders who haven't even shouldered a full season as the No. 1 guy.
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