The NHL will unveil its heavily hyped Top 100 list of the league’s greatest players this weekend as part of the all-star festivities in Los Angeles. The list won’t be ranked, but it’s still sure to cause some controversy as fans pour over who makes the cut and who gets snubbed.
In the leadup to the announcement, there’s been some confusion over how many active players have been included. Initial reports suggested there were only six, which seemed far too low. Later, it was suggested that there may be six of this year’s all-stars on the list, in addition to several other active players who weren’t taking part in the weekend’s events. That seemed to make more sense, although the league hasn’t confirmed anything.
Sorting out which active players to include is harder than it might seem, and I found that out firsthand. After criticizing the league for chickening out on doing a ranked list, I was approached about working on one of my own. The end result was an e-book, co-authored with Greg Wyshynski and Dave Lozo, that was released this week.
Here’s what I learned: This stuff is harder than it looks.
And having been through the process of pulling together a Top 100, I can tell you that figuring out where to slot in active players may be the toughest calls of all. Remember, you’re comparing guys who are still in mid-career to other players’ finished products.
Sometimes, it’s easy. Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin were no-brainers for the Top 25, and veterans like Jaromir Jagr, Jarome Iginla and Joe Thornton made the list without much argument. But other guys turned out to be more contentious debates.
Here are the five toughest calls among active players that we ran into, and what we ended up doing with them.
When we built our list, we were looking at two key questions: Was the player ever considered one of the best in the league, and were they able to consistently produce over the course of a long career? The Sedins check both boxes.
Both have won an Art Ross. Both were postseason all-stars on multiple occasions. Henrik won a Hart Trophy in 2010, and you could make a strong case that Daniel should have in 2011 (he finished second to Corey Perry in a close vote). And both have been consistent producers for over a decade.
So sure, they’re great players. But top 100? Henrik just hit the 1,000-point milestone and Daniel will get there soon, but lots of guys have reached that mark. Competition for a spot on the list was tight, as you’d expect given we’re dealing with 100 years of history. For example, we were surprised that we couldn’t find room for names like Mike Modano or Doug Gilmour, both of whom will probably top the Sedins by over 300 points when all is said and done.
True, the twins played their entire careers in a lower-scoring era than many of the guys ahead of them on the all-time scoring list. But even factoring that in, they’re far from a slam dunk.
Our call: They both made the list. But just barely.
The Sedins were a tough call, but at least they’re closing in on the end of their careers. Players like Price are even trickier, because we don’t have any idea where they’ll wind up. The Canadiens’ goalie hasn’t even turned 30 yet, so there’s a lot of runway left here.
That said, his resume is already impressive. He won the Hart Trophy, which few goaltenders have managed to do. Of course, so did Jose Theodore, and he’s not on anybody’s Top 100 list.
Price is no Theodore – settle down, Habs fans – and there are goaltenders with shorter careers than his who made our list easily. But those guys won multiple Vezinas. Price hasn’t… yet.
Our call: Too soon. His 2014-15 performance is one for the ages, but so far it’s his only postseason all-star nod or top-three Vezina season. If we were doing this list five years down the road, he’s probably there. But we’re not, so he’ll have to wait.
In a sense, Karlsson presents a similar problem to Price’s. At 26, he’s even younger, and should have at least a decade left to pile up big career numbers. So it’s tempting to put him in the pile of guys who’ll just have to wait.
But unlike Price, Karlsson already has multiple seasons where he’s been considered the best at his position. He’s won two Norris Trophies, and the list of names that have won that award multiple times reads like a who’s who of slam dunk Top 100 names. (And, uh, Rod Langway.) And he nearly made it three last year, a season in which he earned first-team all-star honors for the third time.
Our call: Karlsson did end up making our list. That surprised me a bit, and if you read the book you’ll know that I thought he came in too high. But the bottom line is that the list of players with multiple best-in-the-sport seasons is a short one, and it’s hard to leave many of them out of a Top 100.
In a sense, Luongo is the flip side of the Price/Karlsson conundrum. He’s been around forever, and has been very good for essentially his entire career. But he’s missing that one dominant season. He’s been a Vezina finalist three times, but never won it, and he’s been a postseason all-star twice, but never on the first team.
If you’re an NHL GM, you’ll take nearly two decades of consistently good goaltending and never look back. It’s a body of work that should get Luongo into the Hall of Fame someday. But does it also get him a spot in the Top 100?
Our call: Luongo barely missed the cut.
All those Blackhawks
Let’s close with what’s sure to end up being the most controversial active player debate on the list, if only because it involves so many guys. There are no fewer than four current Chicago Blackhawks who could make a case for inclusion: Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith and Marian Hossa.
Who’s going to make the league’s list? Well, maybe all four. This is the NHL, after all, and the NHL loves them some Chicago Blackhawks. You don’t put a team front and center on all the marketing you do (not to mention in every outdoor game you play) and then bail on them when it’s Top 100 time. It’s widely assumed that Toews is a sure thing, Kane probably is too, and Keith has a strong shot. Hossa’s a little bit of a different case since he’s played for so many other teams, but early voting for this list would have been going on right around the time that he was getting all sorts of love for scoring his 1,000th point, so he’s a decent bet, too.
Who should make the list? That’s a tougher call. Toews and Kane both fall into the same work-in-progress category as Price and Karlsson. Kane is a lot like Price, in that he’s only had one truly great season mixed in with lots of good ones. Toews is even trickier; he always seems to be in the “best player in hockey” conversation in press boxes and sports bars, but he’s never once been a Hart finalist or a first-team all-star.
As for Keith, he’s next to Karlsson in that small group of multi-Norris winners, although those are the only two years he’s come close. He also has a Conn Smythe, which is fairly rare for a defenseman, and at 33 he’s had more time to pad his resume than Kane or Toews have.
Then there’s Hossa, who’s been around longer than any of them and has carved out a reputation as one of the best two-way wingers to ever play the game, and yet somehow has just one second-team all-star pick to show for it.
And what about Stanley Cup rings, since each of these guys has three? Well, if you want to have a Top 100 that features guys like Glenn Anderson, Tom Johnson and Kevin Lowe, feel free to lean on those. If not, let’s not go easy on crediting team accomplishments to individual players.
Our call: Chicago fans won’t like it, but we only found room for one of these four players on our list. And it’s probably not the one you’d expect: We went with Duncan Keith.
Sean McIndoe has been writing about the NHL since 2008; you may know him from Twitter as @downgoesbrown. His e-book, The 100 Greatest Players in NHL History, is available now. He appears weekly on TheHockeyNews.com.
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