Joe Thornton and Evgeni Malkin really should have made the NHL’s Top 100

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The NHL unveiled the remainder of its top-100 players of all time on Friday night and as you might expect with a list like thi,s there is plenty of argument over who is — and is not — on it.

One of the more surprising developments was the fact that there were only six active players (Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin, Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith, Patrick Kane and Jaromir Jagr) to make the cut.

Three of them play for one team, the Chicago Blackhawks. And while that team has been great (three Stanley Cups in seven years) they are not the only team that has won multiple championships in this era.

The other surprising development: That a group of 58 people with an extensive knowledge of the NHL put their minds together and somehow came up with a list of 100 players in the history of the league that were/are better than Joe Thornton and Evgeni Malkin.

Mike Halford already put together a list of some of the notable omissions, but these two are the ones that really stand out from this era for me.

Let’s start with Thornton.

It probably shouldn’t be too much shock he did not make the cut in something like this because he has always been one of the most underappreciated players in the history of the league, and it always comes back to the rings argument and the fact he has never been on a team that was good enough to win a Stanley Cup. When his career is over we are going to look back at what he did and realize, “damn … that guy was pretty great and we probably should have talked about it more instead of looking at him as some kind of a choker.”

We are not trying to find the best players that played on the best teams here. We are trying to find the best players. When you look at Thornton’s career and what he has accomplished, it is one that is not only among the top-100, it is probably closer to the top half of that list.

He is an NHL MVP and scoring champion.

He is in the top-25 all-time in total points and assists. He is one of the NHL’s all-time greatest playmakers and will top the 1,000 assist mark for his career at some point in the second half of this season (keep in mind, only 85 players in the history of the league have topped 1,000 points).

Comparing players across generations is a tricky subject because the game changes so much. All you can really do is measure how players do against their peers, and when you look at Thornton’s career he has consistently been one of the top two-or-three most prolific scorers of his era. Break his career down into five-year segments and he is always among the top-five point producers in the league … and in many cases, first or second.

It is not like he has been some kind of a one-dimensional assist man that had no depth to his game, either. He has always been a dominant two-way player. Compare the individual performance to a player, like, say … Jonathan Toews (topped 70 points one time in his career, never finished higher than 12th in scoring, only twice finished in the top-20). As great as he is (and he is great) we’re talking about the top 100 players ever. One of only six active players. That is a high bar to reach.

The only thing that elevates a player like him over top of Thornton is the the championships, which, again, comes down to the team and not the individual player. Do we really think that if the Blackhawks  teams of 2010 or 2013 kept everything else the same and simply swapped Toews for Thornton that they wouldn’t have been just as dominant? That they wouldn’t have won a couple of Stanley Cups? They probably would have been better.

And that brings us to Malkin, whose omission is even more stunning because he not only has the individual performance that makes him worthy of a spot on the list, he also has the hardware — both team and individual — that seems to matter to the people that select these things.

Team success? Been a core player on two Stanley Cup winning teams (and another Stanley Cup Finalist)

Individual hardware? Two-time scoring champion. League MVP. Playoff MVP.

The only other players in the history of the league that can match that individual trophy collection are Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Guy LaFleur, Bobby Orr and Sidney Crosby.

He also has a rookie of the year trophy in there as well.

He is one of the top-25 players in both regular season and postseason points per game. The only other active player in the top-25 of both? Crosby.

When looking at just his era his performance (as is Thornton’s) is right on par with Crosby and Ovechkin and every other all-time great in the history of the league.

Look, there are always going to be disagreements with these things.

They are subjective, and the whole purpose of them is to create a discussion. But they also carry weight when it comes to evaluating players. But it is also something that carries weight when analyzing players and their accomplishments. I can almost guarantee you at some point this season, probably in the playoffs, Jonathan Toews is going to be referred to as “one of the top-100 players of all time,” and how he was one of only six active players to make the cut. Even though there are probably a handful of players from his own era that did not make the list that have been better.

Specifically, Thornton and Malkin.

Rick Nash scores twice as Rangers edge Sabres 4-3

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Prior to Tuesday’s win, New York Rangers forward Rick Nash had gone 12 games without a goal.

They had lost three straight and the man they needed to start scoring again simply couldn’t.

But on Tuesday in a 5-1 win against the Philadelphia Flyers, Nash found his stride.

And on Thursday night he notched two more in a 4-3 win over the Buffalo Sabres on NBCSN.

Nash opened the scoring for the Rangers 1:24 into the game, taking advantage of a defensive mishap by Jake McCabe, who couldn’t handle a puck as the last man back and allowed Nash in on a breakaway.

The Sabres would respond by periods’ end, starting their first of three comebacks on the night.

Kyle Okposo brought the game to level terms with 1:19 remaining in the first period, completing a tic-tac-toe play on the power play.

The Sabres came into the game with the 31st ranking on the man-advantage, but managed to score twice with it in Thursday’s game.

The Rangers regained the lead through J.T. Miller in the second period.

New York just went through a power play without registering a shot on goal, but Miller was able to grab the puck at the right circle moments after the Sabres’ penalty had expired and rifled a wrist shot bar down behind Lehner at 8:26.

The Sabres engineered their second comeback of the game, tying it 2-2 the game later in the period from an unlikely source.

Justin Falk had gone 101 games without putting a puck in the back of the net. Not since March 6, 2015 had Falk seen his name in that category on the scoresheet.

But he shed that monkey off his back on a point shot low along the ice that beat Lundqvist through the five-hole with 2:50 remaining in the frame.

Nash scored his second at the 6:49 mark of the third period, following by Buffalo’s third successful comeback attempt at 14:59 when Rasmus Ristolainen’s shot found its way through a crowd and behind Lundqvist for a 3-3 tie.

Pavel Buchnevich scored the winner 1:03 later, finishing off a nice feed from Mika Zibanejad for his 12th and the Rangers second straight win.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

WATCH LIVE: Pittsburgh Penguins vs Los Angeles Kings

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CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE

PROJECTED LINES

Pittsburgh Penguins

Dominik SimonSidney Crosby — Daniel Sprong

Carl HagelinEvgeni MalkinPatric Hornqvist

Conor ShearyJake GuentzelPhil Kessel

Tom KuhnhacklRiley SheahanRyan Reaves

Brian DumoulinKris Letang

Olli MaattaJustin Schultz

Matt HunwickJamie Oleksiak

Starting goalie: Tristan Jarry

[NHL on NBCSN doubleheader: Sabres vs. Rangers; Penguins vs. Kings]

Los Angeles Kings

Adrian KempeAnze KopitarDustin Brown

Tanner PearsonTrevor LewisTyler Toffoli

Alex IafalloNick ShoreMarian Gaborik

Kyle Clifford — Michael Amadio — Jonny Brodzinski

Derek ForbortDrew Doughty

Jake MuzzinAlec Martinez

Kevin Gravel — Christian Folin

Starting goalie: Jonathan Quick

Eric Lindros’ famed No. 88 retired in Philadelphia

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No. 88 has always hung from the rafters in the minds of Philadelphia Flyers fans.

The organization seemed to revere it as well. No one but Eric Lindros has ever worn the number.

And on Thursday night in the City of Brotherly Love, those fans could finally see it with their own eyes.

The Big E’s famous No. 88 in Flyers orange and black was retired at Wells Fargo Center, raised to hang next to the names of Bernie Parent, Mark Howe, Barry Ashbee, Bill Barber and Bobby Clarke.

“Without any doubt, this is the highest honor the organization can bestow on one of its members,” said Flyers president Paul Holmgren, who addressed the packed house. “Take a look at the rafters, only five players out of 600 to have ever worn the orange and black, and now that number will be six.

“When we raise your number in a few moments, know you’re back where you belong, and this time, it’s forever.”

Moments earlier, Lindros stood at center ice, waving at the standing ovation that engulfed the arena that encircled him.

“Wow. Haha. This is crazy,” Lindros said, peering out into the sea of orange and black as he followed Holmgren at the center-ice podium. 

“It’s no secret that when I left Philadelphia, it was under less than ideal circumstances,” Lindros said, crediting Holmgren and his wife Kina with helping him move.

Lindros sat out the entire 2000-01 season due to a contract dispute with Clarke and the organization.

Lindros was crushed by Scott Stevens in the playoffs in the previous season and was only cleared to play the following December. The Flyers had offered, and Lindros refused a two-way qualifying offer. Lindros, instead, wanted to be traded, with his hometown Toronto Maple Leafs the preferred destination after his once-strong relationship with Clarke had deteriorated. Clarke refused to trade him at first, but finally did so in the following offseason, not to Toronto, but to the New York Rangers in the summer of 2001.

“Both, in their own ways, have taught me to move on, put in the past any differences of opinion, any hard feelings,” Lindros said. “It was time to remember the great moments I experienced here in Philadelphia, the friendships I’ve built in this great city and the respect I have for the fans of this team.”

Lindros was a member of the ‘Legion of Doom,’ a line that consisted of John LeClair and Mikael Renberg that dominated opponents and altered the game of hockey in the 1990s. Lindros acknowledged several people, including former general manager Russ Farwell, who brought Lindros, Mark Recchi and Rob Brind’Amour into the team and drafted Mikael Renberg.

Lindros also thanked Clarke, and said LeClair should be in the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Lindros was one of the most physically gifted and dominating players to ever play in the NHL, a man who towered over most, skated better than most and score better than most.

Lindros won the Hart Trophy during the lockout-shortened 1994-95 season. He played 486 games in Flyers threads, scoring 290 goals and amassing 659 points.

In 2016, Lindros was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Roberto Luongo could return to practice soon

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The mandatory off week for the Florida Panthers appears to have done wonders for injured goaltender Roberto Luongo.

The Panthers No. 1 netminder has “turned a corner” as he continues to rehab a lower-body injury, Panthers head coach Bob Boughner said on Thursday.

The Panthers practiced for the first time since their mandatory break on Thursday, and although Luongo is still on pace for a return early next month, the news was good to hear for a team nine points adrift of the final wildcard spot in the Eastern Conference.

“I think he’s turned a corner a little bit,” Boughner told reporters after the team’s practice. “He’s showing some good improvement here in the last few days. We’re excited to hopefully get him back out on the ice during a practice at some upcoming point.”

Luongo hasn’t played since Dec. 4, when he was injured in a 5-4 shootout loss to the New York Islanders.

The news of Luongo’s pending return was probably a little music to the ears of James Reimer.

Reimer has started Florida’s past 16 games, posting an 8-6-2 record with .924 save percentage during that span, but ran into the break losing four of his previous five starts.

Still, Reimer has performed admirably in Luongo’s absence, as he bounced back from an unfavorable start to the season that saw Luongo regain the starter’s reins.

The Panthers will have five games in-hand on Pittsburgh Penguins, who entered Thursday occupying the final spot. They play the Los Angeles Kings live on NBCSN at 10 p.m. ET.

The Panthers return to action on Friday when they host the visiting Vegas Golden Knights.

Reimer is expected to start No. 17.