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.