NHL Power Rankings: Best players of the decade

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In this week’s NHL Power Rankings we take a look back at the best players of the past decade.

Just because it needs to be said, this is not a list of the best players in hockey right now.

It is a look at the best players over the course of the past 10 years as a whole. That means players that have played at a consistently high level for most of the decade (seven or more years) will get more attention over players that have dominated in more recent years (though there are always exceptions) as a means of limiting recency bias.

Who makes our list?

To the rankings!

The Elites

1. Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins. It was a rocky start to the decade for Crosby as injuries robbed him of a significant chunk of his career when he was playing some of his best hockey. But he still finished the decade as the most dominant all-around player in the league. Of the 257 players that played at least 500 games in the decade, Crosby is one of only four players to average more than a point per game (his 1.23 average was by far the best) while he also won a goal-scoring crown, a scoring title, an MVP, two Conn Smythe Trophies, and captained the Penguins to back-to-back Stanley Cups during the  2015-16 and 2016-17 seasons.

2. Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals. The best goal scorer of all-time continued to dominate the league. Ovechkin’s 422 goals this decade (as of publication) are 79 more than the next closest player, while he won the goal scoring crown in six of the previous nine seasons (including six of the past seven). He is the foundation of the one of the decades most successful organizations with two Presidents’ Trophies and a Stanley Cup.

3. Erik Karlsson, Ottawa Senators/San Jose Sharks. One of the most impressive individual performances of the past decade was Karlsson dragging the 2017 Senators to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final. He was so dominant during that run he actually received Conn Smythe votes even though his team did not reach the Stanley Cup Final. He is a two-time Norris Trophy winner for the decade and a runner-up two other times. One of the most impactful defensemen ever.

4. Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins. Bergeron is the player that a significant portion of the hockey world thought Jonathan Toews was this decade. An elite two-way player in the sense that he can take over a game and dominate a game offensively just as much as he can defensively.

5. Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers. This almost feels like it’s too low (and maybe it is!) given what McDavid has done since entering the league. But he’s also still only 23 and only played in half the decade. But what a half-decade it has been. McDavid is a lock for 100 points every year, is currently the most feared offensive player in the world, and is a one-man highlight reel every shift. He makes you want to watch the Oilers.

The second tier elites

6. Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh Penguins. When he is at his best he sometimes looks like the best player in the world. Even when he is not at at that level is still one of the most game-changing forces in the league. He and Crosby were the foundation of a Penguins team that won the most regular season games in the decade, the second most playoff games (three behind Boston), played in three Eastern Conference Finals, and won two Stanley Cups. 

7. Henrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers. The best goalie of his generation and one of the best to ever play the sport. Lundqvist spent the past decade masking all of the Rangers’ many flaws on defense and taking them on several deep postseason runs that they otherwise wouldn’t have experienced. Don’t let the lack of a Stanley Cup take away from his dominant playoff performances, either. A .922 career save percentage in the playoffs and nearly unbeatable in Game 7s.

8. Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles Kings. The Western Conference version of Bergeron. When the Kings’ Stanley Cups in 2012 and 2014 are discussed it is usually Jonathan Quick‘s goaltending that gets mentioned first. Or Drew Doughty and their defensive play. But let’s not overthink it here — Kopitar was the best player on those teams, and by a wide margin. An underrated and sometimes overlooked part of his greatness: What he did for the Slovenia olympic team at the 2014 games. That team was far more competitive than it should have been, and Kopitar was the reason why.

9. Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay Lightning. The best goal scorer of his era not named Ovechkin. Had it not been for a couple of significant injuries taking away his age 23 and 26 seasons he might already be above the 500-goal mark for his career.

10. Zdeno Chara, Boston Bruins. When Chara and Bergeron were on the ice together, combined with whichever franchise goalie they had in net at the time (Tim Thomas or Tuukka Rask) there was not a tougher team in the league to score against.

The rest of the best

11. Victor Hedman, Tampa Bay Lightning. The hype in his draft year was off the charts, and he has not only lived up to it, he may have even exceeded it. One of the league’s best defenseman from almost day one.

12. Duncan Keith, Chicago Blackhawks. The best player and the one driving the bus on those Blackhawks championship teams. In terms of individual and team hardware he has a Hall of Fame resume.

13. Nicklas Backstrom, Washington Capitals. An elite offensive player, an always underrated defensive player, and one of the best playmakers in the league.

14. Jonathan Toews, Chicago Blackhawks. If you ever argued that he was the best player in the world, you overrated him. Saying he wasn’t quite that good was also not disrespecting him. He was a top-five (maybe even top-three or four at times) center for a long time. There is nothing wrong with that.

15. Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks. One of the best offensive players this decade. His problems off the ice will always detract from that and be a part of his story.

16. Brad Marchand, Boston Bruins. Hate him all you want, he has been one of the league’s best all-around players for five-plus years now. Even before that he was a key part of an elite Bruins team.

17. Drew Doughty, Los Angeles Kings. There was a three or four year stretch where he might have been the best pure defensive player in the league.

18. Claude Giroux, Philadelphia Flyers. The Flyers’ consistent mediocrity during his career makes it easy to overlook how good he has been. He is not to blame for that consistent team-wide mediocrity, either.

19. Carey Price, Montreal Canadiens. When Price was healthy he consistently turned a mediocre-to-bad Canadiens team into something formidable. His 2014-15 season is one of the best individual goaltending performances in recent NHL history.

20. P.K. Subban, Montreal Canadiens/Nashville Predators/New Jersey Devils. He appears to be well into a decline right now with the Devils, but for the first seven or eight years of the decade he was one of the league’s must-see players.

Just missing: Nathan MacKinnon, Nikita Kucherov, Shea Weber, Brent Burns, Joe Pavelski, Kris Letang, Sergei Bobrovsky, Pavel Datsyuk.

MORE PHT DECADE IN REVIEW FUN:
• Top NHL players in fantasy hockey
• Most significant goals
• Favorite goals, best/worst jerseys
Best NHL teams of the decade
Biggest NHL trades

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

PHT Morning Skate: NHL vs. viruses; Flat salary cap pain = Avs’ gain?

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from the NHL and around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit for the PHT Morning Skate? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

Lafreniere, COVID-19 hockey concerns, and how Avs may benefit from a flat salary cap

• Rank Maple Leafs goalie Frederik Andersen among those expressing some misgivings about playing amid the COVID-19 pandemic. [TSN]

• Breaking: Alexis Lafreniere is not a defenseman. In all seriousness, a look at some Maple Leafs possibilities … which might be complicated at No. 1 because of that positional point. Maybe? [Pension Plan Puppets]

• Speaking of those Maple Leafs, Buds fans are not pleased about the idea of a possible flat, $81.5M salary cap. There are teams who might take advantage of this situation, though. Here’s why the Avalanche could be one of those teams. [Mile High Hockey]

• A look back at the NHL’s “rivalries” with viruses. Does the history of the NHL’s dealing with such issues — even the Mumps — be a cause for concern amid COVID-19 outbreaks? [Arctic Ice Hockey]

• Earlier this week, PHT selected the best landing spots for Alexis Lafreniere. What about getting even more specific? Andrew Berkshire shared his picks for some of the lines that would benefit most from adding the consensus No. 1 pick to their left side. [Sportsnet]

Other hockey links

• Sean Gentille put together an oral history for the Jean Claude Van Damme masterpiece “Sudden Death.” If you haven’t heard of the candidate for “so-bad-it’s-good” designation, how about the elevator pitch: “Die Hard at a hockey game.” [The Athletic (sub required)]

• On face value, this article focuses most on Rudy Gobert and Novak Djokovic and athletes feeling invulnerable to COVID-19. But it’s a really good read for hockey fans, players, and executives as cautionary tales with a return-to-play picking up steam. [The Score]

• Joe Pelletier of Greatest Hockey Legends wonders why the bar is set so high for goalies to get into the Hockey Hall of Fame. Not an awful point when you consider that they play the most important position in the sport, and all. I wouldn’t mind Ron Hextall making a future cut, to name just one worthy goalie. [Greatest Hockey Legends]

• Five crossovers between hockey and Todd McFarlane. Yes, the “Spawn” guy. [PuckJunk]

• Taking a run at putting together the Sabres’ roster during the upcoming offseason. It gets elaborate, including potential trades. Yes, this scenario includes trading away Rasmus Ristolainen. Don’t they all? [Die by the Blade]

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Our Line Starts podcast: NHL, NHLPA nearing agreement; hub cities, Olympics, CBA

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Liam McHugh, Keith Jones, and Patrick Sharp react to the reports that the NHL and NHLPA are nearing the completion of a massive agreement that would not only cover this year’s Return to Play protocols, but also serve as an extension to the Collective Bargaining Agreement. The guys discuss Edmonton and Toronto emerging as hub city favorites, as well as what it would mean for the NHL to return to the Olympics. Plus, a breakdown of the Qualifying Round series in both conferences.

Start-4:45 Edmonton, Toronto new hub city frontrunners
4:45-8:45 NHL, NHLPA nearing CBA extension, including Olympic participation
8:45-13:00 Other return to play details
14:00-23:00 Eastern Conference Qualifying Round preview
23:50-End Western Conference Qualifying Round preview

Where else you can listen:

Apple: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/id1482681517

Stitcher: https://www.stitcher.com/podcast/nbc-sports/our-line-starts

Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/show/7cDMHBg6NJkQDGe4KHu4iO?si=9BmcLtutTFmhRrNNcMqfgQ

NBC Sports on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/nbcsports

Mrazek vs. Reimer and other Hurricanes lineup questions readying for Rangers

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Beyond obvious outliers like the Penguins, the Hurricanes rank among the most legitimate of the NHL’s Qualifying Round teams. Yet as stable as the Hurricanes are compared to a field full of erratic teams, Carolina faces many of the same lineup questions as the Rangers, the team they’d face in a best-of-five series.

Some might argue that the Hurricanes face tougher questions than the Rangers. (Though, the Rangers aren’t off the hook in that regard.)

In particular, the Hurricanes may need training camp to find answers in net and on defense. For all we know, Hurricanes lineup questions could even persist beyond “Phase 3.”

Let’s glance at both the goalie and defense questions for the Hurricanes.

Who should start in Hurricanes playoff lineup: Mrazek or Reimer?

Reimer, Mrazek, Hurricanes Rangers lineup questions NHL playoffs
(Photo by Greg Thompson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

With Henrik Lundqvist jousting with two young upstarts, some might wonder if the Rangers have too much of a good thing in net. The Hurricanes don’t enjoy quite the abundance of options.

Even so, coach Rod Brind’Amour faces a decision, as they lack a clear No. 1. Should the Hurricanes go with Petr Mrazek — who helped them during the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs — or James Reimer (who boasts superior numbers this season)?

If Brind’Amour knows, he’s putting on a poker face.

“It’s easy to say right now, ‘OK, I’m going to go with Petr,’ but I don’t know,” Brind’Amour said in a recent interview, via NHL.com’s Dan Rosen. “He may be in rough shape. I don’t know until I get to see them and see what they’re like.”

It’s unclear if that last playoff run explains why Mrazek would be the “easy” choice, or if that came down to Reimer entering the pandemic pause with injury issues. (The Hurricanes may also be concerned about Reimer’s rather lengthy run of injury hiccups, too.)

Because, again, Reimer performed at a higher level than Mrazek in 2019-20. Reimer boasts a better save percentage than Mrazek this season (.914 to Mrazek’s .905) and over their careers (.914 to Mrazek’s .910). Reimer takes most/all goalie “advanced stats” between the two this season, as well. Generally speaking, we’ve seen more from Reimer over the past few seasons than Mrazek, whose career was teetering on the edge here and there.

(But, to be fair, Reimer’s had his issues, too.)

Regardless, just about every team should take a long look at how their goalies are performing during training camps. Even teams with clearer No. 1 options.

Honestly, with the NHL not expected to limit the number of goalies at training camps, maybe the Hurricanes should even look at options like Anton Forsberg or Alex Nedeljkovic?

An unexpectedly crowded defense

Dougie Hamilton Hurricanes Rangers lineup decisions playoffs
(Photo by Gregg Forwerck/NHLI via Getty Images)

During the 2020 NHL Trade Deadline, the Hurricanes acquired Brady Skjei and Sami Vatanen. As you may remember, those moves hinged at least partially on injuries to Dougie Hamilton and Brett Pesce. After the twists of those bad-luck injuries, the pandemic threw off Carolina’s rhythm once more.

The best news is that it sounds like Hamilton will be available. Don’t let the museum talk fool you. If Hamilton maintained his hot pace and didn’t get injured, he would have been a go-to choice for those making arguments against John Carlson‘s Norris credentials. Either way, Hamilton provides an enormous boost to the Hurricanes lineup — one they weren’t expecting during the deadline.

On the other hand, Brind’Amour told NHL.com’s Rosen that Pesce remains unlikely to return. However …

“It’s going to be a long shot, but the longer this goes the shot gets a little shorter,” Brind’Amour said.

(Anyone else visualizing that after that rather literal description from Brind’Amour? No? OK.)

So, Hamilton stands as probable while Pesce looks unlikely. Beyond that, the Hurricanes have two still-new faces in Skjei (just seven not particularly impressive games played) and Vatanen (who was injured and didn’t even get to suit up). Let’s say that represents three defensemen for the Hurricanes. Here are the other contenders for spots in the Hurricanes defensive lineup:

  • Jaccob Slavin, a lock.
  • Jake Gardiner, who dealt with a tough season, averaging only 16:40 TOI. Still, Gardiner is experienced, played in 68 games this season, and may have benefited from the break.
  • Joel Edmundson (68 GP like Slavin and Gardiner, averaged more TOI than Gardiner with 18:27 per contest).
  • Trevor van Riemsdyk (49 GP, less than 15 minutes per night; still, Hurricanes are very familiar with TVR).
  • Haydn Fleury (45 GP, averaged fewer than 15 minutes per game).

Realistically, Brind’Amour could have eight options on defense, and possibly nine if Pesce makes unexpectedly rapid progress. Being that some of those options are quite good, there are worse problems to have.

But it still adds to the notion that training camp could be quite important for Hurricanes lineup decisions. With both goalies and defense, Brind’Amour emphasized a wait-and-see approach. So … we’ll see?

More on the Hurricanes, Rangers, return to play, and similar subjects:

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Flyers’ Oskar Lindblom rings bell after final cancer treatment

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A week after hitting the ice with his teammates for the first time in six months, Oskar Lindblom got to ring the bell marking the end of his chemotherapy treatments.

The 23-year-old Flyers forward was diagnosed in December with Ewing sarcoma, a form of bone cancer, and played only 30 games this season.

On Thursday, Lindblom walked down the hall at Abramson Cancer Center at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia to ring the bell and celebrate with the nurses who took care of him.

“I can’t even explain how I feel,” he told the Flyers website. “It feels I’m having a birthday, Christmas and all those holidays at the same time. It feels awesome to be done. I can’t wait to just get back to normal life again and start feeling like I’m living.”

(Lindblom will not play for the Flyers later this summer if the NHL resumes the 2019-20 season.)

Since being diagnosed, Lindblom received support from all over the hockey community. Players from the Flyers and around the NHL wore#OskarStrong” shirts and he was given a standing ovation when shown on the Jumbotron during a January game.

“From family to friends to fans, I can’t explain how much they’ve meant to me,” said Lindblom, who is the Flyers’ Masterton Trophy nominee. “Especially at the start when it was a rough time and I got all those kind words. It just made me feel so much better, calm, and it really helped along the way.”

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.