It’s entirely possible that Daniel Sedin will follow in brother Henrik’s footsteps next month and be awarded the Hart Trophy as the National Hockey League’s most valuable player.
The choice of the Sedins, back to back, is not an indictment of the voting process — and Corey Perry does have a chance at the Hart this year — but it’s an overall indictment of the quality of stars in today’s NHL.
Strangely enough, the game has never been faster, played at a higher skill level, deeper in talent, more dangerous, better coached, and yet the greatest players today, the absolute best of the best, don’t seem to measure up to the stars of days gone by. There has never been more good players in the NHL and fewer great ones. The Sedins may be back-to-back scoring champions and back-to-back Hart winners but they are also back-to-back playoff washouts.
The time to be most valuable is the time that matters most.
With apologies to Sidney Crosby, and with all due respect to his delicate injury situation, he seems to be the only real offensive star of today’s NHL with any kind of staying power, a real star not that far away from the Wayne Gretzkys, Mario Lemieuxs and Bryan Trottiers of other times. To realize how much the NHL misses Crosby in these playoffs is to look around and try and find the stars. Real stars.
Only Nicklas Lidstrom, now 41, ranks with the absolute best to ever play at his position, no worse that top three among defencemen, but he is not far from the finish line, and you don’t tend to gameplan in playoffs around a defenceman. But after that, who?
At one time, we thought we might be seeing an all-timer in Alexander Ovechkin. He’s a fine player, just nowhere near the best to ever play, and absolutely incapable of doing what Gretzky and other could — elevating the play of those around him.
The leading scorer in last year’s playoffs was Daniel Briere of Philadelphia, who leads all players in playoff scoring post lockout. But I can make this prediction today without any chance of being wrong: Briere will never be voted to the Hockey Hall of Fame. It’s not who or what he is. He’s a fine player, especially when it matters, but the Hall isn’t about fine. It’s about special.
Maybe I was lucky that I began covering hockey in 1980. Mike Bossy led the playoffs in scoring my first year on the beat, followed by Trottier, then three years of Wayne Gretzky, Doug Gilmour, two more years of Gretzky, Al MacInnis, then Mark Messier.
The decade before that had Trottier, Guy Lafleur, Reg Leach, Rick MacLeish, Yvan Cournoyer, Phil Esposito and Frank Mahovlich leading in playoff scoring.
As of Wednesday afternoon, Claude Giroux led in scoring. Considering that Giroux is unlikely to advance to Round 3 the scoring battle might come down to the rejuvenated Vinny Lecavalier, Hart candidate Marty St. Louis and Patrice Bergeron. San Jose’s leading scorer is Ryan Clowe. At this point, Daniel Sedin has one fewer points than Teddy Purcell.
This comes from a time in which Jamie Langenbruner, Eric Staal, Daniel Alfredsson, Henrik Zetterburg and Evgeny Malkin have been playoff leaders. Lafleur, Gretzky, Lemiuex and Bossy they are not.
And how does that compare with the 90s, where the playoff leaders were Brett Hull, Peter Forsberg, Steve Yzerman, Eric Lindros, Joe Sakic, Sergei Fedorov, Brian Leetch, Gretzky and Lemieux?
Is there a single forward in today’s NHL — Crosby aside — of the level of Sakic, Yzerman, Forsberg or Lindros at their best?
Is there a single goaltender to compare with Patrick Roy or Martin Brodeur in his prime, a sure-flight, he’s going to the Hall of Fame goalie? Across the board, the goaltenders have never been so skilled, everywhere but in Philadelphia. But the individual greats? Where are they?
This is the best time of the hockey season, but there’s not a star who takes your breath away, except in momentary flashes the way Bobby Ryan did in Round 1. What was best about Gretzky, Lemieux and Lafleur is you couldn’t take your eyes off them. You were compelled to watch, to often stare in amazement.
Pavel Datsyuk did that one night for Detroit. One night. And after that, who?