He plays a 200-foot game.
That expression has become the biggest compliment you can give a player in the NHL.
He’s got great hands, his hockey IQ is off the charts, he’s a pure sniper, he’s got world-class speed or you can’t teach what he’s got. Yeah, those are all nice compliments, but are all passe — especially in the new and improved high-octane NHL.
If you can’t play a 200-foot game, you can no longer be considered in the conversation when talking about the cream of the NHL forward crop.
So what is a 200-foot game and why do coaches and hockey “insiders” keep using it to describe the best forwards? Simply put, playing a 200-foot game describes a forward’s ability to play both ends of the rink equally as hard.
These players compete for every inch of space on the ice, are tough to knock off the puck and will work hard to get the puck when it’s not on their sticks.
Two hundred-foot gamers play in traffic and don’t mind a little body contact.
Every NHL rink is 200 feet long and star players, especially prolific scorers, have never until recently consistently put in the same kind of effort on the defensive side of things. The select few have led their teams to Stanley Cups.
Gone are the days when players could float around the ice, never be first on the fore or backcheck, cheat for breakaways and get rewarded for putting up big numbers.
Those who can’t play a 200-foot game anymore are being weeded out, no matter how much offensive talent they possess.
Pavel Bure was one of the most explosive players in his era, but also a notorious cherry-picker. Brett Hull, arguably the best goal scorer of all-time with a lightning quick release, was a thrill to watch, but was never really one to break a sweat working the corners.
The best players in the NHL today are the ones who not only have the most talent, but also the best work ethic combined with the ability to play that 200-foot game.
Thursday morning, before the Senators faced the Penguins, I asked my former teammate and current Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma a question I kind of already knew the answer to, but I wanted to re-affirm.
“Why is Sidney Crosby so good?”
The first thing out of Byslma’s mouth, without flinching: “He plays a 200-foot game.”
That was pretty ironic. About 20 minutes earlier, up in the stands while watching the Penguins practise, GM Ray Shero told me the exact same thing.
Yorkie's Top 5 200-foot gamers
- 1. Sidney Crosby: Seems to have gotten better after layoff, almost impossible to knock off the puck.
- 2. Pavel Datsyuk: Can stickhandle in a broom closest.
- 3: Jonathan Toews: Leads by example at both ends of the rink.
- 4. Mike Richards: Plays with an edge and competes just as hard as fourth-line plugger.
- 5. Marian Hossa. A horse in the corners and master of the chip behind the D-man to yourself play.