The top 40 countdown is on. In the second instalment of this series, the players holding down spots 40 through 22 are profiled.
In case you missed Part I of the NHL Top 50 Trade Value list, you can read it here.
A refresher on how this list was formulated:
- Contracts matter
- Age matters
- NHL depth charts don’t carry the same weight as they do in real life
- Position matters
- The list is in reverse order
THE 10 PERCENT THEORY
Stop looking at the weaknesses already
40. Phil Kessel
Kessel has heard it all in his hockey career. Bad teammate. Floater. Overrated. Overpaid. Weak defensively. Inconsistent. Fair or not, he will forever be linked to Bruins star Tyler Seguin. Type in “Kessel trade” on Google, and 267,000 results come up. Leafs GM Brian Burke boldy/foolishly traded several assets (two 1st round picks and one 2nd round pick) for Kessel back in 2009, hoping that the young American winger would develop into franchise forward to lead Toronto back to relevance.
Since coming to Toronto, Kessel has posted three consecutive 30+ goal seasons. However, his detractors have not gone away. Some point to Seguin as being a better talent (and Boston also ended up with prospects Dougie Hamilton and Jared Knight out of the trade), while others highlight the weaknesses in Kessel’s game. Sure, he isn’t physical, and he isn’t going to win the Selke any time soon. That being said, he is one of the best pure goal scorers in the game making a very reasonable $5.4 million for two more seasons.
To highlight the absurdity around Kessel, this quote came from an anonymous NHL GM earlier this year.
“To be perfectly honest, and I don’t mean this in any way, shape or form as disrespect (to the Leafs), but I don’t think (Kessel) is a player most teams need on their roster.”
Unless the NHL starts counting hits and blocked shots instead of goals as a measure of success, I’d gladly take the 35-goal scorer, thank you very much. Imagine what kind of goal totals Kessel puts up with a legitimate top line center (see: not Bozak, Tyler).
THE LEADERS OF TODAY (AND TOMORROW)
Captains with a capital ‘C’
39. Gabriel Landeskog
Landeskog was recently named captain in Colorado, becoming the youngest player to wear the ‘C’ in NHL history. He is 19 going on 40 (not to be mistaken for 13 Going on 30), and the decision to have him succeed Milan Hejduk as captain was an easy one. Landeskog led all rookies with 52 points last season, and he was only the second rookie in NHL history to record at least 20 goals and 200 hits in the same season (Dion Phaneuf did the same back in 2005-06). Landeskog’s value doesn’t come exclusvively from his offensive abilities. He has been a leader on every team he has suited up for, and as a teenager he excelled at both ends of the ice against the top competition around the league in 2011-12.
38. Eric Staal
Eric would likely have been joined on this list by brothers Marc and Jordan if it weren’t for a concussion and a lack of offensive opportunity, respectively. The eldest Staal is one of the best two-way forwards in the league, and although he got off to a miserable start to the 2011-12 season, he did end up with a very respectable 70 points. Staal has played less than 80 games only once in his eight-year NHL career. While he hasn’t improved upon his 100-point regular season (and 28-point postseason) in 2005-06, he is quietly one of the most effective and consistent forwards in hockey. And like Spezza, it seems as if the 27-year-old forward has been around forever.
Perhaps no forward saw his linemates improve this summer as much as Staal did. From the sounds of it, the ‘Canes are going to try out a top line with Jordan flanked by Eric and Alexander Semin if and when the season gets going.
[WATCH FOR FLYING ELBOWS]
More scoring and less suspensions, please
37. Duncan Keith
It took me a while to figure out where to rank Keith on this list. Even with his impressive work ethic and fitness level, fatigue has crept into his game ever since he won the Stanley Cup, Olympic Gold, and Norris Trophy back in 2010. (Can you blame him?) He didn’t fit any of my groupings (although he could give “Macho Man” Randy Savage a run for his money in the “best elbow of all-time category”).
2009-10 was a season for the ages for the swift-skating rearguard. There wasn’t anything Keith couldn’t do that season. He signed a massive 13-year contract extension in December of 2009. A few months later, he was a significant part of Canada’s gold medal winning hockey team in Vancouver. And a few months after that, he was hoisting the Stanley Cup over his head after recording 17 points in 22 postseason contests. His memorable year was capped off with a Norris Trophy. The only thing Keith lost that season was his teeth.
Chicago needs to do a better job of managing his minutes (coach-speak for playing less). And he needs to do less elbowing and more scoring.
Every man’s fantasy, come true
36/35. Henrik/Daniel Sedin
Trying to accurately gauge the trade value of a Sedin is a fool’s errand. I want you to suspend reality a bit when reading this list, but I have to draw the line somewhere. Can you imagine reading the news one morning with the headline Breaking: Sedin gets traded?
The Sedins were slow to develop as NHLers, but they arrived as top line talents in 2005-06. They looked like different players. A lack of foot speed was no longer a problem, as they were now bigger and stronger and better equipped to battle through contact. They went from good to very good. But they didn’t stay there long.
In 2008, the Canucks stuck the gritty and aggravating Alex Burrows on their right wing.
Coach Alain Vigneault started to give the Sedins a lot of offensive opportunities (they have led the league in offensive zone starts over the past two years). The result? Trophies, and a lot of them. Back-to-back Art Ross Trophies, a Hart Trophy for Henrik, and a Pearson for Daniel.
The Sedins also rank very high on the “did you just see that?” list because of their craftiness, ability to make ridiculous plays in confined spaces, and their telepathic ability to find each other in open ice. The NHL doesn’t do a good enough job of marketing them (to be fair, they are Swedish to a fault – humble, hard-working, and soft-spoken). Imagine if identical twins led the NBA in scoring for back-to-back seasons? Or placed 1-2 in the home run race in baseball? They are both top 10 forwards in the league, but their trade value is also reflective of age (32… and 32) and the fact that their individual values are so hard to identify.
Gun to my head? Henrik. More consistent, centers typically are more important than wingers, and he trails only Jay Bouwmeester among active ironman streaks in the NHL, not having missed a game in over seven seasons.
I dare you to watch this only once:
UNDERRATED NO MORE
Earning respect the hard way
34. Loui Eriksson
With a new ownership regime in Dallas promising a return to the winning ways, it is only a matter of time until the Stars shine on the national stage again. Eriksson was voted as the most underrated player in the league by his peers last season , and right behind him was teammate Jamie Benn.
Consistency is an attribute that is overlooked as a skill when we evaluate pro athletes. A player devoid of consistency (Alexander Semin, for example) isn’t necessarily lazy or lacking in worth ethic. Consistency is a skill, and it isn’t something that all players possess. Eriksson, however, has it in spades.
Over the past four seasons, he has missed three games. He has eclipsed the 70-point mark three times, and has scored at least 25 goals in each season. And he has done this all while playing fantastic defensive hockey for a mediocre defensive hockey club.
He may look like a European pop star, but there is nothing cheesy about his game.
THEY WILL BE GREAT
Three young defensemen breaking out
33. John Carlson
John ‘Real American Hero’ Carlson earned the nickname a few years ago in a World Junior Final contest against the favored Canadians. Carlson scored the overtime winner, and in the process stuck a dagger through the collective heart of a nation.
In Washington, Carlson and Karl Alzner form arguably the most effective – and inarguably youngest – shutdown pairing in hockey. The 22-year-old Carlson is one of the premier defensive defensemen in the league, and he has managed to score 16 goals and add 69 points in his first two full NHL campaigns. He struggled a bit last season trying to fill in for the oft-injured Mike Green, and his defensive play slid as well (although that may have been through osmosis with Dennis Wideman as a teammate).
32. Oliver Ekman-Larsson
Who? OEL, as he is referred to in hockey circles, is the best player you don’t know about. How good is he? GM Don Maloney would hang up the phone laughing if he was offered any player ranking below him on this list in a trade (and likely a few above him, too). Ekman-Larsson is the total package on the ice. He’s big, mobile, talented offensively, and rock solid in his own zone. His puck poise puts Marek Svatos to shame, and he only recently turned 21. When it comes to OEL, The Carpenters said it best: “We’ve only just begun.”
31. PK Subban
The term “swagger” is overused when describing pro athletes, but it applies perfectly to Subban. The dynamic defenseman plays the game with confidence, and he acts the part off the ice, too. PK is going to be one of the faces of the NHL for the next decade – he is incredibly fun to watch. He is on his way to becoming one of the best open-ice hitters in the league (evidence below), and he has already arrived as one of the best interviews. The offensive production will come in due time. Over the past two seasons, he has played a lot of tough defensive minutes for an undermanned Montreal back end.
THE SHOULD/COULD-BE FRANCHISE FORWARD, PART II
Too good to not be great
30. Ryan Getzlaf
Getzlaf was a well-deserving recipient of the annual (and fictitious) ‘Dany Heatley Award’, given out each year to the player who accomplishes the least with the most. Possessing the size and strength of a power forward combined with the hands and shot of a finesse player, Getzlaf has developed a reputation as one of the game’s most dangerous offensive talents. Never known as a goal scorer (his career high is 25), Getzlaf set a career low mark with 11 goals and 57 points in 82 games this past season. It was his lowest total at the NHL level since he produced 39 points in 57 games as a rookie in 2005-06. The questions with Getzlaf revolve around intensity and consistency – he will be playing for a new contract this season, and expect that added motivation to get him back on track.
THE $96 MILLION MEN
Friends become (very rich) teammates
29. Ryan Suter
How will Suter fair without Shea Weber by his side? The Minnesota Wild are confident that he won’t miss a beat. He didn’t generate the same attention league wide as his former defensive partner, but he was arguably just as effective. Suter’s best attributes are his positioning and hockey sense, but he isn’t a slouch in the offensive zone either. He has two seasons of 40+ points at the NHL level, and the Wild coaching staff will give him the ice time and opportunity to make it three. Look for Suter to partner up with the undersized Jared Spurgeon, who weighs about 100 pounds less than Weber.
28. Zach Parise
Like Suter, Parise’s best attributes are not typical for highly paid star forwards. That isn’t to say he doesn’t have great speed (he may have lost a step after knee surgery a year ago) or a great shot, but what makes Parise so great is his unmatched work ethic and intensity. He rarely loses puck battles, even though he routinely gives up 20 to 30 pounds to the defensemen he faces. He is also very durable – outside of 2010-11 (the knee injury), he has only missed three career NHL games. The Wild are hopeful that a return home will motivate Parise to get back to his 45-goal, 94-point form of three years ago.
MOVES LIKE JAGR
The almost greats who are at their best when riding shotgun
27. Nicklas Backstrom
After scoring 33 goals and 101 points in 2009-10, the comparisons to Peter Forsberg appeared to be spot on. Backstrom doesn’t have Forsberg’s lust for physical play, but he is crafty, skilled, and almost impossible to knock off the puck. However, over the past two years, he has battled injury and inconsistent play. Washington fans are hopeful that new head coach Adam Oates can focus on getting more out of the offensive talents on the roster as Dale Hunter hockey revolved more around dumping the puck in and blocking shots. The 24-year-old center has 367 points in 365 career games – if this list was compiled two years ago, there is a great chance he would have placed in the top 10.
26. Patrick Kane
When he isn’t crashing fraternity parties and choking people, the NHL’s resident party boy is a pretty good hockey player, too. The Blackhawks have moved him from his natural position of right wing to center because they still haven’t found a number two center to to place behind Jonathan Toews (that sound you hear is Dave Bolland shouting “pick me!”). Kane is incredibly elusive – even as a 165 pound rookie he was almost impossible to hit. Like Jagr (and Backstrom), he has been at his best when playing the Robin to a teammate’s Batman (Toews in this case). At $6.3 million per season, Kane is a terrific bargain for a top line winger (or second line center).
Like Backstrom, however, his production has been in decline since 2008-09. Kane is way (way) too talented to score only 23 goals and 66 points (his totals from last season).
THE $100 MILLION MAN
Signing a deal with the Devil isn’t what it used to be
25. Ilya Kovalchuk
There are athletes who relish being the man - Kovalchuk is one of them. Mark Messier played his best hockey outside of Wayne Gretzky’s shadow. Basketball fans can see Russell Westbrook craving that role in the future. Claude Giroux made people in Philadelphia forget about Jeff Carter and Mike Richards quite quickly when he became the go-to guy.
Kovalchuk finds himself in a familiar situation this year – his former superstar teammate (and sometimes linemate) has fled town. This time, however, it is for much different reasons. In Atlanta, Dany Heatley wanted a fresh start in Ottawa (and a few years later in San Jose, too). Parise, a free agent, chose to sign with the Wild.
The Devils surprised many by winning the Eastern Conference in 2011-12, backed by the ageless Martin Brodeur and a largely-unknown defensive group. Kovalchuk led the forwards, playing through a back injury for the final few rounds. He is one of the most dynamic talents in the league, and should replace Parise as the team’s captain. The anti-Russian/European sentiment from the hockey media is not as bad as it once was, but Kovalchuk still doesn’t get the respect he deserves for being one of the current (and all-time) greats. He needs only 94 goals to reach 500, and he doesn’t even turn 30 until next April.
Teams can now key in on Kovalchuk more now that Parise isn’t on the roster, but he is the type of player who has excelled playing with average talent in the past. In 2008-09 with Atlanta, Kovalchuk’s linemates were a 21-year-old Bryan Little and 33-year-old Todd White. That season, ittle scored a career-high 31 goals, and White tallied 76 points. The year, Little scored only 13 goals, and White had only 26 points. Why? For one, Kovalchuk was traded to New Jersey part-way through the season. And it’s Todd White. Come on.
THE SWISS ARMY KNIVES
Young players who can do it all on the ice
24. Evander Kane
The 21-year-old winger already has a 30-goal season under his belt. He has the physical tools to score 50, but will it be in Winnipeg? There have been rumours this summer that he doesn’t want to re-sign with the Jets (largely unfounded, but where there is smoke…), and he was criticized for immature behaviour off the ice last year (walking out on restuarant bills, for one). Kane scored 24 goals in his first full WHL season (2007-08), and he doubled that total the very next year. He won’t double the 30 goals he scored last season, but he should take another big step forward in 2012-13.
23. Tyler Seguin
For now, Seguin is comfortable playing the right wing on one of the top two lines in Boston. The natural center has yet to play the position a whole lot at the NHL level because the Bruins are one of the deepest teams in the league up the middle. Seguin will likely give the Bruins the luxury of moving David Krejci in a trade if they want to.
Seguin plays the game a lot like Steven Stamkos – he doesn’t have the same shot (no one does), but he skates and handles the puck just as well.
22. Jamie Benn
It is very rare for a player drafted 128th overall in his draft year to be playing NHL hockey only two years after the fact, but that was the case with Benn. It is even rarer for said player to become the best player on an NHL team, but that is also the case with Benn. It would be the equivalent of an undrafted NFL free agent walking on to a practice squad and becoming one of the best players in a few seasons. The natural winger was moved to center largely out of necessity (Dallas was paper-thin up the middle after losing Brad Richards to free agency in 2011), and he excelled at the position. Benn played a lot of tough minutes last season, as the Stars didn’t trust their other offensive center (Mike Ribeiro) in the defensive zone at all.
Benn is the total package – he can hit, fight (just ask Jarome Iginla), score, and pass. There are no weaknesses in his game. He has quietly taken over from Mike Modano as the face of the franchise, too. Benn is leading the charge for the new and (hopefully) improved Stars.
*** The top 21 players will be unveiled next week ***