Wayne Gretzky dominated the game of hockey in a way no other player ever will. It didn’t stop him from being traded, the “Great One”
was moved for a “King’s Ransom.” Hockey is the only sport where it’s assumed that you don’t need a superstar in order to succeed, but it is also the one sport where the team is required to play together in order to win. In basketball, LeBron James can carry a team to 50 wins. In football, Tom Brady gives the New England Patriots 10 wins without a doubt. In baseball, everything becomes an individualistic event based on a series of one versus one series.
Hockey is the most difficult sport to quantify the contributions of one player, while Wayne Gretzky could make any of team into an immediate playoff contender he needed Mark Messier to provide secondary scoring and leadership. He needed Paul Coffey to stop the other team from shooting on net, and he needed Grant Fuhr to stop the shots that make it through. While one player is able to help the team compete to be in the top-half of the conference, it is the team as a whole that truly creates success. This makes it hard to actually measure a single player’s true contribution which leads us to the criteria for our rankings:
- Contracts matter. The contracts are very significant in hockey, which happens to have the hard salary cap the NBA hoped to mimic. The salary cap only allows teams to spend around $70 million for the entire team, which includes around 23 players. Teams have to be smart about how they’re spending their money to fit under the cap with the potential for one player to take up over 10% of the cap room.
- Age matters. When you’re choosing between players, you would prefer to have a 19-year-old Nail Yakupov from Edmonton rather than the 41-year-old Jaromir Jagr for the Boston Bruins. You will have a younger player for longer; they’ll be quicker and are able to improve. The older player is now on the downswing of their career and isn’t what they once were.
- Positional necessity matters. A goaltender is necessary to stop shots from going into the net, as no team in the league allows fewer than 20 shots per game. Whereas, a right wing is commonly more replaceable with a player of similar value.
- This list runs in reverse order. This means that if Jeff Skinner is ranked at 15th, I believe that he would not be traded for anybody lower than him on the list. Lower means a number greater than 15, its confusing, but that is the accepted vernacular.
Now that we have the basic ground rules of these rankings, we can turn to the statistics to provide a basis for how we will value each individual player. I will hopefully provide people with a new way of thinking in terms of hockey using statistics provided by Behind the Net and Hockey Prospectus. Hockey Prospectus has the only statistic that is able to transcend positions and value a goaltender with the same number as a forward or defenseman. This is called the Goals Versus Threshold (GVT) which values the idea that in order to win a team has to score more goals than they allow. Therefore, players are valued for their responsibilities based on position for scoring goals, preventing shots, and preventing goals.
Behind the Net has multiple statistics that will be referred to during the later rankings. We will also apply the “eye test” to determine a player’s value to their individual team. Hockey is very predicated on the idea of leadership, and in order for a team to survive these players not only have to look the part but act it, and that changes their entire value.
Whenever you’re making a list like this, it always becomes more difficult as you slide down to the bottom of your list. Who is truly more valuable than somebody else? In this case, it was extremely difficult valuing one hockey player of one position over another at a different position on the ice. We have come up with five honorable mentions who were hard to leave off the list.
Kevin Shattenkirk, D, St. Louis Blues
Nazem Kadri, C, Toronto Maple Leafs
Patrice Bergeron, C, Boston Bruins
Patrick Kane, RW, Chicago Blackhawks
Eric Staal, C, Carolina Hurricanes
These players provide very different things to their teams. The hardest to leave off the list was Shattenkirk, who has provided the best offensive to defensive contribution to his team. However, he does play less minutes than a teammate who will appear on the list later. Nazem Kadri is very young and having his best year yet, placing ninth in GVT with a 14.8 and providing instant offense to his relatively weaker team.
Patrice Bergeron is only off the list due to suffering his fourth concussion, giving him such a history with injuries that could lead to him suffering a fate similar to Marc Savard. If Bergeron is hit once more, he may never play again, which significantly decreases his value. However, he is 13th in GVT at 13.0 and leads the league in face-off winning percentage as the ace of the Bruins providing a great mixture of offense and defense.
The final two honorable mentions were great for their ability to produce for their team in forms of leadership and point production. Patrick Kane is seventh in GVT with a 16.1 while having his best statistical season in his career thus far. Staal is the emotional leader of the Carolina Hurricanes and places 10th in GVT with a 14.2, while producing on a line featuring Alexander Semin and Jiri Tlusty on his wings and providing strong penalty killing minutes.
Tier I – Teach Me How To
20. Dougie Hamilton, D, Boston Bruins
Hamilton has provided his team with a young stud on defense in the shape of a young Zdeno Chara, the captain of their team. Chara is the heart and soul of the team, but at 36-years-old, it’s time to start handing over the keys to the Ferrari. Hamilton, who is still playing on his entry-level contract, has played the fifth most even-strength time on ice for his team at 14:50 per game, but in that time has the best on-ice save percentage for his team at 93.7% according to Behind the Net. This could be inflated due to the usage rate of Hamilton, though, as with less minutes it is less likely for him to be out for a goal against.
The arguments against Hamilton include that he starts his shift in the offensive zone 55.7% of the time, while barely providing any change to his team’s plus/minus. He has 52 hits and 30 blocked shots in 37 games this season, and has provided a force for the Bruins to grow with. At 19, Hamilton is young enough to be a building block for the future for this franchise. His monstrous slap-shot is an incredible weapon on the powerplay, and he always appears ready to fight for his teammates as a leader.
Tier 2 – The Other Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
19. Pekka Rinne, G, Nashville Predators
18. Alex Pietrangelo, D, St. Louis Blues
Rinne is the brains and the brawn behind the Predators organization. Without him, the Predators would not be sitting five points from a playoff berth. Instead, with Shea Weber’s weak opening to the season, the Predators relied on Rinne’s skills to hold them together until they could spark the offense. The offense still hasn’t sparked, but what else is new in Nashville? Rinne has faced the fifth most shots in the league at 933, and made the save on 91.5% of them with a 2.27 goals against average. His 14-12-7 record is uninspiring until you take into account that he appears to need a shutout to guarantee a win in any game.
Pietrangelo was a more interesting choice. His teammate, Kevin Shattenkirk, was able to best him in some categories while failing in others. It ultimately came down to the eye test, as Pietrangelo has a horrid 88.1% on-ice save percentage according to Behind the Net. His 9.1 GVT is ranked by Hockey Prospectus as 67th in the league, though, and he plays 33 shifts a game. The most telling statistic is that defensemen typically finish with 30 giveaways to every two takeaways, however Pietrangelo is such a great positional defenseman he has 20 takeaways and only 22 giveaways.
Pietrangelo has 20 points this season, which is 21st in the league among defensemen. He has played the most minutes on the Blues by far with his even-strength time on ice topping out at 19:26. The incredible statistic in the more traditional ones in his shorthanded time-on-ice per game, which finishes at 3:15 meaning his incredible coach trusts him to be the shot stopper while providing an offensive spark.
Tier 3 – Dollar Signs and Birdies
17. The Sedin Twins, C & RW, Vancouver Canucks
16. Alexander Ovechkin, LW, Washington Capitals
I know, I know. The Sedin Twins are technically two people making this the top-21, but they should only count as one. Having only played on opposite teams at last year’s All-Star Game, the Sedins are a package deal. This season they lead the Canucks with a combined 65 points in the 38 games played by the team. They each play no the top line, and Henrik has been most valuable to the team. Henrik Sedin produces an on-ice shooting percentage, the percentage of shots that score by players on the ice with him, of 10.13%. This is a high number in the NHL today and proves the worth of Sedin to the Canucks. However, they would also combine to take up $12.2 million next season, which is 19% of the current salary cap limit for only two players.
Ovechkin is well-known as one of the best scorers since the previous lockout in 2005, having won the Art Ross, Maurice Richard, and many more trophies in that time. The former 50-goal scorer currently has 25 goals in 39 games, tied for first in the league. He has had two seasons looking lost on the ice, but now with Adam Oates as his coach, appears to have found his way back. His on-ice shooting percentage is 10.74% while the on-ice save percentage is 91.4%. Also, according to Behind the Net, he is able to draw twice the number of penalties he takes providing his team with more powerplay opportunities where they rank first this season with a 25.2% success rate. Ovechkin’s greatest contributions may be in the defensive zone as he has an uncommon 91 hits for a scoring forward, while having 24 takeaways to only 21 giveaways. Finally, Ovechkin’s GVT is at 10.5 which ranked 35th in the league, proving that the old Great 8 is finally back to form. The only knock on Ovechkin is his contract which is at $9,538,462 until the year 20021.
Tier 4 – Climbing the Ladder
15. Jeff Skinner, LW, Carolina Hurricanes
14. PK Subban, D, Montreal Canadiens
13. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, C, Edmonton Oilers
12. Nail Yakupov, LW, Edmonton Oilers
In this group we have four of the best young players in the game today. Subban is the eldest of the group at only 23 years of age, but also may be the best currently. Subban’s on-ice save percentage is 92.7%, and most amazingly is the difference in his team’s plus-minus ratio adjusted to 60 minutes of play when he’s on the ice versus when he is off of it. When Subban is on the ice, the Habs have a +1.68 rating, while when he sits they have a measly +0.25 rating. His 43 hits and 41 blocked shots in 32 games provides a defensive presence that can’t be overlooked while playing shorthanded, powerplay, and more. Finally, he is also the current leader in points for a defenseman with 32 in 32 games, and has scored 10 goals which is impressive for a defenseman.
Skinner has had his bouts lately, but appears to be coming back together. Still at only 20 despite it being his third year in the league, Skinner has seen his contributions drop steadily during his time in Carolina. This could be attributed to the adjustment level, teams figuring him out more, and his linemates. Skinner still draws 2.2 penalties per 60 minutes, while only taking .07 penalties in that same time frame. He is shooting 8.2% this season, and should find that jumping to 13.%, which will provide a significant raise in his goal scoring totals.
RNH and Yakupov are able to be grouped together as teammates, after RNH’s incredible rookie season last year. Hopkins unfortunately has struggled to find his touch this season with injuries hampering him, but has been coming together lately with an on-ice shooting percentage of 8.45%. His shooting percentage is low at 4.2%, but should see a significant increase soon. Yakupov is the rookie sensation in Edmonton, having just been picked first overall. His wrists are some of the quickest in the league, with the best one timer and possibly best wrist shot in the league this year he has provided Edmonton with great offense. While his 16.4% shooting percentage should drop, with more ice-time and shots, his goal totals will remain steady. Most of all with Yakupov is that he is only on his first year of his entry-level contract, the lowest any player may be paid in the NHL.
Tier 5 – The Next Team Will Love Us
11. Kris Letang, D, Pittsburgh Penguins
10. Bobby Ryan, RW, Anaheim Ducks
Despite being young players, these two have consistently found themselves swept into trade rumors featuring teams in need of an offensive punch. The problem is if this offensive punch comes with some defensive inefficiency. Letang, a defenseman, has a strong responsibility in the defensive zone which Hockey Prospectus estimates to be 1.5 the responsibility of a forward. His GVT is 10.5 which is 36th in the league, and he plays a regular 25.7 shifts per game. He has injury concerns, and has only played in 28 games this season with a 90.4% on-ice save percentage, the worst on the team among defensemen. He does however start in the offensive zone only 47.3% of the time, meaning he’s already battling back to try and move the puck forward to begin with. His 28 points makes him a point per game, and is ranked third in the league among defensemen. Letang is severely underpaid for his contributions at $3.5 million next season, but will be a free agent afterward and probably move on from Pittsburgh.
Bobby Ryan is the odd man out in Anaheim, being the only of their big three not to sign a contract extension this year. He’s expected to be paid $5.1 million for the next two seasons before probably moving on in free agency to greener pastures where he isn’t expected to carry a heavy load on both ends of the ice. He is one of the best danglers in the league, while playing with his body as a power forward goal scorer. His GVT of 7.0 ranks only 120th in the league, but his on-ice shooting percentage is 11.81% and his 10 goals and 28 points in 38 games ranks third on the team. He has 66 hits this year despite playing a mostly offensive role, and is often mentioned in rumors of being moved to Philadelphia for a package featuring Sean Couturier. He’s always able to be moved, but it appears may never actually be traded.
Tier 6 – Right Place, Wrong Time
9. Henrik Lundqvist, G, New York Rangers
8. John Tavares, C, New York Islanders
7. Claude Giroux, C, Philadelphia Flyers
This is the Atlantic Division Trio. They each fell into a top division at the wrong time having to face off against one of the best in the league in the Pittsburgh Penguins. Lundqvist was recently ranked as the top goaltender in the league by NHL.com, and has a 92.8% save percentage despite facing the fourth most shots in that league at 941. His 2.07 goals against average is low even by his immense standards, and his GVT is at 17.4 which is the 4th highest ranking in the entire league.
Tavares was the first overall pick in 2009, and has not disappointed. His 39 points at a point per game pace is incredible, with 23 goals scored placing second in the league. He is weak on face-offs, and starts 62% of the time in the offensive zone. He’s become the focal point of the Islanders and with very low-skilled teammates surrounding him, he is able to carry this team to the playoff picture. Currently he has a 12.9 GVT, which is good for 14th on the team.
Claude Giroux is well-known as the poster boy of NHL 13 by EA Sports, and is the driving force behind the Philadelphia Flyers gritty style. He has an on-ice shooting percentage of 9.12%, however only starts in the offensive zone 48% of the time. Incredibly, Giroux is such a gifted offensive player he is able to keep position through multiple levels of the defense and produce at a high rate with 37 points in 38 games this season. He has won 54.4% of his face-offs, and defensively drawn 2.3 penalties per 60 minutes while only taking 0.5. His 8.9 GVT is ranked 69th in the league, but can be deceiving as he contributes a load in leadership and individual skill that simply cannot be measured by a single statistic.
Tier 7 – The Untouchables
6. Erik Karlsson, D, Ottawa Senators
5. Carey Price, G, Montreal Canadiens
4. Evgeni Malkin, C, Pittsburgh Penguins
3. Jonathan Toews, C, Chicago Blackhawks
2. Steven Stamkos, C, Tampa Bay Lightning
These are the most valued players by their individual teams, with only one goaltender and one defenseman cracking this list proving that offense is vital to a franchise. Karlsson is an offensive defenseman who was injured after only 14 games this season, but in those games was able to produce 10 points and a 932 on-ice save percentage. Price is possibly the best goaltender in the league and only 25-years-old. His 19-7-4 record is tied for first in the league while he has a 91.6% save percentage and a low 2.26 goals against average. He will only improve from here and has an 11.2 GVT, good for 28th in the league.
Evgeni Malkin sees his value drop slightly due to recent struggles along with the fact that he starts in the offensive-zone 66.2% of the time. He is put in a position to succeed, and at this moment has struggled to do so. He has a 7.1 GVT for 117th in the league, but has produced 27 points in 26 games played. He does not provide the leadership and expertise that Jonathan Toews does though.
Toews is ranked 15th in GVT with a 12.9 and has an on-ice shooting percentage of 11.74%. He draws nearly twice the amount of penalties as he takes, and wins 60.5% of his face-offs, second best to only Patrice Bergeron. His 38 points, including 18 goals, in 37 games are a clincher for this young man, who at 24 is still improving on a daily basis. He is a Stanley Cup winning captain, and has given Chicago the leadership necessary for their incredible run to clinching an early playoff spot.
Finally the second ranked player on the list is Steven Stamkos, the incredible superstar from Tampa Bay. The Lightning rank third in goals scored, and Stamkos has provided 25 of them, which ranks him first in the league. He’s second in the league in points with 49 in just 37 games, and has been an electrifying player for the Bolts. His on-ice shooting percentage of 11.96% proves his playmaking ability for his teammates and he draws the eye of defenders, giving his teammates open ice to use while the defense is forced to “man-up” on him. He still has produced 53 hits, and wins over half of his face-offs. His 14.0 GVT is ranked 11th in the league and will only get better as this 23 year old continues to refine his game.
Tier 8 – The King’s Ransom
1. Sidney Crosby, C, Pittsburgh Penguins
When Wayne Gretzky was traded away from Edmonton to the Los Angeles Kings, it was for the largest possible return any team could give. The Oilers fans then came after management and Gretzky himself, holding riots and defacing public property. This is what I would expect to see if the Penguins decided to trade away their star center. He has become a public figure in Pittsburgh and the beacon of hope for this franchise being known as the best in the game despite only being 25.
Crosby is statistically better than anybody else, with a 13.92 on-ice shooting percentage proving how much better he is able to make his team than anybody else. He draws an entire penalty more than he takes, while also playing staunch defense for an on-ice save
percentage of 92.4%. He starts in the offensive zone only 47.1% of the time, but is surprisingly able to finish in the offensive zone 50.8% of the time meaning he is strong with the puck and handles the situations carefully. He wins 54.3% of his face-offs, providing the Penguins with an edge up on the competition.
Crosby’s also able to prove that worth in his point totals, as despite a gruesome broken jaw that led to him being shut down until playoff time if he is able to return. He has already played in 36 games this season and managed 56 points in that time frame, the best in the league by a mile, featuring 41 assists also tops in the league. Sid the Kid has produced incredible games on a nightly basis, and is the most recognized face in the game. His GVT of 20.9 is the best in the league, and should be as he is simply without a doubt the most incredible player to play in the past decade.