Feb 212012

The NHLPA released their annual Players Poll recently and there’s not a whole lot we didn’t know – the Bruins are really tough to play against, Chara’s shot can literally decapitate, the ice down south is really bad… generally, as outside observers we’re keen enough to at least come to a consensus with those inside the game.

We do tend to vote based on positive affirmations though. Chara (hardest shot), Gaborik (best skater), Datsyuk (hardest to get puck off of, cleanest), and Tortorella (most demanding) all retained their titles but with higher percentages.

Once in awhile though, there’s the odd result (or lack thereof) that might raise your eyebrows, and make you think about it a little longer. It’s not always about the winners, and usually the more interesting tidbits come up in the runner-up lists.

– No surprise that Marian Gaborik is considered the best skater – as a Canucks fan we’ve seen how explosive he can be, and really, he might be the only player who could prove Jacques Lemaire wrong. Had the Wild opened it up a little more for Gaborik, I think they would’ve been better, and it wouldn’t have necessarily risked the break down of their defensive system.

– Crosby finished second on that list, and he’s not usually a player you associate with as a good skater. Michael Grabner didn’t make the cut, neither did Brian Campbell or Erik Karlsson (Letang makes fans’ lists though). Crosby doesn’t have a really high top end speed either. I think Crosby really makes this list because he stays on his feet so well. You don’t see him get knocked down too often. That trait obviously has some effect on how much the other players think Crosby dives.

– Sticking with Crosby, he’s the second smartest player in the league, ahead of Nick Lidstrom. This is why Crosby has become so far ahead of Ovechkin that Crosby’s in his own tier again.

– I’m sure there’s a smattering of players who finished with 4 per cent of the votes, but Matt Carkner making the league’s toughest makes me kind of laugh. You know who isn’t afraid of Carkner at all? Colton Orr.

– Rick Nash is apparently the sixth hardest player to get the puck away from, which is both not surprising and kind of disappointing. Why? Because everyone else on that list can pass the puck. It makes you kind of wonder if Rick Nash had some sort of playmaking element to his game, he’d turn himself into a 70-point player into a 85-point player, and in the process also become a little more versatile. Having the ability to play different roles in different situations is key. Matt Cullen and Rich Peverley have carved out niches as indispensable Swiss army knife players, playmakers like Gretzky and Henrik Sedin vaulted into higher orbit by shooting the puck more. For some reason, shooters find it more difficult to add facets to their game. Brett Hull and Luc Robitaille, for the most part, all stayed fairly one-dimensional throughout their careers. Stamkos, of course, still has tons of room to grow.

– Roberto Luongo didn’t make the list for goalies most difficult to score on. I don’t think this is a testament to his talent or ability, but rather the fact that teams know he’s beatable. As an NHL goalie, if you lose that psychological edge, you’ll get embarrassed. Teams are peppering Philly goalies (no Pronger hurts, obviously) because they know Bryzgalov and Bobrovsky can be beaten easily. That doesn’t instill a bunch of confidence in your team. The same’s happening with Anaheim (.907 SV%, 17th), Tampa (.891, last), Washington (.908, 15th), and Winnipeg (.908, 16th), which is why all those teams are either underperforming or flat-out inconsistent. Not saying Luongo isn’t good, but unlike other elite goalies you get the feeling that once you pump one by Luongo you can pump more. Guys like Patrick Roy or Henrik Lundqvist – once you put one by them, you know it’s not gonna happen again for the rest of the night. The massive swings in performance you can get from Luongo are pretty evident in the polling too – last year, Luongo was voted hardest to score on, and remember it was also the year he played his best hockey ever.

Apparently Nate Gerbe is as difficult to stop as Evgeni Malkin, which is saying something. Really, a guy who averages about half the points Geno does is as difficult to defend? Probably not, but I think it’s a testament that small size isn’t necessarily bad. At just 5’5″, Gerbe’s difficult to cover because he’s tiny. Ever seen a full-grown parent try chasing an 8-year-old on a playground? Yeah, they don’t win too often.

– Crosby’s the face of the league, and I kind of wonder how much of the league’s Kool-Aid the players have been drinking, but 20 per cent said he’d be the best role model. He’s truly become one of those guys you can hate but have to respect at the same time.

– Kyle Wellwood made an appearance as the sixth-most cleanest player to play against. I’m not sure what that means, but I just wanted to say that the only thing Wellwood cleans up is the buffet.

– The average age of the player you’d like most like to start a franchise with excluding Datsyuk? 23.6. We’ve got a lot of good hockey years ahead of us. FYI: Geno, 25; Giroux, 24; Crosby, 24; Toews, 23; Stamkos, 22.

– Any surprise that the Canucks are picked as the most overrated? They’re the most dangerous offensive team in the league, but going back to Luongo, other teams know they’re beatable. They know the Sedins can be talked off their game, Kesler and Burrows can’t walk away from a scrum, and Luongo can be run over without consequence. They’re a very good team, but the Canucks are still more like the Sharks, in that they don’t instill that much fear in you. If you’re on the road, which team is least intimidating to play against: Bruins at the Garden, Blackhawks on Madison Avenue, or the Canucks at Rogers? Case closed.

– I’d just like to point out a flaw in the testing group, because there’s no way even 10 per cent of an insane population would think the Islanders are one of the most underrated.

– Alain Vigneault’s got a great track record, but he doesn’t often crack the top of the list for coaches you’d most like to play for. I think if you look at all the other coaches, one thing you’ll hear about them often is that they’re both demanding but very fair. The Canucks like to say they employ the same philosophy, but we’ve seen Vigneault bench Hodgson at the drop of a hat and continually pump out the first PP unit even when the Sedins can’t get going.

– Dave Cameron was second to Brad Shaw for votes to become the next head coach, which is surprising. Cameron’s done a great job with the Senators powerplay, thanks to Jason Spezza and Erik Karlsson, but as a head coach with AHL Binghamton he was 105-106-29, and was part of that infamous collapse against Russia in last year’s World Junior final. Seems like a guy who’d make a better assistant than head. I imagine the tiny differences in percentage points between nominees, though, means that there’s no clear consensus. I think this is one incident where a lot of players may vote for their own assistant coaches.

  One Response to “Musings from the NHLPA Players Poll”

  1. […] ARMCHAIR HOCKEY: Jason Chen offers up his take on the results of the recent NHLPA players’ poll. […]

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