Saturday, February 21, 2009

All-Decade Team: James O'Brien's picks

(That headline might be a sign of speaks-in-third-person disease, but with contributors on board calling these "my" picks would be messy.)

All-Decade Center: Joe ...

Here are a few things that, for me, took very little thought. My choice for center of the decade:

  • Is named Joe

  • Wears #19

  • At some point wore the "C" on his jersey

  • Won a Hart trophy

  • Scored a fuckton of points

Yup, those were the easy parts. Thornton or Joe? Big Bird or Burnaby? For a lot of people, that decision was pretty easy but for me there were a lot of conflicting thoughts.

Sure, Sakic raised a Cup and claimed Olympic gold. But at the same time, the guy didn't exactly play with Adam Anonymous and Joe Schmo. Those Avalanche squads were loaded with All-Stars (including another All-Decade candidate in Peter Forsberg) and Team Canada? Yeah, those guys are OK.

Look at all the fire hydrants Jumbo Joe Thornton transformed into multi-millionaires. There's no "chicken or the egg?" argument for Cheechoo and Sergei Samsonov: those guys and quite a few other were baby-birded goals by the man John Buccigross called "a big Adam Oates."

For a guy who's been derided for playoff performance, Thornton's per-game pace isn't that far off of Quoteless Joe (although Sakic just about doubles Big Bird's total) and Jumbo Joe scored more points in less regular season games. So there are definitely some talking points in the pro-Thornton argument.

All that being said, my vote is for Sakic. Injuries plagued his last two seasons, slightly hurting his case from a quantity standpoint. Although it was pointed out that Sakic benefited from superior teammates, Thornton's never sniffed the Conference finals while Sakic won a Cup and made other deep playoff runs. As Joe Pelletier pointed out, Sakic won an Olympic tournament MVP while Thornton suffered through Team Canada's shockingly awful, medal-free 2006 Olympic campaign.

Sometimes, you break things down to a simple question of "If this was a pickup game, which guy would I choose?" and Sakic bests Thornton in their prime years.

(Still, it's necessary to admit that Thornton was pretty close ... and might close that gap before the decade is over.)

Wingers: Jaromir Jagr and Jarome Iginla

Jagr is one of three "no-brainers" for me. His numbers are staggering and he achieved those totals largely on his own (the exception being the fleeting time in this decade alongside Mario Lemieux). Jagr, at this moment in time, is the greatest European-born forward in NHL history.

Jarome Iginla stood out in this group of wingers, too. His point totals are up there in the "everyone but Jagr" ranks and as anyone who witnessed the Calgary Flames' unexpected run to the SCF would testify, Iginla brings a diverse combination of skills to the table. Along with having a knack for scoring game-changing goals, Iginla provides great leadership and a willingness to drop the gloves that is rarely seen in forwards of his talent level.

There's a reason he was named the league's best captain in an ESPN NHL player's survey.

Defense: Niklas Lidstrom and Chris Pronger

It seems like Scott Niedermayer gained a slight majority in this debate, but Pronger gains my vote for a few reasons.

For one thing, although from a defensive pairing standpoint Niedermayer's played with some weak partners, he's also rarely been "The Man" for his team. Can we - honestly - say that he's consistently even been the best D-man on his team? Maybe for his first year with the Ducks, but look at the headhunting monsters he's teamed with otherwise: Pronger and Scott "Human Concussion Generator" Stevens.

So, for me, that weakens the "but he won more Cups" argument. Besides, Pronger managed to take a scrappy but talent-poor Edmonton Oilers team within a game of a Cup because of his superlative efforts. Remember when Pronger imposed his will on a heavily favored Detroit team? This is something that I cannot recall Niedermayer doing.

Niedermayer might have a Conn Smythe, but Sleek was right: Pronger probably deserved back-to-back Smythes. One distinction that sets Pronger apart from any D-guy in ages - Niedermayer AND Lidstrom included - is that Stompy earned a Hart trophy as league MVP.

Here's the list of D-men who've won a Hart trophy since the World War II era:

Bobby Orr and Pronger.

Pronger even outclasses Niedermayer in regular season and playoff point totals (heck, Brian Rafalski out-scored Niedermayer too). There are a bunch of Niedermayer/Pronger stats linked below, but Sleek also pointed out over the years that Pronger seems better at doing the most important thing a D-man can do: stopping opponents from scoring when he's on the ice.

[The last link listed in the list-o-links features the best stat to illustrate this point, even if it's out-dated. At one point in the 2006-07 season, Pronger was on the ice for 52 goals for and 32 goals against while SN was on for 39 goals for and 26 goals against. Pretty demonstrative in my opinion.]

But more than all that, the thing that makes Pronger better is his sheer ability to intimidate. If you're a forward, would you rather be smothered by Niedermayer's speed or concussed by Pronger's elbow?

Even though my Pronger stance is quite "staunch" it must be noted that Niedermayer is still one of the best D in the league. Still, if forced to choose, Pronger's the man.

Niedermayer/Pronger links from the old BoC Web site since it's easier for me to search ... sorry SBN: (Niedermayer before/after, full article, the Prongermayer record, another SN before/after, "how to replace Niedermayer", a very helpful post showing some Pronger > Niedermayer numbers and finally Pronger: 52 team GF - 22 team GA = +30; Niedermayer: 39 team GF - 26 team GA = +13 ... )

Goalie: Martin Brodeur

Pelletier put it best: other goalies produced better "peak" years but Brodeur was great all decade. He's an easy choice.

Coach: Mike Babcock

A coach cannot succeed much more than Babcock has in his first five years. My honorable mention would probably be Barry Trotz, who managed to make lemonade out of some really sour lemons.

Fighter: Donald Brashear

Brashear ended up being the resounding winner at's forums, so it seems pretty reasonable to defer to their opinion. While George Laraque received the second most votes, most commenters pointed out Brashear's combination of fearful fighting ability, longevity and superior mean streak.

Loudmouth: Sean Avery

For my money, no one can top Avery's top 10 loudmouth moments. Sure, Brian Burke is the biggest loudmouth among GMs and Don Cherry is the greatest source of angry hot air among hockey media.

But Avery's obnoxious comments accomplished something none of the other contestants did: they went beyond the NHL universe into national attention. Even before "Sloppy Secondsgate," Avery might be the biggest loudmouth of the last ten years, but his comments regarding vaginal leftovers cement his legacy as the douche of the decade.


jamestobrien said...

Decided to break up the big blocks of text with a few extra photos. Hopefully that makes it a bit easier to read.

Chris Kontos said...

Great picks, Iginla is the exact type of player every team wishes they could have.

jamestobrien said...

Yeah,Iginla's one of the most charismatic leaders in years. Maybe even the next generation Yzerman.