He won the Rocket Richard Trophy in 2010. In 2007 and 2014, he took home the Art Ross as the NHL’s leading scorer. But is Penguins captain Sidney Crosby still the NHL’s best franchise player?
According to a 14-players poll done by ESPN’s Craig Custance, Crosby was the overwhelming favourite, receiving 19 points. The poll included votes from many NHL franchise players as they were taking part in the recent media tour.
But with only one Stanley Cup to his name on arguably one of the better teams in the NHL, is he really the player you’d want to start your team with?
Has the Numbers, But Injuries Too
Don’t get me wrong, Sidney Crosby is – and likely always will be – considered one of the best players of his generation. He’s got the hands, the speed, and the ability to grind it out down low. In his nine NHL seasons, he’s surpassed the 100-point mark five times while missing significant time with head and neck injuries during both the 2010-11 and 2011-12 campaigns.
Along with his stellar offensive output, Crosby’s led his Penguins to the playoffs seven times – winning the coveted Stanley Cup in 2009. His ability to lead also earned him the Mark Messier Leadership Award in 2007 and 2010.
There’s no denying that it would be in everyone’s interest to have Sidney Crosby on their team. Everything he offers, his award-winning abilities, are all something that have to be considered. But so does his history of injuries.
Had you asked me three or four years ago, I’d be part of the majority. Crosby would likely be at the top of my list. However, I want to dive into his history for a minute. Crosby’s missed less than 10 games in only five of his nine seasons. Not once has he played a full 82 game season. While his Penguins did make back-to-back Stanley Cup Finals (2007-08 and 2008-09), injuries have played a part in his career since then.
From his neck and concussion issues to his now questionable wrist injury that plagued him through last seasons playoffs, is it safe to say that Crosby’s offensive prowess and leadership would overshadow his absences from the lineup? Or is it time to look elsewhere? Who else should be considered as the best franchise player in the game – a player that can have a team built around them?
They call him ‘Captain Serious,’ but maybe that’s not quite accurate. Sure, Jonathan Toews rarely shows emotion, but he’s found a way to continuously provide a spark for the team that surrounds him. While I do believe that his supporting cast does a lot for the success of the Chicago Blackhawks, there’s no questioning the role that Toews plays with the franchise.
It’s interesting to note that in another poll conducted in July by ESPN, Toews edged out Crosby as the franchise favourite. The difference between the two polls that is this particular one was that the “panel was made up of four current team executives (assistant GM or GM), one former GM, four current head coaches, one respected assistant coach and a player from each conference.”
Now, Toews has had his struggles with staying in the lineup as well. In seven seasons in the NHL, he’s only played one full season, but he’s also only missed six games or less in five seasons. He’s led his team to six postseasons and two Stanley Cups.
While he was a likely candidate to wear the ‘C’ in Sochi in February for Canada’s Olympic team, he took a back seat to Crosby once again leading the way. He’s proven his ability to lead – especially when the Blackhawks have found themselves in a hole in playoff series. But he’s also shown his ability to be a multi-situational player – playing on both the powerplay and the penalty kill.
And while there still seems to be arguments surrounding advanced statistics (among the casual hockey fans), Toews’ 5-on-5 corsi for percentage was second on a strong Blackhawks squad. While it’s not by much, Toews’ 0.591 is slightly superior to Crosby’s 0.53 corsi for.
Many people will argue that arguing intangibles is simply useless – that you can’t decide a players worth on anything aside from statistical value. But what Toews brings to a team – unity amongst each other – certainly needs to be taken into consideration and it’s something I’ll refer to in closing out this tough argument.
Colleagues of mine at The Hockey Writers have argued that Anze Kopitar could, in fact, take on the role as one of the league’s top franchise players. Looking at the Los Angeles Kings, a team that so often pulls out games when they need to, they aren’t the definition of a superstar squad. Sure, they have some big names in Carter, Doughty, and Quick (and others), but they don’t compare in in terms of superstar status to other teams like Dallas, Pittsburgh and Chicago.
Yet, every year Kopitar and the Kings seem to be biting at the bit to add to their recent successes. In his eight seasons in the NHL, Kopitar’s been an iron man of sorts playing in all 82 games five times. In fact, he’s only missed 18 games in his career.
While he’s never reached the 100-point plateau, he’s found a way to be a force in every zone on the ice. In 82 games in 2013-14 he recorded 70 points (29g-41a) and a plus-34 rating. He can play on the power play and the penalty kill with a 5-on-5 corsi for of 0.61 – only one thousandth of a point behind Jake Muzzin for the best on the team. That’s saying a lot for a team that had the best corsi for percentage in the league last season.
And for those of you who don’t feel that’s enough, remember Sochi? He led a severe underdog – Slovenia – to a big win against a much stronger Slovakian team. Let’s not pretend that he wasn’t a huge part of that – which surely carries over to his role with the Kings. While he wasn’t my first thought, it seems that Kopitar shouldn’t be written off either as a player to build around.
Now, while I’ve only mentioned two forwards, certainly it all depends on how you’d want to build your team. Steven Stamkos could be someone you consider. While he lacks the all-around team around him in Tampa Bay, he’s one of the purest goal scorers in the entire league. That’s something he’s been able to prove throughout his career.
At the same time, some of you might make an argument for young Nathan MacKinnon. I believe he’s far too green to the calibre of play in the NHL to be a legitimate franchise player, but if youth is how you’d start your team, then there’s quite possibly no one better at this point in time.
But maybe you’re a defensive minded general manager. In that case, you could argue that Duncan Keith is the leader of Chicago’s back end. Like Kopitar, he’s rarely missed a game in his nine-year career and he’s been to the playoffs in all of the past six seasons. Or what about Shea Weber? Surely you can’t deny that having a 106mph shot on the blue line would be a significant tool. He’s a hard hitting, big defenceman that can change the outlook of a game, both offensively and defensively.
Heck, some of you might want to start from the net and build a team around your goaltender. In that case, I’ll suggest Carey Price and Henrik Lundqvist. While Lundqvist has been a constant for his New York Rangers over the years, Price is certainly trending in the right direction. King Henrik is older at 32, but still played in 63 games for the Rangers a year ago and led them to the Stanley Cup Finals – with a playoff goals against average of 2.14.
Price, on the other hand, is just hitting his prime years. He’s only 27 and seems to be a vocal member of the Montreal Canadiens. He speaks to the media after every game – which can be integral in a leader – and takes responsibility when the team isn’t performing the way they should. He’s also coming off a year where he recorded his second highest wins total (34), his best save percentage (0.927) and his best goals against average (2.32). That’s not bad for a franchise player.
— HabsLinks (@HabsLinks) September 9, 2014
Recently, on Frank Block’s The Heart of the Rink Hockey Show, he talked with former NHLer Theoren Fleury. It was something that Fleury said that really resonated with me. He described how winning teams are built and it was through love and trust among peers. For me, that’s something that is lacking in Pittsburgh. I’m in no way saying that Crosby is the reason for that – I’m sure he’s not. Though for me, almost every other player mentioned on this list has found a way to connect with his teammates and his coaches. They find a way to get the best of the players around him and that’s what makes a franchise player.
For me, there’s no question that Jonathan Toews would be my franchise player. Who would you take as your franchise player? Who would you build your NHL team around?
Thoughts and Shots
1. Who ever said athletes weren’t inspirational? I’d like to argue otherwise and so would Upper Deck with their newest ‘Heroic Inspirations’ card featuring Wild goaltender Josh Harding to raise awareness for MS. (theScore)
2. To all you keeper poolies out there – see even the NHL changes their rules and they’ve been around for years. No more spin-o-ramas? Sorry Mason Raymond. No delaying the face-off? The trapezoid is bigger? (NHL.com)
Can we keep the spin-o-rama and ban the shootout instead @nhl ?
— Strombone (@strombone1) September 11, 2014
3. I wonder if the KHL offers anger management? If not, somebody should tell HC Ugra goalie, Mikhail Biryukov that everything is going to be okay. (Bardown)
4. Don’t fear Minnesota fans. I know, we all thought we were going to relive Neiderreiter’s New York Islanders saga. But the young Nino has officially signed a three-year deal with the Wild. (Puck Daddy)
5. Just as they announce the host city for the Winter Classic, HBO announces that 24/7 will not be back. It’s not like we got full access to Toronto and Detroit last season anyways. But does the NHL have another plan? (theScore)
6. The Toronto Maple Leafs have signed two players to tryouts. That’s some more low-risk moves – time to see if they all work out. Welcome aboard Henrik Tallinder and Brendan Mikkelson (Toronto Maple Leafs)
7. P.K. Subban would be honoured to become the captains of les Habitants, but is it in his fortunes? (NHL.com)
8. Like it or not, Ryan Malone is back – at least for now. The Rangers have given the forward a two-way contract. (The Hockey News)
9. Bush league? Or pure honesty? Whatever the case, Claude Giroux selected himself in a poll deciding the NHL’s best franchise player (Broad Street Hockey)
10. Finally, if you’re in Canada, get ready to have Ron MacLean and some former players in your community for his Hometown Hockey tour. The tour will hit 25 cities across the country and it will certainly be a good little event to attend. (Sportsnet)
Have some thoughts about this week’s column, let me know at @Tape2TapeTHW or @AndrewGForbes on Twitter.
Tape2Tape is a column looking at some of the biggest stories from around the world of hockey. Discussing different topics, it focuses on one major story each week. Agree or disagree, writer – Andrew Forbes – would love to hear what you have to say.
Andrew is in his 8th year reporting for The Hockey Writers covering the Toronto Maple Leafs. He began his broadcasting with CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada team as well as being part of their coverage of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi. He’s the former play-by-play voice of the London Jr. Knights for Rogers TV and currently hosts the Sticks in the 6ix podcast. You can follow him on Twitter at @AndrewGForbes.