Red Wings Senior Vice President Jimmy Devellano is unquestionably one of the best hockey minds in the game. He's responsible for being the architect of the model NHL franchise over the last two decades and has brought positive changes to the entire NHL. Unfortunately, the old guy's honest to reporters too, so you get things like this tidbit which at the time was the best advice he could have given, but wasn't comforting to a head-in-the-sand optimist like me. Turns out that he was right. The Red Wings did not have the record they had achieved the previous year and did have to work very hard to make the playoffs.
Well, Jimmy's at it again with crap I don't want to hear, but is the honest truth from a guy who knows way more about hockey than I do. It's not even that I necessarily disagree with him when he answers the question about which NHL player he'd pick right now to build a team around with this:
Sidney Crosby because of his youth, ability to lead, and great talents. He’s a great young player that has already won a Stanley Cup and lead Canada to a Gold Medal. Pittsburgh has also made the finals twice with him, the first time when we beat them out, and then they beat us the second time around. He’s a bright young superstar.
It's just that, I don't know if you know this, but Penguins fans and Red Wings fans don't really get along very well and the topic of Sidney Crosby is often a bit of a sore spot between them. For Red Wings fans, this has to hurt as much as it hurt Penguins fans to hear Sidney Crosby give Henrik Zetterberg all the credit he deserves for having shut him down effectively over two finals series and through a few regular season games. What? Oh, well it would feel something like that if he had done that. But, I'll leave the inevitable backlash sniping to the comments section. Jimmy D's comments got me thinking of the people I would select first if I were building a team. I've come up with a top ten list of them. Join me after the jump.
1. Jonathan Toews C Chicago Blackhawks: If there were an award to be handed out for best hockey player over the last calendar year which allowed you to take the playoffs and international play into consideration, it's hard to argue that Toews doesn't win it. He wasn't a Hart Trophy finalist during the regular season, thanks to the "do whatever it takes to help my stacked team win, even if it hurts my numbers" attitude, but he was Canada's best forward at the Olympics, the Conn Smythe trophy winner in the postseason, and a consummate professional. I don't know, maybe I'm a little blinded that he looks so mature next to the five-month younger human stain Patrick Kane, but the 22-year old kid is a leader.
2. Henrik Zetterberg C Detroit Red Wings: Yeah, I'm a homer; sue me. Hank's going to be on the wrong side of 30 in October, but he's constantly undervalued for just how damn good he is. Even Red Wings fans have an issue with making sure he gets the recognition he deserves. Everybody knows he's going to be the next captain of the Red Wings and he'll have earned it. The guy is a leader and he's clutch. If you get the opportunity to build a team from scratch around him, then you do it and watch him shove your ageism right back down your throat.
3. Sidney Crosby C Pittsburgh Penguins: Look, Jimmy D was right. The kid can play hockey. There's been enough said about his maturity and his reputation as a whiner to last a lifetime, but I've seen him work and I believe his teammates when they say he's a great locker room presence. He's one of the most complete players in the game and while I never had the benefit of having handlers tell me how to act, he's more mature than I was at that age. Just try to imagine what Mike Babcock could mold him into.
4. Shea Weber D Nashville Predators: This guy is a monster. He's always a sleeper pick for the Norris until players on more stacked teams leave him statistically behind, but as far as pure ability as a defenseman, there are few that could be considered better all around. Factor in his toughness, his intangibles, and his ability to put a puck straight through today's goal netting and you've got a building block for a team.
5. Mike Richards C Philadelphia Flyers: I feel I don't get to see him play as often as I should, partially because I hate the Flyers with their moodle-haired Scott Hartnell and the kuckle-dragging Chris Pronger, but he's another young captain with a ton of skill who will do anything to help his team. Pierre McGuire would probably slap me in the thigh (because it's at his eye level) after seeing me put him this low on the list and I might even deserve it. He makes everybody around him better.
6. Alexander Ovechkin LW Washington Capitals: Maxim Talbot might not think too highly of him, but I do. For all the talk about what his game might lack, there's even more to be said about what he can bring to the ice. On skill alone, he's the best forward in the game. If you're building a team and worrying about defense, you get Ovechkin first and a defender second. I do worry about his attitude and whether he would fit in a more rigid system than Bruce Boudreau runs around him in Washington, but for all the potential upside you're getting for this guy, he's well worth any risk.
7. Ryan Miller G Buffalo Sabres: The hero goalie of the olympics and the best goaltender in the NHL. Miller's not higher on this list just because I have a bias against building a team goaltender-first. If there were some magical statistic that let you know exactly how much of a team's wins were attributable to a single player, I'm not sure you'd find a higher-scoring player by that measure than Ryan Miller. He also has the magical ability to look younger than his brother Drew, despite being born four years earlier.
8. Joe Thornton C San Jose Sharks: Among this list, Joe Thornton is the worst about the way he acts when things don't go his way (because he doesn't have his youth to use as an excuse for this). I've seen that hurt his team when things weren't going well. I've also seen that same drive help his team immensely when his teammates weren't being anchors and his goalie wasn't hemorrhaging pucks. I don't want to completely take the blame for any of the Sharks' famous choke jobs off his shoulders, but he's a competitor, a leader, and a guy who makes you better.
9. Pavel Datsyuk C Detroit Red Wings: If you're building a team around him, the language barrier might be an issue, but he'll definitely make you laugh with what grasp of English he does have. Besides, the way he speaks on the ice is louder and clearer than anybody. Put simply, if you're a player who can watch the way Datsyuk plays every shift and not be motivated to go out and do everything a little better, then you're not long for this league. He makes fully grown men look foolish and guys twice his size look weak. After so long of marveling at his skills, you're left with little else to do than chuckle when he steals the puck off a guy's stick, passes it to himself off the side boards, and starts a rush up ice.
10. Rick Nash RW Columbus Blue Jackets: The ultimate overlooked forward. Rick Nash murders the Red Wings*. He was very good for team Canada in the Olympics, where he got a chance to play with some good centers. His combination of size and soft hands, as well as his maturity as a player are a rare combination. His stats have been hindered by playing on relatively weak Blue Jackets squads and under defensive-minded Ken Hitchcock for so long, but he's excelled at his role. I'd love to have him on my team and you're friggin' crazy if you disagree.
(*regular season only)
So there you have it. My list of the ten players around which I'd build a team if given the chance. Agree, disagree, have disparaging things to say about my mother? I'd love to hear it!