Creating a list of the greatest hockey players of all-time is an arduous task.
When myself, Dave Lozo and Sean McIndoe wrote “The 100 Greatest Players In NHL History (And Other Stuff)” – which is great vacation reading, by the way – establishing the criteria was almost as hard as building the list itself.
We were comparing eras with completely different standards of play, number of teams and quality of athletes (through advancements in coaching and training). In some cases, we were comparing the careers of current players yet to reach 30 years old, with players whose stories had already been told.
So we nod in appreciation to Sports-Express, the Russian publication that recently published its list of the 50 greatest Russian players of all-time. Their criteria?
* The level of hockey in the height of his career.
* Titles and awards in the NHL.
* Duration of playing in the NHL.
* Achievements outside the NHL are not taken into account.
This criteria produced the following list, and you can easily see where the criteria produced some abnormalities and outright absurdities. (Head here to see Ken Campbell’s take on this from The Hockey News, which hipped us to this list.)
Again, any list where Dmitri Yushkevich is ranked above Slava Fetisov, and that list isn’t “alphabetical by first name,” is just hard to fathom. But here we are.
Nikolai Khabibulin over Sergei Bobrovsky seems like a temporary problem. Artemi Panarin at No. 38? Yeah, might want to wait for one season without Patrick Kane on his line before putting him over someone like Tverdovsky.
But obviously the big headline here is Evgeni Malkin of the Pittsburgh Penguins being named the best Russian player of all-time, ahead of Sergei Fedorov and Alex Ovechkin, with Pavel Bure and Pavel Datsyuk right behind them.
Using the rigid criteria that established the list, we can see how it led to Malkin. His three Stanley Cups match those of Fedorov. They both have one Hart Trophy. But Malkin has a Conn Smythe, which apparently is weighed heavier than the two Selke trophies Fedorov has that Malkin, frankly, could never hope to win. (Malkin’s highest finish for the Selke: 46th place.)
But again: How on earth can one determine that Malkin deserves the top spot over Fedorov when “stability and durability” can be assessed for a retired player but not for a guy who just hit 30?
When Fedorov hit 36 years old, his stats plummeted. Who knows what happens to Malkin in six years? One player seemingly gets the benefit of the doubt while the other is penalized for having played a complete career. That’s tough.
But let’s take them both on the merits of their “prime” careers. Since that’s hard to determine for Malkin, we’ll just go with his first 10 seasons:
706 games, 328 goals, 504 assists, 1.18 points per game average.
Fedorov, in his first 10 seasons:
672 games, 301 goals, 433 assists, 1.09 points per game average.
Keep in mind that Fedorov played half of those seasons during the trap years, while Malkin’s entire career was post-NHL 2.0 rules changes in 2006.
Then you have Ovechkin.
If this ranking was made in 2015, before the Penguins rolled to consecutive Stanley Cups and Ovechkin’s goal production dropped last season, is there any chance he’s not at the top of this ranking? Six goals titles, three player of the year awards and three Hart trophies. But because the ranking weighs Stanley Cup wins rather heavily, and the Washington Capitals turn into quivering invertebrates every postseason, apparently Ovechkin gets knocked down a few pegs.
Where we to rank the Russians, based entirely on NHL output? I will respectfully disagree with our book’s ranking and go Ovechkin, Fedorov and Malkin – with the caveat that the definitive ranking of these three icons can’t happen until we see how the current stars finish their NHL runs.
What do you think of this Sports Express list?
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