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Wednesday 29th Mar 2017

As the players and fans gather for one of the innovative strategies--the three on three format--implemented into All-Star game activities sports-wide, the NHL will also name its 100 Greatest Players list this weekend as part of the 100th Anniversary of the NHL. The league has already released the early league players, but this weekend they will officially give everyone a number and an official order will be presented that we as hockey fans can bicker over and debate. 

But, since I have this space, I’m going to give you the Top 20 in my view, Of course this list is as subjective as any GOT list, so enjoy, and pick it apart if you will (@PolkaPat if you want to bicker!). Players are listed with their primary team.

By the way, this was harder than I expected. It’s always an arduous task when trying to compare players from different eras, rules, and competition. Here are my picks 20 through 11, with the Top 10 coming next week.

20) Mike Bossy (RW, New York Islanders - 1977-87): The best goal scorer in league history when speaking percentages, with a 0.76% Goals Per Game average, just one percent more than Mario Lemieux. Like Lemieux, both players had amazing careers cut short by injury. Bossy was the first superstar player of my childhood, and had he played a full 20 or so seasons, Boss would be in the top 10 on any list. Mike never scored less than 51 goals over his first nine seasons, and in his injury-shortened final season, he still managed 38 goals in just 63 games. The abuse Bossy took in front of the net ended the career of one of the brightest and best.

19) Steve Yzerman (C, Detroit Red Wings - 1984-2006): One of only five players in NHL history to score 150 points in a season (three others are on this list), can you name the fifth without looking it up? Stevie Y was an offensive juggernaut when he broke into the league, and then came Scotty Bowmen, and Yzerman changed his game to defense and the Stanley Cups started pouring in, along with a Selke Award as league’s best defensive forward.

18) Stan Mikita (C/RW, Chicago Blackhawks - 1959-80): Size never stopped Mikita from being both one of the more physical players of his era, along with being among the most dynamic. One Stanley Cup, two Hart Trophies, two Art Ross Trophies, and an 11-time All-Star, Mikita also leads the league in an unofficial statistic, the Gordie Howe Hat Trick: that’s a goal, an assist, and a fight in the same game.

17) Doug Harvey (D, Montreal Canadiens - 1948-69): Harvey won seven Norris Trophies along with six Stanley Cups and was the NHL’s first premiere defenseman, and one who set the mold for future defensemen. The 13-time All-Star also placed in the Hart Trophy race’s top five on five different occasions.

16) Ron Francis (C, Hartford Whalers - 1982-2004): Probably one of the most underrated players in NHL history, and also one of the game's most consistent. Francis rarely missed games and played for 22 years, allowing him to pile up impressive numbers and cement a legacy in the NHL’s record books. Francis won two Stanley Cups during his career with the back-to-back Champion Pittsburgh Penguins in 1991-92.

15) Guy Lafleur (RW, Montreal Canadiens - 1972-91): The Flower is one of the most prolific scorers of his era or any era for that matter, punching in 50 goals or more for six straight seasons. His name appears on the Stanley Cup five times, with two Hart Trophies and three Art Ross Trophies as well.

14) Patrick Roy (G, Montreal Canadiens - 1985-2003): After winning the Stanley Cup his rookie year, St. Patrick wrote his own history, and it’s a great book. Roy went on to win another Cup on 1993 with the Habs and two more with the Colorado Avalanche. Five Jennings Trophies, three Vezina trophies and three Conn Smythe trophies are in his cabinet at home as well, and Patrick was also an 11-time All-Star.

13) Jean Beliveau (C, Montreal Canadiens - 1951-71): There are not enough kind adjectives to describe Jean Beliveau the man and player. He retired the year I was born and I would have given anything to see him skate in his prime. A 10-time Stanley Cup winner, 13-time All-Star, two-time Hart Trophy winner, and won the first ever Conn Smythe Award as the playoffs best player, simply one of the greatest ever.

12) Phil Esposito (C, Boston Bruins - 1964-81): In my humble opinion, Espo was the first real legit big time scorer, the first player to eclipse 150 points in a season and in between 1971-75, he scored 76, 66, 55, 68, and 61 goals respectively. Phil won two Stanley Cups with the Boston Bruins, two Hart Trophies as league MVP, and five Art Ross Trophies as the NHL’s leading scorer along with 10 All-Star nods. Not many players have come close to approaching Espo’s offensive resilience, and I doubt we will see one anytime soon.

11) Maurice Richard (RW, Montreal Canadiens - 1943-60): Rocket Richard is as immortal a player as there has ever been in the NHL, and he was the league’s first superstar. Rocket is the NHL’s first sniper, and the NHL has rightfully named a new trophy in his honor for the league's leading goal scorer each season. The first player to ever score 50 goals in a season, Rocket scored 544 career goals in only 978 games. The eight-time Stanley Cup winner and 13-time All-Star was the hero to millions and is considered royalty in NHL circles. Roclet retired before I was born, but I still cried when Rocket died.

Look for my Top 10 of All-Time next week and remember you can always hit me up @PolkaPat

I’ve never been a huge fan of Dave Andreychuk. I’ve always respected what he did as a player, but what is happening to the NHL’s all-time leader in power play goals is a disgrace that needs to be corrected. For hockey is a team sport, right? What’s more team-like than punching the timecard, showing up for an honest day’s work and retiring a Stanley Cup champion? For Andreychuk is being punished for longevity and the lack of personal awards the same way Dino Ciccarelli was. Since Dave has been eligible for induction to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2007, there have been more than a few players whose resumes had much less bulk than Dave's but were inducted based upon "what might have been" within their injury-filled careers.

For example, this past week, Eric Lindros was inducted into the Hall of Fame based on what if Big E had been healthy coupled with the impact he did have when healthy. Lindros was a six-time All-Star and Hart Trophy winner in the strike-shortened 1995 season, tying Jaromir Jagr with 70 points over 48 games, but that’s about it for his individual awards. Lindros does belong in the Hall of Fame, do not get me wrong. And, I loved the guy except in 1997 when my Red Wings dismantled his Philadelphia Flyers in the Stanley Cup Finals with a 4-0 sweep. When Big E played in the beginning, he was a beast and a fantasy dream. The entire Legion of Doom line was worth every auction dollar my good friend Vito spent on them. Does Lindros belong in the Hall over a player who was bland, to put it simply? Bland Andreychuk may be, but consistent is another thesaurus word next to his photograph along with steady.

Other players such as Cam Neely, Pavel Bure and Peter Forsberg are recent injury riddled players who have gotten the nod. Neely went in before Andreychuk retired and Cam does belong in the Hall. Watching Neely battle through those leg injuries and still score 50 goals in 49 games played inspired many rec league legends in the 90’s. Bure and Forsberg are equally exciting players who dealt with injuries throughout their careers, but Andreychuk has more power play goals than Forsberg has total. Had these two magnificent players been able to play say 93% of their games, they would have most likely retired recently, so why not induct the pair relative to that scale instead of continually slapping Dave Andreychuk and Dino Ciccarelli in the face when they earned their stripes in front of the net each night and remained healthy.

Dave Andreychuk ranks 14th in Goals with 640, ranks 1st in Power Play Goals with 274, 7th in Games Played with 1639, 13th in Shots with 4556 and is currently tied with Denis Savard at 29th with 1338 points. Savard was a 2000 Hall of Fame Inductee.

Like Andreychuk, Mark Recchi, with almost 200 more points than Andreychuk, is a team player whose lack of personal awards seems to be keeping him out of the elite club in Toronto. Recchi is currently 12th in points with 1533 but has only been eligible for three years now, while Andreychuk is going on nine years. Of the top 25 scorers in NHL history, only Recchi, Andreychuk and the still active Jaromir Jagr are not in the Hall of Fame. Along with the names mentioned above who got into the Hall with such low point totals are Pat LaFontaine (1013), Lanny McDonald (1006), Forsberg (885), Billy Barber (885), Lindros (865), Steve Shutt (817), Bure (779), Clark Gilles (697) and Neely (694).

Gilles has the four Stanley Cups to his credit and Shutt has five Cups over a 12-year career, but both were also game changers and eligible way before Recchi and Andreychuk. LaFontaine has one Masterson Trophy and is a five-time All-Star, yet he was inducted before some amazing players with much more hardware on the shelf. Lanny McDonald is everyone’s favorite mustache and a great Maple Leaf and finally a Cup winner in his curtain call with Calgary in 1989. All of these players are very worthy of their Hall of Fame inductions, don’t get me wrong, and many of these names were yelled by me skating around under the street lights as a kid.

My question is why are the blue-collared players being shooed aside for the more flashy names? In 2007, Andreychuk had zero chance with Mark Messier, Ron Francis, Scott Stevens and Al MacInnis eligible. But in 2008, he could have easily joined two of my all-time favorite players, Glenn Anderson and Igor Larionov. Anderson has his six Stanley Cups and was Mr. Clutch yet he still had to wait as Andreychuk is currently doing. Larionov belongs in every hockey Hall of Fame in the universe, but there is absolutely no reason Andreychuk couldn’t have been inducted with these two all-time greats.

In 2008, Dave had zero chance of going in with Steve Yzerman, Brett Hull and Luc Robitialle getting the nod along with the Rangers' Brian Leetch. The 2010 voting was a different scenario completely with only fellow outcast Dino Ciccarelli being inducted. I guess just one pariah each induction year is enough?

Still, I’m baffled why a total team player who didn’t dominate but was always a top-four scoring leader on the teams he played for keeps getting the cold shoulder from the Hall? Hopefully, Andreychuk will get the call in 2017 when the Finnish Flash, Teemu Selanne will get one most certainly, but we must wait until next year to find out. So, enjoy this year, and see if I’m wrong, but are all the battle ships now in the Eastern Conference with Tampa, Pittsburgh, Washington, the New York Rangers and Montreal?

You can always reach me on Twitter @PolkaPat.

As I just watched my Red Wings bow out in the first round for the third straight season, I was thinking about Dynamic Duos, and not Batman and Robin. The Red Wings were dismantled by the same duo that tore them apart in last year’s playoffs, Tyler Johnson and Nikita Kucherov. This tandem was a two-man wrecking crew again, responsible for 15 points in the five games it took to send Detroit home again. Johnson had two goals and five helpers while Kucherov had five goals and three assists. They are not the only duo tearing it up so far in the first round of the playoffs, so let’s take a look at a few of the other Dynamic Duos in the 2016 Playoffs.

San Jose – Joe Pavelski and Joe Thornton: These two have just carried over into the playoffs what they did all season long. Jumbo passes and Lil’ Joe buries it, giving the Sharks another excellent chance to advance to the Stanley Cup Finals, and once again they lead the L.A. Kings 3-1. The question is can the Sharks finally finish off the Kings? Thornton and Pavelski have to lead the Sharks with the hot hands they have shown off early in these playoffs. Pavelski has four goals and one assist while Thornton has one goal and two assists. Each successful playoff team is usually led by a duo of this caliber, and it’s been so throughout playoff history. The list of duos could equal the bible in pages, so I won’t elaborate on them just yet. Each team also usually has one stud defenseman steering the playoff ship. Tampa Bay has Victor Hedman and San Jose has offensive juggernaut Brent Burns, and I will cover defensemen in a future IceHole article.  

St. Louis – Vladimir Tarasenko and Jaden Schwartz: The Blues are a very deep team, but these line mates are the straws stirring the Blues playoff drink. Schwartz missed 49 games this season while Tarasenko missed only two, but many of the Blues players have fresh legs due to missed games and Schwartz is making Chicago pay thus far. With three goals and two assists in five games along with Vlad’s matching numbers of 3g/2a, these two are all the Blackhawks can handle right now.  

New York Islanders – John Tavares and Kyle Okposso: This duo has been all over the ice versus the Florida Panthers so far in a series tied at 2-2. Tavares, who had a sub-par regular season by his standards, has come on strong this postseason, leading the Islanders in scoring. In four games, Tavares has four goals, three assists and 19 shots on goal while Okposso has been equally as hard to contain with one goal, four helpers and 18 shots on goal. This has been the bulk of the Islanders offense so far, doubling what any other player has put forth in these four games. A very deadly twosome that the Panthers need to contain if they have any chance of advancing to the second round to face state rival Tampa Bay.
 
Washington – Alexander Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom: The Capitals are a very deep team and are being lead in scoring by their top defenseman thus far, John Carlson. While T.J. Oshie and Marcus Johansson are also leading the Caps in scoring, Ovechkin and Backstrom are the leaders of this team, each with over 70 points in the regular season and Ovechkin scoring 50 goals yet again as the NHL’s premiere sniper. He has three goals and one helper in four games with 15 shots on goal. Backstrom has added one goal and five assists, with four of those helpers coming on the Caps league leading power play. For my money, there isn’t a more exciting duo in the NHL than these two, and they compliment each other perfectly, with Backstrom passing and Ovi shooting. There will be many more goals and assists coming from this duo in these playoffs and I will update you as we progress. Do not hesitate to use any of these duos in DFS either. They are all worth the price along with the third line-mate in the Garden Seat, which is a term I stole from Jim “Boomer” Gordon on XM NHL Network. The Garden Seat is what he calls the man skating on the top line with two studs, and I’ll cover these players more in depth down the road.

At the end of April, I began covering some of the NHL’s Deadly Duos that were still alive and kicking in this year’s playoffs. Here’s the second part of that series.  

The Nashville Predators always lacked the firepower up front to contend with the battleships of the Western Conference, at least until 2015. The Preds acquired Left Wing Filip Forsberg from the Washington Capitals for Martin Erat and also exchanged wingers with the Pittsburgh Penguins by sending Patric Hornqvist to the Steel City for sniper James Neal. Both players are now flourishing in their new environment.  

Forsberg ($6400 at DraftKings) finished the regular season with a team leading 33 goals and 31 assists while playing in all 82 games. Neal ($6500) finished third in team scoring with 31 goals and 27 assists and also played a full complement of games. But only 12 of those combined goals came on the power play, where the Predators ranked 10th during the regular season. Neal and Forsberg have pretty much been side by side all season and during the playoffs, but newly acquired Ryan Johanson ($5500) and Colin Wilson ($3800) also make good lower end plays with Wilson quietly leading the Preds in playoff scoring so far with five goals, eight assists and 13 points.  

Now let’s get to a couple of teams who will be squaring off in the Eastern Conference Finals. The Tampa Bay Lightning are front loaded with talent, and that’s excluding Steven Stamkos, potentially the deadliest sniper among the team’s young forward group.  

Perhaps Stamkos’ absence and the continued impressive play of Nikita Kucherov ($7600) and Tyler Johnson ($6100) are making GM Steve Yzerman rethink his position when it comes to Stamkos’ upcoming free agency. But there is no mistaking that Kucherov and Johnson were a two-man wrecking crew in the first round against the Detroit Red Wings.  

Tampa Bay’s second duo is relatively new with once prodigal son Jonathan Drouin ($4700) and regular contributor Alex Killorn ($5500). The latter has been a mainstay on Stamkos’ side since blood clots ended Stammer’s season prematurely. Drouin has been amazing since the Right Wing’s feud with management ended and he finally got to play with the big boys. It’s not fair though to mention Kucherov and Johnson and not mention triplet Ondrej Palat’s ($4900) contributions to the success of his mates. These five skaters have all been an integral part of the Lightning’s success this off-season along with defensive stud Victor Hedman, who may be the most important piece in the team’s bright future.   

Where does one begin with all the offensive talent on the Pittsburgh Penguins? Since I have gushed on long enough about Nick Bonino, Carl Hagelin and Phil Kessel, let’s focus on the big dogs. Love him or hate him, Sidney Crosby ($7900) is one of the best players on earth and is the straw stirring the drink in the Steel City.  

Crosby’s partner in crime of late has been Patric Hornqvist ($7000), and these two players are among the more expensive options on DraftKings. But Evgeni Malkin ($7000) and Chris Kunitz ($4800) are the second wave of scorers coming at you in the Penguins offensive attack who have nice potential value. Any of these players’ third line mates are very nice cheap options with the potential to produce. Conor Sheary ($3900) on the Crosby line and Eric Fehr ($4100) now on the Malkin line add points not only with goals and assists, but hits, blocked shots and shots.

All four of these skaters fill out top spots on Penguins power play units and wear down defenders, which is probably why the third line I love here has been tearing opponents apart. This Penguins team often reminds me of the early 90’s Pittsburgh squads, loaded with so much talent that five forwards--Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr, Martin Straka, Alexei Kovalev and Jan Hrdina—occupied the top power play unit and all finished in the top 30 in scoring.  

Crosby and Malkin are the leaders of this team regardless of who’s doing the scoring; the duo did lead the Penguins in power play markers during the regular season. Crosby had 10 power play goals and Malkin had 11 after missing 25 games. This duo is second (Crosby) and fourth (Malkin) in playoff scoring, and before it’s over, I have a feeling they’ll be one and two again.  

My Pre-Season Top 25 had Crosby and Malkin finishing in first and second in the rankings, and well, not quite so, but it’s not too late to jump on the Penguins bandwagon.

As a Midwesterner, I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for Pittsburgh, a blue collar city with great people. In fact, my old boss used to play for the Penguins. So do enjoy the Conference Finals and may your beards grow until your wives make you sleep outside.

As another great NHL regular season winds down it's time to look forward to the playoffs and think of days past.  Back in the 80’s the NHL used the playoff format 1-16 instead of a breakdown of conferences.  The league wanted to boost the rivalries factor which wasn’t all that bad with the Detroit versus Colorado war.  It would be nice to see the old style come back though instead of force feeding the viewers on the NHL agenda.  As we sit on the last games of the season the current 1-16 match ups provide some interesting thoughts and possibly great hockey, which is what matters most.  The Minnesota Wild would be out of the 1-16 format, if the league decided to go that way this year in this hypothetical stance.

1. Washington vs. 16. Boston

2. Dallas vs. 15. Philadelphia

3. St. Louis vs. 14. Detroit

4. Pittsburgh vs. 13. Nashville

5. Chicago vs. 12. Tampa Bay

6. Florida vs. 11. San Jose

7. Anaheim vs. 10. N.Y. Islanders

8. Los Angeles vs. 9. N.Y. Rangers

These are all very intriguing match-ups.  Washington versus Boston would be an outstanding series as Boston is tough and good enough to give the Caps all they could handle.  Washington is taking its annual steps towards a Cup final, so it’s not a given they would walk all over the Bruins.  Even though the Caps swept the season series 3-0 on the Bostonians, two of those games were decided by one goal. 

Detroit versus St. Louis series would be great hockey as well, and as a Red Wings fan it would be a Western Conference enemy of old to battle.  A lot of memories of Detroit continually knocking the Blues out of the playoffs could be drubbed by a very good, but streaky St. Louis squad.

Philly versus Dallas would be very entertaining too, with offensive players abound and teams that both have shaky goaltending at best.  Led by Dallas forwards Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin (if healthy), Patrick Sharp and Jason Spezza, Dallas can certainly bring it. Claude Giroux, Jacob Voracek and rookie sensation Shayne Gostisbhere lead the charge for Philadelphia.

The same could be said with a Nashville versus Pittsburgh series, less the sub-par goalies. Crosby, Kessel, Malkin, for the Pens and Forsberg, Johansen, and James Neal/ Patrc Hornqvist each are squaring off against their former employers.  Then there are three all-star defensemen in Kris Letang,  Shea Weber and Roman Josi...sounds like fun viewing!

Florida versus San Jose has the makings of a great series though the Chicago versus Tampa showdown might be a bludgeoning with the Lightning on life support. A few of their stars down for the count and Chicago is firing on all cylinders led by league MVP Patrick Kane.

A Los Angeles versus N.Y. Rangers affair could be a Stanley Cup final in the real playoffs, which would be an NHL marketing dream.  With two all world goalies in Jonathan Quick and Henrik Lundquist squaring off, the goals should be sparse.

Anaheim versus N.Y. Islanders could be very interesting with both teams quietly making their way into the playoffs, albeit with plenty of star power. Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf for the Ducks with John Tavares and Kyle Okposso for the Islanders, are all capable of good playoff hockey.

This is just a dream sequence I’d love to see come back into the mix again.  Instead of force feeding the populous with what the NHL feels would be what we want, how about just letting it happen naturally.

Time to set fantasy baseball line-ups and the DVR for free Starz this weekend on Direct TV. May all your pucks find the top shelf and your sticks not break on a one-timer.  

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