Saturday, July 25, 2009

Excuse Me?

Consider the following throw-away line in's look at "best Swedes in the NHL"...

"Let's call him the best European player in the League right now, although Washington's Alex Ovechkin quickly is closing the gap."

"Him" refers to Detroit Red Wings defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom. Look, we love Lidstrom. If we had a vote for the Hockey Hall of Fame, we'd cast it right now...enthusiastically. We wouldn't bother to wait for a technicality like retirement or a waiting period. But is Lidstrom the best European in the game today?

Lisdstrom has dominated his position for almost two decades. In 16 seasons not shortened by labor trouble, he has scored fewer than ten goals only twice, has scored fewer than 50 points only twice, and has been worse than plus-10 only twice. His per-82 game career average of 14-47-61, +25, would have left him third in total scoring and fifth in plus-minus last year among NHL defensemen.

And he's barely missed a beat in his history of playoff performances. On a per-82 game basis, he's averaged 16-41-57, +16. Four times he's skated for a Stanley Cup winning team, and in the 85 games he played in those four years, he was a remarkable +38.

He could very well go down in NHL history as the greatest defenseman not named "Orr."

But that speaks to a body of work, which isn't the same as being the best player in his category (this being "European") right now. It isnt clear that he is the best European at his position at this point in his career. This is no dig at Lidstrom, only an acknwledgment time passes and there will be those -- there are those -- who will come along to eclipse him. Zdeno Chara (Slovakia) might already have done that in terms of being the best European defenseman. He is at least in the conversation.

As for the best European player in the NHL right now, it would be hard to argue with the two-time defending Hart Trophy winner, the two-time defending Pearson Trophy winner, the fifth-fastest player in league history to 200 goals, a player who has averaged 55-51-106 in his four seasons, whose 15 goals in 21 career playoff games is equal to a 59-goal pace over 82 games, whose 30 points in 21 playoff games equals a 117-point scoring pace.

They all happen to be the same person.

Alex Ovechkin.