You know it’s the offseason when we start debating about lists.
Sportsnet spent the week counting down the top 100 NHL players for the 2018-19 season and the Caps are well represented.
They came up with this list by asking 16 of their NHL insiders to rank the top 100 players and then the lists were combined. The list is meant to show who the best players are as of today, for the 2018-19 season.
Five Caps players made the list, all five of whom made the top 50. Four other teams had five players listed while three teams–Boston, Nashville and Winnipeg–had six players make the cut.
Interesting side note, only one team in the NHL was left completely off. The Detroit Red Wings, once the class of the NHL, did not get a single player in the Top 100. Good luck in 2018-19, Detroit.
On to the Caps….
No. 41 John Carlson
Next defenseman in front of him: No. 39 Alex Pietrangelo
Next defenseman behind him: No. 52 John Klingberg
John Carlson had a career year in 2018-19 and that is good enough to put him at No. 41.
Clearly he is considered to be one notch below the elite defensemen in the league such as Erik Karlsson and Drew Doughty. If you’re worried that the Caps paid too much to retain his services this offseason, however, Sportsnet offers an interesting note that should ease your fear.
“Carlson inked an eight-year, $64-million deal, putting him in line with the contract Brent Burns signed ahead of the 2017–18 season. The good news for the Caps is Carlson, at 28, is five years younger than Burns.”
Did they get it right? I’d put Carlson ahead of Pietrangelo, but otherwise he is about where he should be on the list.
No. 35 Braden Holtby
Next goalie in front of him: No. 23 Sergei Bobrovsky
Next goalie behind him: No. 46 Andre Vasilevskiy
Holtby is the second-highest ranked goalie as this list is in lockstep with NHL Network’s goalie rankings that also had Bobrovsky, Holtby, Vasilevskiy ranked 1, 2, 3.
Sportsnet noted, “In three Vezina Trophy votes from 2015 to ’17, Holtby – who’ll be 29 on opening night – never finished worse than fourth, winning the 2016 award.”
One can’t help but wonder where Holtby would be on this list had he not had the chance to rebound in the playoffs after a tough regular season. Despite a very consistent career thus far, one bad month likely would have knocked him down pretty far on the list.
Did they get it right? Goalies in general are undervalued in this list as Bobrovsky is only No. 23 despite being the top netminder. That’s pretty low for a position that can take over a game more so than any other player on the ice. I get it, they don’t play every night, but the goalies should be higher.
In terms of where Holtby ranked positionally, they got it right…for now. Bobrovsky, however, is eventually going to have to perform in the playoffs to justify holding that top spot, in my opinion.
No. 28 Nicklas Backstrom
Next center in front of him: No. 25 Evgeny Kuznetsov
Next center behind him: No. 30 Aleksander Barkov
One factor that plays into Backstrom being constantly overlooked throughout the league is the position he plays. Five of the top 10 players on this list are centers because the best players typically come from that position. They impact the game more and as a result, the best players are funnelled into that position at each level of the game. How many NHL wingers came in from the minors/college/junior teams as centers who were then converted to wings?
No. 28 does not seem high enough at first glance as does the fact that he is the 13th center. Having said that, it’s hard to argue with a lot of the guys in front of him.
Alex Ovechkin wouldn’t have already surpassed 600 career goals without Backstrom’s help. The Swede has maybe the softest hands in the entire NHL. His saucer passes (both forehand and backhand) are spellbinding. Backstrom finished the 2017–18 campaign by celebrating his first Stanley Cup championship and he’ll celebrate again early in 2018–19 when he registers his 800th career NHL point. He’s currently at 799 with only Patrick Kane, Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby and Ovechkin ahead of him since 2007–08 – and Henrik Sedin is the only player to register more assists than Backstrom over the same period.
Did they get it right? The next five centers in front of Backstrom are Kuznetsov, Tyler Seguin (24), Steven Stamkos (21), Patrice Bergeron (18) and Auston Matthews (16). As good as he is, it’s hard to argue moving Backstrom ahead of any of those.
No. 25 Evgeny Kuznetsov
Next center in front of him: No. 24 Tyler Seguin
Next center behind him: No. 28 Nicklas Backstrom
If you didn’t know who Kuznetsov was before this postseason, you sure do now. With 32 points in 24 games, the Conn Smythe came down to him and Alex Ovechkin. While Ovechkin walked away with the award, not many would have complained had Kuznetsov walked away with the trophy instead.
Sportsnet wrote, “Alex Ovechkin was a very worthy post-season MVP last spring, but strip all sentimentality away from the vote and you have to wonder if the award would have gone to Kuznetsov. … (T)he list of active players to record more than 10 goals and 20 assists in a single post-season goes exactly three deep: Evgeni Malkin, Logan Couture and Kuznetsov.”
Kuznetsov’s superstar skills were apparent to Washington fans, but the 2018 playoffs will mark the transition for him from a local hero to NHL star.
No. 8 Alex Ovechkin
Next winger in front of him: None
Next winger behind him: No. 10 Nikita Kucherov
Having Ovechkin come in at No. 8 on the list is a very poetic touch. For a list that is meant to rank the best players as of today, it is a surprise to see the Great 8 come in ahead of Kucherov. Yes, Ovechkin outplayed him in their playoff series, but Kucherov is only 25 and scored 100 points last season.
Age, however, was not a factor for Ovechkin last season, notes Sportsnet.
“Now on the back half of his career, the soon-to-be 33-year-old is showing no signs of slowing down offensively. But he’s demonstrating he can bring play at both ends of the ice, too.”
Did they get it right? To still have Ovechkin as the best winger speaks to how incredible his 2017-18 season was. It’s hard to argue he should be any higher than he is considering he’s already ahead of Kucherov which is a bit of a surprise.
When you read this list, you realize just how much talent there is in the NHL. Here’s the last five players on the list:
96. Charlie McAvoy
97. Corey Crawford
98. Viktor Arvidsson
99. Max Pacioretty
100. Alexander Radulov
T.J. Oshie is the only other Caps player you could really make a case for to make the list, but judging from the players who just barely made the cut, you couldn’t really call Oshie a “snub.”
Here are the 10 best players in the NHL right now according to Sportsnet:
1. Connor McDavid
2. Sidney Crosby
3. Evgeni Malkin
4. Victor Hedman
5. Nathan MacKinnon
6. Erik Karlsson
7. Anze Kopitar
8. Alex Ovechkin
9. Drew Doughty
10. Nikita Kucherov
The two best players in the league are McDavid and Crosby. It may pain Caps fans to admit that, but it’s true. Good on the panelists for correctly recognizing McDavid as the best player in the game. There’s a reluctance among some analysts to put him above Crosby, but there’s no question in my mind that his talent has already surpassed everyone in the NHL.
Interesting to see Hedman ahead of Karlsson. Karlsson didn’t have the best season last year, but Karlsson for my money is the best blueliner in the league whose reputation may be slightly tainted by the stink of Ottawa.
Those are minor quibbles. The one player that stands out to me as way too high on the list is Malkin.
Malkin is a tremendous talent, a top 10 player in the league, but No. 3? You mean to tell me that if McDavid and Crosby were to retire before the season began, all eyes would be on Malkin as the league’s top player? I don’t buy it.
Malkin has never dealt with the pressures that come with being the best player on the team, the guy a team builds around and that every other player on the team looks to when they need a boost. While Backstrom’s contributions always seem to be undervalued because he plays in the shadow of Ovechkin, people are much quicker to give Malkin the benefit of the doubt despite playing in Crosby’s shadow.
Did they get it right? Karlsson is the best defenseman in the NHL, but the real problem here is Malkin.
A top 10 player? Sure. Top three? No way.