5. Nicklas Lidstrom (Detroit Red Wings)
Nicklas Lidström is considered the top NHL defenceman of his era, having won the Norris Trophy as the NHL’s best defenceman three consecutive seasons (first since Bobby Orr) from 2001-02 to 2002-03 and again from 2005-06 to 2007-08. He has been nominated for the award a total of nine times in the past ten seasons, the first three times finishing as the runner-up, and has won it in six of the last seven (2004-05 had no winner due to the NHL lockout).
Never a big and bruising defender, many experts say that the secret behind Lidström’s consistent game is his ability to read the game; this, combined with his excellent skating ability, allows him to be at the correct spot of the ice at the correct time.
In his seventeen NHL seasons all with the Detroit Red wings, Lidström has won four Stanley Cups, various NHL trophies and has been voted into ten NHL All-Star games. To date, he is the only European-born and trained NHL captain to win the Stanley Cup.
Why he’s so important: He is the backbone to the Detroit Red Wings success over the last 15+ years which includes four Stanley Cups. He is still considered one of the best, if not the best defenseman in the NHL today. He broke the European Stanley Cup winning Captain curse after the Yzerman era, which goes to show how good and important he really is and was to this Detroit franchise. It’s only because of his older age and projected years remaining that does not earn him a higher spot. Nick is in my opinion the difference between Detroit winning another Cup or just being a playoff team.
4. Evgeni Malkin (Pittsburgh Penguins)
Chosen second overall in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft by the Penguins, Malkin’s career in the NHL was delayed because of an international transfer dispute until 2006-07, in which he captured the Calder Memorial Trophy as the league’s best rookie. In his second season, he helped carry Pittsburgh to the 2008 Stanley Cup Finals and was a runner-up for the Hart Memorial Trophy. The following season, Malkin totaled 113 points and won the Art Ross Trophy, awarded annually to the top-scorer in the NHL. He then led all players in playoff scoring, en route to a Conn Smythe Trophy and the Stanley Cup championship.
To begin his NHL career, Malkin set a modern-day record as the first player to score at least one goal in each of his first six games. No player had achieved this feat since the league’s inaugural season in 1917-18 , when Joe Malone scored at least one goal in 14 consecutive games to start his NHL career.
Why he’s so important: When Sidney Crosby went down with a bad knee injury halfway through the year two seasons ago, Malkin carried the Penguins team to the playoffs which at the time looked like an impossible feat, and this showed everyone Malkin is just as important to the Penguins success on the ice as Crosby is, maybe even more depending on who you ask. He is a playoff performer and he proved that by winning the Conn Smythe Trophy last season. He scores the most timely goals for his team. He is an automatic 100 point player.
3. Martin Brodeur (New Jersey Devils)
In the 1993-94 season , Brodeur gained recognition when he won the Calder Trophy, an annual award for the best rookie in the NHL, after leading the Devils to the second best record in the league and the Eastern Conference Finals in the playoffs.
Brodeur won at least 35 games in every season between 1996-97 and 2007-08 with the New Jersey Devils, and is the only goalie in NHL history with seven 40-win seasons. He is a four-time Vezina Trophy winner, a four-time Jennings Trophy winner, a ten-time NHL All-Star, a Calder Memorial winner, and one of only two NHL goaltenders to have scored goals in both the regular season and the playoffs.
In Brodeur’s 15-year tenure, he has led the New Jersey Devils to three Stanley Cup championships and has taken them to the playoffs all but once. Brodeur is the NHL’s all-time leader in regular season wins by a goaltender, and ranks second in all-time regular season shutouts. He also holds numerous other league and franchise records.
Why he’s so important: Brodeur is basically the Devils history. Without him, the Devils would most likely still be known today as an average team like they were before Brodeur arrived, and that’s if the New Jersey franchise would have lasted this long. Still to this day he keeps the Devils team competitive and an annual playoff team when they probably have no business being there. He gets better with age, so as long as he wants to go for, expect the Devils to be competitive.
2. Sidney Crosby (Pittsburgh Penguins)
Crosby made his NHL debut with the Penguins on October 5, 2005 against the New Jersey Devils, and registered an assist on the team’s first goal of the season, scored by Mark Recchi in a 5–1 loss. He scored his first NHL goal in the Penguins’ home opener on October 8 against the Boston Bruins.
In Crosb’y first season, he finished sixth in scoring with 102 points (39 goals, 63 assists). By his second season, he led the NHL with 120 points (36 goals, 84 assists) to capture the Art Ross Trophy, becoming the youngest player and the only teenager to win a scoring title in any major North American sports league. That same season, Crosby won the Hart Memorial Trophy as the most valuable player as determined by the Professional Hockey Writers Association, and the Lester B. Pearson Award as the most valuable player as determined by the NHL players association. He is the seventh player in NHL history to haved earned all three awards. After losing to the Detroit Red Wings in the 2008 Stanley Cup Finals, Crosby won his first Stanley Cup in 2009, becoming the youngest captain in NHL history to win the championship.
Why he’s so important: He is a generational talent that not only possesses world class skill, but he also makes average players good, and an average looking team great. Because of his star power, he is one of the reasons the Penguins are getting a new arena built which looked bleak just a few years back. He is a fan favorite who has resurrected hockey back into Pittsburgh to a point where they sellout every night. He is a class act off the ice who personally connects with fans.
1. Alexander Ovechkin (Washington Capitals)
Alexander Ovechkin had been projected as the first overall pick for nearly two years before he was drafted, and had earned comparisons to Mario Lemieux and Mike Bossy.
Ovechkin was the first overall selection in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft by the Washington Capitals. Due to the 2004-05 NHL lockout, he began play in the 2005-06 NHL season, in which he won the Calder Memorial Trophy for Rookie of the Year. During the 2007-08 season, he led the NHL with 65 goals and 112 points to capture the Rocket Richard and Art Ross trophies. That season he also won the Lester B. Pearson Award as the top player voted by the NHL players association and the Hart Memorial Trophy as the league’s MVP. In 2009, he again won the Hart, Pearson, and Richard awards. He is the only player to win all four awards since the Rocket Richard Trophy’s inception in 1999.
Why he’s so important: He is a pure game changer that can carry his team on his back. He has one of the best personalities for a player in the NHL making him not only a fan favorite, but a player favorite. He has turned Washington into a hockey town with near sellouts upwards of 19,000 fans decked out in red every night, when just a few years ago the team had trouble attracting 11,000 fans. He is signed with the Capitals for the next 12 years making him in my opinion the most valubale player to his team when you add in his talent and star power as well.