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Joe Sakic and the top 10 NHL centers of all-time

Greg Wyshynski
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There's no question that Joe Sakic is one of the greatest players of his generation, or any generation. His induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame this week underscores that, as do his lofty places on the NHL's all-time scoring lists, despite skating through quasi-legal clutches and grabs for a good portion of his prime. (And actually facing goaltenders with technique, and defensive systems designed to shut him down.)

But what about at his position?

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In the last 25 years, we've seen the center spot dominated by the greatest player to ever lace up the skates, and the player many assume could have been even greater had it not been for his various ailments. We've seen two of the greatest captains in NHL history own the position in various ways.

If you were going to craft a Top 10 all-time greatest centers, Sakic would make the cut. But where?

Adrian Dater of the Denver Post put together a group of 10 great hockey minds (OK, nine and myself) to ascertain where Sakic falls in the "best of all-time" ranking, ahead of the former Colorado Avalanche captain's induction.

The list, via the Denver Post (first place on each ballot got 10 points and yadda yadda):

1.  Wayne Gretzky, 100
2.  Mario Lemieux, 89
3.  Jean Béliveau, 74
4.  Mark Messier, 68
5.  Phil Esposito, 39
6.  Steve Yzerman, 36
7.  Bryan Trottier, 34
8.  Joe Sakic, 31
9.  Stan Mikita, 16
10.  Howie Morenz, 12

Others receiving votes: Igor Larionov, 11; Bobby Clarke, 10; Peter Forsberg, 7; Peter Stastny, 5; Marcel Dionne, 4; Ron Francis, 4; Bill Cowley, 3; Sidney Crosby, 1; Pat LaFontaine, 1; Henri Richard, 1; Adam Oates, 1.

Obviously, there are some generational challenges when voting for an "all-time" list. For example, I wasn't able to watch every player on this list. Not because I'm in my mid-30s, but because my family had SportsChannel in the 1980s.

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That said, my admittedly era-biased contribution to the voting:

1. Wayne Gretzky
2. Mario Lemieux
3. Jean Beliveau
4. Mark Messier
5. Bryan Trottier
6. Steve Yzerman
7. Joe Sakic
8. Peter Stastny
9. Bobby Clarke
10. Pat Lafontaine

I told Dater to give me a shout if I had any oversights, and I still wish he had screamed "PHIL ESPOSITO, DUMMY" into my simian brain. He would have made the cut, likely after Messier.

Outside of that whiff, for the most part, a self-explanatory ranking … but a few clarifications.

Sakic vs. Yzerman rivals Nirvana vs. Pearl Jam in passionate 1990s-centric debates, but Yzerman had higher offensive peaks, a better all-around game and may still trump Nicklas Lidstrom as the best captain in Red Wings history — and that ain't easy. He also modulated his game to become a different player as he aged, which is one of the most admirable traits I find in a professional athlete.

(Scott Stevens, whose leadership Claude Lemieux likened to that of Joe Sakic on Marek Vs. Wyshynski on Monday, was another player who turned his game inside out during his career, to the betterment of his team's success.)

[Also: Ex-teammates Patrick Marleau, Jeremy Roenick feuding again]

Stastny would be considered the greatest playmaker of his era were it not for Gretzky. I've heard that from enough people in the game to buy it. And if you're someone that believes Mats Sundin's greatness was hindered because of the teams he played for, Stastny has 977 regular season games and 93 playoff games. Jeepers.

Clarke's combination of offense, defense and evil is unmatched. I don't know if you could properly compare him to the offensive juggernauts on this list, but he was the best in the world at what he did. And what he did frequently involved his stick and your midsection.

Lafontaine gets the coveted "what if?" spot as an offensive dynamo cut down by injuries (see also: Eric Lindros and Peter Forsberg). But he'd obviously would be off the list had I not brain-farted on Espo. Which is a shame, because I do a really good Espo impression. I feel shame.

Top 10 centers of all-time … what does your list look like? Put'em in the comments.

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