NHLPA 2012 Players Poll analysis: Bad news for Canucks, Ovechkin; great news for Blues, Datsyuk

The 2012 NHLPA/CBC Sports Players Poll was released on Sunday online, with three more questions coming up during CBC's coverage of the New Jersey Devils and Montreal Canadiens on Sunday. (Including which city deserves the next NHL franchise.)

The NHLPA poll featured 318 players responding to the questionnaire, which ranged from the usual likes/dislikes to issue-oriented questions like the instigator penalty, for which support has dropped. Some of the answers are obvious: How Zdeno Chara only managed 59 percent for the hardest shot in the NHL is baffling. Some of the answers, however, are a bit more insightful and intriguing.

The full poll and results can be found here.

Now, here's a look at a few of the more contentious and debatable topics, and a few revelations along the way that should be frustrating for the Canucks, the Leafs and Alex Ovechkin.

And here … we … go.

Who is the most overrated team?

Vancouver Canucks 24%
Toronto Maple Leafs 18%
Washington Capitals 15%
New York Rangers 9%
Ottawa Senators 4%
Pittsburgh Penguins 4%

My, how the overrated have fallen. The Washington Capitals won this poll in a walk last season with 35%. Now they're not even worth the trouble anymore. Instead, it's the Canucks who move from 12 percent last season to the top spot this season, no doubt buoyed by their timid Stanley Cup Final performance against Boston, the lack of testicular fortitude from their star starting goaltender and the usual Sedin jealousy/Burrows loathing that permeates these polls.

The Leafs at No. 2? Well, if they have the League's most overrated player

Who is the most underrated team?

St. Louis Blues 26%
Nashville Predators 21%
Ottawa Senators 11%
Florida Panthers 11%
New York Islanders 10%
Toronto Maple Leafs 5%

Talk to players and management around the NHL and you'll understand this is no aberration: The Blues have the respect of the League right now, not only as a playoff team but as a Cup contender. You hear a lot of "people don't realize how good they really are." Which, I guess, is code for "underrated."

Last year's winners were the Nashville Predators. Gone from last year's list: The Phoenix Coyotes and Dallas Stars.

Only in Toronto can you have the second most overrated and sixth most underrated team …

Who is the toughest player?

Milan Lucic, Boston Bruins 20%
Zdeno Chara, Boston Bruins 17%
Shawn Thornton, Boston Bruins 11%
Brian McGrattan, Nashville Predators 7%
Matt Carkner, Ottawa Senators 4%
George Parros, Anaheim Ducks 4%

Last year's winner was the late Derek Boogaard.

This one just goes to show how certain acts and certain performances on the big stage can change perceptions. Lucic had 4-percent support last season. After winning the Stanley Cup in a physical domination of the Vancouver Canucks, running over Ryan Miller this season and generally never backing down from a fight, Looch tops the list.

Thornton didn't make the cut last season; now, because of the playoff run and the Bruins' reputation, he's ranked third. Also, we imagine, because he's an incredible debater when speaking to Vancouver columnists on Boston sports talk shows.

As for McGrattan, this vote would seem to indicate his peers see him, Thornton and Parros as the reigning heavyweight champs. Sorry, John Scott.

Who is the most difficult player to play against?

Pavel Datsyuk, Detroit Red Wings 26%
Zdeno Chara, Boston Bruins 19%
Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins 9%
Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh Penguins 7%
Jonathan Toews, Chicago Blackhawks 4%
Shea Weber, Nashville Predators 3%

Seeing Datsyuk on top is no surprise, given that last year's winner Sidney Crosby's been out of action for most of the last 365 days. Dats was third last year behind Chara, and he's having an MVP season for the Red Wings.

What's interesting is to see Crosby clinging to a lead over Malkin in this category, given that Malkin's been unstoppable for stretches this season.

Even more interesting: Alex Ovechkin, fourth last season with 8 percent, no longer ranks in the Top 6 for the players that are toughest to play against. Because he isn't anymore.

FOR GOALIES: Who is the player that's most difficult to stop?

Pavel Datsyuk, Detroit Red Wings 24%
Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay Lightning 12%
Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins 12%
Alexander Semin, Washington Capitals 12%
Nathan Gerbe, Buffalo Sabres 6%
Evgeni Malkin Pittsburgh Penguins 6%

You have dangle-master Datsyuk, Richard candidate Stamkos, the brilliant Crosby, the surging Semin, Nathan Gerbe, the masterful Malkin … WAIT, NATHAN GERBE?

Nathan Gerbe. As they say, you can't stop what you can't see. And Gerbe is, of course, Lilliputian.

You winner last year: Alex Ovechkin with 27 percent. And, once again, the mighty have fallen.

Who is the most underrated player?

Loui Eriksson won this one last season. There's an interesting comparison to be drawn here between the NHLPA poll (318 players responded to the questionnaire) and the recent Sports Illustrated players poll (179 NHL players):



Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins 9%

Loui Eriksson, Dallas Stars

Jamie Benn, Dallas Stars 6%

Jamie Benn, Dallas Stars

Loui Eriksson, Dallas Stars 4%

Joe Pavelski, San Jose Sharks

Claude Giroux, Philadelphia Flyers 3%

Jordan Staal, Pittsburgh Penguins

David Krejci, Boston Bruins 3%

Chris Kelly, Boston Bruins

David Backes, St. Louis Blues 3%

Pavel Datsyuk, Detroit Red Wings

So did the sample SI chose consider Bergeron to be rated properly? Did the NHLPA sample consider Pavelski overrated?

Bottom line: At some point Eriksson needs to stop being on these lists. If you have the respect of your peers annually in a question like this, no one's underestimating you.

Also, perhaps the new standard should be: If you're an all-star player, you're not underrated. Chris Kelly is underrated. Claude Giroux?

Who is the best referee?

Paul Devorski 19%
Kelly Sutherland 15%
Wes McCauley 13%
Dan Van Massenhoven 9%
Stephen Walkom 6%
Kyle Hehman 6%

Did last year's winner, "NONE", retire?

Or did the NHL step in and say, "Hey, couldja not offer 'NONE' as an option this year? OK thanks"?

Sutherland was second to NONE last season; now he's second to Paul Devorski, who was fifth last year. Veteran guy, calls a consistent game. Interesting to see Stephen Walkom, who left the NHL front office to get back on the ice, a little lower than expected.

We wish they would have done a worst referee list, even if it would have been a match race between Tim Peel and Stephane Auger.

What team would you most like to play on?

Chicago Blackhawks 14%
Detroit Red Wings 13%
Boston Bruins 11%
Toronto Maple Leafs 8%
Montreal Canadiens 6%
Tampa Bay Lightning 5%
(The Rangers were tied for seventh with San Jose and Vancouver.)

The Blackhawks were third in this vote last season, with Detroit winning at 14 percent. Joel Quenneville is the second most popular choice for coach the players would like to play for. There's tons of talent there, two years removed from a Stanley Cup. And it's a class Original Six organization. Not a big surprise.

Three points of interest: For all the talk of intense pressure keeping players away from Toronto and Montreal, they both rank as a more popular destination than New York.

Also, you have to go all the way down to seventh place to find a team out West.

But perhaps most puzzling: What does it say that the Pittsburgh Penguins have the coach players would most like to play for in Dan Bylsma but don't have one of the Top 9 teams players would like to play for?