September 24, 2009
Guess what, kids? Only 98 shopping days left until the end of the decade, which means it's time for subjective lists and honors to be given to the best of the last 10 years. (Our best and worst lists will begin next month, and if they're half as good as what Skeets is doing on Ball Don't Lie, we'll be happy clams.)
The Sporting News is one of the first major publications we've seen to bestow "player of the decade" honors for the NHL, and their choice is Nicklas Lidstrom(notes) of the Detroit Red Wings. Maybe you've heard of him.
But there's a strong case for the runner-up, too.
Lidstrom is an anomaly -- the first European-born player to win a Conn Smythe ( 2002) and the only one to captain a Stanley Cup champion ('08). But the Swedish defenseman's accomplishments cannot be trivialized. Twice in this decade -- from 2001-03 and 2006-08 -- the 17-year veteran has three-peated as the winner of the Norris Trophy. In a word: ridiculous.
(Has anyone, ever, "trivialized" Nicklas Lidstrom's accomplishments? Just asking.)
While championships and trophies shouldn't be the ultimate measure of hockey greatness -- and let's face facts that some of the hardware these guys won was based on reputation -- they should count for something.
Lidstrom has two Stanley Cups, three conference titles, six Norris Trophies and the Conn Smythe. Brodeur has two Stanley Cups, three conference titles, four Vezina Trophies and two Jennings Trophies for best team goals against average. Oh, and J.S. Giguere has his Conn Smythe.
You can't go wrong with either of the choices. Both are considered among the legends in their positions. Both were still collecting accolades and hardware late in their careers. If there's one significant difference between the two, it's that the Red Wings have surged at the end of the decade while Brodeur's Devils have been a postseason migraine since 2003. How much of that falls to Marty is up to you.
We're not going to make our pick in this fight until we publish our own Player of the Decade countdown. We will, however, note that none of the Sporting News' players of the year for the 2000s -- Jaromir Jagr(notes) (twice), Joe Sakic(notes), Jarome Iginla(notes), Peter Forsberg(notes), Martin St. Louis(notes), Sidney Crosby(notes) and Alex Ovechkin (twice) -- were in the final conversation for player of the decade.
Health, age, taking a contract in Russia ... they all play into it. But the best two players of the last 10 years were a defenseman and a goaltender, and that speaks volumes about which positions are underappreciated in the NHL, as well as the marketing challenges the League's faced in selling guys who keep pucks out of, rather than put them into, the net.