Not unlike the other professional sports leagues in North America, the NHL through its owners and down to its fans, puts an emphasis on hockey’s stars. As players emerge as the “best” at what they do, fans, media, front office suits and even players forge opinions on who the top players in the game are. Some players don’t get enough love, while others get too much, whether it’s because of what they’ve accomplished in the past, their popularity or regular season numbers. The bottom line, some players are just plain overrated. If you missed Saturday’s post, you can find numbers 10 through six here. Let’s get to the top five.
5. Ryan Miller – Buffalo Sabres
Ryan Miller is a very good NHL goaltender, but after two great seasons and his performance for Silver Medalist Team USA in the 2010 Winter Olympics, he hasn’t done much. Since winning the Vezina in 2010, Miller’s numbers and play have dipped to middle-of-the-pack level. In the 2010-11 season, the Sabres netminder sported a pedestrian 2.59 goals against average with a .916 save percentage. He followed that up with a slightly lower GAA, the same SV% and three fewer victories (31). Obviously, it makes it more difficult to put up sparkling numbers when the team in front of you is pretty average, but many considered Miller to be one of, if not the best in the world a couple of years ago. His play of late has not matched those expectations.
4. Joe Thornton – San Jose Sharks
Jumbo Joe has become well known for racking up points by creating lots of space for his teammates and piling up the assists. He even created the anomaly known as Jonathan Cheechoo in the first season after the lockout. However, as much as he can shine as a playmaker, his production met its apex in 2007, and he hasn’t been able to help get the Sharks past the Western Conference Finals as a clutch playoff performer. His postseason numbers aren’t bad, but when was the last time you heard about Thornton carrying his team to the top?
3. Roberto Luongo – Vancouver Canucks
Getting traded from the Florida Panthers to Vancouver is both the best and worst thing that ever happened to Roberto Luongo. He established himself as an above-average goalie on some pretty poor Cats teams early in his career before getting shipped off to the Canucks, where the spotlight shined directly at him. Behind a perennial playoff contender, Luongo’s numbers improved markedly and he became an All-Star. He even enjoyed a two-year stint as captain of the Canucks. However, with raised expectations came pressure. Pressure is what Luongo has seemed to always struggle with, even during his team’s run to the Finals in 2011. Inconsistency caused by pressure is Luongo’s downfall. He can look all-world on one night and porous on another, it’s what has caused his numbers to slowly regress to the mean over the last few seasons. Cory Schneider’s emergence has proved that Luongo is not as important to the Canucks as he was once believed to be, and now the embattled goalie will either find himself on a new team, or making a lot of money as a backup.
2. Rick Nash – New York Rangers
All we heard about this season and into the summer was about where Rick Nash would end up. The former Columbus Blue Jackets star grew unhappy on a poor team and asked to be traded. Nash’s career got off to a promising start, as the number one pick in 2002 tied Jarome Iginla and Ilya Kovalchuk for the 2004 Rocket Richard Trophy. He consistently produced as Columbus’ only true scorer, helping them to the playoffs for the first time in 2009. After a quick first-round exit, the Jackets failed to build around their star and his disinterest showed with declining point totals over the last three seasons. However, a team can only go as far as its best players and the Jackets were doomed once “Slick Rick” started going through the motions. It will be interesting to see how Nash adjusts to the attention he’ll get in New York and we’ll soon find out whether he can flip the switch back on to being the player he was four years ago.
1. Alex Ovechkin – Washington Capitals
A few years ago, it looked like Alex Ovechkin was well on his way to becoming one of the game’s next all-time greats. He burst onto the scene scoring at least 50 goals and 100 points in four of his first five seasons. The last two seasons, the Great Eight has seen as precipitous drop off in his production, failing to crack 40 goals. If his 32 goals and 85 points were considered a down year in 2010-11, the meager 65 points he put up last year can be considered awful by a player of his standards. With Sidney Crosby missing so much time due to concussion problems, Ovi could have claimed the NHL as his, but he failed. He has also failed to lead his team deep into the playoffs, having one coach fired and another resigning in the process. Alex Ovechkin has a lot of work to do to regain his place as one of the top three players in the league.
Who do you think is overrated? Do you agree with this list?