December 14, 2009
All-Decade Team: NHL
By Michael Farber,
For those of you who adore symmetry, the NHL decade was neatly bifurcated: 4½ seasons of pre-lockout (a.k.a. The Rodeo) and 4½ seasons of post-lockout hockey (a.k.a. The Enlightenment). Not that everything was bad prior to the day the NHLPA took a salary cap, a 24 percent haircut and slunk back to work. Raymond Bourque won a Stanley Cup in 2001, the 2001-02 Red Wings were a team for the ages, and Jarome Iginla and Vincent Lecavalier engaged in the Fight of the Decade during the 2004 Stanley Cup finals. Not that everything was grand thereafter, but the post-lockout era provided generally better hockey and produced two players who could be called once-in-a-generation guys if they hadn't happened to arrive in the same year.

In the fall of 2005, Alexander Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby crashed the NHL. They are not and probably never will be Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux, but in these days of lowered expectations, they will do. So on's All-Decade Team, why is Ovechkin on the first line and Crosby on the second? Three reasons: position, quality of competition and longevity. Crosby cedes some virtual ice time to Joe Sakic, the elegant Avalanche center with the wrist shot of the gods. Eight seasons of Sakic trumps four and a half of Sid, plain and simple.

As you will divine from the lines, there was no attempt to create this team in any sort of a conventional hockey sense. If we had, John Madden might have made it as the checking center and Ty Conklin could have replaced Jean-Sébastien Giguère as the No. 2 goalie. (And you know how much Jiggy loves being a backup.) No, these are simply the most accomplished players of the decade, in our opinion.
Alexander Ovechkin
Team in 2000s: Capitals
NHL debut season: 2005-06
Like the sophomoric game beloved by fourth-graders, that darned Ovechkin always makes you look. Just as the puck seems to follow him on the ice, eyes reflexively follow him from the stands or on the screen. He burst into the NHL after the lockout, a wild mix of speed, skill, physicality and riotous enthusiasm. He scored 52 goals as a rookie, and 65 in 2007-08. If anyone breaches 75 again, it will be the man with the yellow laces in his skates and the tinted face shield. Darth Visor.
Joe Sakic
Team in 2000s: Avalanche
NHL debut season: 1988-89
The anti-Ovechkin, Sakic, who retired before the 2009-10 season, was distinctly understated. (He was amused by the nickname bestowed by members of the Fourth Estate: Quoteless Joe.) But if he hid his own light under a bushel, he kept illuminating the red light behind the goaltender. Sakic had the quickest release in the game, a wicked wrist shot that resulted in 625 career goals, 250 during the decade. He won the Hart Trophy in 2001, a season he capped with his second Stanley Cup.
Jaromir Jagr
Teams in 2000s: Penguins, Capitals, Rangers
NHL debut season: 1990-91
L'Artiste was a man whose conspicuous gifts were as oversized as his moods. Jagr often seemed in need of a muse, especially during those dim seasons in Washington. How dreary were they? Well, in two-and-a-half years of what everyone remembers as professional purgatory for the grand Czech, Jagr still averaged 1.06 points per game. His 123 points for the Rangers in '05-06 should have been enough to capture the Hart Trophy that went to Joe Thornton.
Ilya Kovalchuk
Team in 2000s: Thrashers
NHL debut season: 2001-02
Kovalchuk was Ovechkin before Ovechkin (minus the physical aspect), a dynamic one-on-one player who was often worth the price of admission even if he spent many seasons without a decent center to help him showcase his elite game. Despite starting his career in the Dead Puck Era, Kovalchuk routinely produced, scoring 52 goals twice and never netting fewer than 38 since his rookie season.
Sidney Crosby
Team in 2000s: Penguins
NHL debut season: 2005-06
Occasionally the hype really doesn't do a player justice. Crosby has been as marvelous as advertised since his ballyhooed days as a junior in Canada, turning around a moribund NHL franchise and leading it to the Stanley Cup in his fourth season, at the callow age of 21 -- the youngest to captain a champion. (For the record, Wayne Gretzky needed five years in the NHL to win a Cup; Mario Lemieux took seven.) You can pencil Crosby in for the all-decade team of the 2010s.
Jarome Iginla
Team in 2000s: Flames
NHL debut season: 1996-97
Iginla put the powerful back in power forward, as a player capable of stretches that referenced the play of Gordie Howe. Iginla turned an anticipated cameo with the 2002 Canadian Olympic team into a star turn on and off the ice: While in Salt Lake City, he found and paid for accommodations for four fans from Calgary who were sleeping in a car. He deserved to win the Hart in 2002, inexplicably losing to Montreal goalie José Théodore, but did win the Lester B. Pearson, the MVP award voted by his peers.
Markus Naslund
Teams in 2000s: Canucks, Rangers
NHL debut season: 1993-94
Naslund was a late bloomer in the NHL, but the wait was worth it. As a member of Vancouver's West Coast Express line with Todd Bertuzzi and Brendan Morrison, he ripped off three consecutive 40-goal seasons. Although he faded later in the decade (and retired prior to 2009-10), the classy Swede finished second in scoring twice and was voted first-team All-Star left wing three times.
Joe Thornton
Teams in 2000s: Bruins, Sharks
NHL debut season: 1997-98
His numbers for the decade are weightier than Crosby's -- of course, Thornton had a considerable head start -- but Jumbo Joe trails 1-0 in the all-important Stanley Cup department. If you can gingerly tiptoe around his playoff shortcomings, Thornton had a grand decade, including the 2006 Hart Trophy and two other 100-plus point seasons. He is also the NHL's most adept passer.
Martin St. Louis
Teams in 2000s: Flames, Lightning
NHL debut season: 1998-99
The NHL's favorite munchkin pulled off a rare triple in 2004 by winning the scoring title, the Hart and the Stanley Cup. Later in the decade, he became an annual bridesmaid to Detroit's Pavel Datsyuk for the Lady Byng Trophy (gentlemanly play), a remarkable testament considering the ferocity with which St. Louis competes.
Peter Forsberg
Teams in 2000s: Avalanche, Predators, Flyers
NHL debut season: 1994-95
Yes, Forsberg was primarily a center, but he spent an increasing amount of time on the wing as chronic foot problems dogged him. (Our team. Our rules.) Forsberg, who won a Cup with Colorado in 2001 (he needed a splenectomy during those playoffs), would demand inclusion for no other reason than his 27 points in 20 playoff games in 2002 after missing the entire regular season.
Vincent Lecavalier
Team in 2000s: Lightning
NHL debut season: 1998-99
No, he didn't become hockey's Michael Jordan, as his first owner in Tampa Bay, Art Williams, suggested on draft day 1998. Maybe hockey's Scottie Pippen. Lecavalier did well enough for himself, winning the 2004 Stanley Cup and leading the NHL with 52 goals in 2006-07.
Daniel Alfredsson
Team in 2000s: Senators
NHL debut season: 1995-96
Ottawa's captain sometimes seems like Destiny's Doormat along with the rest of the star-crossed Senators, who kicked away a home Game 7 in the 2003 Eastern Conference finals and lost in the 2007 Cup final. But despite some tumultuous times, this superb two-way player has been a bedrock of reliability, scoring 40 goals twice and being named a second-team All-Star in 2006.
Nicklas Lidstrom
Team in 2000s: Red Wings
NHL debut season: 1991-92's Player of the Decade truly is a man for the 2000s, practically perfect in every modern way. As post-lockout rule changes made the off-the-glass, crease-clearing blueline behemoth practically obsolete, positional hockey became paramount. Lidstrom's body and stick are always where they should be, which is reflected in scant penalty minutes for someone who plays against top lines. He is the NHL's best first-passer, its most astute power play quarterback, and its most refined defenseman, a deserving winner of six Norris Trophies. Only Bobby Orr (8) and Doug Harvey (7) won more.
Scott Niedermayer
Teams in 2000s: Devils, Ducks
NHL debut season: 1991-92
The elegant Niedermayer, the 2007 Conn Smythe winner, won Stanley Cups with both of his teams during the decade. (He's also won world junior and world championships, a World Cup and an Olympic gold medal, but who's counting?) He is hockey's most fluid skater, a brilliant blueline artist who probably can do anything on skates -- including a triple Salchow.
Chris Pronger
Teams in 2000s: Blues, Oilers, Ducks, Flyers
NHL debut season: 1993-94
Pronger, the 2000 Hart and Norris winner, often changed addresses. (So did Wayne Gretzky, as the flippant Pronger eagerly notes.) He plays with a jagged edge that led to six separate suspensions during the decade, including two in the 2007 playoffs, but also logs heavy minutes and is on the ice in every key situation. Martin Brodeur, an Olympic teammate, calls him "the ultimate defenseman."
Sergei Zubov
Team in 2000s: Stars
NHL debut season: 1992-93
The cerebral Zubov left the NHL before the 2009-10 season to play out his dotage in Russia's KHL. Sergei, we hardly knew ye. The most underrated player of the decade -- he never placed in the top two in Norris voting and was a second-team All-Star only once -- spurned chances to play for his country and never sought the NHL limelight. Still, he was adored by the cognoscenti because he didn't play the game as much as orchestrate it. Ken Hitchcock once said that Zubov had the highest hockey IQ of any player he had coached.
Zdeno Chara
Teams in 2000s: Islanders, Senators, Bruins
NHL debut season: 1997-98
The Big Z was often the last word and always the last letter on defense. The 6-9 Chara might have been a dancing bear when he made it to the NHL in 1997-98, but the 2009 Norris winner became the entire carnival, the most feared blueliner in the game because of his freakish strength, stamina and 100 mph-plus shot.
Rob Blake
Teams in 2000s: Kings, Avalanche, Sharks
NHL debut season: 1989-90
Blake probably was more of a force in the 1990s when he was a pup with the Kings than in the 2000s. But even now, at 40, the Sharks' captain remains a franchise defenseman, capable of excelling in all situations and hammering the puck from the point on the power play. In two extended playoff runs with Colorado (including the 2003 Cup), he had 31 points in 43 games.
Martin Brodeur
Team in 2000s: Devils
NHL debut season: 1991-92
In passing Patrick Roy in career wins and equaling (as of this writing) Terry Sawchuk's majestic record for shutouts (103), Brodeur plays a style the late Sawchuk would recognize. While not a circa-1970s stand-up goaltender, Brodeur mostly eschews the butterfly style that Roy popularized. The four-time Vezina Trophy winner, whose team captured a pair of Stanley Cups during the decade, is so adept at handling the puck that the NHL instituted a trapezoid behind the net in 2005 to give forecheckers a sporting chance.
Backup Goaltender
Jean-Sébastien Giguère
Teams in 2000s: Flames, Ducks
NHL debut season:: 1996-97
The fickle nature of the position means the second-best goalie of the decade currently is now the second-best goalie on his own team, behind Jonas Hiller. And while Calgary's Miikka Kiprusoff and Detroit's Chris Osgood arguably have even more impressive bodies of work, Giguère came up big in his allegedly oversized gear at critical times, guarding his net the way a troll minds his bridge while winning the 2003 Conn Smythe Trophy (despite dropping Game 7 of the final to Brodeur) and backstopping the 2007 Cup champions.
Mike Babcock
Teams in 2000s: Ducks, Red Wings
NHL debut season: 2002-03
Babcock, Canada's Olympic coach for 2010, took teams to three Stanley Cup finals, winning with Detroit in 2008 and losing Game 7s with the middling Ducks in 2003 and the defending champion Red Wings last June. The relentless Babcock frets the details, figuring that if they are perfect, the big picture will take care of itself. He knows the game and, as importantly, his players' strengths and weaknesses, about as well as any post-expansion coach.
General Manager
Ken Holland
Team in 2000s: Red Wings
NHL debut season: 1997-98
Without the gaudy high No. 1 picks that have rebuilt other organizations -- Pittsburgh is Exhibit A; Chicago Exhibit B -- the Red Wings simply go about their annual exercise of being excellent. The result: Stanley Cups in 2002 and 2008 and a trip to the 2009 finals. Of course, Holland has leaned on some of the best brains in the business, including adviser Scotty Bowman (until he left for the Blackhawks in 2008), assistant GM Jim Nill and European scouting director Hakan Andersson.

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