LCS Hockey: Born Again
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March 20, 2019
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Player Ratings - Centers



1. Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins: A few things to watch for this season with Kid Crosby. First, he needs to shoot the puck more. Sid's got a bullet wrister; he simply doesn't use it enough. And he's actually regressing.

As a rookie, Kid Crosby averaged 3.43 shots per game. He averaged 3.16 in his Hart Trophy season and 3.26 last year. That's not gonna cut it. For comparison's sake, Ovechkin averages 5.44 shots, Jokinen averages 4.16, and Lecavalier averages 3.93. If Crosby wants to take his game to the next level, he must shoot the puck. It wouldn't hurt if he added a curve to his blade either, but I digress.

Oddly enough, in Gretzky's third season in pro hockey, he also averaged 3.26 shots per game. In his fourth year (1981-82), Gretzky saw the light and pounded a career-high 369 shots on net for an average of 4.61 shots per game. It began a string of five consecutive seasons with at least 324 shots. It's no coincidence they were also the five most productive seasons of Gretzky's career, translating to an ungodly 375 goals and 1,036 points in 324 games.

Obviously, those sorts of numbers are beyond the realm of possibility in today's NHL, but that doesn't mean Kid Crosby can't learn from the example. This is the year it all clicks. His goal output will jump dramatically. I'm calling 50.

The other key component will be ice time. Kid Crosby averaged 20:50 last year. That was 14th among centers. Ridiculous. Enough already, Therrien. We get it. You don't know how to coach superstars. Read a book or something. Google's your friend.

This is going to be a special season for Kid Crosby. And it's only the beginning.

Provided, of course, an advanced race of space goats doesn't descend upon Earth and enslave all its inhabitants. But that should really go without saying.


2. Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh Penguins: Geno's disappearance in the Cup Finals was devastating, but it's never too late to mend. He'll finish second in scoring to Kid Crosby.


3. Pavel Datsyuk, Detroit Red Wings: (Sunshine) Detroit.

But you want a sneaky good Datsyuk stat? He led the NHL with 144 takeaways. And that was 58 more than his nearest competitor (Mike Modano). It's a testament to his smarts and determination on the backcheck.



Vincent Lecavalier
photo by Matthieu Masquelet

4. Vincent Lecavalier, Tampa Bay Lightning: If not for his shoulder injury, I'd put Lecavalier third. He's simply bigger, tougher, and a better goal-scorer than Datsyuk, but shoulder injuries are always dicey.


5. Joe Thornton, San Jose Sharks: I think my hatred of Snow Thornton is well documented. He might as well have a winged-wheel on his chest. Yet there's no denying the numbers.

Despite only cracking 30 goals twice in his career, the last time coming in 2002-03, Thornton gets more assists than cheap wine, piling up a staggering 255 helpers over the past three seasons.


6. Olli Jokinen, Phoenix Coyotes: Don't look now, but the Desert Dogs could actually be pretty decent this year. Jokinen is a horse. He's the legit No. 1 center the Coyotes have lacked since, well, ever (take that, Roenick!).

Much like an LCS staffer at an open bar, Jokinen has never met a shot he didn't like. He's launched 1,043 pucks on net the past three years, and the trend should continue. He's all but a lock for his fourth-consecutive 30-goal campaign.


7. Mike Richards, Philadelphia Flyers: I like to think of Richards as this generation's Ron Francis, if, you know, Francis occasionally beat the hell out of people. Richards is everything a hockey player should be. He has the skill to go for 30 and 80, the grit to kill penalties, and the toughness to defend teammates. Why isn't the C on his sweater? He's got the goods.


8. Eric Staal, Carolina Hurricanes: After a slight Cup hangover, Staal rebounded nicely last season with 38 goals and 82 points. It earned him a seven-year extension worth a whole lot of sod. And seriously, Staal Sod Farm is a wicked good fantasy team name. Feel free.


9. Ryan Getzlaf, Anaheim Ducks: Considering his hands and wrist shot, Getzlaf's 24 goals were somewhat disappointing, but he did click for more than a point per game.



Stastny and Sakic
photo by Matthieu Masquelet

10. Paul Stastny, Colorado Avalanche: Joe Sakic is coming back for another kick at the can, but the torch has been passed. Stastny is the man in Denver.

Even though he missed time in the middle of the season due to an appendectomy, Stastny's 1.08 points-per-game average was enough to rank eighth among NHL centers. He plays a heady game, relying on his powerful skating stride and uncanny hockey sense to create offense. The same anticipation also makes him solid in the defensive zone and a reliable penalty killer.

And Stastny gets bonus points for still using a wood stick. (Sunshine) trees.


HONORABLE MENTIONS

Brad Richards, Dallas Stars: A nice guy and all, but a No. 2 center and minus-57 for his career. The Bulgarian women's hockey team doesn't get scored on as much as Richards.


Henrik Sedin, Vancouver Canucks: Not only are they creepy as all hell, the Sedin boys are also complete hockey players at both ends of the ice. But 15 goals aren't getting you in the Top 10. Say hi to Gleek for me.


Marc Savard, Boston Bruins: Another season, another 63 assists for Savard. That's three straight with 60+ helpers.


WHICH WAY DO I GO, GEORGE?

Jason Spezza, Ottawa Senators: One of the best playmakers in hockey, Spezza registered a career-high 92 points last season despite posting his lowest points-per-game average (1.21) since the lockout. There's no questioning his talent. His heart and head? Well, that's another matter entirely.

It's time for Spezza to grow the (sunshine) up. Ottawa cleaned house over the summer, banishing the likes of Ray Emery and Brian McGrattan, but the Sens held on to Spezza. They showed their commitment to him. Now it's time he returns the favor.

Fat, drunk, and stupid is no way to go through life, son.



Nicklas Backstrom
photo by Matthieu Masquelet

MOVIN' ON UP

Nicklas Backstrom, Washington Capitals: His 55 assists last season were a bold statement. Bolstered by back-to-back four-assist games in January, Backstrom tallied 55 points over his final 56 contests. He also came through big in the playoffs, potting four goals in the seven-game loss to the Flyers.

With Ovechkin, Semin, and Green in place, it's hard to imagine a better spot for a young playmaker. The supporting cast should keep the dreaded sophomore slump from kicking Backstrom square in the ol' Charlie Browns.


Jordan Staal, Pittsburgh Penguins: There's talk Staal could switch to the wing. Personally, I'd keep him in the middle. The kid's a natural born pivot. That's where he belongs. And there's no shame in being the best third-line center in hockey, especially when you're skating behind Crosby and Malkin. In reward for his selflessness at even-strength, give him premier power-play minutes. Done and done.


Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles Kings: We learn our facts by associating countries with song.

Slo-ve-ni-a! Slo-ve-ni-a!
You border on the Adriatic.
Your land is mostly covered in forests.
And your chief export is Anze.





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