Daruish Gorgirzadeh returns with another comprehensive look at the key players from the NHL.
Welcome to my second article in the series, giving my personal opinion on who the key players for each team are. I have done this to try and help give some of the newer fans of the NHL the chance to learn about who the main guys are. In this article, I have looked at the Northeast Division, which features three ‘Original Six’ teams but did not have much regular season success this year, with only the Boston Bruins and Ottawa Senators making the playoffs this year.
Northeast Division – Eastern Conference
Zdeno Chara (Captain, D)
Zdeno Chara isn’t just the Boston Bruins’ best defenceman, he is also a man mountain on skates. Standing at 6ft 9 without skates, he is the tallest player in the NHL. He is also one of the best defenders in the NHL as well. This was proved at the end of the 2009 season when he was awarded with the Norris Trophy. He was also influential in the 2011 playoffs and ultimately led the team to the Stanley Cup. He is signed with the Bruins for another six years, so it appears he will be patrolling the blue line in Beantown into his 40s, and is showing no signs of slowing down as he progresses.
Tim Thomas (G)
Tim Thomas is the definition of the ultimate journeyman, going from college, to the minors, abroad then finally making the NHL in 2005 with the Bruins. Since being with the Bruins, he has gone on to play some truly remarkable hockey for the team, culminating with him winning two Vezina Trophies, the Conn Smythe Trophy last year and setting the record for save percentage and goals against average last season too. It is a testament to his will and belief that he has made it this far, and at the age of 38, it looks like he may well retire at the end of his contract which is next year or soon after.
Patrice Bergeron (C)
Patrice Bergeron is currently one of the best two-way forwards in the NHL, and it looks like he may well win a Selke Trophy this year for his strong play. He was drafted in the 2nd round in 2003 but still managed to make the team out of training camp. Over the past few years, he has started to focus on the defensive side of his game, which has shown through in his +/- numbers. Seeing that he is only 26, he still has a long time left at the highest level, which will bode well for the Bruins over the years.
Other key players: Tyler Seguin (C), Milan Lucic (LW), David Krejci (C), Nathan Horton (RW), Andrew Ference (D), Dennis Seidenberg (D), Tuukka Rask (G), Rich Peverley (RW), Chris Kelly (LW).
Ryan Miller (G)
Ryan Miller has been the cornerstone of the franchise for the Sabres for a long time now. For the majority of the time, he has provided the Sabres with solid goaltending, sometimes unbelievable, which has always given the team the chance to stay in and ultimately win games. He had a sublime year in the 2009-10 season, where his season was recognised with a Vezina Trophy. He is yet to win a Stanley Cup with the team, however most of the time he does his best for the team and it is the supporting cast that lets him down.
Thomas Vanek (LW)
Thomas Vanek is the main guy on the Buffalo offense, consistently producing the goods for the team. He has scored at least 25 goals since he entered the NHL in 2005. His best year came in 2006-07, where he scored 84 points and was subsequently signed to an offer sheet by the Edmonton Oilers that summer. Although Buffalo matched the Oilers’ offer and managed to retain Vanek, he has not been able to produce another season like that, although in the 2010-11 season he did score 73 points. There appears to be a correlation between Vanek’s point totals and whether the Sabres make the playoffs.
Tyler Myers (D)
Tyler Myers is a giant defenseman, built almost like Zdeno Chara of the Boston Bruins. However, Myers is 6ft 8 and only 22, which means he has a lot of time on his side in the NHL. Since breaking into the league in 2009-10 with an impressive rookie season, which resulted in the Calder Trophy being awarded to him. He did experience a sophomore slump to an extent in his offensive numbers, however in every one of his three seasons he has been at least even on the +/- rating. His season was shortened to 55 games this year as he was injured, however he did sign a contract extension during the season, committing himself to the Buffalo Sabres for another 7 years.
Other key players: Jason Pominville (Captain, RW), Tyler Ennis (LW), Cody Hodgson (C), Christian Ehrhoff (D), Nathan Gerbe (LW), Drew Stafford (RW), Marcus Foligno (LW), Ville Leino (LW).
Carey Price (G)
Back in the summer of 2010, the Canadiens found themselves in a bit of a goaltending dilemma. They had two bonafide starting goaltenders, and although Jaroslav Halak was the man that backstopped them to the Eastern Conference Finals, the Canadiens decided to trade Halak and go with Price as the #1 goalie. In some people’s eyes, they made a mistake. Price is a solid goaltender with the ability to steal a game on some occasions. However, there are times when his goaltending is weak and has cost the Canadiens. However, he is only 24 so there is time for him to mature and become a top player in this league.
P.K. Subban (D)
P.K. Subban is like marmite. You either love him or you hate him. To some, his confidence is well merited when you look at his ability and it is a breath of fresh air to the league. Others, especially the veterans of the league, think that he is a brash, arrogant guy who has not done enough to act how he does. However there is no denying it, P.K. Subban is a good player, and being only 22 he has a long time to develop into one of the league’s best defensemen. It will be interesting to see if his characters continues to remain or whether he will mellow out with age.
Tomas Plekanec (C)
Tomas Plekanec has been a consistent producer for the Canadiens since he broke into the team in 2005. Although his offensive numbers have not been anything special since he joined the team, he has always been good for the team, providing them with an option for both the powerplay and penalty kill. He is signed with the team for another 5 years, so it looks like he may well end his career with the same team that he started it with.
Other key players: Brian Gionta (Captain, RW), Tomas Kaberle (D), Rene Bourque (RW), Erik Cole (LW), Lars Eller (C), Max Pacioretty (LW), Josh Gorges (D).
Erik Karlsson (D)
Erik Karlsson is one of the elite offensive defenseman in the league and actually led the league for points scored by a defenseman this season with 78 (19g, 59a). The scariest thing about Karlsson is he is only 21 years old, which means he has a lot of time left in the league to get better. Whilst scoring at such an incredible rate for a defenseman, he has also been able to improve his defensive play. Nothing proves this more than the fact that his +/- went from -30 to 16 in one season. I have a feeling that Karlsson will be the leader of the new youthful revolution that appears to be taking place in the next few years. I would also go out on a limb and say that he will be named captain of the team at some point in his career.
Craig Anderson (G)
Craig Anderson has only been with the team for a season and a bit, but he has gone a long way towards reversing the fortunes of the Sens. When he joined the club at the trade deadline last season, the team were on a slump that ended with them finishing in the bottom of the division. However, 12 months on, through his strong play they are in the playoffs, tied 3-3 with the #1 seeded Rangers, which has completely defied everyone’s expectations. He was a bit of a journeyman of a goaltender, playing for a number of teams before being traded to the Sens by the Colorado Avalanche. As a result of his strong play, he was rewarded with a 4 year contract, which means it looks likely he will be backstopping the Sens whilst they continue their transitional period.
Jason Spezza (C)
Jason Spezza has been with the Sens since he was drafted #2 back in 2001 and has been one of their main offensive guys. He was a part of the team that made the Stanley Cup Finals back in 2007 and has remained with the team, even when there were a number of rumours linking him away from Ottawa. This last season saw him produce 84 points, which is more like the numbers he produced for the team earlier in his career. Spezza does have time on his side though, as he is only 28 and has been in the league for 10 years. His contract is due to expire next season, so it will be interesting to see if he remains a Senator or tests the free agency market.
Other key players: Daniel Alfredsson (Captain, RW), Ben Bishop (G), Jared Cowen (D), Sergei Gonchar (D), Kyle Turris (C).
Toronto Maple Leafs
Dion Phaneuf (Captain, D)
Dion Phaneuf is Toronto’s main man at the back and the man that the team hopes will lead them back into the playoffs for the first time since the lockout back in 2004. Acquired in a blockbuster trade with the Calgary Flames in 2010, Phaneuf was given the captaincy by the Leafs as a result of his leadership and determination. Phaneuf is a guy that won’t back down from anyone, and is more than willing to drop the gloves when needs be. He is a hard hitting defenseman, who isn’t too bad offensively either. Phaneuf is an interesting case because he is 27, been captain of the team for 2 years yet has not really had much postseason success in his career. It will be interesting to see whether he will be able to lead the Leafs back into the playoffs or whether at the end of his current contract the team chooses to go in another direction.
Phil Kessel (RW)
Phil Kessel was brought to the Leafs in 2009 in a risky trade with the Boston Bruins. Although his play and offensive numbers have been the best on the team since he joined, the trade was considered a fail, purely because the rest of the team were nowhere near as good and ended up finishing second to last in the league and earning the 2nd overall draft pick. The problem was this pick was dealt to the Bruins as part of the Kessel trade, which they proceeded to use to choose Tyler Seguin. Back to Kessel, he recorded his best season yet this season, playing most of the time with Joffrey Lupul, who also had a career year. The Maple Leafs spent a lot to get Kessel, and even though he has played well, the team hasn’t performed. Luckily, he is only 24 and if he can keep producing the offensive numbers, he should be able to play his part in firing the Leafs back towards the playoffs.
Joffrey Lupul (LW)
Joffrey Lupul was another guy that had a career year last year, even though his season was cut short by injury. Playing on a line with Kessel, Lupul was able to take his game to the next level. Over the past few years, he hasn’t been able to play in that many games due to injuries so for him to play in 66 games with the Leafs this year must be a positive step for him. His play was so good that he even made the All-Star Game. He is another one of the guys that the Leafs will be counting on to get them into the playoffs next year, and as he is only 28, he still has a good future ahead of him in the league provided he can stay injury free.
Other key players: Luke Schenn (D), Clarke MacArthur (LW), Tim Connolly (C), Mikhail Grabovski (C), Nazem Kadri (C), Nikolai Kulemin (LW), James Reimer (G).