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Who is the NHL's best player right now?

| Friday, Feb. 29, 2008

That was the question posed to members of the hockey media throughout North America. The criteria were simple: Forget the past, ignore the future, and consider only the present. Who is the NHL's best player right now• The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review received 42 responses from team beat writers and national analysts. The results provided an overwhelming answer to that question - one that figures to have Penguins fans talking, if nothing else:

Player Team Position Votes
Alexander Ovechkin Washington Left wing 20
Nicklas Lidstrom Detroit Defense 7
Sidney Crosby Penguins Center 6
Jarome Iginla Calgary Right wing 4
Vincent Lecavalier Tampa Bay Center 2
Dany Heatley Ottawa Left wing 1
Daniel Alfredsson Ottawa Right wing 1
Chris Pronger Anaheim Defense 1


2007-08 stats (through Feb. 14):

• Games 58 • Goals 48 • Assists 30 • Points 78 • Plus/minus 13

Ovechkin, 22, paced the NHL in points, goals, power-play goals (17), winning-goals (8) and shots (318). He recorded two four-goal and five-point games over a span of 34 days from Dec. 29 to Jan. 31. He had scored 21 goals in the third period or overtime, and 13 in the final 10 minutes of games. He improved his plus/minus to 19th among forwards after registering a minus-19 last season.

Outside opinion

Tim Panaccio, Philadelphia Inquirer: "Ovechkin brings one element to his game that Sidney Crosby lacks - a tough, nasty, physical edge to go with all that raw skill. Crosby is infinitely more fun to watch, but right now, Ovechkin is the best player."

Red Fisher, Montreal Gazette: "Most valuable to his team in the league. Most goals. Most exciting to watch. Most fearless."

Mark Spector, National Post: "The object is to score and accrue points, and he does both of those things better than everyone else. Ovechkin is the classic Euro-scorer - Crosby does many things, but he is not that."

Aaron Portzline, Columbus Dispatch: "Not only is he a relentless shooter, but his passionate play without the puck puts him a half-notch above the likes of Crosby."

Darren Eliot, Sports Illustrated: "He plays with verve and he plays for keeps both physically and on the attack."

Scott Burnside, ESPN: "I am struck by just how dynamic he is. Tough as nails, loves to hit, even seems to love being hit, drives the net like nobody else in the game, has a fearsome shot and has almost single-handedly dragged the Capitals back into the division lead."


2007-08 stats (through Feb. 14):

• Games 59 • Goals 7 • Assists 49 • Points 56 • Plus/minus 40

Lidstrom, 37, topped all defensemen in assists and points. He paced the league in plus/minus and rated second in assists and ice-time (27:16), 21st overall in points. He has won the Norris Trophy in five of past six seasons.

Outside opinion

Michael Farber, Sports Illustrated: "Lidstrom is the best player on the best team. He is one of the best ever at his position in the history of the NHL. As exciting as Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Alexander Ovechkin might be, would anybody make the argument that Lidstom is not the best player?"

Helene St. James, Detroit Free Press: "He plays in every single key situation. He is always out against opposing top forwards. He reads plays and controls the game better than anyone, makes incredible outlet passes, has an accurate shot from the point and is never out of position."

John Buccigross, ESPN: "No player has a bigger impact on the game. He also has the ability to raise his level of play at the end of a game, which is the true measure of greatness."

Paul Hunter, Toronto Star: "His play is usually flawless. He is a brilliant player who is sometimes underrated because we have simply come to expect that brilliance every night."

Dan Wood, Orange County Register: "If you see this guy make a mistake of any kind, you have headline news."


2007-08 stats (through Feb. 14):

• Games 46 • Goals 20 • Assists 43 • Points 63 • Plus/minus 15

Crosby, 20, rated eighth in assists, 11th in points and 44th in goals. Has not played since Jan. 18 due to a high right ankle sprain; paced league in assists and tied for NHL lead in points at time of his injury. He recorded a 19-game point streak from Oct. 6 through Nov. 17 - the longest streak this season. He is the reigning winner of the Hart Trophy, Art Ross Trophy and Lester B. Pearson Award.

Outside opinion

Len Ziehm, Chicago Sun-Times: "Injured or not, the best player has to be Sidney Crosby. He does it all, on and off the ice."

Pierre Durocher, Journal de Montreal: "The best player is Crosby. Alexander Ovechkin is spectacular, but Crosby is the best all-around player. He is also serious and professional off the ice. He's tough to beat."

Rick Sadowski, Rocky Mountain News: "Crosby's all-around game is second to none. Avalanche coach Joel Quenneville said following Crosby's visit to Colorado earlier this season, and I am paraphrasing here, that coaches and players could breathe again once Crosby leaves the ice for the bench."

Bruce Garrioch, Ottawa Sun: "Crosby has the skills to pay the bills. Nobody does more for their franchise, hands down, than this guy. He is the real deal through and through."

Pierre LeBrun, Canadian Press/Rogers Sportsnet: "I know from my discussions with GMs and scouts around the NHL that if the league emptied its rosters and had a general draft, Crosby would go No. 1 followed closely by Ovechkin at No. 2."


2007-08 stats (through Feb. 14):

• Games 57 • Goals 35 • Assists 34 • Points 69 • Plus/minus 20

Iginla, 30, ranked third in goals, fifth in shots (238), seventh in points, 27th in assists, eighth in power-play goals (12) and 10th in plus/minus. He was tied for second in winning-goals (7) and road-goals (19). He had recorded multiple points in 16 games.

Outside opinion

Kevin McGran, Toronto Star: "He's a one-man show in Calgary. He is better-rounded than Alexander Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby. It's hard to keep (Calgary coach) Mike Keenan happy at the best of times, and Iginla has. And, really, has anybody heard of Kristian Huselius without him?"

Scott Cruickshank, Calgary Herald: "It's probably because I see him every day... but the best player is Iginla because he leads, he scores, he hits, he fights, he checks, and he is a stand-out off the ice."

John Shipley, St. Paul Pioneer Press: "He's a clutch and prolific scorer. He makes his teammates better. He leads by example and demeanor. He works every shift and you won't find a better guy in any locker room. His game is equal parts grit and finesse. He does it all."

Jeremy Rutherford, St. Louis Post-Dispatch: "Iginla might have the best combination of skill and toughness in the league."


The Trib's Penguins beat writer Rob Rossi answers the question he asked his peers:

Defined, "best" means "of the highest quality, excellence or standing."

Given that definition, and the requirement that I pick a player who is "best... right now," my choice is Detroit defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom.

There is no right answer to this question. Statistics are misleading; they can be used to strengthen or weaken any argument.

If I picked Sidney Crosby, clearly the best offensive player that I see most often, I could be accused of being a "homer." If I picked Alexander Ovechkin, the player I favor to win the Hart Trophy, I could be accused of confusing the term "best" with "most valuable."

Hockey, at its core, is about goals, and they are a lot easier to score when Lidstrom is off the ice. He is on the ice a lot, and manages to give (offensive chances) as good as he gets (into defensive position). He consistently makes more positive impact than any player at any position. He is, in a word, excellence.

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