With this decade ending in exactly 18 days, one must ask him or her self:How does one judge skill? Is such a player a great Hitter? Shot Blocker? Great Passer? Pure Sniper? Dangler? Or just a plain old pest? This blog not only counts down the top NHL players and goalies, it provides you, the reader and avid watcher of our great sport, the identies of such players. Well, without further ado... the top 10 greatest players of this decade.
10. Jaromir Jagr
Before he left for the KHL in 2008, Jagr amassed 737 points in the decade, leading the NHL in assists (69) in 2000-01 and points in two seasons (1999-2001). He was the player-voted MVP in 2000 and 2006, and made four all-star teams.
The problem for Jagr is that his masterpiece came in the last season of the 1990s: That 127-point MVP campaign with the Pittsburgh Penguins. In the 2000s, he spent two fantastic years with the Pens before losing his smile with the Washington Capitals for two-and-a-half average seasons. He found his game again with the New York Rangers, posting stellar numbers despite playing in a defensive system.
But the previous decade was more memorable for Jagr. And not just because of the mullet.
9. Joe Thornton
With 794 points in the decade playing for the Boston Bruins and San Jose Sharks, Thornton was a six-time all-star and the winner of both the Art Ross and Hart trophies in the 2005-06 season.
No, his 44 points in 59 playoff games wasn't impressive, and neither was the constantly underwhelming performance from his teams in the postseason. But Thornton was arguably the best assist man of the decade, leading the League three times in that category; and his 96-assist, 125-point MVP season remains of the decade's truly remarkable personal achievements.
8. Joe Sakic
Sakic only played 59 games in his last two seasons (curse you, demonic snow blower!) before retiring last summer for the Colorado Avalanche, which dragged down his stats significantly. He ended up with 650 points for the 2000s, although he never led the NHL in any major offensive category during the decade -- outside of plus/minus in 2000-01 (plus-45).
That 2000-01 season the best of Sakic's career: 54 goals, 118 points and both the Hart and the Pearson (and the Lady Byng ... can't forget about sportsmanship).
Why does he rank above Jagr and Thornton, who outscored him? Because neither of them played in a Stanley Cup final in the last decade, let alone led all playoff scorers 13 goals and 26 points as Sakic did in 2001. More importantly, neither of them earned the right to have their name on the Stanley Cup as Sakic did for the second time.
He was a star player and a formidable leader. Intangibles count ... as they do for this next dude, too.
7. Jarome Iginla
The Calgary Flames captain was a five-time all-star, a two-time NHL leader in goals (2001-02, 2003-04) and the Pearson winner for his 52-goal season of 2001-02. (He was famously jobbed out of the Hart in a controversy that forced a change in vote tabulation.) Overall, Iggy had 718 points in the 2000s.
He led all playoff scorers with 13 goals in the Flames' 2004 runner-up campaign for the Cup. He then captained the team to four consecutive playoff appearances after that loss. Inconsistency and questionable managerial decisions have undermined the Flames since that pre-lockout Cup run; but no one dare say any of that is Iginla's fault.
6. Scott Niedermayer
Niedermayer solidified his credentials as an all-time great defenseman with two Stanley Cups, one with the New Jersey Devils and the other with the Anaheim Ducks; and his clutch offense and shutdown defense earned him the Conn Smythe in 2007. He won his first and only Norris Trophy in 2003-04.
Niedermayer began the decade with many wondering what he could accomplish offensively if freed from the Devils' systematic defense. He sufficiently answered the question by scoring 216 points in four seasons with the Ducks after signing with Anaheim as a free agent in 2005. He had 415 points overall in the decade.
5. Chris Pronger
Pronger ahead of Niedermayer you might ask? Absolutely.
He tallied 420 points despite being limited to five regular season games in 2002-03 due to an arthritic left wrist and a torn right ACL. Two of Pronger's achievements in the last decade are unmatched by Niedermayer or any other defenseman.
The first was his 1999-2000 season that saw Pronger finished with a career-best 62 points and a plus-52 to lead the NHL, winning both the Hart and the Norris trophies as a member of the St. Louis Blues.
The second was that Herculean effort in the 2006 postseason, as Pronger carried the Edmonton Oilers to within one victory of the Stanley Cup with an effort that had some calling for him to win the Conn Smythe in a losing effort. It was, without question, one of the most dominant postseason runs for any athlete in the NHL over the last decade, perhaps even two decades.
Stay tuned for Pt 2 of the End of the Decade Report: Top 10 best of this Decade.