Evgeni Malkin was named the NHL MVP in 2011-12. Is he the best player in hockey for 2012-13?
The Pittsburgh Penguins, at 7-1, are the favorites to win the Stanley Cup in 2012-13. Those odds are increased largely due to the fact that they have two of the most talented players in the game of hockey, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
It's no surprise that Crosby is one of the top talents in the game. The Penguins thought he was the best player in a loaded 2005 draft class and selected him first.
That 2005 class also produced players like Bobby Ryan, Carey Price, Devin Setoguchi, T.J. Oshie and teammate Kris Letang, just to name a few.
The year before Sid the Kid captivated the hockey world, Russian players turned heads.
In 2004, the first two picks of the draft came from Russia. Alex Ovechkin went first to the Washington Capitals, and then the Pens selected Malkin.
Those were back-to-back years for the Pens where they snagged arguably the best player in the game. It's no wonder they are constantly in talks for the Stanley Cup.
Malkin certainly hasn't taken a backseat to Crosby when it comes to performance in Pittsburgh. Malkin averages well over a point per game in his six years in the NHL.
After winning the Hart Trophy, Malkin makes a strong case that he is the best player in the league.
The best player in the league that doesn't wear a Penguins jersey took the hockey world by storm again in 2008—Steven Stamkos.
Stamkos was selected No. 1 overall by the Tampa Bay Lightning and wasted no time climbing the ranks of the NHL elite.
Last season, Stamkos netted 60 goals. He is one of only 19 players to score 60 goals or more in a season.
The 22-year-old is two years younger than Crosby and three years younger than Malkin, but his name has become a fixture in MVP conversation year after year.
So who is the best player in 2012-13?
Steven Stamkos scored 10 more goals than any other player in 2011-12.
In order to be considered one of the greats, you have to produce on a consistent basis.
Think about the "Great One," Wayne Gretzky. He has more points than any other player in NHL history (2,857) during his 21-year career.
While longevity is required to be considered one of the greats of all time, production is crucial to be great.
Gretzky netted nearly 3,000 points in 1,487 career games. That's an average of 1.92 points per game, not bad for the NHL's most prolific scorer.
Bring in the three greatest players of the present NHL, Crosby, Malkin and Stamkos. It's unfair to compare career duration due to injuries that have hindered consistency in nightly lineups, but points per game is a fair assessment.
When you are in your team's lineup, do you produce?
Crosby has 609 points in 434 career games. Points per game: 1.40
Malkin has 527 points in 427 career games. Points per game: 1.23
Stamkos has 329 in 325 career games. Points per game: 1.01
Rocket Richard Trophy (Most goals in a season)
Stamkos: 2 (one tie with Crosby)
Crosby: 1 (tied with Stamkos)
Art Ross Trophy (Most points in a season)
It takes more than just offense to be the best player in the league. Malkin grinds with the best of them.
Scoring is a great indicator of how good a player can be, but in order to be great, you have to play on both ends of the ice.
There are a number of things to look at when it comes to two-way play, such as plus/minus-rating, penalty minutes, hits and blocked shots.
Again, we look at the greatest player of all time, Wayne Gretzky. Gretzky finished with a career plus-518 rating, 577 PIM; hits and blocked shots were not an official stat until 2008-09.
Crosby by the numbers
Plus/Minus: Plus-80 (one season with a negative rating, 2005-06)
Hits: 105 (since 2008-09)
Blocked Shots: 73 (since 2008-09)
Malkin by the numbers
Plus/Minus: Plus-43 (two seasons with a negative rating, 2009-10 and 2010-11)
Blocked Shots: 77
Stamkos by the numbers:
Plus/Minus: Minus-five (two seasons positive, two seasons negative)
Hits: 261 (142 more than Malkin)
Blocked Shots: 112 (35 more than Malkin)
Obviously, stats are also dependent on who is around you. The Bolts gave up the most goals of any team last season (3.39 per game).
Penalty minutes can be earned a variety of ways. Some ways are beneficial for the team, such as winning a fight. Some are detrimental.
Blocked shots can be skewed, because if your team allows opponents to have an open season on their goaltender or your team can't clear the zone, you will have more opportunities to block shots.
Take all statistics with some scrutiny, but they do provide a good amount of insight into style of play.
Being great requires respect. Sidney Crosby has the respect of his teammates.
The greatest players in the history of the game have certain intangibles that helped propel them to stardom. Think of guys like Mark Messier, Brian Leetch, Scott Stevens, Nicklas Lidstrom and Patrick Roy, to name a few.
They were leaders that could take over locker rooms and games in a heartbeat. The best players in the game can will their team to victory.
We go back to the numbers that help puts those intangibles into perspective: game-winning goals.
When the team need the best player in the league to step up, does he?
Crosby: 28 GWG in 434 games means basically one game winner every 17 games.
Malkin: 34 GWG in 427 games equals one game winner every 13 games.
Stamkos: 26 GWG in 325 games equals one game winner every 12 games.
Who will be taking this trophy home in 2012-2013?
Let's assume all three players stay healthy throughout the entire 2012-13 season. That means the race for the Rocket Richard, Art Ross and Hart Memorial trophies will be quite exciting.
Predicting who will be the most productive, and the best, player next season is difficult when you can't be wrong with any of these three.
Crosby only played in 22 games last season but had 37 points in that time. That's a pace to record 137 points if he were to play in 82 games. You would think that's possible if he stays healthy all season.
Stamkos scored 60 goals, 10 more than any other player in the league (Malkin was second). With a revamped Lightning team, could he score more?
Malkin led all scorers with 109 points, playing the majority of the season without Crosby in the lineup. If Crosby is healthy all season, does that mean more points for Malkin or less?
The fun comes with the speculation.
Malkin has scored over 100 points in three of his six NHL seasons.
Crosby has scored over 100 points in four of his seven NHL seasons but not since 2009-2010 due to injuries.
Stamkos has scored 90 points or more in three of his four NHL seasons.
Stamkos is the one of the three to play in 82 games in a season the last three years. In fact, Stamkos hasn't missed a game in three years.
One thing about being the best is opportunity. If you're constantly in the lineup, you have constant opportunities.
The other is the best players create their opportunities. When Malkin, Stamkos and Crosby are in the lineup, they create opportunities.
Here are my projections (if everyone stays healthy)
Sidney Crosby: 75 GP, 42 goals, 67 assists (109 points)
Evgeni Malkin: 78 GP, 38 goals, 73 assists (111 points)
Steven Stamkos: 76 GP, 52 goals, 58 assists (110 points)
Art Ross: Evgeni Malkin
Hart Trophy: Steven Stamkos
Rocket Richard: Steven Stamkos
Ted Lindsay: Sidney Crosby
Bill Masterton (if eligible): Sidney Crosby