Each NHL Team's Smartest Player
Intelligence is measured in many different ways. Back in the dark ages when I took my SAT tests to get into college, my aptitude was measured by a Scan-Tron multiple choice, Powerball-type ticket that could only be used with a No. 2 pencil. If you were unlucky enough to have taken your SAT's with a No. 3 pencil by accident, well Godspeed my friend!
Player intelligence is determined in the sporting world a little differently. The No. 2 pencils and Scan-Trons are replaced by the tools of the particular trade: bat, stick, glove, boot, etc. An athlete can get pretty far on sheer talent, but will eventually run into problems when they reach the level where everyone's skill-set is the same.
Of course, there is plenty of determination, hard work and good fortune that supplement the God-given abilities and make the difference between an NHL player like Patrick Roy or Patrik Stefan. Instincts, hockey sense and a "good feel for the game" can also be used to describe the smarts of some of our favorite NHL players.
Another grading criteria is a player's self awareness. What I mean by this is that what a guy does with his free time says a lot about who he is. A player that spends his free time doing work in the community or donating time and money to charity strikes me as more intelligent than the alternative.
The traditional road to the NHL does not often include a college degree and in many cases, no college at all. That doesn't make hockey players less intelligent, but from the standpoint of how conventional intelligence is measured, some of the sharpest players on the ice might not excel in the classroom.
This list will look at the smartest players on each NHL team. Words like savvy, crafty, clever, slick, perceptive and experienced will flow freely when describing each of these guys. They may not be the most talented or the most exciting to watch, but they are difference makers every night and are a critical part of every locker room.
Anaheim is an easy choice because they have a player who has excelled on nearly every stage. In his prime, Teemu Selanne was one of the premier scorers in the league. At age 42, the "Finnish Flash" can still put up the points, finishing with 66 last season.
Selanne is old and wise, but still skates well enough that many of his Duck teammates (who were just ducklings themselves at the time of his first game) still struggle to keep up.
Boston has about four or five guys who could fit this bill, but I'll give the nod to Patrice Bergeron. Being French-Canadian may not seem like it makes a difference, but the ability to speak more than one language is certainly not the easiest thing in the world.
Bergeron is a smart player who has an enormous amount of skill. He has great vision on the ice, and is just as dangerous whether he passes or shoots. Bergeron is one of the most underrated players in the league, playing a key role on each of Boston's special teams. He's one of the top faceoff men in the league and has been a key to the development of young Bruin sniper Tyler Seguin.
It would be easy to say that the smartest Buffalo Sabre would be Ville Leino for convincing management to sign him to a six-year, $27 million deal. Instead I'm going to select defenseman Robyn Regehr. The Sabres defenseman has led an interesting life that has served him well over his career.
He was born in Brazil to missionary parents that have certainly influenced him based on his work in the community. Regehr is also the youngest player to have been nominated for the Masterson award, acknowledgement for his efforts to make his NHL debut less than four months after having both of his legs broken in a car accident.
Regehr has been a solid player on the ice, known for his defensive play and hitting. While injuries have certainly taken their toll on the 32-year-old defenseman, Regehr knows the game well enough to be an effective presence on a young Sabres team.
At age 35, Jarome Arthur-Leigh Adekunle Tig Junior Elvis Iginla is hardly the player he used to be 15 years ago. That being said, Iginla can still pick his spots and be just as effective as the younger, more aggressive version of himself. He still scored 32 goals last season and was the Flames' leading scorer yet again. In spite of his physical style of play, Iginla hasn't missed a game in five years.
Iginla is far from the most gifted skater, but has managed to become one of the premier scorers in the league. As a black player in a predominately white sport, Iginla had to face more than his share of adversity on and off the ice. He is a fixture in the Calgary community and though his name always comes up in trade rumors, has always shown loyalty to the only NHL club he's ever played for.
As the first rookie goalie to lift the Stanley Cup since Patrick Roy, Cam Ward has set the bar pretty high for himself. His career since the 2006 cup victory may not have followed the path of his more famous and distinguished peer, but Ward has established himself in the Hurricanes locker room and in the Raleigh community.
He is the NHLPA representative for the Hurricanes and very much involved with charities and special needs children in the Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill areas. Ward also owns a rec hockey team in Red Deer which makes regular donations to the Special Olympics in Alberta.
Captain Serious isn't just named for his indifferent and often stoic expression. Toews is an intense, driven leader who is incredibly self aware given his age (24). With a Stanley Cup already on his resume, Toews has the potential to become one of the all-time greats.
Toews speaks English and French as his mother is from Quebec, and spent two years at the University of North Dakota before entering the draft in 2007. He was on his way to a career year last season before a concussion interrupted his season.
While most people assume that goalies are insane, and typically prove prognosticators correct, I tend to believe they have a unique perspective to the game of hockey. Their purpose in the game is to stop goals, and in a typical game they are involved in only half of the action.
That being said, for a young team like the Colorado Avalanche, Jean-Sebastian Giguere takes the spot. Giguere has had an amazing career arc that saw tremendous highs and lows that have ranged from winning a Stanley Cup in 2007 to a low of being replaced by James Reimer as the starting goalie in Toronto.
Someone as talented as Giguere that has taken that kind of journey through the NHL has got to be a wealth of knowledge.
Columbus Blue Jackets
In the land of broken dreams and second chances, Brett Lebda is looking to reset his career as the Blue Jackets rebuild their franchise. A University of Notre Dame graduate, Lebda's early success with the Detroit Red Wings tapered as he became somewhat of a journeyman.
While Lebda clearly possesses the intellect to succeed at the NHL level, he is hoping that Columbus will provide the system to suit his talents moving forward.
Ray Whitney has seemingly snuck into his 40's as one of the most underrated players in NHL history. He was obviously clever enough to have the Dallas Stars pay him $9 million over the next two years. He recently surpassed the 1,000-point plateau with his remarkable year in Phoenix.
Whitney has played for seven teams and managed to get his name on the Stanley Cup in 2006 with Carolina. Dallas is hoping that the resourceful veteran forward can keep his magic going over the next couple years.
Detroit Red Wings
Pavel Datsyuk stands out as one of the sharpest players on a Red Wings team that is loaded with veteran leadership. Datsyuk is one of the most entertaining people to watch in both the offensive and defensive zone. His magical stick work and on-ice vision are second to none in the NHL today.
His creativity and play-making skills are so far outside of the box you wonder what box of tricks he might have gotten them from.
It's no coincidence that Ryan Smyth came back to finish his career in Edmonton where it began 18 years ago. Smyth's leadership and work ethic are well respected in NHL circles, and Oilers management is counting on him to be a role model for their up-and-coming young stars.
Never the best skater, stick-handler or shooter, Smyth found plenty of scoring opportunities by parking himself at or near the front of the net. Knowing his limitations as a player, Ryan Smyth still carved out an impressive NHL career and will more than likely get his 400th career goal this next season.
Let's skip the part where we talk about how ironic it is that an NHL enforcer is a Princeton graduate. After all, with Parros' size and obvious skills at throwing hay-makers, it almost seems like a natural role for him to play.
With his degree in economics, Parros admits that he would most likely end up in the world of finance if beating the crap out of people doesn't work out.
Most likely (be) a business consultant. Either that or some sort of trader on an equity desk. ... In junior (hockey) I took a job as a runner at the Chicago Board of Trade to see if I liked it.
Los Angeles Kings
Nothing says mental giant like the mastery of a water bottle. Sorry, but given the title of the slideshow I couldn't resist throwing Dustin Brown in there.
I'll give the crown of smartest King to Rob Scuderi who spent four years at Boston College capping his senior year with a National Championship over defending champion North Dakota. Fast forward eight years later and Scuderi is lifting the Stanley Cup with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Scuderi cashed in on his success with the Penguins with a jackpot contract offer from the Los Angeles Kings. Four years later and Scuderi was again a Stanley Cup champion.
Scuderi will never be a Norris Trophy winner, but he's a smart player who positions himself to succeed. Sometimes it's lucky to be good, and good to be lucky, but smart folks often make their own luck.
New Wild-man Zach Parise may have outsmarted the best minds in hockey when he and Ryan Suter decided on their free agent coup to St. Paul. Whether or not the move results in a Stanley Cup, Parise's grandchildren will be set for life with the Powerball-sized contract he recently penned.
An All-Academic selection at the University of North Dakota, Parise took his talents to the NHL following his sophomore season. Though he is not the biggest, strongest player on the ice, Parise's skill, smarts and quickness have helped him excel at every level.
Brian Gionta has had to rely on skill and intelligence to survive and flourish in the NHL. At only 5'7", Gionta uses quickness and guts to survive the rigors of the NHL. He still holds the New Jersey Devils team record for goals in a year with 48 (2005-06).
Gionta is also only the second American to wear the captain's "C" on a Montreal Canadien sweater. After an impressive college career at Boston College, Gionta would get his start in New Jersey with their Albany affiliate.
Mike Fisher wears the cap in Nashville for smartest Predator, and not just because he married country singer Carrie Underwood. Though, that certainly doesn't count against him. Fisher spends a ton of time during the offseason helping out at various hockey camps.
He was awarded the 2012 NHL Foundation Player Award, which is awarded to the NHL player who applies the core values of hockey—commitment, perseverance and teamwork—to enrich the lives of people in his community.
New Jersey Devils
Patrick Elias wins this award in part because of history and loyalty to the franchise that drafted him. He is currently at the top of all New Jersey offensive statistical categories, and after a 78-point effort last season, still has some miles left.
His leadership and on-ice skills will be counted on to help offset the loss of captain Parise to Minnesota.
New York Islanders
The once-mighty New York Islanders are on their way back to respectability thanks to their best player and quiet leader John Tavares. He has blossomed into a full-blown superstar as he tries to keep hockey relevant on Long Island.
New York Rangers
Brad Richards is a big talent on the ice, and is almost a bigger star off of it working with the Children’s Wish Foundation, Prince Edward Island Chapter and Autism Society of Prince Edward Island. He also donates tickets to every home game to military personnel.
Richards came to the bright lights and big city of New York with a big and bold free agent contract. He is known foo his creativity and play-making skills, and will certainly have an opportunity to pad some stats with the newly-acquired Rick Nash.
There's not much that hasn't already been said about Swedish star and captain Daniel Alfredsson. Anytime someone's nickname is listed as "God," they have probably made an impact somewhere in the world.
Quiet and classy, the winger has tallied over 400 goals and 1,000 points while owning the hearts of the Ottawa faithful.
I originally had Chris Pronger slated for this position, because as much as I despised him as a player on an opponent's team, he was always one of the craftiest, sneakiest and often times dirtiest players on the ice. However, Danny Briere gets the unofficial title to place gently on his Briere mantel.
Though he likely won't match the career year he had in Buffalo, Briere continues to be an offensive force for Philadelphia with great on-ice sense and playmaking skills.
One of the more underrated moves this offseason is the free agent signing of Steve Sullivan to the Phoenix Coyotes. The smooth-skating veteran took some time, but eventually fit in well with the Penguins and Phoenix is hoping for the same results. Sullivan is all things veteran—wily, cagey and shifty.
Brooks Orpik is another former Boston College player who excelled once he got to the NHL. Though he will never be a big point producer, Orpik is known for big hits and being a solid stay at home defenseman. In spite of a loathsome minus-36 in his first full year with the Penguins, Orpik's career total is a plus-18.
A testament to Orpik's maturity and intelligence on the ice is evidenced by his physical style of play, but downward trend in penalty minutes. He is still a huge force on the Pittsburgh blue line, but is much more responsible in his role now.
San Jose Sharks
Douglas Murray's NHL career doesn't appear to be too impressive at first glance, but a peek into his resume is pretty darn impressive. A student at Cornell University, Murray says he is one class short for graduating from the prestigious Cornell Hotel Management Program.
He speaks English, Swedish and German, and is the co-founder and managing partner of Uber Dispensing Co., which manufactures the UberTap. The UberTap is a three spout, hands-free keg tap developed by Murray and friends at Cornell. Speaking of taps, I should also mention that Murray has been romantically linked to fellow Swede, Elin Nordegren. That's the former Mrs. Tiger Woods, in layman's terms.
St. Louis Blues
Of all the St. Louis Blues' whipper-snappers, it is Andy McDonald who has the most prominent thinking cap on the Blue Notes. The current alternate captain was a four-year starter at Colgate and graduated with a degree in international relations.
Tampa Bay Lightning
There are not a lot of stories in the NHL greater than Marty St. Louis. As an undrafted free agent, St. Louis had somehow been overlooked by the entire NHL after an amazing collegiate career at the University of Vermont. After being selected as an All-American for his final three years, St. Louis was left to battle for a roster spot, being cut by the Flames in 2000.
Tampa Bay signed him in 2000 and the rest is history. A Stanley Cup, a league MVP and a scoring title later, "Mighty Mite" is still producing strong.
Toronto Maple Leafs
John-Michael Liles played his college hockey at Michigan State studying finance. Drafted by his favorite team, the Colorado Avalanche, Liles hit the ground running, or skating while being named to the NHL's All-Rookie Team in his first year 2003-04.
Kevin Bieksa may be known more for his big hits and sense of humor on the Vancouver Canucks, but at one time, he was a two-time CCHA Academic All-American at Bowling Green State University where he graduated with a degree in finance.
With all the millionaires on that Canuck roster, Bieska could earn a living as the financial adviser for the team.
Brooks Laich might be the most deserving player on the Washington Capitals of the captain's "C." He gets the alternate nod, but is regarded by teammates, coaches and opponents as one of the hardest working and committed players in Washington. Laich knows his limitations, but is constantly working on improving his game.
He is very active in the Washington D.C. community and works with charities related to multiple sclerosis and Athletes Against Autism. He received a nomination for Sportsman of the Year from Sports Illustrated for an incident that occurred shortly after the Capitals were eliminated at home by the Montreal Canadiens in 2010. When asked about it, Laich responded with predictable humility:
"It was just a tire," he said on Friday. "It's not a big deal. It was just a tire. The lady was stranded on the side of the road, I saw that it was just a lady and her daughter, and I figured my tire expertise outweighed hers. It's a busy spot, on that bridge, and I just pulled over to help them. That's it."
Olli Jokinen's parade through North America will make it's seventh stop in Winnipeg this fall as the Finnish center suits up for the Jets. Though he has had a pretty productive career, Olli hasn't seemed to find a place he's enjoyed. His most productive years were during his time with Florida, but since then, he's been an NHL nomad.
With all of that travel and experience, it's easy to see why the Jets' newest center is one of the smartest guys on the roster.