Who is the best?
Who ya got?
The bar stool/water cooler conversations exist at every level discussing anything from supermodels to hemorrhoid cream. The NHL is no different. Some people put on the fan cap and can only see their own team's colors when they consider who is the best.
Bad news, Florida Panther fans. Kris Versteeg is not on the list. He's a beauty for sure, but he won't make many top 20 lists concerning the best players in the league. Every list is subjective of course, and there can certainly be players considered that may have been omitted.
The NHL is fully loaded with some of the most talented athletes in the world, and the difference between number 15 and number 21 is microscopic. That being said, I welcome the comments and disparaging rhetoric concerning any gross omissions that were made here.
The bottom line is this: The NHL is BACK. Real games are coming soon, and life is good!
Here is my top 20 heading into the abbreviated season. Enjoy now!
The shifty Los Angeles center may start the season on the shelf due to a knee injury suffered while playing in Sweden. Kopitar has emerged as one of the elite centers in the league and has been the Kings' leading scorer over the last five seasons.
The improbable run to the Stanley Cup put Kopitar on center stage and he was just as impressive in the playoffs with 20 points in as many games. With a bulls-eye on the back of the defending champs, the Kings will need their Slovenian center back soon for the 48-game sprint to the playoffs.
Corey Perry is coming off of a disappointing season individually and as a team. His Ducks had a dismal season, replacing their coach and missing the playoffs. Perry saw his point production drop 38 points.
As the reigning Hart Trophy winner, Perry struggled throughout the season and finished with 37 goals after an even 50 the year before.
Playing a full season under offensive-minded Bruce Boudreau coupled with an impending free-agent contract should see Perry return to the ranks of the top scorers.
Last year, Tyler Seguin emerged as the Boston sniper of the future, breaking out with 29 goals and 38 assists. Seguin took his talents to Switzerland and lit up the Swiss league for 25 more goals in only 29 games.
He's only 20 years old and the sky is the limit for the youngster. He had surgery on his hand early in the offseason, but he'll be ready to go as his efforts abroad indicate. Expect to see another big jump in production for Seguin who will surely see more time on Boston's power play.
The least heralded of the youngsters in Edmonton may turn out to be the best overall. Jordan Eberle broke out in a big way last year with 76 points (34 goals) in 78 games. Eberle kept his game legs active while playing with several of his teammates for the Edmonton AHL affiliate in Oklahoma City.
Eberle was named AHL player of the month for the last two months in a row and looks poised to lead the young group of stars out of the Northwest Division basement.
The Vezina finalist might be the best goalie that no one pays any attention to. Playing in Nashville might keep Pekka Rinne off of the top of some goalie rankings, but the there is little to no drop off when you throw his name in the mix with Henrik Lundqvist and Jonathan Quick.
The huge Finnish backstop will have his work cut out for him this year as the Predators are replacing Ryan Suter in their defensive mix. It should surprise no one to see Rinne's name among the Vezina finalists for a third consecutive year this spring.
Normally you would find Ovechkin's name among the top five players or at least the top 10, but Alexander the Great has something to prove this year. His fourth consecutive season with declining stats has brought on more questions than answers for the mercurial winger.
His recent engagement could provide more balance to his life or more complacency. We're happy that he decided to come back from Russia once the lockout ended, but which Ovechkin will we see?
Though his Norris Trophy might have angered the purists who felt that the award should have gone to a more complete defenseman like Zdeno Chara or Shea Weber, there's no denying Erik Karlsson's talents. Gifted with the hands of a forward, Karlsson had a career year last year at the ripe age of 21.
Ottawa will be happy if Karlsson keeps doing everything that he did last year and let the pundits whine about his Norris worthiness. He might not light up the league like he did last year, but his career is still on the upswing, which is scary for everyone else.
The sniper of the Sedin brothers had his brain scrambled from a cheap shot at the end of last season but still managed 67 points in 72 games. Daniel Sedin may not get back to the 100-plus points from 2010-11, but it's realistic that he will still be a point-per-game player once the season gets underway.
The twins turned 32 in September, but show no signs of slowing down. A talented Vancouver roster will keep them both productive for years to come.
Nashville's Shea Weber might miss his former tag-team partner Ryan Suter a little, but my guess is that Suter might miss being alongside Weber a whole lot more. The bruising, nasty Predators defenseman was coveted as a restricted free agent last summer before agreeing to a huge deal with Nashville.
At only 27 years old, Weber is still getting better. Look for a Norris Trophy nomination from Weber this year as he patrols the Predators' blue line.
Captain Henrik of the Sedins and Canucks is more of the facilitator of the twins. Though his stats are trending down over the past three years, Henrik is still producing at a high level. His 81 points in 82 games were a low mark in four years, but still ranked him among the top 10 in scoring.
With his twin brother fully recovered from his concussion from last season, the Sedins will be leaned on heavily to get Vancouver back to the playoffs.
The word "optimism" isn't often used when the New York Islanders are mentioned, but John Tavares has brought that word out of retirement on Long Island. Well, until they move to Brooklyn in 2015-16.
At any rate, the long-suffering fans have had the bright light of John Tavares to look forward to. In his third year, 22-year-old Tavares finished tied for seventh in the NHL scoring race with 81 points in 82 games.
Leading a group of young upstarts out of the Atlantic division cellar might be a tall order for young Tavares, especially given the competition. In the meantime Islander fans, appreciate one of the brightest stars in the league before you have to drive to Brooklyn to see him.
The giant Bruin Zdeno Chara has been the gold standard among NHL defensemen who play a complete game. Chara is as much a menace in his defensive end as he is when he has the puck on offense. With a 100-mph slap shot and a reach that extends almost half the rink, Chara is as difficult to play against as anyone in the league.
If Chara isn't mentioned when the Norris Trophy finalists are named, it is most likely due to an act of God.
The heir-apparent to Henrik Lundqvist's Vezina crown, Stanley Cup champ Jonathan Quick practically carried the Los Angeles Kings to the playoffs. During the Kings' run to the title, Quick took his game to the next level, helping the eighth seed stun each division title winner along the way.
Quick's uncanny ability to take over games helped when the Kings' offense sputtered and captured the Conn Smythe trophy as MVP of the playoffs. Don't expect a Stanley Cup hangover from the Kings' goalie.
Jonathan Toews was well on his way to setting a new standard in production before a concussion derailed his season. The Chicago captain was at a point-per-game pace before his regular season was ended at 59 games.
With Marian Hossa returning and Patrick Kane looking to erase another embarrassing offseason, the Blackhawks are loaded. In the middle will be "Captain Serious" who has established himself as one of the most complete centers in hockey.
The ginger-haired assassin is coming off surgery on each of his wrists and also tweaked his neck while playing in David Hasselhoff's adopted homeland of Germany. Giroux seems to be ready for opening night and will look to show his naysayers that last season's effort was only the start of great things to come.
Philadelphia will challenge in the Eastern Conference with Giroux leading the way. If they can find some consistent goaltending, they could go deep into the playoffs.
Sorry, but this picture is amazing!
Henrik Lundqvist celebrated the lockout by spending some quality time with his new baby girl. When he wasn't hanging out at Knicks games or pitching scripts to Spike Lee, Lundqvist stayed fresh by "playing tennis and getting on the ice about three or four times a week" according to an interview with ESPN.
The reigning Vezina Trophy winner will be happy to get back into Madison Square Garden for hockey instead of basketball. Lundqvist and the Rangers will be one of the favorites to win the sprint for the Eastern Conference crown.
Steven Stamkos would like to be known as more than just the Rocket Richard Trophy winner. Being the NHL's premier marksman is certainly something to hang your hat on, but Stamkos needs help if hockey is going to matter in Tampa Bay. With some of the most gifted hands in the world, Stamkos is a highlight reel every night for Lightning fans.
Tampa's rebuilding efforts over the summer could pay off, and Stamkos could get an opportunity to perform on the bigger stage of the NHL playoffs.
I'll keep my Red Wings bias as far away as possible here, but for my money Pavel Datsyuk is the most complete player in the NHL. There is not a better defensive forward in the league, and when the mood strikes, Datsyuk can dangle through anyone.
Red Wing fans secretly hope for shootouts during the regular season just so they can see which move the Wings' center will use to undress the opposing goalie.
He won't lead the league in scoring, or win the Hart Trophy (MVP), but there's no doubt that Datsyuk's name belongs in the conversation for best player in the league.
For many of the Russian players the lockout was a great excuse to go home and visit family and friends. Oh, and since they were in town, suit up for some KHL hockey action. Evgeni Malkin made the most of his homeland tour by staking his claim as the best player in the world.
In 37 games with his KHL team Metallurg Magnitogorsk, Malkin tallied 65 points, good for second in the league. Wondering about the guy ahead of him? Sergei Mozyakin had 70 points in three more games played. I'm guessing his productivity might taper just a bit with his teammate returning to Pittsburgh.
Sid the Kid chose to stay in North America and train while many of his teammates headed overseas during the lockout. While you might think that the lack of real-time game action could work against Crosby, his legendary work ethic will have him more than ready for the first drop of the puck.
Crosby wasn't happy with how last season ended and will have a chip on his shoulder to show everyone that he is the best player in the world. Of all the players coming back to the ice on or around January 19, I expect Crosby to be the hungriest.