Which Mythical Hockey Team Is Better Right Now: North American or European?

Brad KurtzbergContributor ISeptember 1, 2013

Which Mythical Hockey Team Is Better Right Now: North American or European?

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    The argument is an ongoing one in hockey circles: which group has more talent, North Americans or Europeans? This slideshow examines which mythical hockey team is better right now, a team made up of the best North American-born players or the best players born in Europe.

    The talent here is judged on where they stand right now, not based on their career statistics or achievements. So a player like Martin Brodeur, for example, is just a good goalie now, not one of the game's best ever at his position.

    To qualify for the North American team, a player had to be born in the United States, Canada or Mexico. To be considered for the European team, they had to be born in a European country. To qualify for either team, a player had to have played in the NHL at some time.

    The choices for forwards, defensemen and goalies are made for both teams along with explanations as to why the final players were selected over the candidates that barely missed the cut. Feel free to make a case for any player you feel was snubbed and left off of these teams, but please indicate why you feel that player belongs on the team and who you feel should be removed as a result.

    Each team consists of 12 forwards, seven defensemen and three goalies. Please keep in mind the forwards are split up by positions (centers, left wings and right wings), but the order does not suggest actual line combinations or defensive pairings.

North American Forward Lines

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    North American Forwards:

     

    C                                                  LW                                                  RW

    Sidney Crosby                              Claude Giroux                                  Patrick Kane

    Steven Stamkos                            Zach Parise                                     Martin St. Louis

    John Tavares                                 Taylor Hall                                      Jeff Carter

    Jonathan Toews                             Jamie Benn                                     Jordan Eberle

     

    It was far from easy to pick 12 players to fill out the North American forwards. Claude Giroux, who is usually a center or right wing moved to the left side in order to keep the very best players on the squad.

    Crosby remains the league's most effective setup man when healthy and Stamkos is the best North American sniper.

    Patrice Bergeron was the next nearest player to make the list, but Toews' overall offensive abilities and creativity gave him a slight edge for the final center spot. Jason Spezza, Logan Couture and Eric Staal were other centers who came close to making the list but the talent of Tavares, who was a Hart Trophy finalist and Toews, who has exceptional leadership qualities, could not be overlooked.

    Corey Perry and Phil Kessel were the next closest on the right side, but Carter provides better two-way play than both of those players and so he gets the nod while Eberle's youth and speed got him on the list.

     

North American Defensemen

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    North American Defensemen:

     

    Drew Doughty

    Duncan Keith

    Ryan Suter

    PK Subban

    Shea Weber

    Dustin Byfuglien

    Alex Pietrangelo

     

    Because there are so many North American players to consider for this list, limiting it to a final seven was very difficult.

    Doughty and Keith may not put up eye-popping statistics, but they both contribute a lot to any team they play for. Doughty's passing, especially his transition passes, are outstanding while Keith's ability to see the ice well and log a lot of minutes without slowing down boosts his standing.

    Both Ryan Suter and PK Subban should be perennial Norris Trophy candidates and both are among the league's top power play quarterbacks. Subban also adds a physical element that any defense corps needs.

    Shea Weber has a solid all-around game while Byfuglien adds size, a good shot from the point and the availability to shift up to forward if injuries strike the North American team. Alex Pietrangelo's all-around game and more physical presence give him a slight edge over Kris Letang who has more offensive talent but is not as strong in his own zone. Keith Yandle was another near miss but Pietrangelo earned the nod for his stronger play in his own zone.

North American Goaltenders

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    North American Goalies:

     

    Jonathan Quick

    Corey Crawford

    Craig Anderson

     

    Fans looking for old-timers like Martin Brodeur or Roberto Luongo have to realize that this list is based on where these players are right now, not their career achievements.

    Jonathan Quick is quite simply the best North American goalie in the game right now based on what he's accomplished the past two seasons. When you consider Quick was not 100 percent healthy during that time, his consistent play becomes even more impressive. In 2012, Quick won the Stanley Cup and was named the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP.

    Corey Crawford was considered a question mark before the start of last season, but he answered his doubters with a resounding performance which included a 1.94 GAA and a save percentage of .926. In the Stanley Cup playoffs. Crawford stepped up his game even more and went 16-7 with a 1.84 GAA and a .932 save percentage as he helped the Blackhawks win another Stanley Cup.

    Craig Anderson's presence as the third goalie may surprise a few people, but he really played exceptionally well last season in helping to lead an Ottawa club beset by injuries to the playoffs. Anderson had a 1.69 GAA last season and an incredible .941 save percentage.

    In addition to Luongo and Brodeur, who didn't make the cut because their best hockey is behind them, Carey Price and Mike Smith were the next closest goalies on the list. Price had an off year last season and may make the list if he bounces back in 2013-14. Smith also cooled off during the lockout-shortened year after being dominant the previous season while leading the Coyotes to their first ever division title.

     

European Forwards

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    European Forwards:

     

    C                                          LW                                                       RW

    Evgeni Malkin                        Alex Ovechkin                                        Marian Hossa

    Pavel Datsyuk                       Ilya Kovalchuk                                       Marian Gaborik             

    Henrik Sedin                         Daniel Sedin                                          Daniel Alfredsson

    Anze Kopitar                         Henrik Zetterberg                                   Jakub Voracek

     

    There is plenty of European-born talent to fill in four forward lines for this mythical team.

    Pavel Datsyuk's strong all-around skills easily earned him a spot at center. LA's Anze Kopitar has good size and hockey sense while also possessing strong offensive skills. Henrik Sedin is one of the better playmaking centers in the game and he shines on the power play. Evgeni Malkin is a former league scoring leader and MVP although he had an off year last season. Still, Malkin remains one of the top talents in the game.

    Other contenders at center include two of the most underrated players in the game, Mikko Koivu and Frans Nielsen. Koivu adds leadership and is a very good setup man, but isn't in the same class offensively as the four players selected for the club. Nielsen would add excellent penalty killing skills and strong defensive play, but it would be impossible to remove any of the four centers on this list to insert Nielsen. Nicklas Backstrom is one of the game's premier setup men and narrowly missed making the final cut. Henrik Sedin's slightly better play in his own zone was the difference.

    Alex Ovechkin bounced back from a poor start to the season and ended up winning the Rocket Richard Trophy. He is the most dangerous goal scorer in the game today. Ilya Kovalchuk bolted New Jersey for the KHL, but he would still be on the European team based on his goal scoring ability. He even learned to play better defense while in New Jersey even if he's still not outstanding in his own zone. Daniel Sedin gives the Europeans three strong snipers at left wing while Henrik Zetterberg plays a more well-rounded game and adds valuable experience and leadership to the lineup.

    Thomas Vanek and Jiri Tlusty came close to earning spots on this team, but Zetterberg's leadership and the overall goal-scoring ability of the other three left wings kept them on the outside looking in.

    At right wing, the duo of Marian Hossa and Marian Gaborik gives the European squad two quick-skating players who can score goals when they're healthy. Daniel Alfredsson adds leadership after wearing the "C" in Ottawa for more than a decade and he can still put the puck in the net. Jakub Voracek finally took his game to another level in Philadelphia last season and earned the final RW spot on the list.

    Players who came close include veterans like Teemu Selanne and Jaromir Jagr, who would have easily made it a few years earlier, Alexander Radulov who missed out because of his poor defense and off-ice issues and the speedy Michael Grabner who needs to be more consistent at finishing to make the cut.

European Defensemen

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    European Defensemen:


    Zdeno Chara

    Erik Karlsson

    Niklas Kronwall

    Sergei Gonchar

    Andrei Markov

    Kimmo Timmonen

    Slava Voynov

     

    There is plenty of talent on this team but not as much depth. Chara is the biggest player in NHL history. Besides his imposing size, he has a strong shot, is smart with the puck and has captained a Stanley Cup winner. Erik Karlsson gives the Europeans unequaled speed and creativity while Niklas Kronwall adds a badly needed physical element.

    Sergei Gonachar can still get the job done at 39, while if Andrei Markov is healthy, he is one of the best power-play point men in the game. Kimmo Timmonen is still effective even if he is clearly slowing down a bit. Young Slava Voynov still hasn't reached his full potential but sees the ice exceptionally well.

    Oliver Ekman-Larsson probably makes this team in another year as he continues to mature. Mark Streit would add leadership and offensive ability, but his play in his own end sometimes leaves a bit to be desired and that kept him on the outside looking in.

     

     

     

     

European Goaltenders

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    European Goalies:

     

    Henrik Lundqvist

    Pekka Rinne

    Sergei Bobrovsky

     

    There are a lot of very strong European-born goalies in the NHL but three do stand above the rest right now.

    Henrik Lundqvist has accomplished almost everything a goalie could ask for except winning a Stanley Cup. He has an Olympic gold medal, a Vezina Trophy and is considered one of the top three goalies in the NHL by almost every expert out there.

    Pekka Rinne had an off season last year, but has been a consistent force for the Nashville Predators over the course of his career. Rinne was a Vezina Trophy finalist in both 2011 and 2012 and accomplished that while playing for a team that rarely scores enough to give him much margin for error.

    The final spot goes to last year's Vezina Trophy winner Sergei Bobrovsky. Last season, he finished with a 2.00 GAA and a .932 save percentage. His incredible finish had the upstart Blue Jackets miss the playoffs on a tie-breaker.

    Antti Niemi had a strong season for San Jose last year and just narrowly missed making the team. Niemi won a Cup with Chicago in 2010, but Rinne has been more consistent over time and Bobrovsky was clearly better last season.

    Other candidates who fell short include Niklas Backstrom of the Minnesota Wild and Winnipeg's Ondrej Pavelec, who just aren't as consistent as the three goalies selected.

North American Advantages

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    North America's biggest advantage is in its depth, especially on defense. You could probably make a second team of players from Canada alone that would be competitive in any international tournament.

    The biggest advantage for Canada is probably on defense, where they have more depth and can play a more physical game than most of their European counterparts.

    Depth at center also favors the North Americans with Hart Trophy finalist John Tavares ending up on the North American third line.

European Advantages

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    With Lundqvist, Rinne and Bobrovsky, the Europeans have a slight edge in goal over the North Americans.

    The European squad also has two of the most complete and dynamic players in the game in Datsyuk and Malkin and arguably the fastest defenseman in the game in Erik Karlsson.

     

Who's Better

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    This would be a very close and interesting series between these two clubs. If this was a playoff series, it would almost certainly go a full seven games and several games would surely go to overtime.

    The North Americans have more depth on defense but the Europeans have a slight edge in goal.

    Stereotypically, Europeans are considered more skilled while North Americans play a more physical style, although there are players on both of these teams that defy that conventional logic.

    In the final analysis, the North Americans would pull off a narrow victory on the strength of their third and fourth lines and their defensive depth, but the win wouldn't come easy and the level of play between these two mythical clubs would be extremely high.