Takin' a T/O with BT: Notoriously Neglected NHL Stars
The most popular words and phrases in sports lingo have also started to become some of the most overused: "Unsung hero", "underrated", "under the radar", "sneaky good."
You hear these terms whenever an analyst or commentator, columnist or blogger, are talking about athletes on your favorite team. There are always those who are "overrated" and those who are "underrated."
Frankly, I'm tired of those. So it's time to make up our own term out of dangerously underused words:
And it's got alliteration. My mother would be so proud...
Before we begin, I will also make two concessions:
1) Stephane Yelle does not appear in this article, except for right now (He's in the photo). Fact is, he's one of my favorite players when we're talking guys who are disregarded, so I figured he's a great jumping-off point.
2) I'm sorry about the alliteration. It was unintentional.
10. Ryan Malone—Tampa Bay Lightning
Most people know Ryan Malone for a few things: He's a big forward who started his career alongside Sidney Crosby in Pittsburgh.
He turned in a career-year in 2007/08 breaking 50 points (he nabbed 51) for the first time, and left for Tampa Bay on a six-year deal that sees him making $6 million the first three years of it.
In leaving Pittsburgh, he not only left the opportunity at a Stanley Cup ring, but he also left the shadow of Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Jordan Staal, and Marc-Andre Fleury, for riding shotgun with Vincent Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis, and Steven Stamkos.
But did you know that Malone is currently tied with Rich Peverly for the leage-lead in game-winning goals?
Malone has five game-winners, and Tampa has eleven wins. Essentially he's won them just under half of their games. Not necessarily true, but then again it's not something you'd really expect.
9. Jamie Benn—Dallas Stars
It takes a lot for a rookie to be, as we're saying today, "Notoriously Neglected."
First year players are usually full-on in the spotlight for one of two reasons:
1) They were selected with a noteworthy draft pick (First round) and they're either meeting, exceeding, or falling short of expectations, or
2) They simply came out of nowhere to make people take notice of them.
As a fifth-round pick, Benn may fall under the latter category, but being eighth in rookie scoring will get him noticed.
What also gets him noticed, is his takeaways.
A stat that doesn't necessarily get enough credit, Benn is fifth in the league in takeaways, and averages less ice time than the top four (Pavel Datsyuk, Ryan Kesler, Mark Streit, and Martin St. Louis).
He also sees less ice time than fellow rookie, Colorado's Ryan O'Reilly (also in the top-ten) but there's something else that's valuable in this.
Benn has the fifth-fewest giveaways of anyone in the top-twenty of takeaways with 19.
8. Michal Handzus—Los Angeles Kings
Handzus has been one of those players who has quietly gone about his business for the past few seasons.
Every so often he'll put home 20 goals in a year, while being amongst the top faceoff men when healthy.
This year is no different. Currently Handzus sits in eighth with faceoff wins, but there's another stat that makes him a little surprising, and it's that he's in the top-ten for shootout goals.
Granted he's only got three on the season and the leader has four, but of the top twenty shootout scorers, he's one of only six with at least a 75 percent success rate.
7. Mike Fisher—Ottawa Senators
We're going to stay with "clutch scoring" as we move down the list.
Which brings us to Mike Fisher.
The Ottawa Senators forward is currently undergoing a career season, putting it together playing alongside some of Ottawa's most dynamic players. With the injury to Jason Spezza, even more onus will fall on the shoulders of the 10 year vet.
But it may be a pressure he's ready to deal with.
As far as dramatic finishes go, Fisher has been contributing with regularity for the Sens. He's got four game-winning goals on the season, but more importantly, two of those have come in overtime.
Fisher has also been doing some good work shorthanded, netting two shorthanded points to his credit—one off the league lead.
6. Ty Conklin/Ondrej Pavelec—St. Louis Blues/Atlanta Thrashers
So we're going to split a position on the list here, but for good reason: each have been stellar in their own ways for their teams.
Pavelec and cohort Johan Hedberg have been huge in getting the Atlanta Thrashers into the sixth spot in the East, helping them to a playoff birth that may convince Ilya Kovalchuk to stay, while Conklin has been a breath of fresh air for the Blues whenever they've needed it.
But the other thing that makes these two so special, is their play shorthanded.
Shorthanded, Conklin sports a save percentage of .958 while Pavelec's is .936, each allowing fewer than 10 goals (three on 71 shots for Conklin, 8 on 125 shots for Pavelec).
Against the extra man, Pavelec has started making a name for himself facing the fifth-most shots of anyone in the top 20 of short-handed save percentage, while Conks has allowed the third-fewest goals (3) of any goalie facing 40 or more shorthanded shots.
After all, if you can't kill penalties, you won't get very far, and both of these teams are in the top ten on the penalty kill.
5. Brett Clark, Scott Hannan, Kyle Quincey—Colorado Avalanche
Looking at the standings in the Western Conference, I don't know if there's anyone that isn't surprised to see the Colorado Avalanche up in second place ahead of teams like San Jose, Chicago, and Calgary.
Even after their hot start, there were few convinced that they could sustain that success.
So far though the Avs have been able to do that, and it's been because of a few select pieces that we'll get to in the coming slides.
For one, it's been the efforts of Brett Clark, Scott Hannan, and Kyle Quincey on defense that have helped Craig Anderson turn in such a great season.
Once thought to be a career backup, Anderson has been playing well in net for the Avs, but he surely never got support like this in Florida.
Between the three of them, Clark, Hannan, and Quincey have blocked 253 shots, with Clark leading the way at 109 blocks.
Consider that fact that only Montreal (Roman Hamrlik, Jaro Spacek, and Josh Gorges) and San Jose (Dan Boyle, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, and Kent Huskins) have three shot blocking players in the top 30, four teams have two, 11 have one, and 12 have no one, it's no surprise that the Avs been successful.
Being good isn't about the individual stats—it's about making sacrifices for the team, and these three certainly have.
But think about this: What if the Avs had landed the other Florida goalie Tomas Vokoun? Would they be first in the West right now? Would they already have it clinched? Could they have been resting him by the 50 game mark?
Who knows—either way Colorado's defense has been something else.
4. Wojtek Wolski—Colorado Avalanche
Am I cheating by including back-to-back slides of players from the same team? Probably. Then again there were three from the Avs (possibly four depending if you count the mention of Anderson) on one slide, so someone had to be offended by my lies before this point.
Either way, Wolski's on the list and for a very simple reason: He scores.
But not just in any scenario. On even strength.
So often people make a big deal about production on special teams, and how certain scorers are overrated because it's all "power play points".
How about the fact that Wolski is tied for third in even-strength scoring with 26 points, three off of the lead?
What if Wolski had the fewest power play points out of the top ten even-strength scores with just seven. SEVEN! AND HE'S GOT THE FEWEST GOALS (1) OF ANY TOP 20 EVEN-STRENGTH SCORER? HE'S DYNAMITE!! DYNAMITE I TELL YOU!!
Sorry...I had a Steve Kouleas moment. For those of you who don't know him, think Stephen A. Smith...just with hockey.
But seriously, he's up there with names like Gaborik, Crosby, Sedin, and Ovechkin. That's good company.
3. Paul Gaustad—Buffalo Sabres
Now we're going to get into some of my favorite statistics: faceoffs.
Having a guy who can win faceoffs is important. You can't get anywhere in the NHL if you don't have a guy who can walk into the circle and win the important draw, whether it's in the third period or overtime, in your own end, or on the penalty kill.
Some teams are fortunate enough to have their superstar as their top faceoff man.
Paul Gaustad is no superstar, but man is he valuable.
Gaustad is the best in the league percentage-wise at just over 63 percent. But it goes deeper than that. Gaustad wins faceoffs in every manner.
On the road, at home, even strength, on the power play, and killing penalties, Gaustad is above 50 percent in every category—one of just six players in the top 20 of overall percentage to do so.
The Sabres' centre's numbers aren't just a fluke either: in each of those scenarios, he's won at least 40 draws and taken at least 60, with around a 60 percent success rate on special teams.
2. David Steckel—Washington Capitals
Like Gaustad, Steckel is a faceoff fiend.
Sitting behind Gaustad in the standings with a 61.5 percent success rate, Steckel has been put into big situations as well.
However, he thrives when his team is down a man.
Of the top 30 players in shorthanded faceoff percentage, Steckel is the best, if not one of them.
He's got 76 wins to 57 losses which is important, because only he, Chris Drury, and Jeff Halpern have a winning percentage above 50 percent amongst the top 30 in shorthanded faceoff wins.
The slow start (four points in first 34 games) doesn't really help his cause, but if Steckel gets back on track as the second half approaches and puts home a few more points, he may get more and more notoriety.
1. Ron Hainsey—Atlanta Thrashers
So we've already had two Avalanche players on the slideshow, so why not top it off with our second Atlanta Thrasher.
Don't think it's favortism though—Hainsey earned the top spot on this not-so-complete and not-so-official list of 'Notoriously Neglected NHL Stars'.
Hainsey is one of the top defensemen in the league in terms of shorthanded-time-on-ice per game. He averages just under 4:00 a game, which is impressive because his 21:19 minutes per game is the fourth-lowest average ice-time of any defender in the top 15 for shorthanded minutes per game.
But here's where it gets better. There are guys who'll spend a lot of time on the penalty kill and seemingly get victimized for it.
The Thrashers' defender has allowed just 13 power play goals against this season, which seems high until you consider that the total is fewer than Scott Niedermayer, Kimo Timonen, Chris Pronger, Willie Mitchell, Robyn Regehr, Jay Bouwmeester, and Chris Phillips have allowed.
Of those seven defenders, three (Niedermayer, Phillips, and Bouwmeester) have been on the ice shorthanded more during a game.
He may be no Norris candidate, but Hainsey's value to the Thrashers is big when they're down a man.