I'm not going to attempt to select the best under-rated player in the league in this article. Mainly because I think it's an impossible feat and secondly because the minute I list the player he's no longer under-rated. Is he? Take for the example the player pictured in this article. Any mention with Steve Larmer is in regards to his longevity in his playing career with the Blackhawks and later on the New York Rangers. It's sure merited as he played 11 full NHL season without missing a game. However no one ever mentions that he never scored less than 70 points in any one of those 11 seasons. The fact that it's missed almost exclusively causes me to always suggest Larmer as the all-time most under-rated player in the NHL. I bet as soon as you finish reading this paragraph you will have a player in mind that you think is more deserving of the title, maybe Ron Francis or Phil Housley.
Therein lies why I have decided to write this article. As hockey fans we have all read sportspaper pullouts ranking players and teams in all kinds of different categories. Many of the categories require a ton of research and discussion before they can be finalized. The category for most under-rated is one where I think the "experts" get a free ride.
Select any 2nd or 3rd team leading scorer with a decent plus/minus rating that doesn't get injured often. If any of the players ahead of him in team scoring are NHL superstars that makes the nomination for most under-rated player that much easier. Another great thing about making this selection is that most fans won't argue with the selection because it's a player that's under the radar. So fans will simply say "I haven't really noticed him. That makes sense".
Another point where I think we err when labelling a player under-rated is that we do it in the bubble that is our sports world. I may believe Brian Rolston is one of hte most under-rated players in the league, but I can bet you that thought is not shared with Minnesota's fan base (now NJ).
The criteria used to select this player I believe is flawed. Using total points, or goals, plus/minus and durability in my opinion instantly move that player from under-rated to under-achiever. I'll give you an example. For a few years while centering Markus Naslund and Todd Bertuzzi as one of the top lines in the NHL Brendan Morrison was always mentioned in passing and thus given credit for being "maybe the most under-rated player in the league". Well how can the 1st line centre on a team be under-rated? Wouldn't his inferior point totals to other 1st line centres around the league mean he is an inadequate top centremen, especially when you factor in that at the time he was playing with two of the best wingers you could ask for.
In my opinion the most under-rated players should be judged firstly by their teammates if we wanted to truly measure who is the best under-rated player. But seeing as not everyone has access to one-on-one interviews with every player, we the hockey "expert" must make assumptions and deductions using team success, points and other stats to support our argument. There's no way around it. I simply believe to truly select the best under-rated player in the league we should use the most under-rated stats in hockey as well.
So next time you are sitting around in a bar with friends catching a game. Try a different formula to measure which player is truly under-rated.
*Warning: many of the factors in my formula are intangible so you must pay close attention while measuring your selection.
During any game you watch you will assuredly hear the colour commentator mention a certain player being used in the "key" moments of the game. (i.e. big face-offs or defending in the last minute while the opponent has an extra attacker). This is generally what you need to watch for.
Shot-blocking is a huge stat in my opinion as well. It proves dedication and determination in a player. A desire to ensure success. (note: I grant forwards more points for shot-blocks than defensemen, only bceause most times a forward must make a concentrated effort to block a shot. Defensemen get credited with shot-blocks when a puck happens to hit them while they clear slot area).
Ice Time or lack thereof is another scoring tool. A player that seems to leave his mark on the game even though they play 3rd line/5th-6th defensemen minutes. Matt Stajan was an excellent example of a player that did this well in his days under Pat Quinn in Toronto.
The final factor of the formula is the one you must be most patient with. It's simply familiarity. You as the judge must take the time to watch a player or an extended period of time. We all spew out the intangibles about the players on our favourite teams, yet usually use stats to prove or disprove how good/bad a player on another team is. That is simply because we have grown an appreciation for the players on our favourite team over time. This is the same approach you must apply when trying to judge the best under-rated player.
Point totals are a by-product of what this player does well. Again the player with the highest point total out of this group of players does not necessarily mean he is the best. Points must be factored in with the other units of the formula. Again Brendan Morrsion would have been a prefect negative example of using points. Compared to the players we are talking about he would have played far more minutes on average per game and most certainly would have been paired with better line-mates.
Finally, I won't name one player I think is the best under-rated player in the league right now. Instead I'll name a few I think are deserving of getting consideration the next time you have this discussion with other armchair hockey experts.
Rod Brind'Amour, Blair Betts, Matthew Lombardi, Johan Franzen (even after his playoff performance), Henrik Tallinder, Vern Fiddler and Patrick Sharp to name a few.
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