Before we begin the debate, can we first agree that Sidney Crosby is the best player in the league?
I've had a lot of discussions recently regarding his eligibility for the Selke Trophy as the best defensive forward. I stand by my belief that he should not be in the conversation for that award, but if there were a trophy for the best two-way player in the league, he would get my vote hands down.
Back in the day, I would argue that Peter Forsberg was the best player in the NHL. The brunt of my argument would be the fact that he was the total package. Come playoff time, he hit, scored, set up teammates, won key faceoffs and back-checked with the best of them.
What Datsyuk lacks in physicality, he makes up for with speed and intangibles. He has become such a feared player on the ice that he often draws double and triple coverage when the puck is on his stick. Opposing players do not know if they should attack him, contain him or just watch in amazement.
At this point in time, I can't think of another player in the league that I would rather have in my lineup other than him. And this is coming from an Avalanche fan.
Let's take a quick look at his competition.
The Sedins? Not a chance. Excellence is defined in the playoffs, not the regular season. If I wanted to win a President's or Hart Trophy, sure—sign me up for a double order of Swedish twins.
However, at this point in time Ryan Kesler is the heart, soul, and ball-breaking leader of the Vancouver Canucks. The Sedins are playing the role of caddy.
Alexander Ovechkin? This could be Datsyuk's toughest competition. He really made it a point to prove the naysayers wrong this postseason and the Capitals disappointing exit had little to do with Ovie. He brought passion and production to the ice game in and game out this year.
Marty St. Louis? A real contender. He is pure offensive power, an indispendable leader, and great playoff performer. He isn't the greatest defensively and doesn't kill penalties or lay the body, but right now, at this point in time, St. Louis has to be considered.
How about his teammate Steven Stamkos? Much like Henrik Sedin, we don't know if he's playing hurt, but nothing on the ice seems to indicate that is the problem. He's really tailed off the second half of the season and was completely invisible for large chucks of the playoffs this year.
There is little denying his elite talent, but he's not quite at the level of a Datsyuk just yet.
Another potential name is Corey Perry. At 25, he appears to be really coming into his own. His unbelievable second half led to a Hart Trophy nomination and he played pretty good in the playoffs too.
Perry plays in all situations, gets under your skin and is a flat out gamer. Having said all that, I wouldn't take him over Datsyuk though. He's a new kid on the elite block and I need to see more.
Any chance that someone would take Jonathan Toews or Ryan Kesler over Datsyuk? When it comes to elite two-way players, these guys pose the biggest challenge to Datsyuk. Captain serious has already proven his worth with a Stanley Cup ring last season, and he did little to change our minds this year.
A master in all situations, a stoic leader, and a ridiculous giveaway/takeaway ratio make Toews a tour de force on the ice and in the locker room.
Yet, as good as Toews is, Ryan Kesler is the hottest commodity in the NHL at the moment. Is there anything this guy can't do? He has all the same checks in the necessary boxes as Datsyuk, but he also brings a relentless physicality to the ice.
The only knock on him that I can think of is the fact that he is playing against second-tier defensive opposition. The Sedins draw the vast majority of attention which gives Kesler free reign to do his thing. During the season, he had the best of both worlds with Malhotra doing a lot of the heavy lifting.
However, the stats don't lie. Matchup advantages or not, Kesler is putting the franchise on his back and daring the competition to stop him.
In the end, it's not an easy call to make. There are worthy contenders for the second best player in the league title, but if I was forced to choose, I'd put my money on Pavel Datsyuk.
His high end skill level and world-class elusiveness put him on a different planet. I'm a huge fan of two-way players and he gets my vote as the best of the rest.