Ranking the NHL's Top 50 Players, Post Sidney Crosby's Return

Matthew FairburnCorrespondent INovember 28, 2011

Ranking the NHL's Top 50 Players, Post Sidney Crosby's Return

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    In case you haven't heard the news, Sidney Crosby is back. With his return comes a drastically different landscape in the NHL.

    Are the Penguins now Stanley Cup favorites? Is Crosby once again the best player in the NHL?

    Here, we will take a look at how the top 50 NHL Players looks with Crosby included.

50. Mike Green

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    Mike Green has been banged up this season, but his six points in eight games is not terrible production. His defensive play leaves a bit to be desired, but his presence in Washington's lineup is incredibly valuable.

49. Jeff Carter

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    Surprise, surprise. Jeff Carter spent some more time on injured reserve this season. However, since returning to the lineup, Carter has been as productive as usual. Rumors are swirling that he is far from happy in Columbus, but he is still one of the best pure scorers in hockey, happy or not.

48. Dan Boyle

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    After carrying the San Jose Sharks defensively this past few seasons, Dan Boyle has benefited from the addition of Brent Burns

    Boyle is one of the most under appreciated players in the game today and is truly shining with some quality players around him on the blue line.

47. Mikko Koivu

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    Mikko Koivu is one of the great two-way forwards in the NHL today.

    Unfortunately, he has never had the chance to truly shine offensively without top level talent around him up front. That is, until this season.

    The Wild are one of the league's biggest surprises this season and Koivu is a big reason why.

46. Ryan Suter

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    Ryan Suter and Shea Weber finally got some national attention for their superb run to the second round of the 2011 NHL Playoffs.

    It will be interesting to see what the Preds decide to do with both Weber and Suter set to hit free agency this offseason.

45. Patrick Marleau

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    Patrick Marleau is once again a point per game player for the San Jose Sharks. They don't come much more consistent than this guy.

44. Nicklas Backstrom

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    Nicklas Backstrom is bouncing back strong from his disappointing 65 point season a year ago with 25 points already this year.

    Backstrom is great on the faceoff circle and can be trusted in the defensive zone in addition to his outstanding offensive ability.

43. John Tavares

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    It has been a solid start to the season for John Tavares, but not exactly the one he and the Islanders were hoping for this season.

    The talented kid from Oakville, Ontario was made the first overall draft pick in 2009 and has been quietly improving throughout his NHL career. He still has time to make this his true breakout season.

42. Taylor Hall

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    Taylor Hall is currently injured, so I slid him down a few spots in my rankings. However, Hall has been a stud when healthy this season. I'm getting concerned that durability could be an issue with Hall. If he stays on the ice, this team is only going to get better and better.

41. Jeff Skinner

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    I love what I have seen out of Jeff Skinner this season. Not only is he evolving as an offensive weapon, but he is developing a mean streak and great competitiveness that will make him a tremendous leader down the line.

40. Mike Richards

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    Mike Richards is a player who is going to have to reestablish himself as an elite player after being shipped out of Philadelphia this offseason.

    He has 19 points in 23 games this season, but hasn't been able to step into a leadership role in Los Angeles. Richards' leadership is what made him an elite player in Philly.

39. Tyler Seguin

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    After struggling a bit as a rookie, Tyler Seguin has burst onto the scene for the Boston Bruins in year two.

    He currently has 23 points and the best plus minus in the league through 22 games. The sophomore winger is the best offensive weapon on the Bruins and carried them through the early season Stanley Cup hangover.

38. Phil Kessel

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    It's amazing what a guy can do with some competent NHL players by his side.

    After being exiled to Toronto by the Boston Bruins in a trade which many considered heavily lopsided in Boston's favor, Kessel continued to produce despite not having much talent around him.

    Now, Kessel has some legitimate linemates and is leading the league with 16 goals and 30 points.

37. Ryan Kesler

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    Ryan Kesler is one of the most valuable players on the Presidents Trophy-winning Vancouver Canucks. He played over 80 games in five of the last six seasons for the Canucks. 

    Kesler is still not fully healthy, however, and has struggled out of the gate for the Canucks.

36. Ryan Miller

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    Ryan Miller takes a slide on this list due to his early season slump and recent concussion. Something was off with Miller even prior to his injury, and I don't imagine a concussion is what the doctor ordered for the Sabres goalie to get on track.

    I get the feeling that Jhonas Enroth is the long term answer for the Sabres in net, and Ryan Miller could be on the way out of town in 3-5 years.

35. Cam Ward

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    Cam Ward is a consistently reliable and durable goaltender for the Carolina Hurricanes each and every year. He can be counted on to start 60 plus games and keep his team in every game.

    I love how calm and poised Ward always appears between the pipes. It's tough to phase this guy.

34. Thomas Vanek

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    Thomas Vanek is back to his productive ways this season for the Buffalo Sabres with 26 points in the first 23 games of the season.

    Vanek is such a dangerous weapon when he is one the ice and he is showing that once again this season.

33. Eric Staal

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    Eric Staal steadily manages to compile 70-point seasons year in and year out. The Carolina captain piles up points despite not being surrounded by the elite talent as some of the league leaders.

    Staal has been in an early season slump this year, but I expect the talented center to pull himself out of it.

32. Anze Kopitar

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    Anze Kopitar has truly come into his own as an elite player in the NHL. Kopitar was the most valuable player for the L.A. Kingslast season, as evident by the fact that the Kings weren't able to escape the first round of the playoffs after Kopitar went down with injury.

31. Jarome Iginla

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    Jaroma Iginla has to slow down at some point, doesn't he?

    Despite the fact that he turns 34 this summer, Jarome Iginla continues to produce for a struggling Calgary Flames team.

30. Pekka Rinne

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    Pekka Rinne recently got a well deserved contract extension for his outstanding efforts between the pipes for the Preds over the last few seasons.

    Rinne has three shutouts and a .925 save percentage to start the year.

29. Patrick Kane

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    Patrick Kane has four straight seasons of 70-plus points for the Chicago Blackhawks. He plays an underrated two-way game and is a terrific playmaker in the offensive zone.

    Kane made the switch to center this season and has been excellent so far for the Hawks.

28. Marc-Andre Fleaury

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    After Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin went down with injury last season, Fleury was forced to carry the Penguins and did so effectively, earning the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs.

    For a number of seasons, critics were quick to point out Fleury's flaws and say that he was not worthy of the No. 1 overall selection that Pittsburgh spent on him in 2003.

    However, after winning the Stanley Cup and proving that he can carry the team on his own, Fleury has established himself as one of the top goaltenders in the NHL and a crucial part of the Pittsburgh Penguins.

27. Drew Doughty

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    Drew Doughty is earning his hefty paycheck early on in 2011-2012. He had a disappointing season a year ago, but he is settling in nicely as a leader for the Kings.

26. Carey Price

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    Carey Price still hasn't reached his prime. He has fluid lateral movement and picture-perfect fundamentals. Occasionally, Price lacks a killer instinct. However, as he matures, the Canadien net minder should develop into one of the best in the NHL.  

25. Joe Thornton

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    After 70 points a year ago, which was a bit of a down year by his standards, Joe Thornton has bounced back early in 2011 with more than a point per game pace to start the season.

24. Rich Nash

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    Rick Nash might be the best power forward in the NHL, which limits his productivity, but certainly not his value. Playing anywhere else in the NHL, Nash would be a perennial MVP candidate.

    Unfortunately, the first overall draft choice in 2002 finds himself stuck in the wasteland of Columbus with very little talent around him. Jeff Carter is starting to pick things up, so maybe Nash will be able to get it going in the coming weeks.

23. Marion Gaborik

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    Marion Gaborik has always been supremely talented but has never truly put it all together to his full potential.

    This season has been a bit of a breakthrough for Gaborik, however, and if he stays healthy he could come close to his career high point totals.

22. Ilya Kovalchuk

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    Ilya Kovalchuk has not been his productive self sense joining the New Jersey Devils. Kovalchuk has spent some time on the injury list, and so to have some of his most talented teammates.

    However, none of that changes that Kovalchuk is insanely talented and easily one of the 25 best players in the league.

21. Tim Thomas

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    Tim Thomas is once again shutting down opposing offenses night in and night out. He is as focused as I've ever seen a goaltender. For anyone wondering what it means to be mentally tough, just watch Thomas perform on a nightly basis.

20. Chris Pronger

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    Chris Pronger is still a beast.

    The Flyers are a different team with him in the lineup, and they were certainly relieved that he was not seriously injured when taking a shot to the eye early this season.

    As long as he stays healthy, Pronger performs at a high level.

19. Brad Richards

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    Brad Richards was the most high profile free agent signing of the offseason, and he hasn't fully lived up to the hype, though he is having a solid season.

    The Rangers are starting to click right now and that could mean a big offensive surge from Richards over the rest of the season.

18. Corey Perry

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    2010-2011 was a breakout season for the Ducks' Corey Perry. Anaheim's winger led the NHL with 50 goals and was third in the league with 98 total points.

    Perry is just 26 years old and entering the prime of his career. 

17. Ryan Getzlaf

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    Despite playing in just 67 games due to injury last season, Ryan Getzlaf managed to collect 76 points for Anaheim.

    Getzlaf is a rare power forward at the center position, and he is one of the best in the NHL. The trio of Getzlaf, Ryan and Perry is the meanest line in the NHL. Meanwhile, they are all still young and just hitting the prime of their careers.

    Getzlaf and the Ducks are hoping they can get back on track after stumbling out to a pedestrian start this fall.

16. Claude Giroux

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    Claude Giroux continues to get better and better for the Philadelphia Flyers.

    The top line center has 29 points thus far this season and continues to display elite awareness in his own end.

15. Duncan Keith

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    Duncan Keith is on pace for another prolific season. He has 16 points in the first 21 games for the first place Chicago Blackhawks.

    Despite the departure of Brian Campbell, Keith and company are helping to keep the Blackhawks blue line as one of the sturdiest in the NHL.

14. Zdeno Chara

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    Zdeno Chara got the monkey off his back with a Stanley Cup victory, and now he continues to ascend this list, inching closer to the top ten players in the league.

    Chara is even piling up the points this season with 16 in 22 games.

13. Henrik Zetterberg

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    Believe it or not, there was a time when Henrik Zetterberg was in the discussion as the best player in the NHL. Of course, the influx of young talent such as Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin has caused him to slide down the list a bit.

    However, the former seventh-round draft choice is still one of the league's elite forwards, as evidenced by the fact that he once again finished in the top 10 in scoring last year with 80 points. Zetterberg is off to a slow start this season, however.

12. Jonathan Toews

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    The Chicago Blackhawks and Jonathan Toews are off to a roaring start to the 2011-2012 NHL season. Toews has piled up 25 points in 24 games and the Hawks sit comfortably in first place of the Central Division.

    Toews has become an elite two way player and one of the best captains in the league.

11. Daniel Sedin

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    Daniel Sedin is in pursuit of his fifth 80 point season in the last six years and his seventh straight 70 point season for the Vancouver Canucks.

    Sedin is off to a solid start, averaging more than a point per game through the first few months of the season.

10. Evgeni Malkin

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    Evgeni Malkin's season was off to a pedestrian start before a knee injury forced him to miss the entire second half of the season a year ago.

    However, Malkin has quickly returned to form with 21 points in his first 17 games this season. He should compete for some of the major NHL awards this season.

9. Martin St. Louis

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    Martin St. Louis has been defying the odds and silencing his critics since he entered the NHL back in the late 1990s. At just 5'9'', St. Louis was considered too small by most scouts which caused him to go undrafted.

    However, size has not been an issue, as St. Louis has missed just two games in the last eight season, while reaching at least 60 points in each of those years.

    At 35 years of age, St. Louis still has it. Tampa's winger collected the second-most points in the league last season with 99. He has aided the development and production of superstar Steven Stamkos and been an intricate aspect of the Lighting's success. 

    His production will only improve with the continued development of Steven Stamkos.

8. Henrik Sedin

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    Henrik Sedin is once again doing his thing with 24 points in his first 23 games this season coming off an injury riddled postseason in which many criticized his play.

    Sedin will ultimately be defined by his postseason performance, so we'll see if he can right that ship this season.

7. Shea Weber

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    Shea Weber has been absolutely phenomenal on the back end for a disciplined Nashville Predators team. He continually shut down opposing scorers and is able to make significant contributions in the offensive zone.

    Between the Preds' brilliant system, the top pairing of Suter and Weber, and Rinne's play between the pipes, they are the best defensive team in hockey.

    The Preds would be foolish to let Shea Weber go this offseason.

6. Nicklas Lidstrom

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    For those who think Nicklas Lidstrom is finished, think again. Lidstrom is still the best all-around defenseman in the world, even at the age of 41.

    Detroit's captain finished last season with 62 points, his highest total since '07-'08. However, his influence cannot be felt on the stats alone. The Swedish blueliner still provides quality play on both ends of the ice and is a tremendous leader for Detroit.

5. Henrik Lundqvist

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    Henrik Lundvist has established himself as a world class goaltender. Despite playing on a less than average team over the years, Lundvist always managed to keep the Rangers in every single game. In addition, New York is always in the playoff hunt due at large to King Henrik's services.

    Now surrounded by more talent, the Swedish net minder has a shot to achieve playoff glory this year.

4. Steven Stamkos

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    Steven Stamkos has entered the discussion as the league's most dynamic offensive player. The 21-year-old center has already completed two 90-plus point seasons in his young career.

    His astonishingly quick release and outstanding skating ability are rare, to say the very least. Stamkos has the ability to take over a game from start to finish and simply dominate.

    The scary thing is that Stamkos is only going to get better.

3. Alexander Ovechkin

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    Alexander Ovechkin continues to be as dangerous an offensive weapon as there is in the NHL. His 17 points so far this season can attest to that fact.

    However, Ovie continue to struggle in the defensive zone. He'll never surpass Crosby unless he can improve that area of his game.

2. Pavel Datsyuk

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    Pavel Datsyuk has been slumping a bit to start the 2011-2012 season, but he has still managed to pile up 19 points in his first 21 games.

    In addition to his production offensively, Datsyuk is a defensive stud. As long as he stays healthy, Datsyuk is a top three player in the NHL.

1. Sidney Crosby

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    Sidney Crosby is the best player in the NHL today.

    After missing nearly a calendar year due to a concussion, Crosby has returned to post 8 points in his first four games back. He may have missed the early portion of the 2011-2012 season, but Crosby is on pace to post another very productive season.

    Crosby's prowess in both ends makes him the best player in the league, in my opinion.