Who has the best fans? How about the worst ice? And which player will make the best coach when he retires? The NHLPA membership weighs in on this and more in the 2017-18 player poll.
If you want to know who’s the best of the best, you go to the source, and thanks to a poll conducted by the NHL Players’ Association, we have some insights into who and what NHL players think of past players and present stars as well as their thoughts on buildings, fan bases and rules.
So, via the NHLPA, here are the results of the 2017-18 player poll which collected results from more than 500 NHLers over the past several months.
(Note: Not all 500-plus players voted on every question.)
BEST FORWARD OF ALL-TIME Wayne Gretzky — 72.7% Mario Lemieux — 11.3% Sidney Crosby — 4.9% Jaromir Jagr — 3.1% Peter Forsberg — 2.3% Other — 5.7%
There's no “best of all-time” category in which a player received more support than Gretzky did as the greatest forward in NHL history. It's not really a controversial pick, though, because it's pretty hard to argue otherwise when ‘The Great One’ basically rewrote the record book. The biggest surprise has to be Forsberg, though his inclusion means he only received nine votes. That said, there could be an argument made that Forsberg wasn't even the greatest forward on the Colorado Avalanche during their heyday. It’s too bad we don't get to see who else received votes because it would be interesting to see how many gave the nod to Gordie Howe or Mark Messier.
BEST DEFENSEMAN OF ALL-TIME Bobby Orr — 61.0% Nicklas Lidstrom — 29.1% Ray Bourque — 2.6% Paul Coffey — 1.8% Scott Niedermayer — 1.3% Other — 4.2%
Gretzky earned the biggest single majority, but no two players combined to dominate a vote like Orr and Lidstrom. Together, the Bruins icon and Red Wings legend pulled in more than 90 percent of the 382 votes. The reverence for Orr is almost more impressive than that of Gretzky, too, given there isn't a single player in the NHL who is old enough to have watched him during the prime of his career. Matter of fact, there are only three active NHLers who were born before he retired. There’s no other player from the same generation who received near the praise.
BEST GOALIE OF ALL-TIME Patrick Roy — 39.3% Martin Brodeur — 33.2% Dominik Hasek — 13.6% Carey Price — 3.0% Ken Dryden — 3.0% Other — 7.8%
Is anyone surprised to see a largely two-horse race for this title? Roy-versus-Brodeur is the eternal goaltending debate and the players have spoken up on the side of ‘Saint Patrick.’ It's somewhat surprising not to see more support for Hasek, who certainly can make a case as the greatest of all-time, and Carey Price sticks out like a sore thumb. He’s been excellent in recent years, sure, but beating out Terry Sawchuk, Jacques Plante, Tony Esposito or Glenn Hall makes this a head-scratcher. We can appreciate the argument that players are thinking of recent history, but even if that's the case, putting Price ahead of Roberto Luongo and Henrik Lundqvist seems bizarre.
ONE PLAYER YOU WOULD LIKE AS A TEAMMATE (ACTIVE OR RETIRED) Wayne Gretzky — 13.4% Sidney Crosby — 8.0% Mario Lemieux — 6.3% Peter Forsberg — 4.6% Nicklas Lidstrom — 3.7% Other — 64.1%
This one is interesting. Of course Gretzky gets the top spot because who wouldn't want to play with prime-aged, world-beater Gretzky, but Crosby coming in second seems to suggest that current players believe he’s the guy most likely to help a team win a Stanley Cup in the modern era. The inclusion of Lidstrom is great. 'The Perfect Human’ seems a no-brainer for a teammate in any era. Does someone on this list stick out, though? Yep. There’s Forsberg again. That he appears in the greatest forward and most desired teammate categories will make a whole lot more sense in a second…
FAVORITE PLAYER GROWING UP Peter Forsberg — 8.4% Steve Yzerman — 8.2% Joe Sakic — 7.4% Nicklas Lidstrom — 5.3% Mats Sundin — 4.2% Other — 66.5%
And there it is. In votes like these, the head is never going to be any match for the heart, and Forsberg’s status as one of the former players most beloved by current players makes it much easier to understand how he made his way into best forward and teammate categories. Of the 379 players who voted in the favorite player category, 32 selected Forsberg, 31 selected Yzerman, 28 selected Sakic and 20 selected Lidstrom. Nearly 30 percent of the total vote went to players who were involved in the legendary Colorado-Detroit rivalry. This is another category where it would be awesome to see the entire list just to see some of the more obscure favorite player choices.
PLAYER TO START A FRANCHISE Connor McDavid — 48.6% Sidney Crosby — 23.8% Auston Matthews — 5.8% Jonathan Toews — 3.1% Erik Karlsson — 1.9% Other — 16.8%
There seems to have been two schools of thought when it comes to this question. The first is picking a young star to build around, while the other is to select a veteran leader who has won it all before. The vast majority of players seem to fall into the first camp with almost half of all voters going all-in on McDavid. It makes sense if you put on your GM hat. McDavid is young, supremely talented and has already shown he can singlehandedly drive a team's offense. Those who believe in building around a proven winner, though, decided Crosby was the go-to guy. Matthews and Toews were the second choices of those in each respective camp, while Karlsson was the favorite for those who believe you build from the blueline.
WHICH GOALTENDER IS MOST DIFFICULT TO SCORE ON Carey Price — 41.0% Jonathan Quick — 12.1% Pekka Rinne — 9.3% Sergei Bobrovsky — 8.2% Braden Holtby — 5.0% Other — 24.4%
Seeing as he received votes as the greatest goaltender of all-time, it comes as no surprise that Price is regarded as the most difficult active goalie to beat. He pulled down 180 of the 439 votes, too, which is pretty impressive. Again, this feels like a list that would've been interesting to see in full. The top five is a veritable who’s who of the annual Vezina race entering each season, but we can’t help but wonder if a random contender found his way into the mix. Statistically, players have had loads of trouble getting anything by St. Louis’ Carter Hutton this season, so did he earn a vote? Is there one middling goaltender who got a vote because a top scorer has a tough time fooling him?
WHICH PLAYER IS MOST DIFFICULT TO PLAY AGAINST Sidney Crosby — 29.9% Connor McDavid — 23.7% Patrick Kane — 4.6% Shea Weber — 4.1% Anze Kopitar — 3.2% Other — 34.5%
Crosby has the combination of speed, skill and strength that allows him to consistently make opponents look foolish, but McDavid has clearly made a push for the throne in short order. Almost every season until Crosby hits his eventual (?) decline, there will be a debate about who is the better player. For the time being, it appears the players pick Crosby. That Kane and Kopitar also received votes is interesting, particularly considering the stark contrast in playing style. Kane is all skill, while Kopitar is a two-way pivot who makes opponents work for every inch of ice. It’s also pretty clear Weber makes life difficult for anyone who crosses his path, as 18 players selected the rugged rearguard as the most difficult opponent.
WHICH DEFENSEMAN IS MOST DIFFICULT TO PLAY AGAINST Erik Karlsson — 22.1% Drew Doughty — 20.4% Shea Weber — 19.4% Brent Burns — 9.2% Victor Hedman — 7.7% Other — 21.1%
You're probably asking yourself the same question many people would when they see Weber third on this list but fourth when forwards are included in the conversation. The explanation is that Weber likely kept all the same votes while earning another 60 from other voters. However, those who voted for top forwards — most likely a large number defensemen — went ahead and selected other blueliners who are difficult to wrangle. Hard to argue with the choice of Karlsson, either. He seems like he would be a nightmare to wrangle, even more so if you include 3-on-3 in the conversation.
PLAYER YOU WOULD WANT ON YOUR TEAM TO WIN ONE GAME Sidney Crosby — 43.7% Connor McDavid — 15.3% Carey Price — 9.7% Patrick Kane — 3.7% Erik Karlsson — 3.4% Other — 24.2%
Crosby reigns supreme in the one-and-done category, and there's no reason he shouldn’t. He's won everything there is to win and he's come through in the clutch on countless occasions. The proof is in the pudding, too. Crosby was on the ice often and scored the golden goal in the ultimate one-off situation at the 2010 Olympics. McDavid’s ability to influence the attack made him a lock for second spot, while the players believe Price is the one netminder who can steal a game.
MOST UNDERRATED Nicklas Backstrom — 8.6% Jaden Schwartz — 6.8% Nikita Kucherov — 6.2% Aleksander Barkov — 6.0% Ryan O’Reilly — 2.3% Other — 70.1%
You can look at this two ways: 1) the players have a different definition of underrated; or 2) Backstrom is that much better than us non-NHL folk understand. It's probably a little of Column A, a little of Column B, but that Backstrom tops the list speaks volumes about the respect he’s earned around the league. The votes given to Schwartz, Barkov and O’Reilly are the most intriguing, and it’s no doubt a sign that players see the first two as guys who are on the rise. As for O’Reilly, his two-way game is what likely got him the votes. Finally, it’s kind of funny to see Kucherov on this list as he heads towards a potential Hart Trophy. He won’t be underrated by any definition much longer.
FASTEST SKATER Connor McDavid — 81.0% Michael Grabner — 3.6% Nick Leddy — 2.4% Dylan Larkin — 2.2% Chris Kreider — 1.6% Other — 9.2%
McDavid was selected as the runaway winner of the fastest skater award. In other news, water is wet. Anyone who has watched McDavid since he broke into the league would've been able to tell you who was going to get this nod. The more interesting selections are the Grabners, Larkins and Kreiders of the list, particularly because it seems like it's a race to see who will finish second to McDavid. By the way, a theory on Leddy: players didn't just include forward, full-flight skating, but thought about backwards skating, as well. Leddy’s smooth stride in both directions is what earned him the praise.
TOUGHEST PLAYER Ryan Reaves — 44.7% Milan Lucic — 14.8% Zdeno Chara — 4.0% Michael Haley — 3.2% Matt Martin — 2.7% Other — 30.6%
This is tough in the old-school, wouldn’t-want-to-anger-him sense. And by that definition, the players believe Reaves is tougher than a two-dollar steak, to quote the legendary Jim Ross. The days of the pure pugilist have gone by the wayside, but some respect was still given to the Haleys and Martins of the league. We assume if this list was more specific — say, player you would least like to fight — Chara would be much higher on the list. He’s downright terrifying when he drops the mitts.
BEST ROLE MODEL Sidney Crosby — 33.0% Jonathan Toews — 9.6% Patrice Bergeron — 6.0% Shea Weber — 3.1% Patrick Marleau — 2.6% Other — 45.7%
Crosby received overwhelming support as the best role model, and his work with the community is no small reason why. Likewise, Toews’ involvement with youth programs and environmental projects definitely earned him some support. The surprise name on this list is Marleau, though only because he’s not one of the faces of the game, nor is he in the spotlight as often as the top four. The math — 2.6 percent of 385 voters — works out to 10 votes, so we wonder if his positive influence on young players in San Jose and Toronto resulted in those same players selecting their veteran mentor.
COACH WOULD YOU MOST LIKE TO PLAY FOR Joel Quenneville — 16.5% Jon Cooper — 14.2% Gerard Gallant — 11.6% Mike Babcock — 7.5% Peter Laviolette — 4.9% Other — 45.3%
Players undoubtedly talk about this kind of thing, so it’s quite interesting to see how many players chose Quenneville as the coach they’d love to play for. He checks a lot of boxes, for sure. He’s experienced, knows how to push the right buttons, seems to be respected by his players and he’s won and won often. It’s pretty interesting to see how many players would like the opportunity to play under Gallant, too. Vegas GM George McPhee has to be happy with his hire when even players from other clubs look favorably upon the expansion Golden Knights’ bench boss.
NEXT ASSISTANT TO BECOME HEAD COACH D.J. Smith — 8.3% Todd Reirden — 7.4% Ulf Samuelsson — 5.1% Steve Ott — 5.1% Lindy Ruff — 4.2% Other — 69.9%
We might not be too far off of Reirden, who is an assistant with the Washington Capitals, landing himself a top job, so that seems to be a pretty well-informed choice by the players. Smith has also had his name mentioned in connection with other jobs from time to time. Ruff, of course, is as experienced as any assistant in the league, and Samuelsson is no slouch himself. Ott is the most fun name on the list, though. He's in his first season and already players seem to love the idea of Ott as a coach.
WHICH CURRENT PLAYER WOULD MAKE THE BEST COACH Sidney Crosby — 5.7% Derek Stepan — 4.5% Jason Spezza — 4.5% Matt Cullen — 4.5% Jonathan Toews — 3.6% Other — 77.3%
The voting on this is spread out enough that it's hard draw any real conclusions, but the players in the middle of the top five really stand out. Isn’t it always the case that it’s the non-superstars who turn out to be the best behind the bench? Stepan, Spezza and Cullen almost fit into that Doug Weight-esque category of players who could transition into coaching somewhat seamlessly after their playing time is done. It’s hard to be as certain about Crosby or Toews. Both are stars, no doubt, but when Gretzky can’t make it work, there’s no reason to assume stardom is a sure sign of coaching success.
FAVORITE RINK Bell Centre (Montreal) — 24.8% United Center (Chicago) — 21.9% Madison Square Garden (Rangers) — 14.6% Staples Center (Los Angeles) — 5.4% Bridgestone Arena (Nashville) — 4.9% Other — 28.5%
More than 100 players chose Bell Centre, so there's something special about stepping foot on that ice. It's probably safe to say that a fair number of the 57 Quebec-born players chose Montreal, but that leaves more than a handful of players from out of province or out of country who adore playing in the Canadiens’ barn. Part of that might be the ice surface — more on that in a second — but that wouldn't explain why the United Center and Madison Square Garden finished in second and third place, respectively.
BEST QUALITY IN A TEAMMATE Work Ethic — 26.0% Team Player — 14.0% Honesty — 7.7% Loyalty — 6.0% Respect — 3.8% Other — 42.5%
More than a quarter of players who responded said that work ethic is valued above all else, and that makes sense if you consider that just about every mid-game interviewee makes some mention of "effort" or "compete level." It's an intangible and impossible to measure, but that doesn't make it any less valuable, apparently. If the full list was available, we wonder where skill would have appeared.
DO YOU LIKE THE CURRENT WAY POINTS ARE AWARDED FOR A WIN OR A LOSS Yes — 77.7% No — 22.3%
Despite desire from some segments of the NHL crowd, players don't feel as though there's as much need for a three-point system.
BEST ICE Bell Centre (Montreal) — 28.0% Rogers Place (Edmonton) — 21.7% Bell MTS Place (Winnipeg) — 6.6% Xcel Energy Center (Minnesota) — 6.0% Scotiabank Saddledome (Calgary) — 6.0% Other — 31.7%
Makes sense the players’ choice for favorite rink would also have the best ice. After all, if the surface isn’t playable, the players would likely dread heading to the building. The cold-weather cities absolutely dominate the discussion, with Edmonton, Calgary, Winnipeg and Minnesota finishing second through fifth. Interestingly enough, it used to be said the Oilers have the best ice in the league, so it appears they're still trying to learn the ins and outs of making the best sheet at their new home.
WORST ICE BB&T Center (Florida) — 16.8% Gila River Arena (Arizona) — 10.7% Barclays Center (Islanders) — 10.7% Honda Center (Anaheim) — 8.6% PNC Arena (Carolina) — 5.9% Other — 47.3%
This is the only negative category in the entire poll, which makes it stick out and also makes it kind of funny. The results probably don't come as much of a surprise, however. With the exception of the Islanders’ building, the worst ice belongs to the teams in southern markets where actually laying a good surface isn’t going to come quite as easy as it does in the northern states and Canada. Warm weather causes humidity issues which can lead to softer ice and bouncing pucks. As for Barclays, well, there’s plenty of reasons the Islanders wanted a new barn, and the ice appears to be one.
BEST FANS Chicago Blackhawks — 30.4% Nashville Predators — 19.4% Montréal Canadiens — 18.8% Toronto Maple Leafs — 4.8% Winnipeg Jets — 4.3% Other — 22.3%
Winning three Stanley Cups has resulted in the Blackhawks packing the ‘Madhouse on Madison’ on a nightly basis for the better part of the past decade, and from cheering the anthem to how well Chicago’s fans seem to travel, we can see how they finished first. It’s neat to see a growing fanbase such as Nashvilles crack the list — the sing-along post-goal chants are really quite something — ahead of the traditional Canadian markets, too. No surprise to see the Canadiens and Maple Leafs, and the Jets’ raucous house is almost assuredly what put them in contention.
BEST REFEREE Wes McCauley — 47.8% Kelly Sutherland — 17.7% Tim Peel — 4.4% Dan O’Halloran — 2.7% Trevor Hanson — 2.7% Other — 24.8 percent