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11-22-2012, 02:44 PM
Czech Your Math
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Quite a range of opinions about these two, which is understandable. If this question was asked several years ago, I would have said Espo by a significant margin, but I tend to slightly favor Messier at this point. They don't seem similar in style, so it's a difficult comparison.

I will reiterate the reasons why I rank Espo much lower than I did previously:

1. Playing with Orr obviously was a tremendous help.
2. Playing with a very strong team and offensive juggernaut like the Bruins in a league with at least half expansion teams, when there was a gaping disparity in talent.
3. His numbers both before and after Boston were not outstanding, and even his overall effectiveness at even strength is a question in his later years in Boston.
4. His competition for best forward was neither strong nor deep. It seems mainly to have been a past his peak Hull, then the offensively constrained Clarke.

I think Espo was in a sweet spot in Boston. He played with Orr on a powerhouse in a diluted league full of weak teams. Unlike Orr, I'm skeptical as to just how much Espo generally "controlled" the pace and action of the game. My, perhaps incorrect, impression is of a big, strong player with great hands who knew where to be. He was great at what he did, but he was very opportunistic as well. I'm not sure how well his skills would translate to a more typical situation on a more typical team in a more typical league/era. Even in his own time, he didn't seem to separate himself offensively from Chicago forwards such as Mohns, Wharram, Hay, etc. I see a big difference between creating offense and overall ES advantages on a mediocre or good team in a competitive league, and extending an advantage created in large part by teammates on a superior team in a weak league.

One career aspect which Espo & Messier shared is that they each peaked in their 30s. This is highly unusual and often indicates that the player found himself in a very fortunate situation later in his career. One can see why Messier's numbers weren't outstanding earlier in his career: he played wing or on the second line... more of a defensive role... less PP opportunity... overshadowed by Gretzky. However, it's much less clear why Espo didn't stand out in Chicago. Espo was also more pedestrian with the Rangers, and although that can be excused due to his age, the sudden and drastic drop off again speaks to the ideal situation he had in Boston.

I'm more confident that Messier's array of skills, which allowed him to succeed with more than one team and in more competitive eras, would translate better than Espo's, which seemed narrower, more specialized, and much more prone to influence from environment.

It's not an easy choice, because despite all the factors that helped Espo's peak numbers, the fact remains that his actual peak numbers were staggering, so there is a large gap between his and Messier's offensive production. However, much of that gap was due to his favorable environment, which is far from the norm. I understand he played well in international competition, but a small sample for a superior team isn't going to change my opinion.

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