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01-02-2013, 04:31 PM
Czech Your Math
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Obviously when there was/is no NHL, such as in '04-5 and this season so far, then the best players were not in the NHL. Otherwise, it's difficult to believe that the best player was not in the NHL. The closest might be Gretzky in '79 or Lemieux in '98.

Gretzky was only 3rd in points in the WHA in '79, 19 behind the leader, and 5th in assists... in the WHA! So it's tough to say he was the best player in hockey that year. Trottier, Dionne, Lafleur, and Bossy all had great years, and in fact each had more points in the NHL than Gretzky did in the WHA. I think that pretty much seals the deal righ there.

Lemieux was still one of, if not the best players in hockey before he again retired after '97, but it was close between he and Jagr, and I just wonder how much longer he could have played near full seasons. One has to realize that in '96 & '97, he played more total games (including playoffs) than in any two seasons in his career. However, remember that was following a Crosby-esque vacation of sorts, where he played 28 games in two years. At 32, following two long seasons (for Lemieux, that is) and during the depths of the DPE, it might have been too much to ask. Now if you mean "best player when healthy," that's a different question than "best, as in creating the most value" (much of which depends on remaining relatively healthy). You could still argue that Lemieux would have been the best in '98, but I highly doubt he can stay healthy much more than that one extra season. I also don't think it's really fair to say a player is "the best" when he isn't even playing a substantial number of games. I wouldn't call Crosby "the best" this year, because he hasn't played.

There may have been players outside the NHL who were the best at their positions (meaning G/D/F) and we know how difficult it can be to compare entirely different positions. Some of the more likely possibilities:

- Kharlamov: Espo's overall game appears to really fall off after '72, which probably leaves Clarke as the best forward. Yet Clarke had to break Kharlamov's ankle to best him, which is sort of a de facto argument right there that Clarke was not better. If he was better, then why, as a two way forward known so much for defense, did he have to resort to such a cheap tactic? (or why did his coach have to suggest this to him?)

- Tretiak: Depends on how great you think he was compared to Parent, Dryden, etc.

- Hasek: Goalie was sorta thin in the decade before Hasek emerged as an NHL starter, but Roy was still around. There may have been years when Hasek would be considered the best goalie, but I don't think that's proven, nor do we know which years... and even then, it's doubtful that during that decade many would pick the less-proven Hasek over Roy looking at any point going forward.

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