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02-05-2014, 07:50 PM
Hockey Outsider
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This round, the players can be divided into four categories:
  • Short career NHL players: Lafontaine, Lemaire, Primeau, Zetterberg
  • Full career NHL players: Savard, Sittler, Sundin
  • Europeans: Larionov, Nedomansky, Petrov
  • Early era players: Fredrickson, Keats, MacKay
I'm going to compare the four short career NHL players.

All four are surprisingly close in their “Vs X” score, which is, in my opinion, the single best way to compare offense across eras (Lafontaine - 78.8, Zetterberg – 76.7, Primeau 76.0, Lemaire – 75.5). To differentiate them, we need to look at, among other factors, their contribution to their teams’ success:

Lafontaine. Unquestionably the most talented player, but had bad luck with injuries. Led his team in scoring six times (1988, 1989, 1990, 1991, 1993, 1996) – five of those years by 20+ points (1989, 1990, 1991, 1993, 1996). Truly a one-man show. More of a goal-scorer than a playmaker, which is odd (but not necessarily undesirable) for a centre. Top twenty in scoring 5 times, including runner-up to Lemieux in 1993 (which would have been an Art Ross most other years).

Zetterberg. Led his team in scoring twice (2011, 2012) but was runner up six times. Normal balance between goals & assists. Top twenty in scoring 4 times.

Lemaire. Lemaire led his team in scoring only once (1973 – by a two point margin over Mahovlich) and was runner-up only twice more (1970 and 1978). I realize he was often used in defensive roles, but he also received a lot of ice time and had many chances to play with Lafleur and Shutt. Normal balance between goals & assists. Top twenty in scoring 4 times. All things considered, his output is disappointing.

Primeau. What jumps out is that Primeau never led his team in scoring and finished 2nd only twice. I realize that there were some close scoring finishes on “The Kid Line” with Conacher and Jackson, but Primeau looks like he was the worst of the three offensively. Primeau’s last year as an elite player was 1934 - Conacher won one of his two Art Ross trophies and had two of his five top-five scoring finishes after that. Jackson had three of his five years as a top ten scorer, and three of his six years as a top ten goal-scorer, after that. This, combined with the relative scoring placements, suggests that Primeau was not the main catalyst on these teams. Although he was a terrible goal-scorer (career high of just 14 goals), he gets credit for leading the NHL in assists three times. Top ten in scoring 3 times (I looked at top twenty for the other players who played in a much larger league).

Lafontaine is clearly last; you can argue about the order of the other three, but it`s close.

Zetterberg. Excellent defensive forward. As detailed in the award section, placed in the top ten in Selke voting five times. Partially earned the 2008 Smythe thanks to containing Crosby in the Finals.

Primeau. The defensive conscience of the Kid Line. A strong two-way player at even strength and on the penalty kill. A small, clean player, but a hard worker with underrated grit.

Lemaire. An excellent two-way forward and strong penalty killer. Much like Primeau, was the defensive conscience of his line. Unfortunately the Selke wasn’t introduced until in 1978, his penultimate season.

Lafontaine. Not a good defensive forward. Still, played a bit on the penalty kill.

Zetterberg and Lafontaine are clearly the two leaders. Although Lafontaine has the higher peak (evidenced by his two top-five Hart trophy placements), I give Zetterberg the edge due to sustained high-level ability (five seasons with significant all-star votes compared to three) and his other awards (Conn Smythe, and many years of contending for the Selke). Primeau and Lemaire are well behind – I give Primeau the edge due to faring so well in Lady Byng voting back when it was an esteemed award.

Zetterberg. Conn Smythe in 2008. Top ten in Hart voting once (10th in 2008 – but only third among his teammates); received a smattering of votes a few other years. Top ten in Selke voting five times (3rd in 2008, 4th in 2009, 7th in 2007, 9th in 2006, 9th in 2010). Received serious all-star consideration five times (always at LW): 2nd in 2008 (Ovechkin), 3rd (Ovechkin, Sedin), 4th in 2006 (Ovechkin, Heatley, Kovalchuk), 4th in 2013 (Kunitz, Ovechkin (who wasn’t a LW), Hall), 5th in 2007 (Ovechkin, Vanek, Sedin, Heatley). Placed in the top five in Lady Byng voting once (5th in 2008) – but this is no longer a valuable, respected award. Was runner-up for the Calder but not sure how important that is.

Lafontaine. Serious Hart contender twice – 3rd in 1993 (Lemieux, Gilmour) and 5th in 1990 (Messier, Bourque, Hull, Gretzky). Earned significant votes for the all-star team three times, facing very tough competition: 2nd in 1993 (Lemieux), 5th in 1990 (Messier, Gretzky, Yzerman, Lemieux), 5th in 1992 (Messier, Lemieux, Gretzky, Roenick). Placed in the top three in Lady Byng voting in 1990 and 1993, and in the top ten several more times, but it was not a valued/respected award at the time.

Primeau. Never a contender for the Hart trophy. Was 2nd team all-star in 1933 and 3rd team in 1932. Finished 1st, 2nd and 3rd in Lady Byng voting during an era when this was an important award.

Lemaire. Virtually no Hart recognition (2 voting points in 1973). Finished 4th in centre all-star voting twice (1973 and 1978). Was runner-up for the Calder but not sure how important that is. Top five for the Lady Byng twice (1973 and 1978) but it was not a valued/respected award at the time.

Generally strong playoff performers. I have Lafontaine ranked last, but even he's a solid performer.

Lemaire. Won a staggering eight Stanley Cups. Top five in playoff scoring five times (1968, 1971, 1973, 1977, 1979) while also contributing defensively. A lot of this is due to the fact that he played on a dynasty, but deserves full credit for taking advantage of these opportunities. Offense is virtually even in the regular season (0.98 ppg) and playoffs (0.96 ppg) in an era where playoff scoring usually dropped around 10%.

Zetterberg. Won one Stanley Cup and Conn Smythe (both in 2008). Has placed first and third in playoff scoring (2008 and 2009) despite often being used in defensive roles. Offense is virtually even in the regular season (0.95 ppg) and playoffs (0.93 ppg) in an era where playoff scoring usually dropped around 10%. Played on three Olympics teams (tied for third in scoring on gold medal team in 2006).

Primeau. Won one Stanley Cup. Top ten in playoff scoring four times (but higher than third on his team just once – 1934). Scored 0.78 ppg during the regular season and 0.61 ppg during the playoffs – the drop of 22% is fairly average for his era.

Lafontaine. Large drop in playoff production (1.17 ppg down to 0.90 ppg). However, a disproportionate amount of his playoff games occurred early in his career, before he was an elite scorer. If we focus on 1987 to 1995, he scored 1.29 ppg in the regular season and 1.20 ppg in the playoffs – slightly better than expected given the era. Minor contributor to 1996 World Cup champion team.


Lemaire. Versatile; can play both LW and C. Exceptionally disciplined (21 PIM per 82 games) given his role and era. Strong on faceoffs.

Zetterberg. Versatile; can play both LW and C. Interestingly, virtually all of his all-star recognition has come at LW, even though he’s split his time fairly evenly between those two positions. Remarkably disciplined (33 PIM per 82 games) given his role.

Primeau. 28 PIM per 82 games.

Lafontaine. 52 PIM per 82 games; not a bad number, but mostly due to the frustrations of a small player lashing out with stupid penalties. Still, a bit scrappier than one would expect given his fairly small size.

Normally I wouldn’t specifically consider longevity, but these players are all lacking in that category and it may be interesting to see how they compare to each other. Primeau is clearly last, the others are close.

Lemaire. 853 games; played in seven seasons of 70+ games (and two more of 69 games, both of which would equate to 70+ games over an 82 game schedule).

Lafontaine. 865 games; played in seven seasons of 70+ games. These are surprisingly low numbers given that he played from 1984 to 1998 – had a lot of partial, injury-plagued seasons.

Zetterberg. As of today, played 757 games. Played in seven seasons of 70+ games, and virtually the entire lockout-shortened 2013 campaign. In another year and a half, Zetterberg could be first here, but we can’t speculate on future performance.

Primeau. Very short career. 310 games, which, adjusted for era, is roughly 550 games. Played six seasons where he was on track for 70+ games over an 82 game schedule. This wasn’t really a product of his era - when he retired (18 years after the NHL was formed), he was just 61st in games played.

If I had a vote (remember, I’m not a participant in this project), I’d have Zetterberg in my top four this round. I think that Lafontaine and Lemaire probably should be towards the bottom of the top sixty, and Primeau probably shouldn’t be included.

Zetterberg. A lower peak than Lafontaine, but has played at an all-star level for longer. Superb intangibles – an excellent playoff and international performer, excellent defensively, disciplined, gritty, and versatile.

Lafontaine. Two points in his favour. First, he has the best peak of these players (two years as Hart trophy contender). Second, he may have a similar “Vs X” score to all of these players, but given his role on his team, he was clearly the biggest offensive catalyst and a one-man scoring machine. Still, his intangibles (playoffs, defense) are the weakest of the four.

Lemaire. Similar intangibles to Zetterberg (an excellent playoff performer and defensive forward). Still, received very little award recognition and probably the weakest offensive player of the group (both statistically, and in terms of team context). I seriously considered putting him second but the disparity in Hart/all-star voting was a big obstacle, as was the fact that Lafontaine was so much more important to his team’s offense, even if the numbers are similar.

Primeau. He was a brilliant playmaker and a good defensive forward, but there are two major strikes against him. First, he appears to have been far more dependent upon his all-star teammates than they were on him (as detailed above). Second, he has incredibly little career value (only around 550 “adjusted” games). Not trying to be hard on him - by all accounts Primeau was a classy, likable player, but the lack of longevity and questions about his importance to the team keep him in fourth.

Last edited by Hockey Outsider: 02-06-2014 at 10:15 AM.
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