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Defensively: Sakic vs Yzerman vs Modano

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08-22-2013, 04:31 PM
  #1
Stars and Bolts
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Defensively: Sakic vs Yzerman vs Modano

How would you rank these 3 centers defensively? Curious to know how people thought these #1 centers on the 3 elite teams in the West during the dead puck era compared defensively.

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08-22-2013, 08:01 PM
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Big Phil
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I guess I'd go with either one of Sakic/Yzerman as #1. Modano is close, but he's 3rd regardless in my opinion. Even though he was in the dreaded Hitchcock system I never saw the fuss about him defensively. He was good, and responsible for sure but I always thought of him as the type that was more along the lines of an offensive player who was a two-way center - like Dale Hawerchuk - rather than someone elite defensively. Good defensively, just not Selke like.

Sakic almost won the Selke in 2001 and Yzerman won it in 2000. How many times did we see Yzerman lay down and block a shot? The guy had 155 points in a season (at one time) and he never hesitated to lay down. Sakic was more along the lines of just being smart rather than sacrificing his body. I always thought Sakic was effective every time he was on the ice regardless of whether he was scoring or not.

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08-22-2013, 08:14 PM
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I think Yzerman takes this, if we are talking about the defense focused version. If we are talking about the 80's and early 90's version then no, he was average at best. He carried the team offensively, he just wasn't terrible in his own end.

Sakic and Modano never transformed their game and sacrificed their offensive production. Yzerman due to injuries, age, team player changed his entire game.

If Sakic or Modano decided to play mostly defensive hockey, they may have been better at it, because they had 2 legs and Yzerman kind of had 1.

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08-22-2013, 08:18 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ozzie View Post
I think Yzerman takes this, if we are talking about the defense focused version. If we are talking about the 80's and early 90's version then no, he was average at best. He carried the team offensively, he just wasn't terrible in his own end.

Sakic and Modano never transformed their game and sacrificed their offensive production. Yzerman due to injuries, age, team player changed his entire game.

If Sakic or Modano decided to play mostly defensive hockey, they may have been better at it, because they had 2 legs and Yzerman kind of had 1.
Agreed.
Great post. Yzerman in his later years takes this hands down

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08-22-2013, 10:00 PM
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BraveCanadian
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At their best defensively:

Yzerman > Sakic > Modano

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08-22-2013, 10:49 PM
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Originally Posted by BraveCanadian View Post
At their best defensively:

Yzerman > Sakic > Modano
I agree with that, but I think the gap between Yzerman and Sakic is smaller then the gap between Sakic and Modano

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08-22-2013, 11:24 PM
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Yzerman is definitely number 1
Sakic i guess is 2
leaving...
Modano

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08-22-2013, 11:25 PM
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TheDevilMadeMe
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I think that Yzerman in the second half of his career was the best defensively of all of them.

I don't see any difference between Sakic and Modano defensively when they were at their best - Sakic was better offensively though.

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08-22-2013, 11:58 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by BraveCanadian View Post
At their best defensively:

Yzerman > Sakic > Modano
This is the way I see them for defensive value over their careers, in their absolute peak Modano was pretty darn effective, at best it's a coinflip.

Both Mike and even Joe had to grow more than Steve did as starting points so that's why I'll take Steve for overall value.

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08-23-2013, 12:43 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ozzie View Post
Sakic and Modano never transformed their game and sacrificed their offensive production. Yzerman due to injuries, age, team player changed his entire game.
Sakic never had to... he was way above average defensively while being elite offensively.

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08-23-2013, 01:12 AM
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Originally Posted by ozzie View Post
I think Yzerman takes this, if we are talking about the defense focused version. If we are talking about the 80's and early 90's version then no, he was average at best. He carried the team offensively, he just wasn't terrible in his own end.

Sakic and Modano never transformed their game and sacrificed their offensive production. Yzerman due to injuries, age, team player changed his entire game.

If Sakic or Modano decided to play mostly defensive hockey, they may have been better at it, because they had 2 legs and Yzerman kind of had 1.
Modano did. 100%

I don't think there's much difference between any of them overall. The one edge that would go to Modano is that he could cover both ends of the rink better being the fastest of the three. It doesnt necessarily make him better, but he was a dynamite backchecker. Loved watching him catch the puck carrier in the defensive zone, strip him, then turn it around and leave everyone in his dust heading up the other way.

They're all close. I'd almost flip a coin. And from about 96-03 when 2-way centers were premo, there weren't many players in the league I would have taken ahead of these guys on my team.


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08-23-2013, 01:55 AM
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Originally Posted by TheDevilMadeMe View Post
I think that Yzerman in the second half of his career was the best defensively of all of them.

I don't see any difference between Sakic and Modano defensively when they were at their best - Sakic was better offensively though.
Beyond adding that in the first half of Yzerman's career, he would have been the worst of the three, I'd call this more or less spot on.

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08-23-2013, 07:30 AM
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This is the way I see them for defensive value over their careers, in their absolute peak Modano was pretty darn effective, at best it's a coinflip.
I don't agree whatsoever.

Modano definitely improved defensively from where he started (and bought into the system he was playing in) but individually he was never as good as the other two at their best defensively -- which is the time period we're talking about.

Modano is getting an awful lot of credit defensively in hindsight around here now but his peak two-way play was aided an awful lot by Lehtinen.

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08-23-2013, 12:24 PM
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Fred Taylor
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Originally Posted by BraveCanadian View Post
At their best defensively:

Yzerman > Sakic > Modano
Have to agree with this. Disagree with whoever said Sakic and Modano didn't transform their games defensively, early in their careers, the early to mid 90's, Modano and Sakic were average at best defensively. Come to think of it Yzerman may always have been the best defensively of the three throughout the span of their entire careers. After Yzerman started focusing his game on defense in the late 90's, he was Datsyuk/Zetterberg good defensively.

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08-23-2013, 12:38 PM
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Originally Posted by BraveCanadian View Post
Modano is getting an awful lot of credit defensively in hindsight around here now but his peak two-way play was aided an awful lot by Lehtinen.
It's not just hindsight - he got an awful lot of credit for being great defensively at the time, too.

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08-23-2013, 01:01 PM
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Originally Posted by BraveCanadian View Post
I don't agree whatsoever.

Modano definitely improved defensively from where he started (and bought into the system he was playing in) but individually he was never as good as the other two at their best defensively -- which is the time period we're talking about.

Modano is getting an awful lot of credit defensively in hindsight around here now but his peak two-way play was aided an awful lot by Lehtinen.
It's easy to brush it off as that and assume that's the case. No doubt Lehtinen helped any line he ever played on in the defensive aspect, but Modano himself was damn good defensively. He was one of the top 2 or 3 2-way centers in the game for a good 6-7 years. He's on par with the other two when focusing on that time frame for sure. And in that time frame I woulda had no problem having Modano as my #1 center to go head to head against either one of Yzerman or Sakic. Wouldn't feel intimidated or inferior in the least.


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08-23-2013, 01:20 PM
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Originally Posted by billybudd View Post
Beyond adding that in the first half of Yzerman's career, he would have been the worst of the three, I'd call this more or less spot on.
No, Sakic was horrible defensively his first 4 seasons, easily the worst of the 3. That started to change around '92 for obvious reasons.


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Old
08-23-2013, 04:24 PM
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Originally Posted by TheDevilMadeMe View Post
It's not just hindsight - he got an awful lot of credit for being great defensively at the time, too.
I think he gets more credit around here recently than he did at the time.


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Originally Posted by tjcurrie View Post
It's easy to brush it off as that and assume that's the case. No doubt Lehtinen helped any line he ever played on in the defensive aspect, but Modano himself was damn good defensively. He was one of the top 2 or 3 2-way centers in the game for a good 6-7 years. He's on par with the other two when focusing on that time frame for sure. And in that time frame I woulda had no problem having Modano as my #1 center to go head to head against either one of Yzerman or Sakic. Wouldn't feel intimidated or inferior in the least.
Modano definitely improved from where he started and did turn out to be a good defensive player and one of the better two-way threats.

However for me he is certainly the 3rd out of these three at their best.


Quote:
Originally Posted by Fort Worth Star Telegram, Nov 10, 1997

If only Bill Nye the Science Guy could give lessons in hockey chemistry - maybe then we'd understand. Unfortunately, it's not that easy. How does a line (Benoit Hogue, Joe Nieuwendyk and Pat Verbeek to be specific) that has failed time and again finally click? How does one player (Mike Modano) go from NHL's best to average just because of an injury to a so-called role player (Jere Lehtinen)? And how do you predict either?

....

(from google article stub)

But it's no secret that Modano is a better defensive player when he has the defensive-minded Lehtinen on his side.
Quote:
Originally Posted by The Dallas Morning News, PRIZE PACKAGE Hitchcock tops team's slate of award hopefuls Author: Tim Cowlishaw, Apr 3, 1997
(from stub)

Modano has gone to another level on defense. But Lehtinen may be the most positionally sound player on the Stars as well as the best forechecker.

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08-23-2013, 05:19 PM
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I have never in all my years of watching hockey heard the name 'Joe Sakic' and the phrase '2-way ability' uttered in the same sentence.
When he won selke votes it was because a huuuge +/- rating.
Sakic wasn't terrible defensively, at least not post 94, but at best I only viewed him as average. When I watched the avs it was Yelle, Forsberg and Ricci (before he was traded) that got the tough defensive assignments. Sakic was great at coasting into a dead spot in the offensive zone when someone else carried the puck in, then when they dished the puck to sakic he'd explode. He had great acceleration and in short bursts could be one of the fastest skaters in the league. And his wrist shot is still probably the hardest I've ever seen. But the defensive side of the game was something that I never saw him being strong at.
Sometimes a high +/- can be equated with solid defensive abilities, other times it's just because you scored a crap ton more goals than the other team did while you were on the ice. In Sakic's case it was the latter.

Modano started out as pretty as a one dimensional speedster but by about the time Hitchcock came along he'd been transformed into a damn good shadow. He wasn't a big shot blocker, and if memory serves correct Don Cherry showed a video of Modano (maybe...not 100%) jumping when someone took a point shot near him on the PP. But Modano was great at using his speed to sticking on his man and causing them to make a bad play/turnover then transitioning up the ice with the afterburners on. Plus he was pretty good on the draw and wasn't shy about taking the body when needed.

Yzerman was average defensively up till about 95 when Bowman started to give him tougher defensive assignments. He focused more on faceoffs the more he slowed down because of the wings' shift to a total puck control system and they were largely successful because of 4 centers (Fedorov, yzerman, Larionov, Draper) who were all above average to excellent at the draw.
Yzerman transformed into one of the top 10 defensive centers in the league by 2000, but I still don't think he deserved the Selke that season. I think they gave him the award more because his career was winding down and he wasn't able to get much aside from a single Lindsay award during the Gretzky/Lemieux years. I view it as a late consolation prize for being the 3rd best center in the league for a good chunk of the 80's to the mid 90's

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08-23-2013, 05:22 PM
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Originally Posted by BraveCanadian View Post
I think he gets more credit around here recently than he did at the time.




Modano definitely improved from where he started and did turn out to be a good defensive player and one of the better two-way threats.

However for me he is certainly the 3rd out of these three at their best.
I'm not going to really argue a lot of that (other than the Modano being "average" when Lehtinen was injured) The two worked off each other and worked best together rather than apart. When you have two guys that click like that, that's always the case.

Lehtinen likely was the Stars most positionally sound player and best forechecker. That was his bread and butter. He worked the boards, angled guys off, and picked off passing lanes better than almost anyone.

None of that detracts from Modano's game though. Just because one guy is that good at all of that, doesn't mean the other isn't. I mean, Modano being a center was in different spots on the ice and had a different role to play than Lehtinen, so they're not going to be doing the exact same things out there. Modano's bread and butter as chasing down anyone carrying the puck in to his zone, and heading it up the other way and he did that better than almost anyone.

I will point out too that those quotes were from 1997 - when Modano was only about a year in to his new found role. Between that time and about 2003 he excelled at it.

But no doubt, as I stated before, Lehtinen helped. He was a workhorse and would help any center.

I don't really have a problem with anyone ranking him 3rd, just give him his due. I don't think anyone should be placing the other two on a completely different level at all. They're very close no matter what order you want to rank them.

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08-23-2013, 06:40 PM
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Mike Modano

Mike Modano decisively.

Modano never had one season when his TGA topped 100. Two seasons in the nineties 99 & 90,one in the eighties, 81. Career regular season ESGA = 0.6644/G.

http://www.hockey-reference.com/play...modanmi01.html

Steve Yzerman had six seasons where his TGA topped 100. 102, 104, 114, 141, 152, 166. Three more at 91, 87, 81. Career regular season ESGA = 0.8758/G.

http://www.hockey-reference.com/play...yzermst01.html

Yzerman benefits from a very favourable narrative - Jim Devallano that fails to explain how a former Peterborough Petes junior center, coached by Dick Todd, with a strong defensive structure could deteriorate so much.

Joe Sakic had four seasons wher his TGA topped 100. 104, 105, 132, 164. Three more at 97, 2 x 85. Career regular season ESGA = 0.889/G.

http://www.hockey-reference.com/play...sakicjo01.html

The margin between Sakic and Yzerman comes down to choosing between the lower downside and the higher upside. Modano definitely the best of the three defensively with less irregular play.

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08-23-2013, 07:47 PM
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TheDevilMadeMe
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Originally Posted by BraveCanadian View Post
I think he gets more credit around here recently than he did at the time.




Modano definitely improved from where he started and did turn out to be a good defensive player and one of the better two-way threats.

However for me he is certainly the 3rd out of these three at their best.
Those quotes are from 1997 though - not long after Hitchcock started molding Modano. Edit: Beaten to it.

My best memories of Modano are from back to back trips to the finals in 1999 and 2000, and at the time, he was an outstanding two-way player in his own right.


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08-23-2013, 09:13 PM
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After Yzerman started focusing his game on defense in the late 90's, he was Datsyuk/Zetterberg good defensively.
I'm going to disagree here. Yzerman became very good defensively and no one could question his courage and work ethic, but he never quite reached the Datsyuk/Zetterberg (nor Fedorov) level defensively. Those guys were a step ahead. Maybe you could argue he was the best penalty killer of the 4, but in terms of even strength defense he'd be a firm #4 IMO.

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08-24-2013, 12:03 AM
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I'm going to disagree here. Yzerman became very good defensively and no one could question his courage and work ethic, but he never quite reached the Datsyuk/Zetterberg (nor Fedorov) level defensively. Those guys were a step ahead. Maybe you could argue he was the best penalty killer of the 4, but in terms of even strength defense he'd be a firm #4 IMO.
You're talking about different defensive strengths between 4 different players.

Feds/Dats are close in style of play, while Stevie/Zetts are similar.

Feds/Dats are more about speed and forechecking.
Stevie/Zetts are more about positional play.

That's why Stevie/Zetts are generally considered the better overall penalty killers. Positional play is king while killing penalties.

All 4 are/were good puck possession players but Stevie, IMO, was the best of the 4 by a slight but clear margin. A margin that is made even a little larger in the faceoff circle.

To say that Stevie was #4 amongst this group once you account for puck possession and faceoff ability is a mistake IMO.

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08-24-2013, 12:55 AM
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Yzerman was better than Sakic defensively, and that's from an Avs fan here. I'll give you Yzerman on defense and take Sakic on offense. Any person that watched them both a lot would most likely agree if they were being fair and reasonable.

Yzerman > Sakic > Modano - agreed.

Sakic never sacrificed his body but was very smart defensively and used his stick well. I give Sakic and Yzerman big bumps over Modano for their faceoff abilities. Whether someone considers that relevant to this conversation, I don't know. But as a center I believe being a good defensive center includes winning draws in your own end, something Sakic and Yzerman both did incredibly well.

I should add though I don't think Modano was "bad". All three of these guys were incredibly talented.

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