Tuesday, September 07, 2004

The Top Offensive Players in International Hockey

In 1972 hockey changed forever. Period. In Canada, the public was shocked to see that there was actually some competition from European nations, namely the Soviet Union. The sentiment had long been yes, the Soviets had won plenty of international medals, but they didn�t have to play against our best players (correct). We�ll guzzle these guys easily (very incorrect). After this series, there could no longer be any denial of the fact that Canada had very real and tough competition out there for bragging rights to the title of best hockey nation in the world. The Soviets displayed a style of play that viewers of NHL hockey were not used. Cris-crossing attack patterns as well as an emphasis on puck carrying skills not as important since forward passing was introduced. In the Soviet Union, the public was gratified by the fact that their athletes had proven that they belonged on the world stage, taking Canada to the absolute limit in the 8 game series. The public was also shocked at the sometimes violent style of play employed by certain Canadian players, and were justifiably outraged when Valeri Kharlamov was knocked out of the series by Bobby Clarke. Until the day he died, Kharlamov was utterly convinced that injury was the foremost thought in Clarke�s mind. The consciousness of hockey had changed, and there was no going back. No longer could we just assume that the Stanley Cup champion was in fact the best club in the world. No longer could we assume that Canada was definitely the top hockey nation on the planet. That assumption had long been held as fact, and would now have to be tested repeatedly against the best talent outside of the National Hockey League.Hence, the Canada Cup, and similar tournaments where each hockey nation send their very best players to contest the championship. Who was the best offensive player in the history of top-flight international hockey? Who was the most dominant goal scorer, the best playmaker? Using all of the statistics from the top tournaments, I have built a COPS system using international statistics to help answer these questions. (details of the process can be read here)

The players that will qualify were those that took part in tourneys during the period of time when Soviets couldn't play here due to the politics of the day. We already know how good Mats Sundin and Pavel Bure are. What we want is to have a better idea of where guys that couldn't play here stand.

Top 10 International Player Ranking (IPR) Leaders Rank Name NAT IPR 1. Wayne Gretzky, CAN, 1119 2. Sergei Makarov, USSR, 783 3. Mario Lemieux, CAN, 762 4. Mike Bossy, CAN, 751 5. Vladimir Krutov, USSR, 720 6. Phil Esposito, CAN, 677 7. Alexander Yakushev, USSR, 665 8. Bryan Trottier, CAN, 656 9. Gilbert Perreault, CAN, 636 10. Bobby Hull, CAN, 629 Wow, what do you know? Wayne Gretzky leads yet another list of the top scorers. People that only saw the NHL-version of Sergei Makarov may not understand that he was exceptional, offensively, before he played here. He didn�t come here until he was past 30 years of age, and from the start just couldn�t or wouldn�t get along with people here, and had an intense dislike of the NHL style of play. Vladimir Krutov played one year in Vancouver, the Canucks hoping for some KLM magic. It didn�t happen. The phenomenally talented Krutov had trouble with western culture and language, let his physical condition slip badly, and was out of hockey after one year. Make no mistake: he was a truly great player. Alexander Yakushev was an interesting player. Big strong guy that was by all accounts a true gentleman off the ice as well as when he played. He sits on or near the top in just about every important statistic in Russian elite hockey, and the consensus is that he played even better in international matches against Canada. The 72 Series was, in Yakushev�s words �a turning point� in his career. He was already a hell of a player before the series. He came away with more perspective, perhaps more confidence in himself, and became a great player after the series. Top 10 International Goal Scoring Dominance Leaders Rank Name NAT IGSD 1. Mike Bossy, CAN, 366 2. Bobby Hull, CAN, 329 3. Alex Yakushev, USSR, 329 4. Sergei Makarov, USSR, 313 5. Phil Esposito, CAN, 299 6. Vladimir Krutov, USSR, 299 7. Wayne Gretzky, CAN, 296 8. Valeri Kamensky, USSR, 285 9. Boris Mikhailov, USSR, 277 10. Mario Lemieux, CAN, 271 For those that like to believe that Bobby Hull scored so many goals in the WHA because it was only a minor league, check out his numbers against the best players in the international scene. Wait, there�s his Jets teammate, Anders Hedberg, in 16th place. Top 10 International Playmaking Dominance Leaders Rank Name NAT IPD 1. Wayne Gretzky, CAN, 400 2. Guy Lafleur, CAN, 248 3. Valery Kharlamov, USSR, 210 4. Paul Coffey, CAN, 195 5. Vladimir Petrov, USSR, 195 6. Sergei Makarov, USSR, 192 7. Denis Potvin, CAN, 191 8. Gilbert Perreault, CAN, 191 9. Mario Lemieux, CAN, 191 10. Vladimir Shadrin, USSR, 181 Gretzky, Gretzky, Gretzky. What a player. He scored against everybody, including in the toughest tournaments ever played. For lists that extend into the Top twenty in each category, go to The Hockey Project


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