NHL FanHouse Roundtable: Today's Cornerstone Players

(photos courtesy Getty Images)

It's one thing to be a Hall of Famer. Mats Sundin, Joe Sakic, Martin Brodeur, and (soon) Brendan Shanahan are examples of active players who will definitely be enshrined once they are done. It's another to be a young superstar. I'm talking about the kind of player you can build a team around for now and the future.

No disrespect to the veterans, but this roundtable is centered around the players we would want to build a new team around. Sure, Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Alexander Ovechkin (in no particular order) are widely recognized as the best players in the game today.

But would you pick them first when trying to build a new franchise?

Matt Saler: I'm going to start right off and give my partisan answer: Henrik Zetterberg. The guy is impeccable defensively and excellent offensively. He's not a big guy and can't deal out the punishment like some of the bigger forwards, but he's shown he's able to play at a high level even in rough games. He's already a great leader and is being groomed for the captaincy in Detroit. He's also not a prima donna. If you doubt the guy's chops, I have two words: Conn Smythe. A downside to Hank is that he has potential to end up like Peter Forsberg and have his career ended prematurely due to injury.

I know we're talking about one player here, but most of what I say above could go for Pavel Datsyuk. I would take either of those guys over anyone else in the League in a heartbeat if the goal was long-term development of a franchise. Neither is as flashy as someone like Alexander Ovechkin or as favored as Sidney Crosby, but in my admittedly biased mind, there are no better franchise players.

Bruce Ciskie
I'm going to think a bit outside the box on this one. I'm going with Jay Bouwmeester. Yes, he's stuck in the muck that is Florida Panthers hockey. But he fits everything I'm looking for.

He's a leader. He's durable (82 games played each of the last three seasons, and he's played in all 42 so far this year). He's still young (25). He can run the power play, he's good on the penalty kill. He's big, can skate, can pass, can shoot. To me, the most important position to fill is "power play quarterback" when you're starting a team. You are probably going to rely on your power play for goals when you're a starter franchise. It's huge if you can find a guy to bring the puck up the ice and present a big shooting threat from the top of the power play. Bouwmeester does this for you.

Basically, he's a younger, less-suspended version of Chris Pronger. And he's basically been stuck in the "starting from scratch" situation from his first day as a Panther.

Ted Starkey: Alex Ovechkin. His first two years playing with a brutally bad Capitals team proved that while some stars can thrive when surrounded with talent, Ovechkin won the Calder despite being double- and triple-teamed
by opposing defenders who knew he didn't have a true outlet play with that squad. Once the Caps surrounded him with more talent, he thrived and became the Hart winner last season.

No player is more dynamic and can take over a game like Ovechkin is capable of, and in many ways, he reminds me of Gretzky or Lemieux, who were capable of just being able to grab control at will, and add in a
bit of edge and energy that his teammates and fans feed off of. In terms of on-ice production and off-the-ice impact, right now, there's no one in the NHL at that level.

Adam Gretz: Personally, I'd want to take Evgeni Malkin, simply because I think he's the best player in the NHL and you can never, ever go wrong taking the best player in the league, especially when he's only 22 years old. Still, I'm going to go in a slightly different direction and ask if you can make an argument for Carey Price. A 21-year old goalie that's already proving to be a franchise-caliber goaltender. What better place to start a team than in net?

Starkey: Just as long as you don't sign that guy to a 15-year contract :)

Earl Sleek
I'm a guy who's got a bias towards building a team around your blueline, and while my vision is much more short-term, I'd probably build around a guy like Nicklas Lidstrom -- he should be worth five good years, I think. Yeah, flashy scorers are cool and attractive, but I've always been partial to wins, and I don't know if there's anybody better at dictating a game than Lidstrom. He'll make your scorers look more impressive, your stoppers look more impressive, your goaltending and special teams -- that guy's heavily involved in every aspect of the game.
Certainly, if there's a younger version of Lidstrom somewhere, I'd opt for that, but I've been watching and I haven't seen it yet. He's in a class all his own, as he has been for several years, and we may not see another talent like his for some time.

If you press me to pick somebody younger, though, Ovechkin's a fine choice. I'd take him over any under-25 defenseman at this point.

Schultz: You guys have it all wrong, except for Adam. You have to start in net! That's hard because goalies get hurt and can turn to jello for no reason overnight (see: Jose Theodore). But if you find a good one, you're set. Think about Roy and where he took his teams. Think about Brodeur and the Devils. While we're talking about the Islanders, think of where they would have been the last five years if they didn't have Rick DiPietro. They'd be in last place every season and this year has shown us that.

If we're talking going back in time and picking any player in the last 10 years, my answer would be Martin Brodeur. This guy has been the reason the Devils have been good for so long. They've never had a Malkin. They've never had an Ovechkin. They've had some good players, but no one as good as this guy. I don't think there's been a goalie outside of Roy that has been this durable for such a long period of time, either.

However, Brodeur is hurt and old. No way. So I'm going to be unoriginal and say Roberto Luongo. The guy is freaking dominant. He is one of maybe three players in the whole league who can win any game on any night by himself when he is healthy. If I'm starting a team today, I'm starting in net and starting with him. You can say that AO or Sid make their teammates better, and they do. This guy makes the whole team and the franchise better.

Eric McErlain: I'm partial to the blue line too. As a classic example, I think about the way the New York Islanders built around Denis Potvin in the 1970s. There's something to be said about finding a player who is sound fundamentally, plays a physical game with a heck of a mean streak, can quarterback a power play and make a crisp breakout pass to a forward streaking over the red line.

Of course, you don't find Hall of Famers like Potvin just lying around anymore. He was able to do all those things, but I'd be willing to settle for a combination of Chris Pronger's mean streak along with Ed Jovanovski's breakout pass. Those sort of skills don't always fade with age the way the other offensive skills do -- witness Scott Stevens, who probably cemented his reputation as a fearsome hitter well after his offensive skills began to atrophy.

There's something also to be said about building around fundamental toughness. Hard work and hard hitting will never go out of style, and can really set a tone for a franchise when you build around it. Another handy benefit -- having a big guy like that around tends to not only intimidate your opponents, but also can solve a lot of problems in your own locker room too.

NHL FanHouse Roundtable: Today's Cornerstone Players originally appeared on NHL Main on Thu, 15 Jan 2009 18:54:00 EST . Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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