One of my personal all-time favorite books -- among the 100 or so that I've written since 1967 -- happens to be titled HOCKEY'S 100; otherwise known as the best hundred players ever.
That was written before anyone else in our scribbling business got around to such a listing and, with that in mind, The Maven figures it's time to do an abridged, contemporary, listing of the BEST DOZEN among our local sextets.
No doubt there will be disagreements -- after all, the Rangers, Devils and Islanders are involved -- but since this is a democracy, your views are as welcome as mine. So, here goes:
1. HENRIK LUNDQVIST: Since no less an authority than 60-goal scorer Steve Stamkos calls the Rangers' King the best goalie in the world; give or take Jonathan Quick, I have to go with the Stamkos rating. (Steve gives Henny the edge on experience and longevity.) Granted, Lundqvist hasn't done it all but, then again, how many contemporary goalies are wearing Stanley Cup rings?) P.S. He didn't win the Vezina for nothing. Now in his prime, The King's next crown would be a Stanley Cup.
2. ILYA KOVALCHUK: When captaining the Thrashers, Kovy was the reigning monarch of Atlanta hockey and, therefore, had it in his mind that he had to do everything for his club ... short of being stickboy. His readjustment to the team game, so firmly entrenched in New Jersey hockey, was slow until last season. During 2011-12, The Rapid Russian displayed a delightful blend of guts, goals and glamour. BIG GOALS became his middle name. He could be the next New Jersey captain.
3. JOHN TAVARES: In terms of super-stardom, the sky's the limit for this ever-improving Islander. Not only has the Torontonian become a scoring force, but his leadership abilities are nonpareil. Although Tavares is not wearing the captain's "C" -- now ably affixed to Mark Streit's jersey -- John certainly is the Isles' captain-of-the-future. As a centre, Tavares, as much as any NHL pivot, makes his linemates better. Exhibit A: Ever-30-goal-man, Matt Moulson. He figures to be a First All-Star this season.
4. RYAN MCDONAGH: Unobtrusively and with little fuss or fanfare, this gift from the Scott Gomez trade, has skyrocketed into a position where he's going to be a Norris Trophy candidate in 2012-13, and this with a defense-loaded Blueshirts squad. Not only does McD expertly play behind the blue line, but his offensive skills are going up and up and ... UP. Among Ryan's most unsung assets is his ability to rebound from a rare error and return to excel again. And to think that Glen Sather got him for a virtual song.
5. BRYCE SALVADOR: Among the most arresting comebacks of the decade, this burly, never-quit, hitting backliner had been given up for lost after missing the entire 2010-11 campaign. Salvador not only returned in mint condition -- a team-leading plus-18 over the regular season -- but became a scoring-defending marvel in the Devils playoff run to the Final. How about four goals, 10 assists, 14 points and plus-nine over 24 playoff games! That's a tough parlay to beat.
6. TRAVIS HAMONIC: When a 22-year-old defenseman boasts a team-leading plus-six and weathers a serious injury to still manage 24 points over 73 games, you have the Nassaumen with a backline version of Tavares. Hamonic's intelligence combined with his unquenchable quest for victory suggest that he'll only improve along the McDonagh-type curve. The Hamonic-Andrew MacDonald unit is regarded as a shutdown pair whose gears mesh as smoothly as any in the East.
7. RYAN CALLAHAN: A set of high-powered, high-tech robots could not have crafted a more ideal captain for coach John Tortorella's persona nor for his Rangers. As indefatigable and he is indomitable, Cally relentlessly has been adding an offensive dimension to his two-way game. Just one-goal shy of the 30-red-light-level last season, the Rochester, NY product should top that coveted milestone in 2012-13. Just feisty enough. Ryan will "go" with any foe, size notwithstanding.
8. ADAM HENRIQUE: He didn't win the Calder Trophy as rookie-of-the-year, but that's the voters' problem and certainly not that of the freshman who, as much as anyone, not only spearheaded New Jersey's playoff drive, but their four-round playoff run as well. The Devils' fourth-leading scorer, Henrique was the only one of the Devils' quartet (Kovalchuk, Patrik Elias, Zach Parise) to get on the good side of plus-minus (plus-8) in the regular season and the playoffs (plus-12).
9. MATT MOULSON: This chap's story could be titled "From A Nobody To A Somebody Overnight." No one-shot wonder for this Tavares Sidekick. Every year he ka-chings at least 30 goals -- 36 last semester for Jack Capuano -- for the past three years. Clean, yet efficient, Moulson's six penalty minutes in 2011-12 established him as a perennial Lady Byng Trophy candidate. Matty is the Damon to Tavares' Pythias -- buddies helping buddies, giving the Nassaumen one of the best offensive duets.
10. DAN GIRARDI: If ever there was an Old-School-New Era Rangers defender, it's Dangerous Dan, The Shot-Blocking Man. Funny thing -- except to enemy goalies -- is that he can shoot the puck too. Girardi's offense (5-24-29) last year included two game-winners. Better yet, the un-drafted ace added three more red playoff lights and nine assists in 20 postseason games. Consistently a plus-performer -- plus-13 during the regular season and plus-6 in the playoffs -- Dan, 28, has reached a qualitative peak that should last a good while.
11. MARTIN BRODEUR: Defying all reasonable odds, Mister Goalie transformed himself last season from a wilting 39-year-old to an evergreen 40. In the process, he steered New Jersey to a series of unreal upsets. One-by-one in the playoffs, he beat younger Jose Theodore, Ilya Bryzgalov and Vezina Trophy-winner Henrik Lundqvist before exiting in the Final with head held high and, eventually, a new contract. Marty's goals against average and save percentage got better once the post-season began. How do you top that for a senior?
12. MARK STREIT: No question, the past campaign was a total anomaly for the Islanders' captain. His minus-27 was a product of hyper-trying after coming off an entire missed 2010-11 due to major shoulder surgery. The offence remains solid as attested by his seven goals 40 assists and 47 points. As a dedicated captain, Streit felt obliged to carry the team too often while working with less-than-stellar defense partners. Expect a stellar year from a most productive team guy.