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Eye On Hockey top 50 players: 30-26

By Adam Gretz | Hockey writer
Henrik Zetterberg's goal scoring has declined, but he is still one of the top 30 players in the NHL. (U.S. Presswire)

Since the NHL is still shut down for at least another month due to the ongoing lockout, we're going to occupy some of your time by counting down the top 50 players in the NHL as decided by ... well ... me.

A number of factors went into the list, including overall production, advanced metrics (via BehindtheNet.ca), personal observation, all-around play and what kind of role they are asked to play by their coaches. For example: If two players are similar in their production and are comparable in their style of play, the guy who is asked to face tougher competition or tougher assignments, among other factors, is probably going to get the edge.

To make it even easier: I basically started with the question of "If I'm building a team to win the Stanley Cup this season, who would I want?"

There will be disagreements, I'm sure. And as is always the case, if a player you like is too low, or excluded, that obviously means I hate him and your team

Previously at Eye On Hockey: Players 50-46 | Players 45-41 | Players 40-36 | Players 35-31

ZachParise30. Zach Parise, Minnesota Wild

2011-12 box score stats: 82 games, 31 goals, 38 assists, 69 points
2011-12 advanced stats: .731 Corsi Quality Competition, plus-4.2 Corsi Relative, 986 PDO

The biggest reason for the Minnesota Wild's second-half collapse last season was their inability to generate any sort of offense on a consistent basis. Every night, even early in the season when they were still actually winning games, they were getting destroyed on the shot chart and were being carried by an unsustainable stretch of goaltending from Niklas Backstrom and Josh Harding. The team collapse was inevitable once the goalies started to play at their normal levels.

To address their offensive problems the Wild splurged in free agency and landed defenseman Ryan Suter and forward Zach Parise with 13-year contracts. Quite honestly, it was probably one of the biggest days in the history of the Wild franchise as it at least put them on the NHL map for a while.

Parise is still an excellent player and one of the best forwards in the NHL, but there should be some long-term concerns with his contract and how long he'll continue to be a top player offensively.

Since his peak season back in 2008-09 when he scored 45 goals and finished with 94 points his production has steadily dropped. Not just his point production, but also his ability to create shots for himself. When it comes to the latter, how much of it was a result of his play starting to decline, and how much of it was a result of him having new linemates, specifically Ilya Kovalchuk? Anyone who plays alongside Kovalchuk is going to generate fewer shots because Kovalchuk himself is one of the more active shooters in the league, and the more opportunities he takes, the fewer his linemates are going to have.

I don't expect him to score 45 goals and finish with 94 points ever again (because if I did he would probably be higher on the list), but perhaps in Minnesota, where Parise will clearly be the go-to-guy offensively, those numbers will jump back up a little bit.

Left29. Jason Spezza, Ottawa Senators

2011-12 box score stats: 80 games, 34 goals, 50 assists, 84 points
2011-12 advanced stats: .281 Corsi Quality Competition, plus-6.0 Relative Corsi, 1017 PDO

After two injury-shortened seasons the Ottawa Senators finally had a healthy Jason Spezza again in 2011-12 and he was one of the driving forces behind their surprising return to the playoffs under first-year coach Paul MacLean.

At the start of the season the only expectation for the Senators seemed to be that they would be awful and be one of the teams in the running for the No. 1 overall pick. Thanks to performances like Spezza's, they not only ended up making the playoffs, but also pushed the No. 1 seed (and heavily-favored) New York Rangers to the brink of elimination in a tight seven-game series.

Spezza, 29, finished with what was one of his best seasons to date matching his career-high in goals (34) and recording the fourth 50-assist season, doing most of it on a line with Milan Michalek and rookie Colin Greening, a pretty far drop from the line he used to play on during his peak when he was between Dany Heatley and Daniel Alfredsson. But Spezza is still a phenominal playmaker and one of the Senators' best at moving play up the ice.

JohnTavares28. John Tavares, New York Islanders

2011-12 box score stats: 82 games, 31 goals, 50 assists, 81 points
2011-12 advanced stats: .562 Corsi Quality Competition, plus-10.6 Corsi Relative, 975 PDO

The New York Islanders have clearly struggled for a few years now, but they do have some good young players in place -- Frans Nielsen, Matt Moulson, Kyle Okposo, and the best of the bunch, former No. 1 overall draft pick John Tavares.

Tavares had a breakout season, averaging a point per game for the Islanders and finishing with 31 goals and 50 assists while also making his linemates better. So much better that he should probably get a cut of the multi-year contract P.A. Parenteau signed with the Colorado Avalanche in free agency.

In 2011-12 Tavares saw most of his 5-on-5 ice-time on a line with Moulson and Parenteau. When the trio was together, they were a formidable top line and produced a significant portion of the Islanders' goals. On the rare occassion that Moulson (a three-time 30-goal scorer with the Islanders) and Parenteau were away from Tavares, they were awful in some areas, which we'll show in the table below by looking at their Corsi and Goal numbers with and without Tavares on the ice.

Corsi percentage (CS%) is the number of attempted shots taken by the Islanders, while Goals For (GF%) percentage of goals scored by the Islanders in the given situations. For example: If there were 100 shots attempted with Tavares and Moulson on the ice, and 54 of them belonged to the Islanders, their CS% would be 54 percent.

Let's go to the table (numbers in parenthesis represent the total chances and goals. Data via stats.hockey.analysis.com):

John Tavares Impact On Matt Moulson and P.A. Parenteau
PlayerCS% W/TavaresCS% W/O TavaresGF% W/TavaresGF% W/O Tavares
Matt Moulson50% (1148-1147)37% (59-99)51% (57-53)57% (4-3)
P.A. Parenteau51% (690-657)48% (421-447)49% (34-37)47% (16-18)

Look at it another way: Of the 12 skaters (not including goalies) who played at least 50 minutes with Tavares last season, eight of them finished with a Corsi percentage higher than 50 percent when they were on the ice with him. Every single one of them was below 48 percent when they were away from him.

LouiEriksson27. Loui Eriksson, Dallas Stars

2011-12 box score stats: 82 games, 26 goals, 45 assists, 71 points
2011-12 advanced stats: .392 Corsi Quality Competition, plus-3.3 Corsi Relative, 1018 PDO

If it's possible for a player to be so criminially underrated througout his career that he actually becomes a little overrated, Loui Eriksson might be that player.

It seems he can't be brought up in a hockey discussion without somebody talking about how underrated he is. Eventually that gets talked about so many times he's no longer underrated.

But man is Eriksson good.

He's been the crown jewel of the Dallas Stars farm system in recent years, a system that has produced a number of high profile forwards including James Neal and Jamie Benn.

His production has been as consistent as you can get over the past four years and he is one of the more creative and entertaining players in the NHL.

HenrikZetterberg

26. Henrik Zetterberg, Detroit Red Wings

2011-12 box score stats: 82 games, 22 goals, 47 assists, 69 points
2011-12 advanced stats: 1.267 Corsi Quality Competition, plus-6.1 Corsi Relative, 1007 PDO

The 2011-12 season was a down year for Henrik Zetterberg offensively as he finished with 69 points, his lowest total since his 67-point performance in 2006-07 (a season in which he played just 63 games).

His biggest decline offensively has come in the goal-scoring department where he's been steadily trending downward since he scored a career-high 43 goals during the 2007-08 season (the same year he won his Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP).

His shot has clearly declined in recent years as his shooting percentage has been pretty much at the league average level, if not slightly below, for consecutive three years now. But while that aspect of his game has dropped, he still has his creativity as a playmaker (only 10 players have more assists than Zetterberg over the past five years). He is still a player the Red Wings can rely on in tough situations defensively and to help drive possession at a high level. Among forwards appearing in at least 40 games last season only 19 of them faced tougher competition during 5-on-5 play (and keep in mind that Zetterberg also sees time on the penalty kill) on a nightly basis, and Zetterberg was still able to come out on the plus side in terms of shots and goals, and there is a ton of value in that.

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter and like us on Facebook.

 
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