It’s that time of the year, the off-season, where we crap on all the players for their faults and ignore their positives! I want to start with a guy on a lot of people’s minds, because the Flyers are going to need to move some salary if they can sign Ilya Bryzgalov, and a name that keeps coming up gets a bad rap…
Who has been the best defenseman the past decade? (Bear with me here.) Easy question of course, it’s obviously Nicklas Lidstrom, one of the greatest to ever play. When you think of Lidstrom, you think of exceptional positioning, great stick work, outstanding awareness both offensively and defensively, etc… what you don’t think of is bone crushing hits. And yet, when we think of a player’s defense, we think “does he hit people?” Why do we think that? I’ve never quite understood. Don’t get me wrong, hits are exciting, hits can get a crowd and sometimes a team going… but they can also take a player terribly out of position. Hitting is overrated. Remember that clip of Brooks Orpik hitting 3 guys in 15 seconds? Funny, the entire time Orpik is skating around like a madman, Detroit retains possession of the puck in Pittsburgh’s zone. But man, Orpik sure is good because he hits people! Pavel Datsyuk has won 3 straight Selke Trophies, “big hitter” is not a phrase that comes to mind. Sure, there are excellent defensive players who play the body extremely well, such as Zdeno Chara or Ryan Kessler. But it doesn’t have to be a part of a player’s game. Datsyuk is the best defensive forward for the same reasons that make Lidstrom great: positioning, awareness, instincts, decision making… and blocking shots and takeaways.
Which brings us to Jeff Carter. Clearly, Carter has established himself as an elite goal scorer over the past three seasons. T-3rd in the league in even strength goals this year, 5th three years ago. His worst season in that stretch was 33 goals, good for 14th in the league. He is the number one threat in the offensive zone for one of the top teams in the league. He has finished 1st, 2nd and 1st in PP goals for the Flyers in those years as well. Carter has also been the team’s best face-off man during that time.
But if you ask the average fan, one of the big knocks on Carter is that he’s weak defensively, which is bunk. He has finished 2nd, 2nd, and 3rd among Flyers forwards in takeaways the past three years. He blocks more than his fair share of shots, behind only Richards, Powe, Betts, Laperrie or Giroux, with the first four names on there being full time penalty killers. But he doesn’t hit, and for some reason we associate players who hit with being good defensively and players who don’t as being weak. That’s crap, stopping shots and taking the puck away is playing defense. Putting yourself out of position by seeking out hits is not. And I’ll point to the best defensive forward and defenseman in the league as evidence.
Crosby, Ovechkin, Kessler, Iginila, Kovalchuk, Marleau, Nash, Ryan and Carter. That is the list of players who have scored 30+ goals each year over the past three seasons. Carter is in an elite class of players. Let’s start treating him like one.