Good Old Boys
Two future Hall
of Famers shake off the cobwebs, reclaim their elite status and get the nod for
MVP and top defenseman
Swaddled in the
company of six fellow Czechs and embraced unconditionally by Rangers coach Tom
Renney, the energized Jaromir Jagr reemerged not merely as the best player in
the NHL but also as one of the elite in history. The 34-year-old right wing set
team records for goals (53 through Sunday) and points (119) while surpassing
Jari Kurri as the most prolific European-born-and-trained NHL scorer (1,428
career points). With the crackdown on obstruction, the 6'2", 234-pound Jagr
proved virtually unstoppable when barging in from his power-play hangout at the
right half-boards. Says teammate Martin Straka, "He's played as well as he
did in his 149-point season [1995-96, in Pittsburgh]." Jagr's a runaway
train and SI's runaway winner as the NHL MVP over Sharks center Joe Thornton
and Senators right wing Daniel Alfredsson. Other award winners:
Nicklas Lidstrom, Red Wings
After a drop-off in performance before the lockout, Lidstrom, 35, has returned
to the high level of play that earned him three straight Norris Trophies from
2000-01 through '02-03. His next interesting public statement will be his
first, one reason the best defenseman of his generation receives far less
attention than he warrants. His game, however, speaks unabashedly of
excellence. Along with Andreas Lilja, Lidstrom played on Detroit's shutdown
defensive pair--the Red Wings had allowed the second-fewest goals in the
Western Conference--while quarterbacking the NHL's best power play and scoring
75 points. His 28:20 of ice time per game, most in the league, are as close as
the NHL offers to a clinic.
Zdeno Chara, Senators; Sergei Zubov, Stars.
Miikka Kiprusoff, Flames
Maybe the other 29 teams have been sucked in by the new NHL, but Calgary never
abandoned the Dead Puck era, a philosophical predilection toward winning close,
physical games by relying on a goalie who makes the miraculous look
commonplace. In 2003-04 Kiprusoff had the lowest goals-against average (1.69)
in the NHL since 1939-40; overall his play might have been even better this
season. He had the leading goals-against average (2.15) among netminders with
at least 50 appearances through Sunday and operated with a far slimmer margin
of error than the Rangers' Henrik Lundqvist or the Predators' Tomas Vokoun. A
hot Kiprusoff, 29, could prove a nightmare for playoff opponents.
Lundqvist; Marty Turco, Stars.
Alexander Ovechkin, Capitals
The left wing certainly has style. From his dynamic play to his trademark smoky
face shield--call him Darth Visor--Ovechkin headed a rookie class for the ages.
At week's end he was on the cusp of 50 goals (48), a milestone that would rank
him with Teemu Selanne, Mike Bossy and Joe Nieuwendyk as the highest-scoring
rookies of all time, but it was the sheer fabulousness of his game (he scored a
goal reaching one-handed with his stick while flat on his back) that
distinguished the 20-year-old. On the thrill meter he ranks with Pavel Bure and
Gilbert Perreault among the most eye-catching forwards of the past three
Sidney Crosby, Penguins; Dion Phaneuf, Flames.