With the 2014 Winter Olympics in the rearview mirror, the NHL trade deadline passing, and the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs just five weeks away, this might be as good a time as any to assess the top players in hockey.
Much of the elite players in the league come from a loaded Western Conference, which should come as little surprise, considering five teams in the West have better records than the top team in the East.
Overall, this has been a strong season for the NHL, following the lockout of 2012-2013. The league has been dominated by a number of prominent scorers this season, as increased depth at the forward position has been quite pronounced.
While any list of top players in a sport is subjective, the high volume of forwards highlights how the NHL may be lacking in superstar defensemen and goalies. There are 35 forwards on the list, compared to just eight defenders and seven goalies.
The NHL boasts several elite defensemen, but this group seems to lag behind past seasons. None of the defenseman today can be mentioned in the same sentence with legends like Bobby Orr, Chris Chelios or Nicklas Lidstrom.
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The same can be said about goalies, with no netminder in their prime as dominant as Patrick Roy or Dominik Hasek in their heyday.
But the forwards have been prolific, with multiple players capable of providing a strong case for “superstar” status.
Here is a look at the top 50 players in the NHL, and the let the debate commence.
1. Sidney Crosby, C, Pittsburgh Penguins A legend in the making from his youth in Nova Scotia, the 26-year-old has lived up to the hype, and will almost certainly be remembered as one of the greatest ever.
2. Jonathan Toews, C, Chicago Blackhawks The total package, the 25-year-old has already led a star-studded Blackhawks team to two Stanley Cups (2010, 2013). The expectations remain high in Chicago because of their superstar captain.
3. Alex Ovechkin, LW/RW, Washington Capitals The best goal scorer in the league, and nobody is even close. Opposing defenses employ every tactic to contain the Russian, but not much works.
4. Jonathan Quick, G, Los Angeles Kings Impeccable speed and lateral movement have elevated him to the best netminder in the league. Quick is a big reason the Kings have been contenders the past few seasons.
5. Ryan Suter, D, Minnesota Wild The NHL’s best defenseman is blessed with an all-around game and tremendous fitness. It’s not a shock that he leads the NHL in time-on-ice at nearly 30 minutes a game.
6. Evgeni Malkin, C, Pittsburgh Penguins The Russian racks up points as well as anyone in the league. At times, the versatile star just skates through defenders like they aren’t there. It’s not surprising his trophy case is overflowing.
7. Steven Stamkos, C, Tampa Bay Lightning Knows how to score in so many ways, including his dangerous one-timer when he’s in the slot. After a rough recent stretch for Tampa, this superstar scorer’s return from a broken right shin injury is a relief for head coach Jon Cooper.
8. John Tavares, C, New York Islanders Perhaps the most under-rated forward in the league, the 23-year-old falls under the radar due to a rather weak supporting cast in Long Island. He could be one to watch in 2014-2015, after being shut down for the season with a knee injury he suffered in Sochi.
9. Tuukka Rask, G, Boston Bruins Not only is he smooth with sharp reflexes, the Finnish star seems to consistently make difficult saves at key moments.
10. Ryan Getzlaf, C, Anaheim Ducks Despite some inconsistent play, the veteran knows how to play almost anywhere on the ice due to his size and scoring ability. The surging Ducks rely heavily on Getzlaf’s talents.
11. Patrick Kane, RW, Chicago Blackhawks Don’t let the 5’11, 185-pound frame fool you. Kane has been an elite player since his rookie season in 2007-2008, and continues to prove why he is so valued in the Windy City.
12. Zdeno Chara, D, Boston Bruins The massive Slovak can shut down the best forwards in the league and also possesses a great point shot, which produces a good number of goals.
13. Anze Kopitar, C, Los Angeles Kings A top attacking contributor for a struggling Kings offense, the Slovenian is a smooth player with excellent hands.
14. Phil Kessel, LW, Toronto Maple Leafs A pure scorer with tremendous speed, he wowed fans in Sochi, much like he has at Air Canada Centre.
15. Duncan Keith, D, Chicago Blackhawks Despite a lack of scoring prowess, this workhorse has all the tools that make up an elite defenseman. The veteran did a more than serviceable job for Canada in Sochi.
16. Henrik Lundqvist, G, New York Rangers Excels under pressure and has great anticipation skills, though he can be suspect when attacked high.
17. Martin St. Louis, RW, New York Rangers A surprise deadline addition for the Blueshirts, the veteran can create plays from anywhere on the ice, and still has something left at age 38. Should the Rangers get on a hot streak, expect the New York media to fall in love with St. Louis.
18. Joe Pavelski, C, San Jose Sharks One of the smartest forwards in the NHL, the versatile star has a tremendous knack for creating opportunities for his teammates.
19. Matt Duchene, C, Colorado Avalanche Makes up for his lack of size with electrifying speed, and has been a consistent contributor in Denver, despite some injuries in recent seasons.
20. Erik Karlsson, D, Ottawa Senators The Swede overwhelms opponents with a powerful slap shot. After sitting out much of last season, the 23-year-old has been a key contributor for Ottawa and had some strong performances in Sochi.
21. Corey Perry, RW, Anaheim Ducks The short-tempered veteran has regained his elite form from his breakout 2010-2011 season. Perry has been a major reason the Ducks are surging this season.
22. Marian Hossa, RW, Chicago Blackhawks Perhaps slightly overshadowed by his superstar teammates, the heady Slovak veteran remains an extremely important asset to Chicago’s Stanley Cup hopes. Hawks will miss him for the next couple of weeks after an upper body injury.
23. Zach Parise, LW, Minnesota Wild A very smart scorer, the 29-year-old remains a strong contributor after consistently scoring at least 30 goals a season in New Jersey. He would be higher on this list if he improved his playmaking skills.
24. Henrik Sedin, C, Vancouver Canucks Not a pure scorer as evidenced by his less-than-impressive goal stats in recent seasons, but he is very versatile and one of the best playmakers in the NHL.
25. Daniel Sedin, RW, Vancouver Canucks Innate chemistry with twin brother Henrik has resulted in a lethal offensive line for the Canucks.
26. Joe Thornton, C, San Jose Sharks Though his production has dipped in recent seasons, the veteran remains an elite playmaker who knows how to utilize his 6’4 frame.
27. Ryan Miller, G, St. Louis Blues A huge pickup for St. Louis at the deadline, the former U.S. star at the Vancouver Games is capable of shutting down opposing offenses with his sharp instincts and agility.
28. Claude Giroux, C, Philadelphia Flyers Has racked up points in 2013-2014 for a Flyers squad battling for a playoff berth. Giroux's amazing hands help him lay soft passes on line mates' sticks.
29. Pavel Datsyuk, C, Detroit Red Wings A stick-handling magician, the Russian is particularly skilled at setting up teammates and scoring jaw-dropping goals, though injuries have set him back recently.
30. Drew Doughty, D, Los Angeles Kings Has been a fan favorite at Staples Center since his rookie season due to his often dazzling plays. The former second overall pick has lived up to lofty expectations in L.A., and shined in Sochi for Canada.
31. David Backes, C, St. Louis Blues Among the most physical, gritty forwards in the game, it’s very difficult to not appreciate the charming Minnesota native. The 29-year-old should consider limiting his aggressive play, since he often gets caught out of position and takes bad penalties.
32. Ben Bishop, G, Tampa Bay Lightning Among starting goaltenders, Bishop has quietly had the highest save percentage in the league this season.
33. Tyler Seguin, C, Dallas Stars A high-speed skater, Seguin puts up big offensive numbers while making his line mates better at the same time.
34. T.J. Oshie, RW, St. Louis Blues Showcased his superb shooting skills in the U.S. hockey team’s 3-2 shootout victory over Russia in Sochi, but the 27-year-old is also a smart and versatile winger.
35. Nicklas Backstrom, C, Washington Capitals Always seems to be in the right place at the right time, while racking up points with teammate Ovechkin. The Swede would be higher on this list if he improves getting by defenders when he has the puck.
36. Shea Weber, D, Nashville Predators This gritty 28-year-old overpowers opponents in one-on-one situations, and is a surprisingly strong scorer, but can go overboard from time to time and take a bad penalty.
37. Carey Price, G, Montreal Canadians His huge frame helps him cover a ton of net, and he has been a valuable contributor for his club and country this year.
38. Bobby Ryan, RW, Ottawa Senators Even though he has some very quiet stretches, Ryan has great moves that allow him to shred through any defense.
39. Jamie Benn, C, Dallas Stars Benn has always been a strong scorer, but has taken his game to another level this season with teammate Tyler Seguin’s arrival in Dallas.
40. Taylor Hall, LW, Edmonton Oilers Making highlight-reel plays look easy, the 22-year-old has a bright future ahead of him. Hall has been one of the few bright spots in a dreadful Edmonton season.
41. Alex Pietrangelo, D, St. Louis Blues A surprisingly strong skater for a player his size, the 24-year-old is also one of the best offensive-minded defenders.
42. P.K. Subban, D, Montreal Canadians On-ice antics aside, Subban excels at rushing up the ice with the puck, and knows how to get under opponents’ skin.
43. Ryan Kesler, C, Vancouver Canucks Arguably the most dangerous player in the league when standing in front of the opposing goal, Kesler has a knack for finding the right bounce to score.
44. Logan Couture, C, San Jose Sharks Savvy and skilled, the 24-year-old could easily be among the best 20 players in the NHL next season.
45. Jeff Carter, RW, Los Angeles Kings One of the best snipers in the league, Carter can score from anywhere on the ice, but struggles to set up teammates.
46. Rick Nash, LW/RW, New York Rangers Takes over games with his size and athletic ability, Nash is also a fine skater with a lot of versatility.
47. Jonas Hiller, G, Anaheim Ducks Excels in high-pressure games with his confident butterfly style, but opponents often take advantage of his sometimes poor positioning.
48. Chris Kunitz, LW, Pittsburgh Penguins Despite his small size, the veteran is a great hitter and has sharp offensive instincts. Not only is the 34-year-old not slowing down, he seems to be improving with age.
49. Patrick Sharp, LW, Chicago Blackhawks Extremely dangerous coming down the outside due to his electrifying speed, but he tends to wear down at the end of the season.
50. Dustin Brown, RW, Los Angeles Kings A solid contributor in recent seasons due to his strong work ethic, Brown has had some struggles this season. While he can sometimes get taken out of position looking for the big hit, the 29-year-old has great goal-scoring abilities.
Anthony Riccobono and an IB Times staff reporter contributed to this report.