Led by Corey Masisak, a team of NHL.com writers have published their ranking of the league’s top 14 centers. Washington Capitals center Nick Backstrom is not on that list.
Nathan MacKinnon, Claude Giroux, Joe Thornton, and Henrik Sedin all ranked above Backstrom. Only one writer, Dan Rosen, included Backstrom in the top 14.
I’m not outraged. I can kind of see why they did it, and it all depends on how we define our terms.
If this ranking were truly about individual talent and nebulous stuff like “potential,” Backstrom should and would be in the top 10. Personally, I’d put him around 7th– near Tavares and Bergeron.
But during 5v5 last season, Backstrom’s team was outscored 56 to 41. His plus-minus (thanks to a bunch of shorthanded goals against) was a dreary minus-20, if you countenance such things. And while Backstrom racked up a bunch of 5v5 assists on Ovechkin goals, he scored just four times during even strength when skating with Ovi– a 4.5 shooting percentage. He didn’t look like a top center, even though he is.
Backstrom is a great player; he just played on a bad team last year. His talent was obscured by unwise lineup decisions, a faltering defensive scheme, the lack of a second good scoring option at wing, and some rotten luck. Much of that you can pin on Adam Oates.
The NHL.com article didn’t specify if the players’ circumstances were factored in to the rankings, and it’s not totally clear if the list comprises a sort of projection for next season. (If so, I’d be a little skeptical about Nate MacKinnon at number 13.) Still, as a list of “who was awesome last season and might be awesome again,” I think the NHL.com list is pretty darn good.
But if we’re making a list of who we think the top 14 centers in league will be next season, Backstrom should be a lock.