This is the third installment of Last Word on Hockey’s five-part series breaking down the top 50 personalities in the hockey world during 2016. They were picked based on skill, accomplishments, notoriety, or compelling narratives.
Last Word on Hockey’s Top 50 Personalities of 2016: 30-21
30. Alex Ovechkin
It was yet another ho-hum year for the greatest goalscorer of his generation with another 50-goal season, and another Rocket Richard Trophy (his sixth).
This past year Ovechkin posted his seventh 50-goal season. The only other players in NHL history to hit the milestone that many times are Wayne Gretzky and Mike Bossy, who both did it nine times. While Ovechkin is slightly off his usual pace in 2016-17 (16 goals in 33 games), it’s not unthinkable that he could hit that mark again this year and next to equal the record. The oldest 50-goal scorer in league history is Jaromir Jagr, who netted 54 in his age-34 season, so the 31-year-old Ovechkin still has time.
Perhaps more captivating however is Ovechkin’s push for the all-time goal record. Gretzky of course has the record with 894 goals, while Ovechkin sits far behind at 541. However “The Great 8” has a higher goals per game average than “The Great One,” 0.620 to 0.601, and has proven durable throughout his career, rarely missing more than a few games in a season.
While his goal-scoring pace is likely to decline and the fear of injury or desertion to the KHL will always linger, Ovechkin has the ability to make one of Gretzky’s most unbreakable records fall.
29. Travis Hamonic
Travis Hamonic had an interesting year, to say the least. Back in September of 2015 he requested a trade from the Islanders. Hamonic apparently didn’t feel too strongly about this decision, as he rescinded his trade request shortly thereafter, in May of 2016, to stay in New York. So interesting is a nice way of phrasing this whole debacle.
The apparent reason for this trade request was stated as being a “family matter” for Hamonic, who was hoping to go back to Canada, preferably on the west coast. This all seemingly blew over and Hamonic ultimately stayed put in New York. The relationship doesn’t seem to have taken any ill effect on his playing either, as he has two goals and 12 points in 31 games this season.
28. Michel Therrien
Michel Therrien continues to amaze and confound those who follow the Canadiens. At times his line combinations can be nothing short of odd, to put it nicely. And he’s not one to steer clear of controversy either, as he traded away the Habs best defenseman in the offseason and continues to be in rumored rifts with captain Max Pacioretty.
The problem with all these situations is that the players rarely speak out against him or confirm these rumors, and those who likely do get sent away, much like P.K. Subban. Don’t expect Therrien to change at this point of his career, and don’t expect the controversial headlines to go anywhere either in 2017.
27. Mitch Marner
If there’s one thing that can be said for Mitch Marner it’s that he has had one hell of a year. He had a phenomenal last season with the London Knights as they won the OHL Championship, and then went on to win the Memorial Cup as well. Along with winning those team trophies, he lit up the stat sheet with 39 goals and 116 points in just 57 games. Truly amazing.
Many were curious to see how he would adjust to the NHL, but that’s no longer a worry for anyone even halfway paying attention. In 33 games this season Marner has eight goals and 26 points to his name. Due to his phenomenal start to the season he’s already in serious consideration for the Calder Trophy alongside the likes of Patrik Laine and Zach Werenski, and rightly so. Marner doesn’t look to be slowing down anytime soon either.
26. Joe Thornton
While not the same dominating force he was coming out of the 2005 lockout, Joe Thornton proved that age is just a number, as the then 36-year-old finished fourth in league scoring with 82 points last year, and second in assists with an impressive 63.
However it was the 2016 post-season when Thornton really raised his game. “Jumbo Joe” helped propel his San Jose Sharks to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in franchise history with 21 points (fifth), including 18 assists (second). While the Sharks would fall short, it was a dominating performance by one of the best playmakers in the game.
As the calendar flips over to 2017, Thornton continues to climb the all time rankings. His 1365 points are second among active players (behind the immortal Jagr) and 25th overall, while he’s poised to become just the 13th player in league history to hit the 1000 assist milestone in the new year.
25. Roberto Luongo
Roberto Luongo has long been regarded as one of the best goalies in the league, and his career numbers back that up. After making the move from Vancouver to Miami he seems to be reinvigorated in his play and personality. Because of this the Florida Panthers had a great season last year, and aren’t having an atrocious one this year.
Despite his recent run of bad performances he is 11-9-4 on the season with a 2.44 GAA, and a .918 SV%. Despite the rather pedestrian save percentage, those numbers aren’t bad for a team that’s not offering him much for support on either end of the ice. It’s safe to say he’ll be the main reason the Panthers succeed, if they do, and don’t expect him to be any less hilarious on social media either.
24. Patrick Kane
After a 2015 which included a third Stanley Cup ring followed by unsavory allegations over the offseason, many wondered how Chicago Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane would respond heading into the 2015-16 season. As it turned out, the 28-year-old forward let his play do the talking, posting the finest season of his career.
Kane set personal highs in both goals (46) and assists (60) to lead the league in points with 106. For his efforts Kane became the first American to capture both the Art Ross Trophy as the league’s regular season scoring champion and the Hart Memorial Trophy as league MVP. He also added a Ted Lindsay Award for MVP as voted by the players.
23. John Chayka
The story of John Chayka is a truly amazing one for anyone who works in the sport of hockey. At only 27 years old he has been named the general manager of the Arizona Coyotes and is now charged with turning around a young team to produce some exciting hockey in the southwest.
Chayka went through his first offseason as a general manager before this season, and many agree that he did a great job in the offseason, especially the draft. They used the seventh overall pick to take Clayton Keller, a player who many have high hopes for. Chayka and the Coyotes then proceeded to trade up in the draft to take Jacob Chychrun, arguably the best defenseman in the 2016 draft, with the 16th overall pick, which many think is nothing short of a steal.
With a young team to work with, and a great first draft under his belt, the sky is the limit for such a young general manager. Despite the Coyotes being towards the bottom of the standings currently, this hiring shows the organization has some serious intent to shake things up for a long-term project. Chayka will likely have just as exciting of a year in 2017 as 2016, and for that he’s one of the most captivating people in hockey.
22. Erik Karlsson
Erik Karlsson has become nothing short of a household name over his career, of this there is no doubt. Despite the pockets of people out there questioning his defensive ability, no one can argue how phenomenally talented Karlsson really is. He’s surely one of, if not the biggest, reasons that the Senators are competing with the top teams on a regular basis.
During the 2015-16 season Karlsson amazingly play at a point-per-game pace, finishing the season with 16 goals and 82 points in 82 games. Truly amazing for a defenseman. Due to this amazing offensive output he bagged himself a nomination for the Norris Trophy, which was ultimately won by Dre Doughty. This season doesn’t seem to be any less than last as he has seven goals and 32 points in 35 games thus far, which will likely get him in the talk for the Norris once again this season.
21. Bruce Boudreau
Bruce Boudreau has had himself one heck of a 2016. Despite coaching the Anaheim Ducks to a 46-25-11 record and winning the Pacific Division, it wasn’t enough to save his job. Boudreau lost his fourth straight game seven at home in the playoffs, something the Ducks upper management were seemingly fed up with, and they sent Boudreau packing.
Boudreau didn’t stay unemployed for long and was hired by the Minnesota Wild in the offseason. Many people were doubtful that the wild could be anything more than a team floating around .500, but Boudreau has them on a franchise-record winning streak and sitting pretty in the playoff race less than halfway through the season. So maybe losing his job was a good thing?