Every year, there is debate over which NHL position holds the most value. Should a team target an elite center, winger, defenseman, or goalie? Some say a team can’t win without a franchise guy down the middle, while others claim that without a 30-minute defenseman on the roster, a team is doomed.
Let’s take a look at the final four teams in the 2016 NHL playoffs to see which elite pieces they actually have.
San Jose Sharks:
Elite Center?: Absolutely. Joe Thornton is getting up there in age, but he just had an elite year.
Elite Winger?: Yes. “Little” Joe Pavelski has become one of the best goal scorers in the NHL.
Elite Defenseman?: People will argue as to exactly how much Brent Burns qualifies as a defenseman, but he’s a Norris candidate for a reason.
Elite Goalie?: No. Martin Jones had a great season and had some Vezina buzz, but he is not yet an elite goaltender.
St. Louis Blues:
Elite Center?: No. The center situation changes a lot under Hitchcock, but none of Alex Steen, Jori Lehtera, David Backes, or Paul Stastny are elite.
Elite Winger?: For sure. Vladimir Tarasenko has quickly become a top-10 forward in the NHL.
Elite Defenseman?: Yes. Alex Pietrangelo’s strong playoff play has cemented his status as an elite defender.
Elite Goalie?: No. Brian Elliott and Jake Allen are fine goaltenders, but neither is elite.
Tampa Bay Lightning:
Elite Center?: Not currently. Steven Stamkos is an elite center, but is currently out with a blood clot and has been for the entire playoffs. Tyler Johnson is approaching elite status, but not quite there yet.
Elite Winger?: Not quite yet. Nikita Kucherov is certainly playing like an elite winger, but his status is not yet set in stone.
Elite Defenseman?: Yes. Victor Hedman has quietly turned into one of the best defensemen in the league.
Elite Goalie?: Yes, until he got hurt last game. Ben Bishop, a Vezina candidate, is an elite goaltender.
Elite Center?: How about two? Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin pack a powerful one-two punch.
Elite Winger?: Phil Kessel probably counts as elite, especially with the playoffs he is having.
Elite Defenseman?: Yes. Kris Letang may not have been considered elite as recently as last season, but he regained that status with a resurgent year.
Elite Goalie?: No. Matt Murray is playing very well, but is a rookie and far from a sure bet. Marc-Andre Fleury has never been elite.
Conclusions?: The elite defenseman is the only piece to appear on all four teams, which seems in line with conventional hockey wisdom. Elite wingers appear on three of the teams, but it should be noted that elite wingers are probably the most abundant elite property in the NHL. Elite centers are surely important, but two of the four teams are getting by fine without one. Elite goaltending does not seem to be incredibly important, with only one team having it, and it seems much more valuable to simply have a goalie that is currently playing well.