Best Player Ever Vote: Messier & Trottier or Forsberg & Sakic?

Justin Edmonds

The wild card voters made a mistake in sending Mark Messier and Bryan Trottier through to the next round.

In the wild card round of Scott's "Best Player Ever" tournament, he placed ten forwards alongside nine defensemen and six goaltenders and asked readers to vote the five best into the final tournament.  The ten forwards in the running were Mike Bossy, Charlie Conacher, Sidney Crosby, Marcel Dionne, Peter Forsberg, Ted Lindsay, Mark Messier, Joe Sakic, Bryan Trottier, and Steve Yzerman.  Of the ten, however, seven of them were centres and just three played the wing: Bossy, Conacher and Lindsay.

The readers chose Bossy, Crosby, Messier, Patrick Roy, and Trottier to move through to the next round, and it's my belief that they were mistaken on three of those selections: Messier, Roy and Trottier.  I won't go into the problem with Roy moving on over Hall, but a simple era adjustment is useful in demonstrating why Messier and Trottier were poor choices.

The adjustment I make is a basic one, first conceived by Jonathan Willis.  Adjust each player's yearly output by a factor that normalizes league-wide goal-scoring to six goals per game.  The results for the aforementioned forwards are in the table below.  Because of eligibility differences throughout league history, the comparison begins with each player's 20-year-old season

Age Lindsay Messier Conacher Trottier Yzerman Dionne Bossy Sakic Forsberg Crosby
20 0.46 0.84 1.46 0.86 0.62 0.97 1.13 1.04
21 0.34 1.07 1.32 1.45 0.92 1.07 1.35 1.18 1.07 1.41
22 0.73 1.05 1.09 1.51 1.29 0.99 1.05 1.17 1.35 1.46
23 0.96 0.76 1.54 1.14 1.55 1.32 1.18 1.11 1.36 1.77
24 1.19 1.01 1.45 1.10 1.31 1.03 1.37 1.01 1.44 1.90
25 1.25 1.14 1.20 1.21 1.17 1.38 1.16 1.33 1.42 1.76
26 1.02 1.17 0.65 0.86 1.12 1.03 1.14 1.40 1.14
27 1.23 1.05 1.00 1.24 1.35 1.39 1.36 1.17 1.33
28 1.26 1.33 0.68 0.67 1.31 1.46 1.16 1.12 1.62
29 1.05 1.05 0.72 0.93 0.81 1.32 1.26 1.50 1.59
30 0.92 1.17 0.56 0.89 1.13 1.12 0.96 1.47

0.98 1.07 1.08 1.08 1.17 1.19 1.20 1.22 1.38 1.56

From the basic analysis here, it's clear that Bossy deserved to move on in that group.  He was the highest-scoring wing and clear of Conacher by 10 points per 82 games.  The more interesting aspect of the table is the comparison between centres.

Crosby clearly deserves to move on - he's the dominant player of his era, and one of the highest-scoring era adjusted players ever.  The big drawback to voting for Crosby is lack of games played due in part to injuries.   The voters also pushed Messier and Trottier through even though they were the two lowest-scoring centres of the bunch.  I'd be willing to wager that the ever-present "intangibles" were behind this.  However, I fail to see any justification that counts Trottier or Messier well ahead of Forsberg, a surprisingly dominant scorer in Gary Bettman's dead puck era, that doesn't also invalidate Bossy's inclusion.

If intangibles were behind the vote, then Yzerman, and especially Sakic, can hang in any discussion involving Messier or Trottier and Sakic was 12 points better per 82 games than either Messier or Trottier.

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