The Best Players Ever - Round of 32 - Third Heat

USA TODAY Sports

Who among this group doesn't belong in the discussion about the best hockey players to ever play the game?

The first two heats are now complete and the second heat was much clearer than the first. Newsy Lalonde and Stan Mikita were eliminated with 35% and 18% of the vote respectively in the first heat, but in the second, we saw Bryan Trottier receive 49% of the votes cast, and Sergei Markarov follow him out with 23%, more than double the third-place finisher. On a personal note, I think Makarov was the best Soviet player ever, so I was sad to see him eliminated so early on, but I understand why it happened.

Today, we've got eight more contenders, including another player from the USSR, and I imagine him doing worse than Makarov even though I again think he probably deserves to move on. I've written a brief review of Helmuts Balderis and the seven other contenders below. The poll at the end will ask you which of these eight should be eliminated from contention, and the two players with the most votes are out. The voting will be open until Sunday afternoon, and the last group will go up on Monday.

Helmuts Balderis (1973-1996) - The Latvian scorer led the USSR in scoring twice and was among the top ten scorers for eleven consecutive seasons from 1974-75 to 1984-85 even though he spent most of that time playing for Dinamo Riga instead of one of the traditional Russian powerhouses. He was named the Soviet League Player of the Year in 1977, after which he was transferred to CSKA Moscow. But Balderis apparently didn't apparently care much for the change and spent a lot of his time delighting fans with his stickhandling prowess instead of focusing on putting pucks in the net. Said Balderis:

I can get away with it on CSKA. If I don't score, Mikhailov, Petrov or Kharlamov will.

After three seasons with CSKA, Balderis was returned to Riga. Soviet players didn't start coming to North America until after Balderis had retired, but he was nevertheless drafted by the Minnesota North Stars. He played just 26 games with Minnesota at age 37 before once again going into retirement.

Martin Brodeur (1991-2014) - Brodeur is clearly one of the greatest goalies ever. He has won the Vezina four times, and is the league's all-time leader in games played, wins, shutouts, and saves, in several cases by a substantial margin. And yet... his save percentage performance just isn't in the same league as the other goalies in this tournament. Brodeur played nineteen full seasons in the NHL, and his save percentage has been below average in five of them (the last three plus two during his prime). Overall, Brodeur has made 27,991 saves on 30,673 shots. An average goalie would have stopped 27,796 over that time period for a difference of 195 goals, or about 10.3 better than average per season. Excellent numbers, but less than half the impact of Patrick Roy.

Bobby Hull (1957-1980) - Hull was a part of the game during one of its major periods of transition, a star in both the Original Six era of the NHL and from the very beginning in the WHA. He was named a First or Second Team All-Star twelve times during his NHL career and another five times in the WHA. In the NHL, Hull won the Hart and Art Ross trophies three times each, and scored the most goals in a season an astounding seven times, more than any other player in history. Of the thirty-one 80-point seasons during the Original Six era, Hull had five, and of the five 50-goal seasons Hull had three. Hull left for the WHA at age 33, and ended up in second on their all-time goal list with 303 regular season goals. Add that to his 610 regular season goals in the NHL, and his 105 playoff goals in both leagues combined and Hull lit the lamp 1,018 times in his professional career.

Guy Lafleur (1971-1991) - Lafleur was both excellent and durable during his prime. He is one of just seven players with at least six consecutive 100-point seasons (the others are Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Mike Bossy, Peter Stastny, Steve Yzerman, and Bobby Orr), one of just three players with at least six consecutive 50-goal seasons (Bossy and Gretzky are the others), and one of just two players with at least five consecutive 125-point seasons (the other is Gretzky). He was named a First Team All-Star for six consecutive seasons, and won the Hart Trophy twice during that run. The rest of his career is less impressive, but Lafleur's prime is clearly one of the best ever.

Mario Lemieux (1984-2006) - Lemieux is awesome. He is one of just two players to play at least forty games in a season and average two points per game. He did it six times. He shared the prime of his career with Wayne Gretzky and still won six Art Ross trophies, three goal-scoring titles, and three Hart trophies. He was also named a First Team All-Star five times. Lemieux is second in terms of career points per game with 1.88 and is third in career goals per game with 0.75. He won the Stanley Cup with the Pittsburgh Penguins twice and was named the Conn Smythe winner both times, scoring 32 goals and 78 points in those 38 playoff games.

Nicklas Lidstrom (1991-2012) - No one has played for one team for their entire career and played more games than Lidstrom's 1,564 games with the Detroit Red Wings, which is a pretty cool record for a modern player to have. It's fitting that it's a record that belongs to a Red Wing, since they're the closest thing the Dead Puck Era (1994-95 to 2013-14) has had to a dynasty with six Presidents' Trophies and four Stanley Cups (one of which had Lidstrom lifting the Conn Smythe) during Lidstrom's time with the team. But that's not to say he's short on individual achievements. Lidstrom's seven Norris trophies put him second all-time behind only Bobby Orr; his ten appearances as a First-Team All-Star is second among defensemen and third overall behind only Ray Bourque and Gordie Howe; and his 0.75 points per game during the Dead Puck Era (1994-95 to 2013-14) is third behind Bourque and Brian Leetch.

Maurice Richard (1942-1960) - Richard played eighteen seasons with the Montreal Canadiens, who won the Stanley Cup eight times over that period. He is one of just five players to score at least fifty goals and register a goal per game in the same season (note: he somehow managed to not win the Hart Trophy that year), and the only player to do it before the 1980s. From 1943-44 to 1956-57, Richard scored 0.58 goals per game, well ahead of the second-place Jean Beliveau (0.53) and third-place Gordie Howe (0.50), both of whom were in their prime. Richard scored the most goals in the league five times during his career and was in the top five on twelve occasions. He was named a First or Second Team All-Star fourteen times during his career and has become so synonymous with goalscoring that we've named the trophy after him.

Cyclone Taylor (1905-1923) - Taylor is generally regarded as the greatest scorer of the pre-NHL era. His greatest accomplishments likely came in the Pacific Coast Hockey Association. Taylor played in the PCHA for parts of ten seasons from 1912-13 to 1922-23. He is the league's all-time leader in points (263, second place with 253), points per game (1.95, second place with 1.41), and goals per game (1.19, second place with 0.95). Taylor won the scoring championship five times in six season from 1913-14 to 1918-19 and he played for the Stanley Cup three times while playing in the PCHA, winning once. Taylor arrived in the PCHA at age 28. In his prime, Taylor played mostly in the IHL, ECAHA, and NHA, winning the Stanley Cup with the ECAHA's Ottawa Senators in 1907-08.

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