Following hockey has been a lot easier in the past 8 years. If you miss a game, it’s no issue because you can find a stream for it. If you don’t have time to watch it taped, you can look at recaps on the internet, highlights on TV, or look at the advanced stats to get an idea of what happened.
Personally, that’s how I like to use those stats. I rarely find them to be anything surprising (if you do, you’ve probably got a bad stat), but they give you objective information on what happened. Interpreting them is littered with subjectivity — most people can’t even agree on which stats are most important — and I think it’s fantastic.
If you want to know what happened in a game, who controlled the play, had the scoring opportunities, forced turnovers, etc. All that information is available within the things tracked. Except special teams —hockey is still lagging far in those very important parts of the game, but oh well.
Today, I’m not too concerned about what we can objectively prove. In fact, I’m going to make statements that some people may view as ludicrous, without any form of evidence beyond video and opinion. I’ll start by with this one: The ‘Wow’ factor is the most important part of hockey.
The ‘Wow’ factor is pretty self-explanatory. But just in case, it’s when a player does something you weren’t expecting. Sometimes it looks like it’s going to be something stupid, and then turns out to have been the best possible move. Something no one on the ice, or even viewing at home could have predicted. A Wow play not only keeps an opposition guessing, it changes the game. When these plays get broadcast, every player in the league ends up seeing them on a highlight reel. Each one of them tries to replicate, some succeed, some don’t. Regardless, we end up with inflationary highlights. It’s why every player in the league is better skill-wise, than any player in the league 40 years ago. It’s not coaching, it’s not nutrition, and it’s not summer camps — although those things help — it’s watching superior players do incredible things with the puck. In this four part series, I’ll show some videos of that happening, with who I think exemplifies it best.
I’ll start with who I feel is the best player to ever play the game of hockey. And no I’m surprisingly not talking about Wayne Gretzky, or Mario Lemieux. Don’t get me wrong, there’s definitely a stronger argument that one of those players deserves the title, but they played at their peak before I was born, and although their point totals tell me that they were clearly above everyone else, their highlights don’t look that special today just because of the inflation in skill. The player I’m talking about, is the one and only Peter Forsberg.
If you have the time — and you should make time — you’ll see nothing but ‘wow’ out of Peter Forsberg. But if we have to limit it to exactly who he was and what he did, we’ll use the following video, and skip to 2:26. Or just watch the whole thing.
A defenseman trying to stop him was about as effective as a concrete parachute. He was going to do what he wanted, when he wanted. That particular play was pure skill, balance, and power. He actually scored most of his 885 career points on incredible assists by drawing players to leave someone open, and scored most of his goals with a player already open forcing the defense to anticipate the pass. He had the highest Wow factor I’ve ever seen, and is main reason I started watching hockey in the first place. He won a Hart Trophy, A Calder Trophy, And Art Ross Trophy, Two Stanley ups, Two World Championships and Two Olympic Gold Medals. His most impressive accomplishment though, is his 31 points in 7 games in the 1993 World Juniors. That’s a record that’s likely to stand forever.
Marc Crawford described him as a player who wouldn’t listen to the coach. He’d skate around with seemingly no plan, you’d yell and scream at him because you didn’t know what he was doing, but Forsberg sure as hell knew what he was doing. After a while, Crawford decided to stop fighting it and just let it happen. Also, if his 885 career points (Most of the highlight reel variety) weren’t enough to convince you of his Wow Factor changing the game. How many times have we seen this move since?
It’s more incredible that he didn’t change the way players prepare in the off-season. According to Joe Sakic, it consisted of playing golf three times per day, including once at 2am after getting drunk; However, I think his on-ice performance speaks for itself.
There is so much left to be desired with Peter Forsberg’s career. He only played 708 games, was frequently injured, and took off the entire season in 2001-2002 before coming back to lead the playoffs in scoring. Also, there are lots of highlights that I have no access to, because the video technology just wasn’t around at the time. Being Oilers fans though, we should be able to remember quite a bit — he scored more points per game against the Oilers than any other team. Calgary a close second.
He described himself as scoring most of his points early in his career by beating everyone with the puck. In the latter half of his career, it was strong positioning and awareness to make plays that shouldn’t have existed. There was however, a few years between 2000 and 2006 when he had both. During that time, there was no better player.
I’m not sure if we’ll ever see another player like Forsberg in the NHL, especially one as dominant on the ice. He or his teammates had the puck for what seemed like the entire duration of him being on the ice. It was an exceptional all around game. Had he been able to stay healthy his entire career, there’s a really good chance he’d have a lot more NHL records to his name. He’s 4th overall in assists per game at 0.898, done so throughout the dead puck era.
He’ll never be viewed upon as the best in any form of Statistical analysis, however, he had a better Wow Factor than anyone else who ever played. That’s a bit of a spoiler for the next three parts of this series, but the rest come close, and one of them has a long career ahead of him and can contend for that honor.