Saturday, March 27, 2010

ESPN NHL Player Poll

Who is the NHL's best player? How about dirtiest player? The best referee? A recent poll of NHL players has revealed some interesting responses. This ESPN Player Poll remained anonymous - and that elicited some great responses.

Of interest, Roberto Luongo was voted the most overrated player in the league, Derek Booggard and Rick Rypien the toughest fighters, Chris Pronger the dirtiest player, Vancouver Canucks' fans the most knowledgeable, Kerry Fraser the league's best official, and Stephane Auger the worst.

1. Who's the NHL's best player?
This was a two-person race -- reigning MVP Alex Ovechkin vs. Pens star Sidney Crosby -- but not a particularly close one. Of those who picked one or the other, 73 percent chose Ovi. "He's powerful, skilled and exciting to watch -- just what our game needs," says one Eastern Conference player. On the other hand, 15 guys got votes for most overrated, led by Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo (6 percent).

2. What is the best franchise?
More players said the Red Wings (60 percent) than all other teams combined. "They have a history of winning and a fun building to play in," offers one Western Conference center. Worst franchise went to the league-owned Coyotes, who grabbed 28 percent of the vote. "Games feel like practice when we play there," says a conference rival.

3. Who's the smartest coach?
Players like Caps coach Bruce Boudreau and Pens Dan Bylsma (each received 16 percent). But they love the Wings' Mike Babcock (22 percent). When asked about the last coach they'd want to play for, Rangers coach John Tortorella took the dubious title (18 percent). "He's always yelling and calling out guys in the media," says one Western Conference wing.

4. Should the NHL eliminate some teams?
Even with job security at stake, players aren't so sure. Many (48 percent) voted against the notion, but a whopping 38 percent saw its merits. And 40 percent (yeas and nays alike) favored relocating a floundering crew to "Anywhere in Canada."

5. Which team has the best ice?
Stunner: The cooler the climate, the slicker the sheet. Edmonton (average temp: 37 degrees Fahrenheit) edges Montreal (44 degrees Fahrenheit), 28 percent to 24 percent, for best ice. Worst? Florida (75 degrees Fahrenheit), with 24 percent. "It's mush after a few minutes, then gets worse after that," says one star of the Panthers' surface.

6. Who's the top ref?
He started skating at 15 months, reffed his first game at 15 years and hit the NHL before Reagan hit the Oval Office. Kerry Fraser, the most senior whistle-blower in the game, is the players' fave (26 percent). "He's consistent and listens to guys," says one wing. Not such a fave? Stephane Auger, who received 20 percent of the worst-ref vote. "He's terrible at everything," says one Eastern Conference center. "Nobody likes him."

7. Who has the best visitors' locker room?
Players can't wait to visit the Steel City -- next season. Right now, the Pens roll out the shoddiest welcome mat (62 percent). "You can't even fit everyone in there; goalies and rookies sit in another room," says a wing who has played for and against Pittsburgh. "I hear it's going to be unreal next year, though." Until then, Minnesota (42 percent) boasts the most hospitable quarters. "It's big, spacious and pretty -- and it smells good," says one Western Conference aficionado.

8. Who has the best groupies?
Again, many answer "Anywhere in Canada." You want specifics? Okay, 42 percent zero in on Montreal. "There are always fans, always autograph people, always ... those kinds of lovely ladies," says one wing who has played for three different franchises.

9. Who's the best fighter?
Derek Boogaard of the Wild is 6'8" and 257 pounds and has scored two goals in the past five seasons. But he's mustered 500-plus penalty minutes over that span -- and now he has 46 percent of our premier-pugilist vote. "There are a lot of tough guys, but Boogaard is the last one I want to mess with," says one Western defenseman. The No. 2 recipient, though, doesn't quite fit the profile. Rick Rypien (20 percent) goes 5'11", 190, is the cousin of former NFL QB Mark and once took a leave of absence because he was struggling mentally with the strain of fighting through injuries. Apparently, fighting other guys is less of a problem. "He has boxing skills, quick hands and protects himself well," says a former first-round draft pick. "Pound-for-pound, he's toughest in the NHL."

10. Who's the dirtiest player?
Although there was no clear-cut choice, 22 percent named Flyers defenseman Chris Pronger. Another 10 percent fingered Ovechkin for his grabbing and hitting from behind. And 12 percent called out Ranger Sean Avery -- some of them, grudgingly. "He's probably happy to get my vote," one Eastern Conference player admits.

1. Chris Pronger, Philadelphia Flyers: 22 percent
2. Sean Avery, New York Rangers: 12 percent
T3. Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals; Steve Ott, Dallas Stars: 10 percent
5. Jarkko Ruutu, Ottawa Senators: 8 percent
T6. Patrick Kaleta, Buffalo Sabres; Cam Janssen, St. Louis Blues: 6 percent
T8. 13 players: 2 percent

11. Who has the hottest spouse?
"Tough one," says an Eastern Conference vet. "Many of us are good-looking guys with charm, so there is a lot to choose from. I'll take Mike Fisher's fiancée, though." You may know her as Carrie Underwood; she grabbed 48 percent of the envy. Others with high approval ratings: Mike Modano (10 percent), who is married to model Willa Ford, and Mike Comrie (6 percent), the future Mr. Hilary Duff.

12. Do you think you have any gay teammates?
Many (42 percent) think yes. "Statistics say there should be two in each locker room," says one defenseman. "They may go after girls, but they prefer guys."

13. Grade Gary Bettman, A through F, on the job he's doing as commish.
Mr. Bettman is barely passing. He gets zero "A" grades -- and a few "F" grades (16 percent). His GPA, in fact, is a just-getting-by 1.88, somewhere between a D-plus and a C-minus. "He doesn't give guys enough money, and he needs to have more teams in Canada -- that's what drives our league right now," says one recent All-Star.

14. Who has the smartest fans in the NHL
One player wouldn't budge from "Anywhere in Canada," but others were more forthcoming about followers of teams up north. The Canucks faithful get the most praise (32 percent). And in the no-surprise-here category: 42 percent say the City of Brotherly Love has the meanest fans.

15. Do you think any of your teammates are taking PEDs
Some think maybe (4 percent), others don't want to say (12 percent). An overwhelming 76 percent say no. Only a small bunch (8 percent) assume that in a sport of 739 players -- more or less -- a few have to be on the juice.

16. Are goalie pads too big?
Guess who doesn't think so. Every goalie we spoke with said their pads are just right. "You try standing in front of a slap shot going 100 mph!" one says. Overall, 62 percent said the pads of Martin Brodeur and others are just fine. Of course, a fair amount of their skating brethren disagree.

17. Have you ever been approached about fixing the outcome of a game?
No player said yes, but three refused to say no. One nay had an interesting take: "I don't play enough minutes to affect the outcome of a game."

18. True or False: Hockey players are missing a lot of teeth.
Dentures-down, this question was the player-favorite. A whopping 98 percent agree with the premise (average loss per player: 1.5 per mouth). We asked one player who didn't bite if he'd lost any teeth: His answer: "Oh yeah -- seven."

19. What one change would help the NHL's popularity the most?
Players think the game needs more TV exposure (52 percent). "We need something like "Hard Knocks" on HBO," one 10-year vet says. "It shows players are real people, and the drama of getting ready for the season. If we had that, we'd see the impact right away in the stands."

20. Who will win the Stanley Cup this year?
The league's points leaders in mid-March, the Sharks and Caps, claim 16 percent of the vote apiece. But that makes them only second runners-up. The defending champ Penguins get 18 percent. And the hands-down winner? With 32 percent, your Chicago Blackhawks! Says a previous Cup-holder: "They remind me of Pittsburgh from a year ago."

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