What a strange couple of nights watching the Lightning on television. Something wasn't right, like the tint needed to be adjusted or the color was off. Then you realized: It wasn't what was missing, but who was missing. How odd it felt to watch the Lightning play the Devils and not see Devils goalie Martin Brodeur. How weird it seemed to watch the Lightning play the Rangers and not see Jaromir Jagr. Brodeur is out at least three months with an elbow injury. Jagr has taken his game to Russia. They rank as two of the most significant NHL players over the past 10 or so years. This is our list of the most significant players of the past 10 years. They're not necessarily the best players but those who have had a major impact.
One of the game's most dynamic and talented players despite his reputation for being occasionally moody and difficult. He ranks in the top 15 all time in goals, assists, points and playoff points and would've climbed higher up the lists had he not decided to move to Russia after last season. He is the NHL's all-time scoring leader among European-born players and was always at his best in the biggest games. He makes this list for two reasons: You could never take your eyes off him, and he turned the Rangers back into a solid franchise. The Rangers had missed the playoffs seven consecutive seasons before Jagr arrived, but they made the postseason in all three of his full seasons in New York.
No one disputes that Bobby Orr is the greatest defenseman of all time. There should be no question that the Swedish-born Lidstrom is the second greatest. Although he doesn't possess the pizzazz of Orr or Paul Coffey, Lidstrom controls the pace of a game better than any defenseman in the game. Star players have come and gone in Detroit, but Lidstrom has been the rock of all four of the team's Stanley Cup championship teams since 1996-97. He's the chief reason Detroit is called "Hockeytown."
Sid the Kid has been in the NHL only since 2005-06, but don't underestimate the impact he has made. It's quite possible the Penguins would no longer be in Pittsburgh if Crosby hadn't arrived and been every bit as good as advertised coming out of junior hockey. Not only are the Penguins still in Pittsburgh, they are building a new arena and are one of the league's top teams. More important, Crosby has become the face of the NHL, from pitching products to serving as the league's ambassador and eloquent spokesman. And he's only 21.
Like it or not, hockey's sun still rises and sets over Toronto. It's the epicenter of the NHL, and the Maple Leafs are the league's most covered and talked-about team. Sundin was the face (and heart, and soul) of the Maple Leafs franchise from 1994 until last season, making him probably the most-quoted player in the league. These days, Sundin is working out and figures to return to some team. When he does, he will be the most significant free-agent signing of the year.
Although Tampa Bay has more of a hockey base than Canadian media credit it with having, winning a Stanley Cup is never a bad thing for a franchise, especially one in an area where hockey is not indigenous. Lecavalier has been the face of the Lightning franchise for — wow, has it really been 10 seasons now? And he, along with Marty St. Louis and Brad Richards, helped the Lightning win that precious Stanley Cup. And the center deserves credit for being a player who has remained committed to a Sun Belt team despite the pull to go to a more traditional hockey market, particularly in Canada.
Some players are famous. Others are infamous, but that makes them no less significant in the impact they have had on the league. Bertuzzi, who had always been a good NHL forward, is best remembered for a sucker punch that ended the career of Colorado's Steve Moore. The punch in February 2004 brought hockey's goon reputation back into the limelight and forced the league to again re-examine its image. Furthermore, ensuing lawsuits again raised the question of whether the legal system could or should have authority over something that happens on the field of play.
Again, one for the "infamous" file. In 2001 the Islanders signed the talented Russian center to a 10-year, $87.5-million contract that still is considered the worst contract in NHL history. Yashin averaged only 24 goals and 34 assists over the next five seasons before the Islanders bought out his contract and Yashin went back to play in Russia. Yashin's contract still serves as a spook-story reminder for NHL teams to think twice before signing players to long-term deals.
One could argue that Brodeur has had the greatest impact of any player in the history of the NHL. If you believe that the goaltender in hockey is the most significant position in any sport, then you could argue that Brodeur has had the greatest impact of any player in any team sport. The Devils goalie — in his 17th season and who will finish his career as the NHL goalie leader in games, victories and probably shutouts — has more influence on his team's success than any player in the NHL. Consider: In the 17 seasons before Brodeur arrived, the franchise had two winning seasons. In the 16 full seasons Brodeur has been in New Jersey, the Devils never had a losing record and won three Stanley Cups.