By this time next week, most of the world’s best hockey players will have arrived in Sochi for the 2014 Winter Olympics. The tournament will mark the fifth time the league’s top players will be participating in the Games.
In the years before all the world’s best players were allowed to compete, we saw plenty of players who dominated at the Olympics but had little if any impact at the NHL level. That list would include most of the top Soviet players of the ’70s and ’80s, as well as other European stars over the years. And of course, just about all the last century’s top NHL stars had little opportunity to make any sort of Olympic impact.
With a small handful of exceptions, throughout almost all the 20th century, players had the opportunity to lace up in either the NHL or the Olympics, but not both. But that equation changed in 1998, and now that we’ve had 16 years of the top NHL stars participating in the Olympics, plenty of guys have had the chance to shine on both stages.
But who’s done it best? That seems like the sort of thing that calls for a subjective and arbitrary ranking that will end with people yelling at me.
So let’s give it a try, using this question: Weighting NHL and Olympic performance equally, which 10 players have been the best of both worlds?
10. Marian Hossa, Slovakia
NHL: 1,071 games; 983 points; five-time All-Star
Olympics: Three appearances; 15 games; 25 points
Is Marian Hossa’s NHL career underrated? I feel like we can go ahead and say he’s underrated. Granted, it’s because he’s essentially gone his entire career without ever being the best player on his own team, but he’s going to retire someday, and we’ll all be shocked when we realize he wound up with 500-plus goals and something around 1,200 points.
But whatever you think of his NHL career, you’ve almost certainly underrated his Olympic résumé. Because he plays for Slovakia, he’s never won a medal (though he did play for bronze in 2010). And he only got to play in two games in 2002, because of the old tournament format that forced teams like Slovakia to play qualifying games without their NHL players. But despite that, he’s put up 25 points in just 15 games, for a 1.67 points-per-game average that ranks near the top of the list among NHL pros.
9. Pavel Bure, Russia
NHL: 702 games; 779 points; six-time All-Star; one Calder; two Richards
Olympics: Two appearances; 12 games; 12 points
Bure only played in two Olympics, but he makes the list for two reasons: One, I still think he was criminally underappreciated in the NHL, and I’m going to take every opportunity I ever get to pump his tires; and two, he was extra ridiculous in the 1998 tournament, when he scored nine goals.
That’s it, by the way. No assists. Just nine goals. When Pavel Bure was at his best, he didn’t do assists. And he may never have been better than in the 1998 semifinal, when he scored an Olympic-record five goals to almost single-handedly beat the Finns.
Look at how many breakaways he gets just based on pure speed. And that was against an elite international team. Imagine what he did in the mid-’90s against teams like the Tampa Bay Lightning.