Who Is Your Franchise Player

The question I pose to all of you today is this: If you were a GM of a team and you could choose any player in the NHL to be the anchor of your franchise for the next 8-10 years, who would it be?

My Answer: If you are looking for 8-10 years and beyond, you have to be looking at a fairly young player. With that in mind I am going to target players born in 1980 or later. I also am looking for a player that has shown himself to be healthy and durable as well as being a good team player and leader, despite being young. So with that criteria in mind, here is my top 20 young franchise players.

  1. Henrik Lundqvist – Goalies are the most important position in hockey (maybe in all of sport) and Lundqvist is the best there is right now.
  2. Roberto Luongo – Despite a slow start to the season, Luongo is right there with Lundqvist.
  3. Sidney Crosby – Should be the most dominant player in the NHL for the next dozen years.
  4. Vincent Lecavalier – It took a few years but Lecavalier has finally figure out how to dominate in all aspects of the game.
  5. Alexander Ovechkin – He does everything and unlike many wingers he can do it on his own.
  6. Dion Phaneuf – He is already one of the top defensemen in the league and will only get better.
  7. Henrik Zetterberg – Plays a good all-round game. but this season we will find out if he is very very good or elite level.
  8. Eric Staal – Needs to repeat his 100 point season before I am sold on him as one of the elite players.
  9. Ilya Kovalchuk – As offensively gifted as anyone but could use improvement on his all round game.
  10. Dany Heatley – The best sniper in the league but needs a playmaking center like Spezza to achieve greatness. He may not be a player who can excel on his own.
  11. Rick DiPietro – Showing that the Islanders were smart in locking him up on a 15 year contract and proves the theory you can have some success without a star forward or defenseman but with an elite level goalie.
  12. Evgeni Malkin – He has had a great start to his career but how much has he benefited from playing with Crosby? Needs to refine his game to take himself to the next level.
  13. Jason Spezza – Would be higher but I would be concerned about his injury issues having missed 29 games over the past 2 seasons and 6 more already this year including back and groin problems that can become chronic.
  14. Ryan Getzlaf – Maybe not as gifted offensively as the players above him on this list but might play the best all round game.
  15. Anze Kopitar – Has good size and very good offensive skills but needs to round out his game a little.
  16. Brad Richards – He isn’t living up to his $7.8 million per year contract but still one of the better centers in the game.
  17. Carey Price – Despite very limited action in the NHL so far it looks like his junior and AHL success will translate to the NHL level.
  18. Rick Nash – He is a power forward goal scorer like Jarome Iginla but has never put up 60 points yet. I’d love to see him play with a
    gifted playmaking center.
  19. Ryan Whitney – Looked like he was on the verge of stardom last year (59 points) but has taken a step back this season.
  20. Kari Lehtonen – A star goalie in development but needs to get healthy and gain a bit more consistency in his game.

Honorable Mentions:
Patrick Kane
Erik Johnson
Jack Johnson
Jonathan Tavares

Just not enough experience to judge their long term success at the NHL level yet.

Have I missed anyone?

Update: I made a glaring omission by leaving Thomas Vanek off the list. He slipped my mind but he definitely deserves to be there. I’d probably place him between Spezza and Getzlaf but has the potential to be worthy of a higher spot.

This article has 26 Comments

  1. Evgeni Malkin would be ahead of a one-dimensional defenceman like Ryan Whitney.

    I think the jury is out whether Lehtonen ever becomes a franchise goalie.

    Including a guy like Getzlaf might provoke one to include a guy like Michael Richards.

  2. I considered Richards but his career highs before this season were 11 goals and 34 points. He is off to a great start but that isn’t enough for me to include him on this list. Getzlaf is bigger, stronger, is a better all round player, has cup winning experience and had 25 goals and 58 points last year and is on pace to improve on those numbers this year. I think most people would choose Getzlaf over Richards.

  3. What about Corey Perry. He provides a bit more toughness than Getzlaf, and is right there with him in points. Interestingly Getzlaf signed a 5 year, $26.625 million extension with the Ducks today.

    Jonathan Toews also didn’t make your list. A bit surprising, but he’s second to Kane when it comes to Chicago at this point.

    Brent Burns would be another top young D man that I think will continue to develop into a high end blue-liner, and don’t forget Jay Bouwmeester.

    As for goalies, what about Niklas Backstrom? One season only I admit, but he was torrid to begin this year, and he’s still only 1 year older than Luongo.

    I’d be inclined to include Milan Lucic, but he’s rather raw and hasn’t blossomed as a scorer at the NHL level yet. But at 6’4″ and 220, he should continue to round into form with time.

    Obviously these guys are “franchise” players you’re ranking… I think in the future some of these other’s I’ve listed could develop into “franchise” level players.

  4. While goalie is the most important position possibly in all of sports, it’s not scarce. That is to say, most teams have got a pretty good one. The last three Stanley Cup winners haven’t had HOF-level goalies.

    I think Bouwmeester is a glaring omission and would put him on the list long before Kari Lethonen, who’s struggled with injuries and has never looked tremendous.

    Pretty solid list. I’d love to fight for Zach Parise’s place on it but honestly he’s not in these players’ class and it’s unlikely he ever will be.

  5. Triumph:
    The last three Stanley Cup winners haven’t had HOF-level goalies.

    And what have they don’t since their cup wins? Most franchises if they want real long term success build around an elite level goalie. BTW, Giguere is probably an elite level goalie. He has taken a team to the cup finals twice, won the cup once, boasts a very good career .914 save% in the regular season and .929 in the playoffs. He is only 30 years old and if he could put together 8 more good seasons averaging 30 wins/season he’ll get ~400 wins in his career. Add in some additional playoff success and you’ll be worthy of HOF consideration. 400 wins would put you 10th on the all time list.

    Hmmm. I hadn’t thought about Zach Parise but yeah, he probably wouldn’t be on the list. I’d group him with guys like Michael Cammalleri. Nice players who should have good careers but not franchise type players.


    I’d take Getzlaf over Perry. I just think Getzlaf can do more on his own and has more upside. I suspect most GMs would agree. Perry will be good too but more of a second line player or secondary first line player.

    Toews doesn’t have the offensive upside of Kane but is a more complete player. He probably deserves to be in the honorable mention category too but I am not sure he has elite level talent that you might want in a franchise player. Definitely worth of consideration though.

    I thought of Bouwmeester too but he hasn’t developed as well as most people would have liked. Maybe I am underrating him but this is his 5th year in the NHL and he has 6 points in 22 games and is a -4. I think he has reached his upside already and while that is a very good defenseman I don’t think it is franchise level defenseman. Just my opinion.

    Backstrom is actually an older goalie born in 1978 so technically he wouldn’t qualify using my restriction of 1980 birth year or earlier. He has had an excellent start to his NHL career but one has to wonder how much of that is due to Minnesota’s defensive system. No doubt he is a good goalie but I would be somewhat concerned about that. Still, I wouldn’t mind having him on my team. But, Josh Harding, Minnesota’s other goalie, has a chance to be real good as well and probably deserves to be in the Honorable Mention category.

  6. Re: long-term success –

    I agree, goaltending is the best way to get consistent playoff teams. But there were lots of other things wrong in Carolina last season, beyond goaltending – they could’ve made the playoffs despite Cam Ward’s struggles, but everyone else had an off year. Tampa had 2 seasons to lose complementary players along with their Stanley Cup winning goaltender.

    400 wins is 10th all time, but c’mon now. It won’t be for very long. With the number of wins increasing due to the shootout and increased longevity of players’ careers, by the time Giguere is hitting 400 wins, so should guys like Luongo, Dipietro, and Lundqvist be on his heels. Giguere is not an HOF goalie in my mind.

    I think it’s incredibly premature to say that Bouwmeester his his upside at 23. Scott Niedermayer didn’t hit his until about 31. Defensemen take a LONG time to get consistent in the NHL. Given how few franchise-level defensemen there are in the NHL (and how few there are are nearing the end of their careers), Bouwmeester has to be considered before Lehtonen, who is unlikely to be a top 5 goalie at any point in his career.

  7. Lehtonen doesn’t make this list for me and there’s no way that I’d have a goalie as the top option overall. THE franchise player right now is Sid by a good margin and I’m not so sure that I’d even list Lundqvist as my top goalie option, I like Luongo a good deal more. I’d have Lecavalier and Ovechkin above BOTH goalies listed above them. I guess my reasoning for that is simple, a goalie can’t WIN a game for you, he can only preserve the tie; whereas a franchise skater can win the game as well as preserve the tie. After all, how many fans truly come out to see a great goaltender? Not nearly as many as those who want to see the great dipsy-doodle, end to end, how-do-you-like-me-now moves that Sid or AO can show you.

  8. I disagree with your thoughts on putting Crosby, Lecavalier and Ovechkin ahead of the goalies. If you need a prime reason why, just look at the Pittsburgh Penguins and Tampa Bay Lightning. They have oodles of talent but questionable goaltending and what good has it done them? Also look at the Ottawa Senators from ~1998 to 2004. You can’t be successful without top goaltending. You can be without superstar forwards (see New Jersey Devils).

    Fans come out to watch winners. There may be a small number of players that some fans will come out and watch but if the team is losing that novelty won’t last long. Give me a successful winning team over a star forward any day.

    BTW, watch the top 10 plays of the week on TSN and you will find the ratio of great plays to great saves is probably in the vicinity of 6:4. A great game isn’t just about lots of great goals it is about lots of great action, and of course your team winning.

  9. You can’t be successful without top goaltending. You can be without superstar forwards (see New Jersey Devils).

    The Devils have had the following forwards play for them over their run of success. Patrik Elias, Alexander Mogilny, Scott Gomez, Jason Arnott, Petr Sykora, Bobby Holik, John MacLean, Joe Nieuwyndyk, Brian Gionta, and Jamie Langenbrunner. Not to mention the fact that on D they’ve had Stevens, Niedermayer, and Rafalski. That’s a very solid list of positional players, and frankly Brodeur hasn’t done much with a young “developing” roster. Admittedly those aren’t all HOF players, but they aren’t exactly chopped liver either.

    I honestly don’t think you can be successful without superstar goaltending AND forwards AND defence. Most successful teams have all 3. It’s pretty difficult to isolate a 1 trick pony. As for winning the cup without elite goaltending, that happens a lot more often than teams winning without any elite scoring or defence. I think goalies are valuable but I don’t know that I’d rate them as overwhelmingly important as you seem to be.

  10. oh, and in regards to such wonderfully awesome players. How do you explain Washington? The Caps have a former Vezina winner who is still pretty solid in Kolzig. They have Ovechkin. They have Semin (finally). What they lack is depth up front, and anything approaching consistency in their rearguards. They’re last in the league and they have that “franchise” player… so does Ovechkin really mean that much to them?

  11. Patrik Elias, Alexander Mogilny, Scott Gomez, Jason Arnott, Petr Sykora, Bobby Holik, John MacLean, Joe Nieuwyndyk, Brian Gionta, and Jamie Langenbrunner.

    While all those forwards are good, not are what you would call franchise players of the caliber of most of the forwards on my list. At least not when they were playing for New Jersey. What New Jersey won with was stellar goaltending, a great defense and an abundance of good forwards. They won with goaltending, defense and depth up front. That is pretty much the formula Anaheim won with last year.

  12. Paul Stastny. Good size, great numbers, impeccable bloodlines, young. Not sure if he’s a franchise player yet, but his numbers are more impressive than many of the kids on your list – and at the very least, he bumps Whitney.

  13. I have thought of Stastny but I am not completely sold on him being a franchise type player. Maybe he deserves to be in the bottom few of the list and maybe I just need to watch him more.

    But watching the Sens-Sabres game tonight I realized that I forgot Tomas Vanek. He definitely needs to be on the list as he could be one of the best scoring wingers over the next decade. He has 50 goal, 100 point potential like Heatley but can probably do more on his own without a star playmaking center. I’d probably put him between Spezza and Getzlaf.

  14. Vanek should be on the list – agreed. What about Gaborik? Injury prone, but still a top level player. Also I’m not sure how old Marion Hossa is… but he’s a franchise type player.

    What about other up and coming D-men like Jack Johnson, Shea Weber, Braydon Coburn, Brent Seabrook, etc. They’ll take longer to develop, but they could reach that franchise level eventually.

  15. Whoa, Braydon Coburn? C’mon now, let’s not go nuts. David’s list is a good one, and I’m not even sure Vanek belongs on there – it’s tough to be a ‘franchise winger’. I think Vanek’s a terrific talent but he can really only play 20 minutes a night; how can you build around that? I don’t think he will reach the Kovalchuk/Ovechkin stratosphere. While players like Alex Mogilny, Peter Bondra, and Teemu Selanne were terrific talents, I don’t think you’d ever put them on a list of top 20 players you’d want to start your team with (well maybe in 1993).

    Re – franchise players and forwards – the Devils arguably had 2 on defense and one in net. Patrik Elias was pretty darned good for that stretch too, and while he’s been inconsistent over his career, he can play as well as almost any of the names up there when he is ‘on’. The post-lockout period has emphasized the forward over the defenseman, and there aren’t as many franchise-level defenders as there were 5-10 years ago.

  16. I don’t think it’s “arguable”. Scott Stevens, Scott Niedermayer, and Martin Brodeur will all end up (or already are) in the Hockey HOF. That pretty much amounts to “franchise” status these days.

    Similarly, Detroit has relied upon Yzerman, Lidstrom, and a cast of supporting characters that includes Chelios, Federov, Larionov, Fetisov, Konstantinov, etc. all of whom were of a VERY high calibre.

    It’s pretty rare for a team to succeed long term with JUST 1 player of franchise status at ANY position, goaltending, forward, D, or otherwise.

  17. not to bad of a list. I wouldn’t have the same order, but pretty much the same guys. What about Carey Price and Anze Kopitar?

  18. Steve,

    I don’t want to start a Scott Niedermayer debate, but I don’t think he played at a franchise-type level for his first 10 seasons as a Devil. His inclusion into the HOF will be based on 3 seasons – and since he’s probably coming back this year, perhaps a fourth.

  19. I agree with Thomas Vanek being on the list, I disagree with the fact that he can be a franchise winger on his own and is better than the likes of a Marian Gaborik or Dany Heatley. Vanek did have 41 goals last season and did have a league best +47, but look at the team he was on. This year he’s on pace for 23 goals and is already a -2! He is a great young talent and CAN be become a franchise player, but if he cracks this list, it’ll be low.

  20. My Top 10 would be:

    1. Louongo
    2. Alfredsson (if age wasn’t a issue)
    3. Crosby
    4. Lundquist
    5. Lecavlier
    6. Spezza
    7. Ovechkin
    8. Heatley
    9. Staal
    10. Kovalchuk

  21. I don’t want to start a Scott Niedermayer debate, but I don’t think he played at a franchise-type level for his first 10 seasons as a Devil. His inclusion into the HOF will be based on 3 seasons – and since he’s probably coming back this year, perhaps a fourth.

    WTF??? The guy had 40 pts in his first full NHL season with the Devils. He had 46 points in his second season and was a +34. In the lockout shortened season of 94-95 he had 19 points in 48 games, and was +19. He dropped down under 40 points the next 2 years, in 95-96, and 96-97. Right after that in 97-98 he scored 57 points in 81 games. He then scored at least 30 points in every subsequent season, and hasn’t been a minus player since. In fact, prior to coming to Anaheim, he was only a minus player once in his career with New Jersey, and he was perennially over +10. The guy has 608 points in 1053 NHL games, and he’s a career +186. He’s also the only hockey player from Canada to ever win EVERY POSSIBLE championship of any significance. Oh and in the NHL playoffs he’s a career +22 with 86 points in 183 games, and a Conn Smythe winner, to go along with his 4 Stanley Cups, his Norris Trophy, and his NHL First All-Star team status that he’s gained 3 times, and Second All-Star team he’s gained once.

    Lets just compare those numbers to Pronger. 1 MVP, 1 Norris, 3 NHL Second All-Star Teams, 1 First Team, in 891 games he has 533 points, and he’s a +154. In 128 NHL playoff games he has 87 points and is a +35.

    Obviously Pronger comes out slightly ahead in PPG (by 0.02 ppg), and playoff stats, but Niedermayer has a better career +/- per game, and has won a lot of significant hardware. I don’t really think it’s fair to say Niedermayer has only had 3 solid seasons… but you weren’t trying to start a debate… so I suppose we won’t have one 😉

  22. Oh, and if we’re worried about number of HOF seasons, Pronger has only had 3 solid playoff runs in his career that lasted more than 15 games. His Blues teams were regularly eliminated early. And in his MVP season they lasted all of 7 games and while he had 7 points that year, he had a +/- of 0.

    I’m not arguing that Pronger is a HOF player to be honest, I just think most people would consider him to have been a franchise level Defenceman for a LONG time. He won the MVP 8 seasons ago. He’s been around for a while, and he played in the same situation as Niedermayer last year with the Ducks, so in that case it’s apples to apples.

  23. Steve:

    I admit it’s been a long time since I looked at +/- for Niedermayer, but those Devils’ teams were pretty stacked defensively – a lot of guys were a huge plus.

    The fact that Niedermayer even had full seasons below 40 points is what’s disheartening – the guy had superstar talent and simply did not use it every night until he turned 30. Devils’ fans all knew he was capable of dominating games, but he so rarely did it – in 2002 in the Gold Medal game it was kind of a coming out party for him.

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