There are few people at ESPN that give a rip about hockey. The number drops considerably when you want to discuss the number of people at ESPN that actually know something about hockey. Sure, they are getting better, especially with their online content, picking up writers like Craig Custance and Katie Strang. This new found bolstering of the World Wide Leader's interest in hockey is still anchored by the great John Buccigross.
Buccigross used to host NHL 2Nite. He has written books about the game. Good ones. He can likely tell you everything you would ever want to know about the game from stats to birthdays. The guy is a veritable encyclopedia (real ones, not like wikipedia) of hockey knowledge.
When a guy like John Buccigross writes a column saying there are 56 players in the NHL better than the Wild's best player, you have to take note of that. At the same time, no matter how much knoweldeg Buccigross has, or how much respect you might have for him, sometimes, you just plain have to tell the guy he is wrong.
Mikko Koivu is only the 57th best player in the league? Yeah, not so much.
Here is the entry about Koivu from Buccigross on his post:
57. Mikko Koivu: 2001 was a so-so draft year. The Wild picked sixth overall, and they nailed it when they drafted Koivu. An ideal No. 2 center. Not a great scorer, excellent on faceoffs.
An ideal number two center? A number two? Huh. Are there a great number of teams out there who wouldn't put a seventy point player, who also plays in every situation and also serves as a shut down defensive player, and wins 1000+ faceoffs a year on the second line?
Even teams that look to do so don't really do so. The Pittsburgh Penguins have the two of the top centers in the game on their roster in Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. When both are healthy, Malkin spends a great deal of time on Crosby's wing.
The Boston Bruins have Patrice Bergeron and Tyler Seguin both putting up huge numbers. Someone could argue that the Bruins have a great 1-2 punch at the pivot. Until they actually looked to see that Seguin has 82 faceoff wins this year. He isn't a center. According to Daily Faceoff, Bergeron plays on the "second" line in Boston. Look at that top line. That isn't the top line.
One team does have the claim to say they might put Koivu on the second line. The Vancouver Canucks. How could they make this claim? They have Ryan Kesler playing on the second line, and Kesler's game is eerily similar to that of Koivu's.
Number two centers in the league include Saku Koivu, Brad Boyes, Olli Jokinen, Jeff Skinner, Patrick Sharp, Matt Duchene, Derick Brassard, Tom Wandell, Henrik Zetterberg, Sam Gagner, Marcel Goc, Mike Richards, Lars Eller, David Legwand, Patrik Elias, Frans Nielsen, Brian Boyle, Kyle Turris, Sean Couturier, Dustin Jeffrey, Logan Couture, Patrik Berglund, Vincent Lecavalier, Mikhail Grabovski, Brooks Laich, and Nik Antropov.
Looking at that list, Zetterberg has played a great deal of his career on Datsyuk's wing, Jeff Skinner is only a second line guy because Eric Staal is in the way, Mike Richards has been a bust in LA, Patrik Elias is well past his prime and lost his role to a rookie, Couture is a number one if he is anywhere but San Jose, and Lecalvalier was passed by a flat out superstar.
I do not follow these teams close enough to know, but the guess is that, save for Zetterberg, most of these guys aren't expected to also be shut down defensively.
There are far too many teams without even a number one center in this league for Koivu to be an "ideal second line center."
The list above Koivu is certainly difficult to argue against, for the most part. Is Tyler Seguin really better than Koivu right now? He should be someday, but is he right now? Ask yourself this - Would Chuck Fletcher ask Koivu to waive his NMC if Seguin became available? Jordan Staal? There isn't a GM in the league who takes Staal in a re-draft before Koivu is taken. Not one. Matt Duchene is pretty good. He's far enough in that if he were going to be a superstar, he would be there. Not buying he is better than Koivu.
Continuing up the list... Evander Kane, Johan Franzen, Alexander Semin, Matt Moulson, David Krejci (really?), Danny Briere, Mike Richards, Eric Staal, Patrick Sharp, Keith Yandle... (KEITH YANDLE?), Seguin...
At this point, you start to get to an actual debate. Would you rather have Zetterberg or Mikko Koivu? I could go both ways, to be honest. Zetterberg is damn good. One of the best. But is he the top guy? Maybe. I'd take either. Jeff Skinner is at 25. He's good. Darn good. And young. But is he better than Koivu right now? Maybe. It's a debate worth having. If I am building a brand new team, I would consider my options carefully in that one.
At this point, we've got Koivu at 57, and debate about whether the guy at 25 is really better or not. That's 22 spots. I'm not about to make the case that Koivu is better than Sidney Crosby, or even guys like Duncan Keith. Those are the superstars of the league. But it is ridiculous to think Koivu isn't better than Keith Yandle. Yandle's good, but he's about where he should be on the list. Koivu isn't.
Mikko Koivu isn't a top 10 guy in the league. No one is under the impression he is. He has to be top 25 on anyone's list outside of the folks at ESPN.
I hate to argue with greatness, but on this one, Bucci is dead wrong.