March 30, 2009

So How Good Was Stan Mikita?

On the weekend I commented on Jim Mathieson's stance that Steve Yzerman was a better player than Stan Mikita.

Based on the comments on my piece, the community here at Greatest Hockey Legends.com strongly disagreed with Mathieson's stance that Yzerman was better than Mikita, and disagreed with my stance that they were near equals.

They converted me. On any list of the greatest centers of all time, I will forever rank Mikita ahead of Yzerman.

Now my question is just how good was Mikita? Where would he rank on the list of the greatest centers in hockey history?

The pretty much unanimous stance in hockey has Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux and Jean Beliveau occupying the top three center spots. Mikita falls in behind with a group that includes Mark Messier, Howie Morenz, Henri Richard, Syl Apps Sr., Max Bentley, Phil Esposito, Bryan Trottier, Milt Schmidt, Bobby Clarke, Teeder Kennedy, Marcel Dionne and Yzerman. Maybe I should be including Joe Sakic at back end of this conversation too.

Could Mikita be ranked as high as #4? I'm going to let the Greatest Hockey Legends.com community weigh in on this one. Leave your comments below or vote in the poll in the right hand column.


James Benesh said...

(I noticed I posted this in the wrong spot - any chance you can delete it from the Don Dietrich writeup?)

Hi Joe,

I'll weigh in on this.

I think there's Gretzky.

Then a gap.

Then Lemieux.

Then a gap.

Then Beliveau.

Then a smaller gap.

Then, in one bunch, you have Mikita, Lalonde, and Morenz.

Then another gap.

Then Esposito and Clarke.

Then another gap.

Then Messier, Yzerman, Trottier, Sakic, Apps, and Schmidt - all great two-way centers and proven winners who had Hart potential and were elite offensively, just not quite generational talents.

Shortly after them, you have Dionne and Malone, every bit as talented offensively, without the same all-around game and team success the above group enjoyed.

Then there's another gap, and it gets cluttered with a lot of great centers who should all be on a top-100 list. Most of them were great two-way players: Nighbor, Bentley*, Stewart**, Boucher, Cowley**, Stastny*, Forsberg, Lach, Ullman, Abel, Fedorov, Kennedy, Gilmour, Keon, Syd Howe, Delvecchio, and Ron Francis.

* Not a great two-way player.
** Terrible two-way player.

Anyway, does Mikita have a claim at 4th? Absolutely! Lalonde, Mikita, and Morenz are practically interchangeable depending on what you value most. Lalonde is the best goalscorer, Mikita the best playmaker and backchecker, and Morenz is the speedster with the style and charisma.

Love the blog. Keep it up!

Greg Ganz said...

Hello Joe:
Well I love your web site and enjoy dropping a comment here and there. Of course when it comes to "Stosh" I will admit I am biased. I all ready have said he was my idol growing up and my all time favorite with Bobby Hull a hair behind. Here's how I feel about this ranking.
I feel that Stan should be third on the list ahead of Beliveau.
Beliveau played 20 years(actually a cup of coffee) his first two seasons and totalled 1219 in total points.
Stan Mikita played 22 seasons(a cup of coffee his first season 3games played)and scored 1467 points.
Stan scored 541 goals and Beliveau 507.
In helpers, Stan had 926 to Beliveau's 712.
Yes, Beliveau won 10 Stanley cups to Stan's 1 but I am not buying that argument because that is not Stan's fault. Look, hockey is the consummate team sport. Everybody contributes or tries to contribute. If the "Scooter" line ( Mikita Wharram, McDonald and later Mohns) is putting up big numbers and "The Million Dollar Babies" ( Hull, Hay, Belfour and later Maki)are doing well but your 3rd and 4th lines are weak what can you do about it? Beliveau played on some of hockey's greatest teams. Could they have won some of those championships without Beliveau? I believe so, not that he did not contribute but those teams were "powerhouses" with the likes of Richard, Lach, Blake, Harvey, Geoffrion, Pocket Rocket, Plante and on and on.
Stan has the numbers over Beliveau during much the same era and Beliveau played on better teams. Those Canadiens wore the opposition down.
In no way do I want to diminish the great talent of Jean Beliveau but I think Beliveau was the best centerman to play in the NHL until Stan showed up 8 years later. Then I felt Stan was the best until the "Great One" and Mario Lemiuex came along.
I tell people who never saw Stan play, especially when he was in his prime how nifty he was with the puck like it was on a string and how smart he was on the ice. The man thrilled me as a youngster so many times I can't tell you. I emulated his game (of course to no avail). Nothing Stan ever did was overkill. He would just deke the goalie out and slide the puck in the net. The way he handled his stick was amazing. I can't imagine what he would have done with these new composite sticks they have now that are so light!
I rank #21 third place all time for centerman! That is just my opinion. Thanks....Greg

James Benesh said...

Hey Greg - not that it's a runaway win for Beliveau, but I still have to give Le Gros Bil the edge. For one thing, Mikita's last 4 seasons don't add to his legacy at all - just his career totals. He was just sticking around. Beliveau could have stuck around for 4 more seasons and put up 55-60 points each year too. Then his career numbers would be around 590 goals and 1490 points.

Things like that show why it is important to not get caught up in career totals and look at dominance. What is more important is how good you were at your best, and how long you were that good.

The things I used to demonstrate why Mikita was so much better than Yzerman, apply in this case too.

Mikita was top-10 in goals 7 times... Beliveau 10. Mikita was top-10 in assists 10 times... Beliveau 11. Mikita was top-10 in points 9 times... Beliveau 12.

Mikita has 8 total AST selections... Beliveau 10. Both have two Harts, but Beliveau is a four-time runner up and was top-5 in voting 9 times. Mikita is a one-time runner-up and was top-5 in voting 5 times.

Then there are playoffs. As good as Mikita was in the playoffs, Beliveau was better... possibly the best playoff performer of all-time. And don't put much stock in the cups if you don't want to, but you have to put some stock in them. 10 to 1 is a huge gap to overcome.

Beliveau is firmly planted in that #3 spot. But Mikita just might be 4th.

John McGourty said...

I think No. 4 is Schmidt, the player most people think was the best NHLer in the 1940s. Then Messier. Then Lach. Then wow, Schmidt says Apps. I loved Mikita but Trottier was probably better.