One thing that really caught my attention was when Mathieson, with great authority, said
Yzerman was 78th the first time around. Sorry, but he's a better player than Stan Mikita, who was 17th. With four Cups, 1,755 points, and his leadership abilities, Stevie Y can take Mikita's No. 17 slot.Mathieson is one of the most trusted journalists on the hockey scene over the last three decades. He has even been inducted into the media wing of the Hockey Hall of Fame, that's how good he is. When Mathieson talks, we should all take notes.
So for Mathieson to so assuredly annoint Steve Yzerman as a better player than Stan Mikita is quite something.
I have always held each in the highest of regards. I think it is brilliant to suggest that Yzerman and Mikita are great comparables.
Both are amongst the greatest centers of all time. They are offensive geniuses who were also known as grizzled warriors and leaders. They were noted for their complete games as well as their offensive brilliance and gutsy play.
Both players also had two distinct stages to their careers, too. Early in his career Yzerman was the offensive superstar. It was not until later that he became one of the greatest two-way players of all time. Mikita always was a complete player, excelling at every aspect of the game. Early in his Mikita was a voracious warrior who was greatly undisciplined, perhaps partly because as a smaller player he needed to do so to survive his early days in the Original Six NHL.
It is hard if not impossible, and almost always foolhardy, to compare players of different eras.
If I had to break down their games I would have to give Yzerman a distinct edge in terms of skating, goal scoring and one-on-one dangerousness. In his offensive heyday he was an explosive and instinctual scorer.
I would have to give Mikita the edge in terms of intelligence. I am certainly not questioning Yzerman's hockey brains, but Mikita's bread and butter was his on-ice intellect. He was an incredibly clever attacker and playmaker, always making those around him better. He was as slick and clever as they come
Judging by Mr. Mathieson's short comments, he's giving Yzerman the edge based on two arguments: He had more championships and more points.
Yzerman won four Stanley Cups while Mikita won just one. Championships rightfully should be part of the equation, and Yzerman was a big part in all four titles. But sometimes too much emphasis is put on Stanley Cups. It takes a whole team to win, not just one player. While it is true they probably should have been able to win another title, Mikita's Blackhawks just never seemed to have quite enough depth in an era of two notable Stanley Cup dynasties - the Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens of the 1960s.
Yzerman also outdistances Mikita in the point race, 1755 regular season points compared to 1467. I think that is a bit of a weak argument, especially given Yzerman's advantage of playing in the significantly higher scoring 1980s. Mikita retired as the third highest scorer in NHL history. Yzerman, you could argue, was one of the three greatest offensive players of his time when you consider he played against Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr.
I'm really not trying to take anything away from Yzerman. We all saw how good he was, with all his natural talent and flare.
In my book there is no more complete or near perfect hockey player as Stan Mikita. Yzerman transformed himself into a similar player over the years.
Mikita may not have had the pure talent that Yzerman had, but he had the intelligence and the heart to make him Yzerman's equal.
So who was better? In all honesty, I can not name one over the other. To do so almost sells one undeservedly short.
So I will say this - if The Hockey News were to revise their top 50 list any time soon, Mikita should retain his #17 ranking. Yzerman, now with his full career behind him, would be significantly upgraded, to either #16 or #18.
While they played different stylistically, Yzerman and Mikita are near equals.