History suggests the best hockey player of each decade is pretty easy to decipher.
In the 1950s it was between Gordie Howe and Rocket Richard. In the 1960s it was Bobby Hull. In the 1970s it was Bobby Orr until his knees wore out, then Guy Lafleur. In the 1980s it was all Wayne Gretzky. Mario Lemieux took the torch and was the dominant player of the 1990s.
Since Lemieux the torch has been touched by a number of players, though none for a truly extended period of time - Jaromir Jagr, Peter Forsberg, Dominik Hasek, and Patrick Roy come to mind. But very few players this decade jump out as dominant for the entire 10 year frame.
While late in this decade Alexander Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby have emerged as the best of the best, I think their ascendancy is just a little too late to declare either of them the best player of the entire decade.
So who is the best player from 2000 to 2009? Here's how I see the top ten players of the first decade of the 21st century:
1. Nicklas Lidstrom - He was either the best player at his position every year but 2, and even then he was runner up in Norris Trophy balloting. He won Stanley Cups at both ends of the decade, and an Olympic gold. He missed only 15 games in the entire decade. And his team was consistently one of the best in the league every single year. No player consistently dominated like Lidstrom. He even even is top 20 in league scoring for the decade, the only defenseman anywhere close to the leaderboard.
2. Martin Brodeur - Two Stanley Cups, four Vezina trophies, one Olympic gold medal highlight the decade where Brodeur became the winningest goalie in hockey history and is on the verge of becoming hockey's shutout king. He played in and won by far the most playoff games of any goalie. Although I think some goalies in the 2000s reached higher momentary peaks than Brodeur (Roy, Theodore, Luongo come to mind) no one else really comes close to challenging Brodeur's body of work from 2000 through 2010.
3. Jarome Iginla - In the first four years of the decade Iginla was the NHL's best power forward, 2 time goal scoring champ, 1 time points scoring champ and a Pearson trophy winner. He was an integral part of Canada's 2002 gold medal and led the Flames to within one win of the Stanley Cup in 2004. His play levelled off some in the second half of the decade, but he remains a top ten player, not to mention the decades goal scoring king and third highest point scorer.
4. Jaromir Jagr - Jagr is the second highest scoring player of the decade, this despite leaving the NHL in 2008. He won two scoring titles and two Pearson trophies as best player as voted by his peers. He started the decade with the underachiever label but really found his game once he went to New York. Jagr's decade is even more impressive when you consider his best years came in the previous decade where he also would a top 5 player.
5. Joe Thornton - He is easily the highest scoring player in the decade. He had the single biggest season, 125 points in 2005-06. That season he won the Art Ross and the Hart trophy as league MVP. He was a member of Canada's victorious 2002 Olympic team and 2004 World Cup team, but he continues to be plagued by the disappearance tag in big games. He has yet to come through in the Stanley Cup playoffs, and because of that I considered listing him even lower than fifth.
6. Joe Sakic - Sakic's career was derailed by injuries in the last couple of years in the decade, yet he still ranks 6th in points scored. The hero of the 2002 Olympic games and the 2001 Art Ross, Hart, Byng and Stanley Cup trophy winner, he is the second highest scoring player in the Stanley Cup playoffs this decade. Very impressive when you consider he, like Jagr, was a star of the 1990s as well.
7. Scott Niedermayer - This defenseman played a lot of hockey this decade. His teams never once missed the playoffs, and in fact won three Stanley Cups in the decade, twice with NJ and once with Anaheim. In Anaheim he was named as the Conn Smythe trophy winner. He won one Norris trophy as best defenseman, and was runner up to Lidstrom twice. And he won gold at the 2002 Olympics.
8. Chris Pronger - It is hard to place Chris Pronger statistically as he simply is not a big point producer. But he made a huge impact on his team's performance, as proven by back to back Stanley Cup finals appearances with two different teams, including winning the Cup with Anaheim in 2007. He also opened the decade as the Hart and Norris trophy champ, and was a Norris finalist on 3 other occasions.
9. Alexander Ovechkin - I really had to debate hard whether to include him or not. In my mind 4 seasons played does not adequately qualify you for "player of the decade" status. But beginning in 2005-06 Ovechkin quickly emerged as the most dominating and electrifying player since the 1990s. He also appears to be the rare hockey player who can transcend the sport.
10. Sidney Crosby - If Ovechkin is on this list, so must Crosby be. The heir apparent has not quite electrified the audiences like Ovechkin, but by the age of 21 he led his team to back to back Stanley Cup finals, winning the championship in 2009, and won Ross, Hart and Pearson trophies. Here's something a lot of people do not realize: Crosby's points per game average is higher than Ovechkin, too.
Special Mention: I wanted to bring up the name Patrik Elias. The New Jersey Devils sniper will not get much mention in these end of decade debates, but no player scored more points in Stanley Cup playoffs from 2000 through 2009 than did Patrik Elias.