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Greatest individual performances of the decade

Thursday, 12.24.2009 / 9:00 AM / All Decade 2000-2009

By John Kreiser - NHL.com Columnist

 
Throughout the week, NHL.com is presenting a look at the best players, top teams, biggest moments and greatest achievements during the first decade of the new century. The selections were made by a panel of NHL.com writers and other hockey experts. Today, we look at the greatest individual performances of the decade.

The first decade of the new century was replete with historic individual performances, so winnowing down the best of the best wasn't easy.

Washington defenseman Mike Green's 31 goals and eight-game goal-scoring streak didn't make the cut. Nor did Jarome Iginla's 52-goal season in 2001-02, Peter Forsberg's playoff heroics in 2003, Jaromir Jagr's 54-goal, 123-point season for the New York Rangers in 2005-06, or a host of worthy challengers.

With that in mind, here are the top 10 individual one-season performances of the decade.

Alex Ovechkin's 65 goals in 2007-08
As goals became more precious in the late '90s and early '00s, the 50-goal scorer became an endangered species and the 60-goal man disappeared altogether -- until the arrival of Ovechkin in 2005-06. Ovechkin electrified crowds and rejuvenated the Washington Capitals in his first two seasons, but he became a household name in 2007-08 when he reached the 60-goal mark, the first player to do so since Pittsburgh teammates Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr in 1995-96. His 65 goals were 13 more than runner-up Ilya Kovalchuk.

Martin Brodeur's historic 2006-07 season
What do you get when brilliance meets durability? How about Brodeur's performance in 2006-07?
With defensive stalwarts Scott Niedermayer and Scott Stevens gone, Brodeur faced more and better scoring chances than ever in '06-07 -- but he didn't seem to mind. He set NHL records with 4,697 minutes played and 48 victories in 78 appearances (one short of Grant Fuhr's record), while posting a career-high 12 shutouts. The 48 victories (including 10 in shootouts, also a record) were one more than Bernie Parent's previous mark and were the second of an NHL-record three consecutive 40-win seasons for Brodeur.

Joe Thornton's 125-point season in 2005-06
Thornton, the No. 1 pick in the 1997 Entry Draft, was having an ordinary season for the Boston Bruins when they decided to send him to San Jose on Nov. 30, 2005. Talk about a change of scenery making a difference. Thornton caught fire in his new home, piling up points at a rate that turned him into the biggest single-season scorer of the decade -- two points ahead of the Rangers' Jaromir Jagr, whom he caught and passed in the final days of the season to win the scoring title. Thornton turned Jonathan Cheechoo into a 56-goal scorer, and his 96 assists were more than the point total of Tampa Bay's Martin St. Louis, who led the NHL in scoring in 2003-04.

Steve Yzerman's heroics in 2001-02
Yzerman is one of those rare players who was willing to sacrifice his offensive numbers for the betterment of his team. That paid off in Stanley Cup victories for the Detroit Red Wings in 1997 and '98. By 2001-02, Yzerman was no longer the offensive force he had been, but his leadership skills were still first-rate, as he showed by his performance in Canada's gold-medal victory at the Winter Olympics. But with knee problems slowing him markedly, Yzerman finished the regular season with just 13 goals and 48 points in a career-low 54 games. However, Yzerman refused to let his physical problems keep the Wings from winning another Cup. Playing virtually on one leg, he led the Wings with 23 points as they won their third title in six years. The price: knee surgery that kept him out of all but 16 games the following season.

Sidney Crosby's historic scoring title
Much was expected from Crosby as soon as the Pittsburgh Penguins made him the No. 1 pick in the 2005 Entry Draft. His rookie season was terrific -- he became the youngest player to reach the 100-point mark, although Ovechkin beat him for the Calder Trophy as top rookie. But Crosby built on that success in 2006-07, taking over the League scoring lead with a six-point night against Philadelphia on Dec. 13 and holding it for the rest of the season. He finished with 36 goals and 84 points for a League-high 120 points to become the first teenager in any major North American team sport to lead his league in scoring. At the NHL awards ceremony in June, Crosby added the Lester B. Pearson Award and the Hart Trophy to his Art Ross Trophy for an unprecedented teenage triple.

Nicklas Lidstrom's "80 in 80"
Lidstrom owned the Norris Trophy in the 2000s, winning the best defenseman award six times in a span of seven seasons. But for all his brilliance throughout the decade, Lidstrom was at his best in 2005-06, scoring 16 goals and setting up 64 more for 80 points in 80 games -- the most by a defenseman since Brian Leetch of the New York Rangers had 85 points in 1995-96, a season that saw a lot more goals scored. Lidstrom won the Norris Trophy for the fourth time and keyed Detroit's 124-point season, the most points by any team in this decade.

Mario Lemieux's comeback to remember in 2000
Lemieux's place in the Hall of Fame was already secure when he decided to make a comeback in 2000-01 -- and stunned everyone with a three-point performance in his first game back, a 5-0 victory by the Pittsburgh Penguins against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Dec. 27, 2000. But even more remarkable was what Lemieux accomplished over the course of the next three-plus months: Despite not having played for more than three years, Lemieux proceeded to put up 35 goals and 76 points in just 43 games -- he ended up tied for 29th in the NHL scoring race despite missing nearly half a season and led the Penguins to the Eastern Conference Finals before losing to New Jersey.

Joe Sakic does it all in 2000-01
Colorado's captain went home with a lot of hardware after the 2000-01 season. Sakic was second in the NHL with 54 goals, second with 118 points, first with 12 game-winning goals and tied for the League lead at plus-45. He did everything short of taking tickets in leading the Avalanche to first place in the overall standings, then was a key to helping the Avs outlast New Jersey in the Final to win the franchise's second Stanley Cup. For his effort, Sakic won the Lady Byng Trophy for skillful and gentlemanly play, the Lester B. Pearson Trophy as the NHL's most outstanding player as voted by his fellow players -- and the Hart Trophy as League MVP.

Ovechkin's 50-goal rookie season
Not a lot was known about Ovechkin before the Russian rookie took the ice for his NHL debut for the Washington Capitals against Columbus on Oct. 5, 2005. Ovechkin was the No. 2 choice in the 2004 Draft, but had stayed in Russia due to the work stoppage and was coming to a team that had hit the skids in the previous couple of seasons. But Ovechkin introduced himself to NHL goaltenders by scoring twice in his first game and never stopped putting the puck in the net. He finished the season with 52 goals and 106 points, making him the first rookie since Teemu Selanne in 1992-93 to break the 50-goal and 100-point marks. Not surprisingly, he won the Calder Trophy as the NHL's top rookie -- the first of  many awards in his still-young career.

Miikka Kiprusoff's brilliant '03-04 season
Kiprusoff was the odd man out in a goaltending troika in San Jose that included Evgeni Nabokov and Vesa Toskala. The Sharks finally gave him a chance to play by sending him to Calgary in November 2003. Little did either team know what would happen next. Kiprusoff beat Montreal 2-1 in his debut with the Flames, won 12 of his first 17 starts and came back after a sprained knee ligament to lead Calgary to its first playoff berth in eight years -- while setting a modern record with a 1.69 goals-against average. For an encore, he won 15 playoff games, five by shutout, and carried the Flames within a victory of their first Stanley Cup since 1989.
Quote of the Day

I remember the first time at Wrigley Field all of us had the long johns, the turtlenecks and the extra equipment because we were afraid of being cold. Halfway through the first period everybody's ripping everything off and we just ended up wearing what we would normally wear for a game at the United Center.

— Chicago Blackhawks forward Patrick Sharp on the 2009 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic