To help celebrate the Fourth of July, NHL.com has compiled one team of the best current United States players, and an all-time team of the best retired U.S. players, and will debate which one would win if they played each other.
Each member of our 11-voter panel named their best three forwards, two defensemen and one goalie among current NHL players and retired players. To be on the list, a player had to be eligible to play for the U.S. in international competition.
Defensemen and forwards were weighted in the voting. The defenseman named first was given two points and the other received one. The forwards were rated on a 3-2-1 points system.
Patrick Kane of the Chicago Blackhawks was the unanimous No. 1 forward for Team Current. Forward Auston Matthews of the Toronto Maple Leafs was named on all 11 ballots, second on nine of them. On Team All-Time, defenseman Brian Leetch was named on each of the 11 ballots and was first on 10 of them. Mike Modano was the only forward named on each of the ballots. Brett Hull was selected by all but one panelist.
Patrick Kane -- 33 points
Auston Matthews -- 20 points
Jack Eichel -- 11 points
Seth Jones -- 14 points
John Carlson -- 12 points
Connor Hellebuyck -- 8 points
Others receiving votes: F: Kyle Connor (1), Johnny Gaudreau (1); D: Ryan Suter (4), Jaccob Slavin (2), Quinn Hughes (1); G: Ben Bishop (3).
Mike Modano -- 28 points
Brett Hull -- 23 points
Pat LaFontaine -- 11 points
Brian Leetch -- 21 points
Chris Chelios -- 9 points
Mike Richter -- 6 points
Others receiving votes: F: Keith Tkachuk (3), Jeremy Roenick (1); D: Phil Housley (2), Mark Howe (1); G: Tom Barrasso (3), Tim Thomas (1), Frank Brimsek (1).
Though there was little debate about which players should be on these teams, there is plenty of debate about which team is better. Here, staff writers Dan Rosen and Tracy Myers make their arguments for Team Current vs. Team All-Time:
First, full disclosure: I was the one who didn't have Brett Hull on my ballot because, despite him playing for the U.S. team in international competition, I couldn't get past that whole, "he was born in Canada" thing (Belleville, Ontario, to be exact). I bow my head in shame (go ahead and yell at me, Twitter). Now, back to Team All-Time and its greatness. The forwards alone make this group a thing of beauty. You can't help but smile picturing Mike Modano flashing his skill as his jersey flaps in the wind, Hull bringing a game as brash as his personality and Pat LaFontaine going around -- or through -- defenders. And how can you get any better than Brian Leetch and Chris Chelios on the back end? These guys put USA Hockey on the map, set the standard and inspired the next generation. Tremendous!
Video: Brian Leetch first American to win Conn Smythe
Let's look at comparisons, Tracey, specifically Carlson to Chelios, Kane to Modano and Matthews to Hull. I'll keep my arguments for Eichel, Hellebuyck and Jones in my holster for now. I think I have enough ammo with these three comparisons. Carlson averages 0.63 points per game (478 in 757 games); Chelios averaged 0.57 points per game. Carlson's pace would get him to 948 points, Chelios' NHL career total, in 1,505 games. Chelios needed 1,651 games. Advantage: Carlson. Kane averages 1.05 points per game (1,022 in 973 games). Modano averaged 0.92 points per game (1,374 in 1,499 games). At his current pace, Kane would have 1,573 points if he plays the same number of games as Modano. That's 199 more points. Advantage: Kane. Matthews averages 0.56 goals per game (158 in 282 games). Hull averaged 0.58 (741 in 1,269 games). At his current pace, Matthews would finish with 710 goals if he plays 1,269 games, 31 shy of Hull in, what I think you'll agree, is a far more challenging era for goal scorers. Advantage: Matthews.
Scoring averages, fine, but what's with the what-they-could-do road? I'll stick with what's been accomplished. Chelios vs. Carlson: I'm not faulting Chelios for his longevity and holding his own while playing in a nastier era (2,891 penalty minutes). And how about the trophy case? Carlson is in his 11th NHL season, and in his first 10 he's finished no higher than fourth place in voting for the Norris Trophy as the League's best defensemen. Chelios had won the Norris twice (1989, 1993) in his first 10 seasons, and also won it again in 1996. Kane vs. Modano is a tougher argument for me since I've watched Kane work his magic on a nightly basis for the 10 seasons I've covered the Blackhawks (by the way, if this is a tougher era in which to score goals, nobody gave Kane the memo). Modano had a 50-goal season in 1993-94 and scored at least 80 points in eight seasons. In his 13 NHL seasons, Kane has scored at least 80 points five times, including 84 points (33 goals, 51 assists) in 70 games when this season was paused March 12 due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus. Hull vs. Matthews: Are we giving points for quotability? If so, Hull has his own Hall of Fame. Stats-wise, when Matthews has four consecutive 100-point seasons (1989-90 to 1992-93) or five straight 50-goal seasons (1989-90 to 1993-94) as Hull did, and a Ted Lindsay Award (1991, most outstanding player in the regular season, as voted by fellow players) and a Hart Trophy (1991, League MVP) we'll talk.
Video: Brett Hull fourth leading goal-scorer in NHL
Let's talk now. I have to look at the could instead of the did because I'm selecting players for Team Current that still, in theory, might win more and do more than the players on Team All-Time. There still is so much Matthews could do. He could score 60 goals next season. He could rip off 10 straight 50-goal seasons. We don't know if he will, but we know he could because he's that good. Heck, he scored an NHL career-high 47 in 70 games. With 12 games left when the season was paused, he almost certainly would have gotten to 50. He's 22. Eichel has averaged 1.10 points per game during the past two seasons (160 points in 145 games). He's 23 and could keep that up for another decade. Jones is 25. Hellebuyck is 27. Carlson is 30. Kane is 31. The point here is there is so much left for the Team Current players to accomplish, and by their established standards they stand to accomplish as much, if not more, than the Team All-Time players. I'll always take the excitement about the future instead of the re-telling of the past.