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NHL Playoffs - Round 1, Top 10
by Colin Van Osch (NHL)
Posted on April 28, 2009, 7:30 AM

Every since I was young, I had a soft spot for the bit player. I used to dream, as a 9 year old playing in my basement with a half broken stick and a bucket for a net, that I was on a checking line with Mark Recchi and that we were protecting a one goal lead late in the third period. I've always had an abundance of admiration for the core players, the underdogs, the non-Superstars. With that, I rehash my list, nay my tribute, to the core players who made a difference in the first round.

10 best players in the Playoffs making less than 2 million dollars this year - Round 1 edition

10. Maxim Lapierre, Montreal Canadiens - $575,000

It's my homer pick. Between Lapierre and Higgins, the Habs had exceptionally little as far as effort coming out during the first round. Regardless of Canadiens prejudice though, Lapierre worked his ass off in a series that no one gave them a chance in. He was the best player down the stretch and did his best to drag the Habs kicking and screaming to respectable outcomes. He failed, but he's only one man.

9. TJ Oshie, St. Louis Blues - $850,000

A great coming out party for Oshie. The future looks very bright for the Blues prospect. Needs to shoot more if they're intent on playing him at the point during the power play. Criticisms, however, may be directed at him or his coaching staff, though I find it hard to hold Andy Murray accountable for anything, especially after his teams performance this year. The only real concern I can think of involves the power play, otherwise he plays a smart game on both sides of the puck, he plays the corners and he's a firecracker full of energy.

8. Matt Bradley, Washington Capitals - $1,000,000

All of the attention in every Capitals broadcast goes to your big guns - Ovechkin, Semin, Green. Now Varlamov. I'm not going to say that Matt Bradley is the real hero on a team that's lead by the finest player in the NHL. However, he is an exceptional energy forward, a good defensive player, and even when the Caps were back against the wall against the Rangers, even when they were out of games, he was bringing it. He's had a good series, and while I doubt he's going to score the GWG tomorrow night, if the Capitals prevail in this series, he'll have gone above and beyond but likely not received the recognition.

7. Eric Nystrom, Calgary Flames - $600,000

In Games 1, 2, 5 and the beginning of 6, there were only 2 names on that team I noticed - Nystrom and Moss. Nystrom was the better of the 2, but if there was an 11th spot, Moss would take it, so credit where credit is due. There is very little, as a GM, I would not give up within the realm of reasonability to acquire someone like Eric Nystrom. High energy, big hitting, clutch scoring, great in the corners, great defensively. He was, game after game, the best player on the ice. Not the most likely to score, not the biggest threat, but he was the best pure player on the ice wearing a Flames jersey. Simply an unbelievable series.

6. Jay McClement, St. Louis Blues - $950,000

Not a lot to say. It's hard to pick out someone in a losing effort. It's harder to pull someone out when they've been beaten pillar to post like the Blues were. McClement was forechecking better than I've seen anyone forecheck in the playoffs this year. He was tenacious, he was responsible defensively. I'd have to check the scoresheet to see if he got a single point, but man, if he didn't play his heart out in an embarrassing cause.

5. Blair Betts, New York Rangers - $615,000

New Yorks best faceoff man. One of their better penalty killers, their most responsible shutdown players in their own zone. He played an integral role in his 5 games and 1 period, and his loss is going to be significant come Game 7. It's really hard to believe that you could make a case that someone who hasn't scored in the playoffs being irreplaceable, but it's true. They needed Betts in winning the big draws, killing the big penalties and generally just shutting down the Caps big guns. His loss is a staggering one for the Rangers, and if they manage to squeek it out of this next game, they're going to continue to feel that need.

4. Kris Versteeg, Chicago Blackhawks - $490,000

The runner up in the 'Steve Mason is Winning The Calder' race has been a constant offensive threat and presence in the Flames/Hawks series. What do you say about him? Powerplay? Yes. Defensive prowess? Yes. Patience? Yes. Production? If you consider outproducting Jarome Iginla to be production, well then yes. Or Joe Thorton. Or Jonathon Toews. Just outstanding work in this series.

3. Jeremy Roenick, San Jose Sharks - $1,100,000

You know it's true. Jeremy Roenick has been, far and away, the best player on the Sharks during their series. Not the best player under 2 million. Not even the best player under 5 million. The best end to end player. The hardest working player. The most tenacious player. A team that is praised for it's youthful exuberance was outworked and outclassed for 6 games by a 38 year old man. Next week, he'll be beating them on the golf course as well, I suspect, but for now, and I mean this as someone who until recently had nothing but contempt for Roenick, he has been the greatest asset on that roster.

2. Jonas Hiller, Anaheim Ducks - $1,300,000

He has made gorgeous save after gorgeous save. He has shown the poise and calmness of a veteran goaltender. Additionally, he shut down the Presidents Trophy winner, and while this doesn't factor in, went amazing down the stretch to take a team that had been floundering before the trade deadline when helmed by Gigeure from 11th place into the last slot in the playoffs. The future looks bright, or at least it would if Giguere was on his way out the door. There is almost no one else, on any team, at any payscale, who has done more to ensure the success of their team as Hiller.

1. Duncan Keith, Chicago Blackhawks - $1,600,000

You can say whatever you want about the ferocious offence that the Blackhawks have. You can say whatever you want about how they overpowered the depleted Flames defence. You can say whatever you want about Khabibulin's trademark outstanding performace when playing the Flames. This series was won because Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook neutered Jarome Iginla and the guys who skate with Jarome Iginla. It shouldn't be a surprise, as he's had an amazing year, but he definitely deserves the props for it. This series would have been loseable if that defensive pairing had not been able to isolate the Iginla line so, so effectively. So, mad props to Keith, and Seabrook, who deserves to be on this list as much as anyone else who didn't make the list because they make too much money.

1*. Simeon Varlamov, Washington Capitals - $850,000

How I forgot this, I have no idea. How it was posted, commented on, and still went unnoticed, I will never know. I suppose, in hindsight, I could have kicked Max Lapierre out, but remember, homer pick, so we're going the way of the asterisk. After it became abundantly clear that Jose Theodore couldn't handle the offensive juggernaut that is the New York Rangers, Varlamov was shoved into the spotlight and forced to prove his mettle. With, I believe, less than 10 NHL games under his belt at this point. I believe he started half of that, to be exact. The point is, even if he hadn't posted 2 shutouts in his 3 wins thus far, he has given the team new life and let them see a Game 7 that, frankly, after watching a combination of woeful Washington performances (I don't care if you take 60 shots a game. Make 1 a quality shot) and Henrik Lundqvist walking around like he owned the place, I wasn't expecting in the slightest. Win or lose tonight, Varlamov has done more than he was expected to do, and even more than he was asked to do.

Honorable Mentions:

- Ryan Johnson, Vancouver Canucks
- Sami Pahlsson, Chicago Blackhawks
- David Moss, Calgary Flames
- Ryan Callahan, New York Rangers
- Bobby Ryan, Anaheim Ducks

So, for those of you who are moving on to the next round, for those of you who are relaxing in the sun starting today, and for those of you who still have a chance to make a difference (Ryan Callahan is going to get 4 goals tonight to bump his way out of Honorable Mentions) - I salute your continued efforts in giving your team a chance to win, every single night. Even when you have no chance, and everyone around you is playing horribly.

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