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"He's Not a Number One Center!"

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PuckDaddy notes that the Thrashers don't exactly have an All-Star at the center position

An NHL general manager (I forget which, Darryl Sutter maybe) once said that there are only 10 or 15 bonafide No. 1 centers in the league. The Thrashers might not even have a bonafide No. 2.

That quote neatly captures one of the most annoying comments people make on NHL message boards. Go over to HF Boards and you can probably find this sentence within 5 minutes "__________ is not really a # 1 Defenseman/Center/Winger/Goalie."

What exactly do people means when they talk about a #1 center? The answer to that question could be any of the following:

  • is the leading scorer on his team
  • centers on the top line on a playoff team
  • is good enough to play on the top line of a playoff team
  • is a regular at the All-Star game
  • will get votes for the Hall of Fame someday

What annoys me about most about the phrase "_____ is not a #1 Center" is that there are de facto precisely thirty #1 Centers and precisely thirty  #1 Defenseman in the NHL. Whomever leads their NHL team in ice time at that position is by definition that team's #1 guy. So who were the thirty #1 Centers in the NHL in 2008-09?


Player Team Average TOI
Malkin PIT 22:31
Richards, M PHI 21:44
Koivu, M MIN 21:29
Horcoff EDM 21:21
Marleau SJS 21:21
Stastny COL 21:14
Roy, D BUF 21:11
Gomez NJD 21:03
Staal, E CAR 21:02
Ribeiro DAL 20:57
Kopitar LAK 20:27
Lecavalier TBL 20:15
Getzlaf ANA 20:07
Backstrom WSH 19:56
Spezza OTT 19:41
Savard BOS 19:32
Sedin, H VAN 19:31
Legwand NSH 19:26
Datsyuk DET 19:12
McDonald, A STL 19:04
Jokinen, O PHX 18:53
Umberger DBJ 18:46
Weight NYI 18:17
White, T ATL 18:03
Horton FLA 17:51
Toews CHI 18:37
Lombardi CGY 17:40
Plekanec MTL 17:15
Antropov TOR 17:11
Drury NYR 20:14

(note: I used's list of center, so don't carp about the fact that Antropov mostly plays wing. Also, Toews and Drury are listed lower than they should be. Sorry I didn't fell like re-typing the table.)

Now the list of the #1 NHL Defenseman who led their respective squads in average ice time per game.

Player Team Average TOI
Bouwmeester FLA 26:59
Pronger ANA 25:56
Phaneuf CGY 26:31
Chara BOS 26:04
Green WSH 25:45
Keith CHI 25:34
Streit NYI 25:13
Gonchar PIT 25:07
Brewer STL 24:54
Souray EDM 24:50
Lidstrom DET 24:49
Pitkanen CAR 24:48
Boyle SJS 24:46
Markov, A MTL 24:37
Coburn PHI 24:37
Robidas DAL 24:32
Johnsson, K MIN 24:31
Ranger TBL 24:30
Martin NJD 24:22
Suter NSH 24:15
Doughty LAK 23:49
Enstrom ATL 23:31
Tyutin CBJ 23:30
Bieksa VAN 23:29
Kaberle, T TOR 23:27
Kuba OTT 23:16
Michalek, Z PHX 22:42
Hannan COL 22:22
Redden NYR 22:20
Spacek BUF 22:16


Both the list of actual #1 centers and #1 defenseman contain some names that are unlikely to be called out at any future NHL All-Star Game. The reality is that when fans say "____ is not a #1 center!" what they really mean is "_______ is not an anchor player on a playoff team." In my mind there are only about 15 elite "anchor" Centers and 15 "anchor" defenseman in the NHL. Here's my list of anchor centers:

  • Malkin PIT
  • Crosby PIT
  • Datsyuk DET
  • Zetterberg DET
  • Thornton SJS
  • Marleau SJS
  • Richards PHI
  • Stastny COL
  • Staal CAR
  • Lecavalier TBL
  • Getzlaf ANA
  • Gomez MTL
  • Spezza OTT
  • Savard BOS
  • Sedin VAN

And my list of anchor defensemen

  • Lidstrom DET
  • Rafalski DET
  • Pronger PHI
  • Coburn PHI
  • Chara BOS
  • Neidermayer ANA
  • Phaneuf CGY
  • Bouwmeester CGY
  • Green WSH
  • D. Keith CHI
  • A. Markov MTL
  • Boyle SJS
  • Blake SJS
  • Weber NSH
  • Suter NSH

I'm 100% sure that everyone will disagree with my lists and suggest that I add or subtract a player or two. Regardless of whether you agree with my exact list or not, what most people really mean when they talk about "#1 centers" or "#1 defense" is a "playoff caliber" player who can really anchor that position. So the next time you hear or read someone go off about how "player X is not a true #1" ask them to define who qualifies as a #1 center.