September 25, 2007

Hockey Book Review: THN's Top 60 Since 1967

A decade ago The Hockey News celebrated their 50th anniversary by forming a panel to name the top 50 players in National Hockey League history. The result: a whole lot of conversational debate, a classic special issue magazine-turned-expanded book, and, I'm guessing here a bit, magazine/book sales out the ying-yang.

Fast forward to 2007 and THN needs to celebrate their 60th anniversary. How do they do it? By forming another panel to name the top 60 players, of course. But in order to make it different they only look at players after the NHL's first expansion in 1967, skip the special issue magazine and immediately release the book Hockey News Top 60 Since 1967: the Best Players of the Post-Expansion Era. Last step: cue the debate.

Now of course you're immediately saying, "Okay Joe, tell us who the 60 are." Well, I won't quite do that. You gotta go down to the bookstore and check it out yourself.

But I will tell you what I learned firsthand this past summer when I tried naming my top 36 players in the history of the sport. Lists like this are supposed to create controversy and conversation, there in turn selling more books. Everyone wants to chime in with their opinions, and no two people will ever have identical lists. It's all part of the fun.

The only comments on the list I will make at this time are:

  • I'm surprised Brett Hull and Stan Mikita were ranked as low as they were.
  • Judging Sidney Crosby's place on this list is incredibly tough. He belongs, but do his 2 seasons really place him ahead of Hall of Famers?
  • Unlike before, this list isn't strictly about NHLers. That being said, only one WHA player was included, and no Soviets or international players.
  • The more you study the list, the more you realize the names that aren't there. Mike Gartner, Teemu Selanne and Adam Oates are three that entered my mind quickly.
The panel consisted of Mike Brophy, Brian Burke, Jacques Demers, Jim Devellano, Kevin Paul Dupont, Jason Kay, Harry Neale, Jim Rutherford and Al Strachan. The panel is not nearly as strong as the 50 man panel from ten years ago, but their results are strong.

THN writers-extraordinaire Adam Proteau and Ken Campbell write the biographies, although undoubtedly the whole THN staff contributes. It can be tough to write yet another profile of Wayne Gretzky or Guy Lafleur, but I felt each writer did really solid jobs given the space allotted. I pretend to consider myself a well-researched historian when it comes to such players, and I was able to learn a few things. That's probably a really good sign.

Brett Hull scores with the book's foreword. He's open and insightful with his opinion of the era and of his dad, the Golden Jet Bobby Hull. It's short but a nice read.

When I first got the book, I must admit it did not meet my expected first impression at all. The hard cover book is small at 23.5 x 16 cm, much smaller than the normal magazine-size format THN has always used in the past. But it grew on me quickly, and the geeky side of me thinks that in this case different is cool. I like it.

What I am having trouble adapting to is the black and white photos. THN is known for splashy, colorful photos, and lots of them. In this project, done in tandem with publishing giant Random House, they give each player just one photo, and it's black and white. I'm sure that's a sound business decision, but it's disappointing. This isn't suggesting that the book is bad, but it isn't what most people may be expecting.

There is something about this book's layout that I really do like, but I can't quite figure it out. I think it must be the choice of font or maybe they've played with the margins marginally (no pun intended), but the book's typeface though small is really nice.

How this book will stack up against its epic predecessor from a decade ago will be interesting to watch unfold. One thing is for sure: A whole lot of debate will ensue shortly.

Overall Book Rating: 3/5 Second Liner


Anonymous,  February 27, 2009 at 2:21 AM  

I have had this book for a while and finally took the time to read it cover-to-cover. While and excellent book, it has one fatal flaw. (I know people complain about who was featured, or who should have been ranked higher than who.) I whipped through various comments from various sites, and found that even though people were complaining, I haven't seen one mention of Mike Gartner.. If Crosby can be on the cover, after only 2 (amazing) seasons in the league, I think Mike should have been mentioned.

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