The Top 60 Since 1967: Behind the Book with Adam Proteau of The Hockey News

The Top 60 Since 1967: The Best Players of the Post-Expansion Era
By Adam Proteau and Ken Campbell
Published by Transcontinental Books
Hardcover, 240 pages
Release Date: September 10, 2007

Coming up with a list of “the best players of the post-expansion era” in the NHL is no easy task. It’s like being asked to shadow Wayne Gretzky in his prime and score a hat trick in the same game: you’re never going to please everybody. Not even when you have 60 slots available. But Adam Proteau (online columnist for The Hockey News) and Ken Campbell (senior writer for The Hockey News) attacked this challenge with relish when they were assigned to create The Top 60 Since 1967 in celebration of their magazine’s 60th anniversary. The two co-authors assembled a panel of 10 expert voters and interviewed many of the NHL’s all-time biggest stars to offer a fresh, up-to-date perspective. If you’re looking to generate an intelligent debate with fellow hockey lovers, this book is a great starting point. went head-to-head with Proteau recently with 10 questions about The Top 60 Since 1967.

1. How did this book project first come together, and what was the writing process like?

The project was proposed to Ken and me by the higher-ups at The Hockey News in January, and our manuscript was submitted in May. That forced us to focus on putting the panel together right away; it also made it necessary to conduct interviews of the players before we knew where they’d be ranked on the list (not that it mattered in terms of what we wanted to get out of our interviews).

The short turnaround period, combined with our regular duties at the magazine, made those months very intense. I like to joke that I felt like Jack Nicholson in The Shining every so often, but the truth is that during those three months I immersed myself in the study of 30 legends in a manner I probably wouldn’t have otherwise, and came away from it with a much deeper appreciation for them as athletes as well as people.

In sum – the process was a bitch at times, but very much worth the while.

2. What was the most fun aspect of doing The Top 60 Since 1967?

Probably realizing many of the stars I grew up watching are standup people, great conversationalists and true disciples of the game, rather than the money-hungry mercenaries pro athletes are painted as (fairly in some cases, unfairly in most others) these days.

Two ex-Oilers I spoke with particularly stand out in that regard. Both Paul Coffey and Glenn Anderson were remarkably open, warm guys who were as at ease talking about life outside the sport as they were revealing their trade secrets when they played.

But they weren’t the only ones who made the interview process enjoyable. Sergei Fedorov, Denis Potvin, Bernie Parent and Serge Savard were phenomenal; Brad Park and Cam Neely were inspirational; and listening to Ray Bourque and Wayne Gretzky talk about the games within the game was truly an honor and privilege.

3. The voters included Brian Burke, Jacques Demers, Harry Neale, Jim Rutherford, Kevin-Paul Dupont (Boston Globe), Al Strachan (, Mike Brophy (The Hockey News), and Jason Kay (The Hockey News), plus yourself and Ken. Some people might look at the omission of European stars like Mats Sundin, Teemu Selanne, or Alexander Mogilny, and claim that stems from using an all-North American expert panel. How would you react to that?

Ken and I knew when we agreed to do the book that in the hockey world, there is no such thing as an objective ranking of the best players in any particular generation.

With that in mind, all we wanted to do was send out complete statistical/information packages on about 125 players to our panel – all three players you mentioned were included – and ask the panelists to offer their subjective, individual opinions. We tabulated their lists using a points system – if a player was voted first overall, he was awarded 60 points; if he was 60th on the list, he got one point – and let the proverbial chips fall where they proverbially may.

Sundin nearly cracked the top 60, but other European players made the list. Sergei Fedorov is there, Borje Salming is there, Dominik Hasek is there, and Nicklas Lidstrom is in the top 10. Their inclusion proves to me the complete and utter absence of a bias toward North American players. And the fact that the grand majority of players on our list were North American is merely a reflection of the history of hockey since ’67.

4. If you were solely responsible for picking The Top 60 Since 1967, which omitted player (or players) would have made your list?

I had Sundin in my top 60, as well as Vincent Lecavalier and Rod Langway. But it’s hard to disagree with any of the players who wound up making the cut.

As noted earlier, the entire process is subjective, so I understand that anyone, either on the panel or outside of it, could’ve made a good case for any of the top 90 guys up for consideration.

5. When I read The Top 60 Since 1967, seeing Billy Smith at #35, directly ahead of Brad Park, Grant Fuhr, and Scott Niedermayer, was a bit of a surprise for me. Who surprised you with how high (or low) he ranked?

Lidstrom’s placement in the top 10 was certainly unexpected, and Niedermayer’s lower rank was also a bit of a shock.

I think some people really felt Lidstrom is one of those guys who’s never really going to be appreciated until he’s retired; as for Niedermayer, I’m guessing the superstars he played with in New Jersey all those years, as well as the team’s superior (if deathly dull) defensive style, were mitigating factors in his placement.

6. Chris Pronger (#46) comments on his routine at the University of Manitoba during the 1994-95 NHL lockout: “I basically boozed it up for four months and rarely worked out.” During the interviews for this book, were there guys who got just a little too candid for their own good and obliged you to leave out some juicy quotes?

Absolutely. And can I relate them to you in any forum where I might be sued for libel? Absolutely not. But catch me in the right private setting, and for the meager price of a drink or two, I’ll be happy to regale you.

7. Who was the toughest player to track down for an interview?

There were a few. Mario Lemieux has basically sworn off interviews since last winter; and Bobby Hull, Al MacInnis, Scott Stevens and Ed Belfour were not apparently in the ideal moods to return calls.

In cases such as theirs, we approached the written bios differently, and leaned heavily on The Hockey News’ unrivaled library of hockey history to put them together. And I don’t think we lost anything by writing their stories that way.

8. Sidney Crosby is ranked #57, ahead of Darryl Sittler, Borje Salming, and Sergei Fedorov. From a marketing standpoint, obviously it’s a slam dunk to put Crosby on the book cover. But were you at all concerned about enshrining a player based on just two (admittedly superlative) seasons?

Not in the least. When you consider what Crosby already has achieved, there is no arguing that, even if he never played another game, he has earned himself a sizeable legend in the hockey world. And believe it or not, some people who’ve interviewed me about the book wonder why Crosby isn’t ranked higher.

Ken Dryden – and Bobby Orr and Bernie Parent to lesser degrees – are other examples of players who had shorter careers, yet made monumental impacts on the game. So I felt fine with where Crosby wound up.

9. In the introduction to The Top 60 Since 1967, you explain why ’67 was chosen as the starting point (40 years ago, first NHL expansion, etc.). Of course, it’s still tough to compare Crosby to Stan Mikita, who entered the NHL in 1958-59. If you had to pick a year based solely on when today’s “modern hockey” could be said to have begun, what would it be?

Interesting question, and one I don’t think I could do real justice to in this type of setting.

Suffice to say, I see the game’s evolvement as more of an organic process – i.e., the speed of the game began to change drastically during the mid-to-late 1980s, but goaltending wasn’t at a modern-era level (in terms of conditioning, coaching and equipment size) until a few years later, and the clutch-and-grab era didn’t really catch on with all teams until the Devils won their first Stanley Cup in 1995.

In other words, different aspects of the modern game came to be at different points in the last 25 years or so. And I think that’s the way the sport will continue to grow.

10. Besides your regular gig at The Hockey News, what’s next for Adam Proteau?

Electroshock therapy, if this hockey season is as frenetic as the previous one. Actually, I’m planning on heading to Europe over the winter holidays, to visit a very good friend who plays goal in the Austrian pro hockey league.

His team (Klagenfurt AC) is scheduled to play in a 30,000-seat soccer stadium during an outdoor game on January 4th, and I’m looking forward to covering that game and contrasting it against the NHL’s upcoming “Winter Classic” in Buffalo. I’m also looking forward to being in a part of the world where my arena-induced, deathly pale winter complexion won’t stand out nearly so much. Digg it Furl iFeedReaders Netscape RawSugar reddit StumbleUpon Yahoo MyWeb YardBarker

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