Pittsburgh Pirates' Josh Bell hits a two-run home run off Philadelphia Phillies starting pitcher Jeremy Hellickson during the fourth inning of a baseball game, Thursday, July 6, 2017, in Philadelphia. (Matt Slocum/AP)
Swallowed up by the big-picture, “Nope, they’re not dead yet” July revival of the Pirates, the one that has seen them go from likely sellers to the thick of the National League Central race, is an individual development nearly as surprising. The Bucs appear, finally, to have found a first baseman.
If you are a Pirates fan of a certain age, the emergence of Josh Bell is probably much more shocking than the Bucs’ current turnaround. The last quarter century or so has seen a plethora of forgettable names pass through the position, done in either by a complete inability to field or throw a baseball (see Alvarez, Pedro), a distaste for making solid contact at the plate before June (see LaRoche, Adam) or just about any other malady or fatal flaw one could imagine.
Would you like to read some names, some blasts from the past, some saviors that never were? You would rather not? Too bad. The only way to appreciate Bell’s promising rookie season, and how good things could be, is to remember how bad they have been.
Remember Ron Wright? He came over in the Denny Neagle trade. He had 40-home run power. He was going to be the Pirates’ first baseman of the future. He was going to be the kind of pillar of power that teams search to fill their corner infield spots.
Wright’s career MLB numbers? 0 for 3, with one strikeout. In 2002. For the Seattle Mariners. Whoops.
There was Kevin Young, a brief oasis of competence and at times borderline excellence in the late 1990s. Young was a fairly slick defender with some pop in his bat. He even finished 19th in the MVP race in 1997 as arguably the best player on the freak show Pirates. Young was, in balance, a perfectly average player. By the Pirates’ first base standards, he was a borderline star.
There was Randall Simon, notable mostly for bopping a person dressed up like a bratwurst with a bat at Miller Park. There was Lyle Overbay, notable mostly for, well, nothing.
The rest of the less than distinguished list of tradesmen includes Daryle Ward, Doug Mientkiewicz, Casey McGehee, Mark Johnson, Steve Pearce, Ike Davis, Jeff Clement, Matt Hague, Eric Hinske, Corey Hart, Brandon Moss (got good after he left, of course), Travis Ishikawa and Gaby Sanchez. Garrett Jones hit a fair number of home runs and functioned as something of a heartthrob for female Pirates fans, but he was average at best.
I could keep going, but this is supposed to be a happy column, and I can feel the depression setting in.
All those misfires, all that futility, has led to Bell. Tasked with moving from the outfield to first base, he has developed into a serviceable defensive player with room to get even better in the field. Defense was what plagued Pedro Alvarez, but Bell, just shy of his 25th birthday, has taken to the position much more than Alvarez ever did, and he appears to be getting more natural in his movements and mannerisms by the day.
His glove work is important, but Bell’s bat has always been his meal ticket, even before the position switch. He’s been less selective than in his 2016 cameo, one in which he notched 21 walks against only 19 strikeouts, but the aggressive approach has paid off to the tune of 18 homers and 19 doubles through 99 games. He has displayed easy power to all fields from both sides of the plate and has a decent chance at a 30-homer, 30-double season. That’s the kind of production, especially in this renewed era of the longball, that is badly needed from a corner infielder.
Beyond the tangible traits, beyond the combination of his youth and production, is something else promising: Bell’s potential as the next face of the franchise. Andrew McCutchen has, at most, another year and a half in a Pirates uniform. After that, there will be a bit of a popularity void for fans. If he develops into a big-time performer, Bell’s personality suggests that he will be perfect for the role.
Bell is intelligent, gregarious, articulate, and most importantly, seems to take genuine joy in doing his job. His grand slam and subsequent exuberant celebration against the Cubs last July was arguably the high point in an otherwise lost season for the Bucs.
In short, he’s the type of player fans naturally gravitate toward. He’s the type of player teams build around, in every sense. Most of all, Bell appears to be the type of player with an exceedingly rare skill: the ability to excel at first base for the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Chris Mueller is the co-host of "The Starkey & Mueller Show" from 2-6 p.m. weekdays on 93.7 The Fan.
Pittsburgh Pirates' Andrew McCutchen hits a three-run home run off of San Francisco Giants pitcher Matt Cain during the second inning of a baseball game in San Francisco, Monday, July 24, 2017. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
Even Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle understood the beef.
Andrew McCutchen hit a three-run homer and had four RBI, Gerrit Cole won for the fifth time in six starts, and the Pirates beat San Francisco 10-3 on Monday night.
"I think there was some frustration really all night," said Giants manager Bruce Bochy, who watched most of the game from his office after an ejection in the second. "I don't think he had a real good night, to be honest, as far as consistency, but that really had nothing to do with what happened tonight. We gave up three-run homers."
Jordy Mercer added a three-run shot of his own in the eighth to further back Cole (8-7), 5-1 in his last eight starts. That lone defeat came June 30 as San Francisco swept the Pirates at Pittsburgh from June 30-July 2 -- the Giants' first in the series since 2009.
This time, Pittsburgh immediately jumped on San Francisco starter Matt Cain(3-9), who matched the longest losing streak of his career at eight games -- also done from July 28, 2015-May 10, 2016.
Bochy was tossed by Conroy for arguing balls and strikes in support of Cain moments after McCutchen connected, the skipper's second time being tossed this year. San Francisco pitching coach Dave Righetti then got tossed in the ninth.
"It was a tough zone," Hurdle said. "They lost two people on their side thrown out of the game."
Cole allowed two runs on six hits in six innings, struck out four and walked four.
He improved to 4-1 in six career starts against San Francisco. The Pirates won their seventh straight game at AT&T Park and ninth in 10, including sweeps both last year and in 2015.
Buster Posey hit a pair of RBI singles in San Francisco's fourth loss in five games.
McCutchen hit his 18th homer as the Pirates cleared the fences in San Francisco for a sixth straight game. His RBI groundout in the first started things off for a Pittsburgh club that had lost back-to-back games on the heels of a season-best, six-game winning streak, including a 13-3 flop in the finale against the Rockies on Sunday at Coors Field.
"This offense is good, we've shown that," McCutchen said.
Cain matched his second-shortest outing of the year at four innings and is winless in his last 11 starts, the longest by a Giants pitcher since the right-hander went 15 outings without a victory during his previous eight-game skid.
CHEERS TO THE HOME RUN KING
Former slugger Barry Bonds, who played for both teams, received a greeting on the scoreboard for his 53rd birthday but the career home run king wasn't in the stands.
Pirates: OF Gregory Polanco, who strained his left hamstring Friday at Colorado and landed on the 10-day disabled list, tested his leg with some straightaway running and was going to do some riding on the stationary bike with the hopes he can hit in the cage soon. Hurdle said he did witness Polanco scurry across a street to avoid being hit by a car, then acknowledged it wasn't that close a call. ... With an off day Thursday at San Diego, the starters will get an extra day of rest.
Giants: RHP Johnny Cueto played catch and said the trouble spots on three of his pitching fingers are greatly improved. He said they aren't true blisters. The plan is for him to play catch again Tuesday and perhaps throw off the mound Wednesday if all continues to go well. ... Closer Mark Melancon had the day off as he recovers from a second DL stint with a strained forearm. He will throw a bullpen session Tuesday, Bochy said, and face hitters this weekend in Los Angeles if ready.
Pirates: RHP Jameson Taillon (6-3, 3.08 ERA) is 3-2 with a 2.84 ERA in seven starts since returning from the DL on June 12, just more than a month after surgery for testicular cancer. He seeks his first decision against the Giants in two starts.
Giants: LHP Madison Bumgarner (0-4, 3.57) tries again for his first victory of 2017 in his third outing back from missing nearly three months following a dirt bike accident April 20 in Colorado.
Pittsburgh Pirates owner Bob Nutting talks with manager Clint Hurdle prior to the game against the New York Yankees at PNC Park on April 22, 2017 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.(Getty Images)
Pirates owner Bob Nutting is a liar.
The Pirates promised that payroll would increase proportionate to profit. It hasn't.
Nutting says he wants Andrew McCutchen to be a Pirate for life. But McCutchen's contract has just one year left (a club option), and Nutting has yet to offer him an extension.
But now, thanks to the Pirates' 12-4 run, Nutting will have to take his greed all the way naked and reveal an almost total lack of on-field ambition if the Pirates are to operate as they usually do between now and the July 31 MLB trade deadline.
The Pirates are just three games out of first place in the NL Central. It's not much of a division, but winning it would mean more than a 98-win wild card.
The Pirates are still a decided longshot, especially with the Chicago Cubs kicking it into gear (7-1 since the All-Star break heading into Sunday night's game against St. Louis). It wouldn't behoove the Pirates to trade future for present, not on any grand scale.
But the Pirates' position in the standings, however tenuous, merits at the very least standing pat. The players are owed that. The fans are owed that.
But standing pat would go against the Pirates' MO, which saw closer Mark Melancon and starting pitcher Francisco Liriano ditched at last year's trade deadline despite the Pirates being just four games out of the NL's second wild card.
Nutting does not want to pay McCutchen $14.5 million next year. Or even what McCutchen is still owed of this season's $14-million salary.
Nutting doesn't want to pay Josh Harrison $10.25 million next year, either.
Dumping Tony Watson (making $5.6 million before hitting free agency at season's end) would normally be a priority.
But the Pirates' recent uptick demands that Nutting think different.
But that doesn't mean Nutting will.
It makes for an interesting week.
How legitimate the Pirates' contention is can be debated. But the bottom line is, it's as legit as the standings say. Milwaukee (3-6 since the All-Star break) seems a fading Cinderella. It's easy to point at the Cubs' juggernaut lineup, their pedigree as defending world champs and their recent improvement, then declare them favorites.
But the season is almost 100 games old and the Cubs (and St. Louis) are both mediocre run producers. The pitching of both the Cubs and Cardinals is just marginally better than the Pirates'. Jose Quintana is one arm. Getting him won't necessarily fix the Cubs' rotation, which has seen Jake Arrieta, Jon Lester and John Lackey all disappoint.
Imagine if the Pirates, as was mooted, had traded prospects for Quintana. This might be a race the Pirates could win.
Then again, had that deal been consummated in the off-season, one of those prospects might have been first baseman Josh Bell. Thanks, but no thanks.
Still, isn't it frustrating that the Pirates are a team that never takes a risk?
Nobody's asking GM Neal Huntington to take a risk now.
But the Pirates should, at the very least, see this through with their current roster.
Now might be the best time to trade McCutchen in terms of return.
But attendance is on pace to drop 300K this season after dropping 250K last season. TV ratings for Pirates games on AT&T SportsNet are down 27 percent from last year.
But over 33,000 showed up at PNC Park for Thursday's afternoon game with Milwaukee. Tuesday's contest was AT&T SportsNet's highest-rated game broadcast this season.
After making the playoffs from 2013-15, only meaningful baseball is going to keep enough fans interested. The days of eagerly buying cow flop dipped in false hope appear to be over.
Nutting needs to consider that. And likely will, because it affects revenue.
If McCutchen is traded, only an idiot would remain emotionally invested in the Pirates, let alone purchase tickets. Nutting's intent is already clear, but at that point it's been jammed up your southernmost orifice.
If McCutchen is traded, the clubhouse is lost. It was shaken last year when Liriano and Melancon were traded, the latter being a bold-faced salary dump facilitated by sacrificing two prospects. Melancon's immediate loss was obvious, the impressive return of Felipe Rivero notwithstanding.
Fans saw Liriano having a poor season and didn't mind his departure. But for Liriano, three good seasons had preceded the one bad. His Pirate teammates saw him as an important element, and one that could rebound.
That mattered not to Nutting.
He doesn't treat the Pirates like a sports team. He runs the Pirates like a factory, where quality matters only as much as it helps boost profit. The players are employees. Nutting expects them to treat it like a job.
Which it is. But at this job, they keep standings.
If the Pirates stay intact, they can make a run at the division title.
If major components are shed, they will collapse.
This Pirates team has guts. Nutting needs to recognize that.
Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal says McCutchen and Harrison are "not in play" re: the MLB trade market. That's good.
If you choose to believe something leaked to the media by a chronic liar, that is.
Mark Madden hosts a radio show 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WXDX-FM (105.9).
Andrew McCutchen smiles after scoring on an infield single by David Freese off Colorado Rockies starting pitcher Jeff Hoffman in the first inning of a baseball game Friday, July 21, 2017, in Denver. (David Zalubowski/AP Photo)
Read more here: http://www.fresnobee.com/sports/article163058038.html#storylink=cpy
DENVER -- A rough first inning could have meant an early exit for Pittsburgh starter Trevor Williams. The rookie settled down, though, and rode his offense to his first win in more than a month.
Williams pitched 6 2/3 strong innings, and the surging Pirates beat the Colorado Rockies 13-5 on Friday night.
Pittsburgh has won a season-high six straight and 12 of 14 to move a game above .500 for the first time since starting the season 3-2.
"When we play our best baseball we can compete with any team out there," said Andrew McCutchen, who had three hits and reached base five times. "Right now we're doing it. Our starting pitchers have been phenomenal, and that's the main reason we're doing what we're doing."
Rookie Josh Bell had a career-high four hits and Jordy Mercer homered for the Pirates (49-48), who tied a season high with 18 hits to kick off a nine-game road trip. They are within two games of first-place Milwaukee in the NL Central.
"We're playing really well right now and this road trip is big for us," Williams said. "If we finish good with this road trip, things are looking up for us."
Pittsburgh jumped on Colorado starter Jeff Hoffman (6-2) and chased him three batters into the fourth inning. Bell had an RBI single in the first and a three-run double in the second when the Pirates took the lead for good. Bell had a season-high four RBI.
Hoffman struggled in his worst outing since allowing nine runs in 3 2/3 innings against Arizona exactly one month earlier. He walked four, hit a batter and left after Bell's third hit of the game.
"It was my fastball command. I couldn't locate it," Hoffman said. "Especially when I needed it. When you can't locate that one it is really hard to get out of any kind of jam."
Nolan Arenado homered for the fourth time in two games and drove in two runs for Colorado, which had its four-game winning streak stopped.
Arenado's 82 RBI leads the majors.
Williams (4-4) allowed three runs in the first inning but after Tony Wolters' leadoff double in the second he didn't allow a hit until Arenado's solo homer, his team-leading 22nd, in the sixth. Williams left after a two-out single by Wolters, who scored on a double.
"We got a big, big effort from our starting pitcher," Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle said. "For him to pitch into the seventh inning after giving up three in the first, with the pitch efficiency he had, it was impressive. That won't go down as a quality start but that's a quality start -- and even more."
Williams helped the cause with a walk and a run in the second and his second career hit in the fifth. The Pirates had 10 players get hits, including both pitchers. Reliever Jhan Marinez had a double in the eighth for his first career hit.
"You have a lot of advantages here in this ballpark as a hitter," McCutchen said. "The altitude, the ball plays fast on the ground and it's very big, a lot of room to run. You have all that going for you."
McCutchen, who walked twice, had a chance to reach base for a sixth time but grounded out in the ninth. Bell followed with a triple to finish a homer shy of the cycle.
Pirates: OF Gregory Polanco left the game in the fourth inning with left hamstring discomfort. Polanco was injured running out a fielder's choice and immediately went to the dugout and was replaced by John Jaso. The Pirates announced Polanco was day-to-day.
Rockies: RHP Tyler Chatwood (right calf strain) threw 44 pitches in two simulated innings Friday and felt fine, manager Bud Black said. "No issues with the calf," Black said. "We'll chart the next course of action but as far as physically, he's in a really positive spot, and we feel really good about that. And so does Tyler."
Colorado pitchers combined to hit four batters Friday, which tied a franchise record. It was done three times previous, the last time coming April 24, 2005, against the Dodgers.
Pirates: RHP Chad Kuhl (3-6, 4.85 ERA) struck out a season-high seven in his last start but had a no-decision against Milwaukee on Monday.
Rockies: RHP German Marquez (7-4, 4.34 ERA) will face the Pirates for a second time this season. Marquez got the win in Pittsburgh on June 14.
PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Pirates spent a good portion of the first half of the season trying -- and failing -- to find any sort of traction.
Once they'd figure out one problem, another would pop up. If it wasn't the bullpen, it was the mess left by outfielder Starling Marte's 80-game steroid suspension. Or the back end of the starting rotation. Or the massive funk that baffled star center fielder Andrew McCutchen.
Two hot weeks have changed the discussion dramatically.
The Pirates have won 11 of 13 and moved within three games of Milwaukee in a division that's tightened up since the All-Star break. The Brewers have lost five straight, cutting their lead to one game over the idle Chicago Cubs.
"When you've got guys showing up and stars showing up like they did this homestand, good things are going to happen," said McCutchen, who provided some insurance with an RBI single in the fifth off Jimmy Nelson (8-5). "When we play our best baseball, we can compete with anybody."
The Pirates focused on pressuring Milwaukee's defense during the series, forcing the issue whenever it had the chance. They scored three of their four runs by taking risks that paid off beautifully. Adam Frazier singled with two outs in the second and scored on Stewart's single to right. With the game tied at 2 in the fifth, Stewart led off with a single then moved to second on a sacrifice bunt.
The 35-year-old catcher -- who spent time on the disabled list this season with hamstring issues -- chugged home from second on a two-out single to right by Josh Harrison. Harrison went to second when right fielder Domingo Santana's throw missed the cutoff. Harrison then scored on a flare to right by McCutchen.
"I think we want to be in the right position to take that extra step," Stewart said. "I know there's two outs so I'm getting a couple extra steps off second base and going on the crack of the bat. We focus on those types of things."
Jameson Taillon (6-3) struck out a season-high eight in 5 1/3 innings. Felipe Rivero worked a perfect ninth for his ninth save. Pittsburgh is .500 (48-48) for the first time since April 16, two days before Marte's suspension began.
"I wouldn't say it's good to be at .500, but it's good to be playing good baseball," Stewart said. "We feel like we're doing what we thought we were capable of doing."
Taillon threw career-high 116 pitches before giving way to four relievers that kept slumping Milwaukee. Juan Nicasio worked out of a two-on, one-out jam in the eighth and Felipe Rivero worked a perfect ninth for his ninth save as the Pirates put together their first four-game home sweep since taking four straight from St. Louis in July, 2013.
The Brewers were one of the biggest surprises in baseball during their first half. They took a 5 1/2 game lead into the All-Star break but have seen that all but erased in the span of seven days. The problem isn't so much the pitching but the offense. Milwaukee has managed just 13 runs during its five-game losing streak, tied for its longest of the season. The Brewers left nine men on and went 1 for 10 with runners in scoring position on Thursday.
"Their bullpen was really tough on us manager Craig Counsell said. "Their starters bent a couple (of) innings, but we didn't get that big inning that really kind of gave us a big lead ever."
Nelson gave up four runs on six hits, with a walk and five strikeouts and isn't overly concerned about his team's rut.
"I mean, we're still in first place," Nelson said. "You're not going to win every single game, you're not going to win every single series. But there's a lot of games left to be played and we know what we're capable of. It doesn't make us question our ability by any means."
Brewers: OF Ryan Braun was held out of the lineup for a second consecutive day as the team tries to monitor his workload while he played through a strained left calf that's bothered him all season. Braun entered as a pinch hitter in the sixth and flew out with two on and two outs. ... 2B Eric Sogard(sprained left ankle) could rejoin the team during its weekend series in Philadelphia.
Brewers: RHP Matt Garza (4-4) starts for Milwaukee as it begins the next leg of a 10-game road trip on Friday against the last-place Phillies.
Pirates: Start a nine-game, 10-day western road trip in Colorado on Friday. Rookie RHP Trevor Williams (3-4) faces fellow rookie Jeff Hoffman (6-1) in the opener.
Evgeni Malkin and Alex Ovechkin (Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
A Russian magazine recently unveiled it's list of the top Russian NHLers. Here's a look at the list along with their notable NHL accomplishments.
Pittsburgh Penguins superstar Evgeni Malkin did not manage to make the cut when the NHL unveiled its Top 100 players of all-time – an omission that essentially compromises the entire list – but he can take solace in not only being on another list, but being at the top of it. Russian magazine Sport-Express recently named the top 50 Russian NHL players of all-time and Malkin, who recently picked up his third Stanley Cup, is No. 1.
The magazine did its ratings based on the following criteria: level of play at the peak of the NHL career, consistency, titles and longevity. Careers in Russia and in international play were not considered.
So that’s what makes this list unique. Malkin is at the top of it, just ahead of Sergei Fedorov, only because of what he has done in the best league in the world. If the entirety of careers were taken into account, Slava Fetisov would be vying for No. 1 instead of being at 30. Soviet legends Valeri Kharlamov, Vsevolod Bobrov and Vladislav Tretiak would join Fetisov at the top of the list, with Boris Mikhailov and Alexander (Rags) Ragulin close behind.
But it is an interesting group. Here it is, in order:
1. Evgeni Malkin (Pittsburgh): Tied with Fedorov and Igor Larionov for most Stanley Cups (three) and could be No. 2 on all-time Russian scoring list by the time he retires.
2. Sergei Fedorov (Detroit, Anaheim, Columbus, Washington): Highest-scoring Russian player of all-time and joins Bobby Clarke as the only players in NHL history to win both the Hart and Selke trophies during the careers. Fedorov is the only player to do it in the same year.
3. Alex Ovechkin (Washington): Easily the greatest Russian NHL goalscorer of all-time, but has yet to get his team out of the second round of the playoffs. Father Time is chasing both him and the Capitals.
4. Pavel Bure (Vancouver, Florida, NY Rangers): Before Ovechkin came along, The Russian Rocket was the most dynamic Russian player ever. Came agonizingly close to winning the Cup with Vancouver, but never did.
5. Pavel Datsyuk (Detroit, Arizona sort of): A magician with the puck, Datsyuk dazzled with his abilities and established himself as one of the greatest two-way players of all-time.
6. Sergei Zubov (NY Rangers, Pittsburgh, Dallas): Seems a little high on the list, but that might be because he was one of the more under-appreciated players when he played. One of the game’s great all-time power play quarterbacks.
7. Nikolai Khabibulin (Winnipeg/Phoenix, Tampa Bay, Chicago, Edmonton): Has played more games (799) than any other Russian goalie and won the Stanley Cup with the Lightning in 2003-04.
8. Alexander Mogilny (Buffalo, Vancouver, New Jersey, Toronto): Helped blaze a trail for other Russian players and posted the fifth-highest single-season goal total with 76 in 1992-93. Should be in the Hall of Fame and probably will be someday.
9. Sergei Gonchar (Washington, Pittsburgh, Ottawa, Dallas, Montreal): No Russian defenseman has played more games or scored more goals or points than Gonchar, who won the Cup with the Penguins in 2009.
10. Sergei Bobrovsky (Philadelphia, Columbus): Two-time Vezina Trophy winner has the highest career save percentage among Russians who have played at least 50 NHL games. If he wins a Cup or two along the way, he’ll move up the list.
11. Ilya Kovalchuk (Atlanta, New Jersey): Exactly a point per game playing the first half of his career during the Dead Puck Era. Could be back in the NHL after next season.
12. Alexei Kovalev (NY Rangers, Pittsburgh, Montreal, Ottawa, Florida): No Russian player has played as many NHL games as Kovalev, who was the first Russian player drafted in the first round. He was loved by fans pretty well everywhere he played.
13. Alexei Zhamnov (Winnipeg, Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston): Weird stat for Zhamnov: He scored 30 goals only once during his career and it was in 1994-95, when a lockout limited the season to just 48 games.
14. Alexei Yashin (Ottawa, NY Islanders): Yashin’s NHL career ended in 2007, but the Islanders didn’t finish paying his buyout until eight years later. A mercurial talent, Yashin was sublime with the puck.
15. Andrei Markov (Montreal): Yet to find NHL work for next season, Markov has been a mainstay on the Canadiens defense corps and power play for 16 seasons.
16. Igor Larionov (Vancouver, San Jose, Detroit, Florida, New Jersey): The Professor was a three-time Cup winner with the Red Wings and was an all-time great two-way talent. Probably a little lower than he should be.
17. Valeri Kamensky (Quebec/Colorado, NY Rangers, Dallas, New Jersey): Scored 38 goals for the Avalanche and added 10 more, plus 12 assists, in the playoffs to help Colorado to its first Stanley Cup in 1995-96.
18. Slava Kozlov (Detroit, Buffalo, Atlanta): A two-time Cup winner with the Red Wings, Kozlov twice scored 30 goals in the NHL.
19. Evgeny Nabokov (San Jose, NY Islanders, Tampa Bay): The 2001 Calder Trophy winner has won more games than any other Russian goalie (353) and has the best goals-against average (2.44) among those who played at least 50 NHL games.
20. Sergei Makarov (Calgary, San Jose, Dallas): The NHL changed its Calder Trophy eligibility rules when Makarov won the award at the age of 31 in 1990. His best days were already behind him when he entered the NHL.
21. Alexei Zhitnik (Los Angeles, Buffalo, NY Islanders, Atlanta): Born in Ukraine, Zhitnik represented the Soviet Union and Russia during his career. Scored 30 points in eight of his first 10 NHL seasons and was tough.
The Russian Five in 1997 after winning the Stanley Cup. Back row: Vladimir Konstantinov, Sergei Fedorov, and Slava Fetisov. Front row: Slava Kozlov and Igor Larionov
22. Vladimir Konstantinov (Detroit): Might have been a Hall of Famer had his career not ended in a limousine crash after the Red Wings won the Cup in 1997. Tough, tough, tough.
23. Vladimir Malakhov (NY Islanders, Montreal, New Jersey, NY Rangers, Philadelphia): He had a long career with some good seasons, but he confounded coaches and fans alike with what looked like a laissez-faire approach to the game.
24. Darius Kasparaitis (NY Islanders, Pittsburgh, Colorado, NY Rangers): A Lithuania-born player who punched his own goalie in the head after a World Junior game, Kasparaitis got more mileage out of hard work and grittiness than probably any other Russian player.
25. Alex Semin (Washington, Carolina, Montreal): Another player with an enormous amount of talent and a confounding work ethic, Semin enjoyed his best years playing with Ovechkin on the Capitals.
26. Viktor Kozlov (San Jose, Florida, NY Islanders, Washington): Broke the 20-goal barrier only twice, but scored 50-plus points three times. Never came close to that level of production in the playoffs, though.
27. Sergei Samsonov (Boston, Edmonton, Montreal, Carolina, Chicago, Florida): Won the Calder Trophy in 1997-98 over teammate and first overall pick Joe Thornton and had some good seasons with the Bruins, registering 20-plus goals four times.
28. Vladimir Tarasenko (St. Louis): Look for him to move up this list as his career progresses. He’s really starting to pile up the goal totals.
29. Dmitri Yushkevich (Philadelphia, Toronto, Florida, Los Angeles): A tough, stay-at-home defenseman, Yushkevich loved nothing more than going head-to-head against the best players in the game.
30. Slava Fetisov (New Jersey, Detroit): Had he not come to the NHL when he was 32, he would have been one of the all-time greats in the league. As it is, he’s arguably the best player Russia has ever produced.
31. German Titov (Calgary, Pittsburgh, Edmonton, Anaheim): Started his career with three 20-goal seasons in his first four years, then tailed off badly.
32. Ilya Bryzgalov (Anaheim, Phoenix, Philadelphia, Edmonton, Minnesota): Amid all the crazy things he has said, it’s easy to forget that Bryzgalov was one of the league’s premier goaltenders at one time.
33. Nikita Kucherov (Tampa Bay): Another player who will rocket up this list if he keeps up what he’s doing right now. Might be the NHL’s most underrated player.
34. Alexei Gusarov (Quebec/Colorado, NY Rangers, St. Louis): One of the core players who went from the bad old days in Quebec to a Stanley Cup in Colorado, Gusarov is a member of the Triple Gold Club, having won the Stanley Cup, an Olympic gold medal and a World Championship.
35. Maxim Afinogenov (Buffalo, Atlanta): Compared to Bure early in his career, Afinogenov defined himself with his speed and skill, but too rarely put all his tools together consistently.
36. Alexander Karpovtsev (NY Rangers, Toronto, Chicago, NY Islanders, Florida): Had a superior mind for the game and the nuances of playing good defense. Was killed in the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl plane crash in 2011.
37. Slava Voynov (Los Angeles): His legal issues forced him out of the NHL at the age of 25 and nobody knows whether he’ll ever find his way back again. Was a defensive stalwart on two Stanley Cup winners.
38. Artemi Panarin (Chicago): He lands on the list despite having played just two NHL seasons, but what NHL seasons they were. The Columbus Blue Jackets are hoping he’ll help lead them to a Stanley Cup.
39. Oleg Tverdovsky (Anaheim, Winnipeg/Phoenix, New Jersey, Carolina, Los Angeles): A second overall pick by the Ducks in 1994, Tverdovsky went on to play more than 700 games in the NHL. He won Cups with the Devils in 2003 and the Hurricanes three years later.
40. Andrei Kovalenko (Quebec/Colorado, Montreal, Edmonton, Philadelphia, Carolina, Boston): ‘The Tank’ was denied a Stanley Cup when he was moved to Montreal by Colorado in 1995 as part of the Patrick Roy blockbuster trade.
41. Alexander Frolov (Los Angeles, NY Rangers): Still playing in the KHL at the age of 35, Frolov left the NHL in 2011 after having a number of productive seasons with the Kings.
42. Semyon Varlamov (Washington, Colorado): Had a miserable season with the woeful Avalanche in 2016-17, but prior to that had been the Avs backbone.
43. Sergei Brylin (New Jersey): A long-time favorite of former GM Lou Lamoriello and fellow Devils executive David Conte, Brylin was an industrious center who could fill any role. He was a big part of the Devils’ three Cups.
44. Igor Korolev (St. Louis, Winnipeg/Phoenix, Toronto, Chicago): A hard-working two-way center, Korolev became a Canadian citizen late in his career. He was also killed in the Yaroslavl plane crash in 2011.
45. Sergei Nemchinov (NY Rangers, Vancouver, NY Islanders, New Jersey): A Stanley Cup winner with both the Rangers and the Devils, Nemchinov scored 20-plus goals each of his first three seasons.
46. Igor Kravchuk (Chicago, Edmonton, St. Louis, Ottawa, Calgary, Florida): Remember the lone defenseman who was back for the Soviets on the 3-on-1 on Mario Lemieux’s winning goal in the 1987 Canada Cup? Yup. It was Igor Kravchuk.
47. Evgeny Kuznetsov (Washington): Another player who will likely be much higher on this list if it is done 10 years from now.
48. Alexander Radulov (Nashville, Montreal): It’s too bad he spent most of the time until last season being petulant and chasing the money in the KHL. But he still has some time to do something special with the Dallas Stars.
49. Alexander Khavanov (St. Louis, Toronto): Drafted at the age of 27, six years after playing a season in the East Coast League, Khavanov spent four productive seasons with the Blues.
50. Dmitri Mironov (Toronto, Pittsburgh, Anaheim, Detroit, Washington): Another older draft pick, Mironov managed to win his only Cup after being dealt to the Red Wings at the 1998 trade deadline.