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NHL’s top 3s for the new season

Shawn Thornton is beloved by Bruins fans. Is he the NHL’s most respected fighter?

Bill Greene/Globe Staff

Shawn Thornton is beloved by Bruins fans. Is he the NHL’s most respected fighter?

Who has the worst contract? Which coach is on the hottest seat? Who is the league’s best fighter? Fluto Shinzawa breaks it down:

Best contracts

1. Mike Smith, Phoenix — On the books for one more year at $2 million. Bargain bucks for top-five goaltending.

2. David Desharnais, Montreal — Rare to see top-line centers earning $850,000 per year.

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3. Claude Giroux, Philadelphia — One of the top three centers in the game alongside Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Bringing home a mere $3.75 million annually.

Worst contracts

1. Dany Heatley, Minnesota — That $7.5 million annually looks more dated than a Ferrari Testarossa.

2. James Wisniewski, Columbus — At best, he’s a No. 3 defenseman. Yet somehow scored a six-year, $33 million deal.

3. Joel Ward, Washington — Scored the Game 7 winner against the Bruins last season. But not many fourth-liners pull down $3 million annually.

Most respected players

1. Pavel Datsyuk, Detroit — Yet to find a single opponent with a bad thing to say about the center.

2. Shane Doan, Phoenix — Plays with an edge, but a gentleman off the ice.

3. Ryan Callahan, N.Y. Rangers — Every GM and coach wants Callahan on his team.

Best Massachusetts players

1. Cory Schneider, Vancouver — Time for Marblehead native to shine in the puck-stopping spotlight.

Cory Schneider has a chance to be the No. 1 man in Vancouver this season.

Darryl Dyck/CP/AP

Cory Schneider has a chance to be the No. 1 man in Vancouver this season.

2. Keith Yandle, Phoenix — Smooth-moving defenseman from Milton triggers the attack.

3. Ryan Whitney, Edmonton — Scituate native will be go-to veteran on young club.

Coaches on hot seat

1. Joel Quenneville, Chicago — Too much talent for there not to be results. Mediocre goaltending can be a coach killer.

2. Todd McLellan, San Jose — Perennial playoff disappointments might see regular-season shakeup if things start poorly.

3. Joe Sacco, Colorado — Young assistants (Tim Army, David Quinn) waiting in the wings if Avalanche can’t find traction.

Hardest hitters

1. Niklas Kronwall, Detroit — Can take the wind out of opponents with his trademark hip-first blast.

2. Milan Lucic, Boston — About time for Lucic to do some damage on a pane of glass.

3. Dustin Brown, Los Angeles — All too happy to run you over.

Best playmakers

1. Joe Thornton, San Jose — Some tread is off the tires, but hands and eyes are still among game’s best.

Long removed from Boston, Joe Thornton is still among the NHL’s best.

Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Long removed from Boston, Joe Thornton is still among the NHL’s best.

2. Henrik Sedin, Vancouver — Almost unfair when twin brother Daniel knows exactly where to go.

3. Nicklas Backstrom, Washington — Puts sweet dishes right on Alex Ovechkin’s blade.

Best brother duos

1. Henrik and Daniel Sedin, Vancouver — Nothing can match twin telepathy.

2. Eric and Jordan Staal, Carolina — Yet to play together on same NHL team. But should be deadly 1-2 center punch.

3. Luke and Brayden Schenn, Philadelphia — One is a defenseman. Other is a forward. Both play with bite.

Most respected fighters

1. Shawn Thornton, Boston — Always fights according to The Code. Almost too honest.

2. Brandon Prust, Montreal — Tough, straightforward scrapper.

3. George Parros, Florida — Clearly an Ivy League man.

Best players with two first names

1. Bobby Ryan, Anaheim — Can play all three forward positions.

2. James Neal, Pittsburgh — Doesn’t hurt to play with Evgeni Malkin.

3. Luke Adam, Buffalo — Budding power forward, if he gets more ice time.

Best non-hockey bodies

1. Dustin Byfuglien, Winnipeg — Could be a good wingman for Vince Wilfork.

2. Erik Karlsson, Ottawa — Slighter than an Abercrombie & Fitch model.

3. Jhonas Enroth, Buffalo — Listed as 5 feet 10 inches. Maybe when he’s wearing his goalie skates.

Best players with worst reputations

1. Phil Kessel, Toronto — Was sixth in league scoring last season. Regularly derided as soft.

2. Jason Spezza, Ottawa — As skilled as they come. Not known for playing with jam.

3. Dion Phaneuf, Toronto — Not on Nathan Horton’s Christmas list.

Best offensive defensemen

1. Erik Karlsson, Ottawa — Game-changer from back end.

2. Kris Letang, Pittsburgh — Quick to get the puck to Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.

3. Dan Boyle, San Jose — Graybeard still an elite skater.

Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at fshinzawa@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeFluto.
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