I've been reading a book called "The Final Four of Everything," which comes with a cute idea. What if it wasn't just the NCAA basketball championships that were paired off? What if we had brackets to determine the best sports cliche, best guy named Tom, best Olympic heroes, best state bird, best board game, etc. This is a little hit or miss depending on your interest, so that "best gun" sort of left me cold, but otherwise there's plenty to keep your interest.
Let's try "The Final Four of the Buffalo Sabres" as an example. I'll list the pairings of each round, and explain the winners:
Goalie Division (8 players)
Dominik Hasek vs. Martin Biron
Don Edwards vs. Bob Sauve
Ryan Miller vs. Roger Crozier
Tom Barrasso vs. Daren Puppa
Hasek is the easy winner over Biron, Sauve takes it up a notch in crunch time to surprise Edwards, Crozier's original Sabre glow isn't enough to beat Miller, and Barrasso accomplished more in his stay than his "good friend" Puppa.
Dominik Hasek vs. Bob Sauve
Ryan Miller vs. Tom Barrasso
Sauve can't stay close at this level. Barrasso won some hardware in Buffalo, but he was so unpopular on the team that he just can't top Miller.
Dominik Hasek vs. Ryan Miller
Was there ever a doubt?
Defenseman Division (8 players)
Mike Ramsey vs. Larry Playfair
Brian Campbell vs. Jerry Korab
Jim Schoenfeld vs. Bill Hajt
Phil Housley vs. Alexei Zhitnik
Ramsey was too good for too long to lose to the popular Playfair. Campbell's time was short but he might have been the second-best offensive defenseman in team history. Schoenfeld gets points for flamboyance over the steady Hajt. Zhitnik was underrated locally, but Housley put up some astonishing numbers for a defenseman.
Mike Ramsey vs. Brian Campbell
Jim Schoenfeld vs. Phil Housley
Ramsey played for a long time and with tons of heart and competitiveness. Housley is a slight second-round favorite but gets surprised by the popular Schoenfeld.
Mike Ramsey vs. Jim Schoenfeld
Schoenfeld makes a game out of it, but Ramsey packs for the Four Four.
Forward Division (16 players)
Gil Perreault vs. Dale Hawerchuk
Alexander Mogilny vs. Rene Robert
Danny Gare vs. Mike Foligno
Dave Andreychuk vs. Chris Drury
Rick Martin vs. Rob Ray
Craig Ramsay vs. Don Luce
Pat LaFontaine vs. Pierre Turgeon
Daniel Briere vs. Thomas Vanek
Perreault wins on longevity here, although you could have an interesting discussion about who was the better NHL player. Mogilny's breathtaking talent wasn't on display long enough to beat out a French Connection member. Gare and Foligno are similarly tough and popular; Gare had a little better scoring touch and all-around game. Drury records the biggest surprise of the tournament with a win over Andreychuk; Drury was a leader and could score too. Ray is a sentimental choice for the tournament but no match for Martin. Ramsay lasted longer in Buffalo than his linemate Luce. And speaking of fun matchups, LaFontaine was traded for Turgeon and gets the edge here. Briere became a great scorer here, even if Vanek might get the nod down the road.
Gil Perreault vs. Rene Robert
Danny Gare vs. Chris Drury
Rick Martin vs. Craig Ramsay
Pat LaFontaine vs. Daniel Briere
Perreault is an easy choice over Robert, while Gare scores points mostly for longevity in a good matchup with Drury. Ramsay is a personal favorite, but Martin was a fabulous goal-scorer until he hurt his knee. LaFontaine was better in his prime than Briere.
Gil Perreault vs. Danny Gare
Rick Martin vs. Pat LaFontaine
Perreault was a one of the few players in hockey history who could make a crowd rise to its feet on a regular basis. He sometimes was worth the price of admission. Gare was very valuable but doesn't reach Perreault's level. LaFontaine was as popular as any Sabre in history, and he provided some great moments while here. Those two go on to the final four.
Dominik Hasek vs. Mike Ramsey
Gil Perreault vs. Pat LaFontaine
Ramsey was a superb defenseman, but he's not going to the Hall of Fame. Hasek is. Perreault's biggest edge over LaFontaine was durability, and that sneaks him past LaFontaine.
Dominik Hasek vs. Gil Perreault
Wow. Perreault was the franchise for more than 15 years, and a clear Hall of Famer. Still, Hasek might have been the best goalie in NHL history during the portions of his career here in the late 1990's. He wasn't bad the rest of the time here. Hasek is the champion.