Tammy Sides, Cypress, Calif.
Tammy Sides, Cypress, Calif.
Jonathan Toews. Image by: Getty Images
The Blackhawks captain may look like he’s merely shaken off a big slump. But the underlying numbers suggest he’s emerged as a different player – more offense, less defense.
The three-goal, five-point night wasn’t the match that ignited Jonathan Toews’ season. It was a squirt of gasoline on an already-raging fire. Toews got piping hot over the past two months, and Tuesday was the boiling point.
The Chicago Blackhawks captain started 2016-17 posting the worst offensive numbers of his career. Even as his regular right winger Marian Hossa enjoyed a resurgent offensive campaign, Toews just couldn’t find the net. He sat at four goals and 12 points after 22 games. Plenty of fans and pundits scoffed on social media at his All-Star Game invite over teammate Artemi Panarin.
Typically, we’ve accepted that Toews trades a bit of offense to be an elite two-way pivot. He’s shown the highlight-reel hands to be an 80-point player – just look at his immortalized shootout performance for Canada at the 2007 World Junior Championship – but he’s let Patrick Kane be the scoring star and sacrificed some scoring to play a shutdown role. Still, even by Toews’ Selke Trophy-winning standard, his offense was pitiful through mid-December. He sat at 0.60 points per game and had never finished a season below 0.73.
Even more concerning: Toews wasn’t performing as well as advertised from a defensive standpoint, either. Per corsica.hockey, Toews rates as one of the NHL’s very best possession players since stats like Corsi and Fenwick were born. Among NHL forwards with 1,000 or more minutes played since his rookie campaign of 2007-08, Toews ranks 16th in 5-on-5 Corsi at 55.8 percent. That includes a Corsi For of 61.48 and a Corsi against of 48.68, representing a player equally adept at driving shot attempts for his team and preventing shot attempts against his team.
Toews, though, slipped to a 5-on-5 Corsi of 51.38 percent in that lackluster 22-game sample to start 2016-17, with a Corsi For per 60 of 58.51 and a Corsi Against of 55.37. Teams were having a much easier time than normal getting attempts on Chicago’s net with Toews on the ice.
But the possession stats did show a player still creating a lot of offensive action for his team, and he was scoring on just 7.3 percent of his attempts, so a positive regression was coming. Since that juncture at Game 22, Toews has ignited for 30 points in his past 29 games, including a whopping 20 in his past 12, sprinkled with four- and five-point performances. He’s doing it primarily playing with Richard Panik and rookie Nick Schmaltz, so it’s not like another star scorer is carrying Toews. He’s scoring on 12.6 percent of his shots during his hot streak, still below his career average of 14.7, so we could see this goal-scoring run continue for a while.
The most interesting change for Toews comes in his possession numbers since the 29-game binge started. Defensively, he’s actually been worse, coughing up a Corsi Against per 60 of 57.2, but he’s sizzling with a Corsi For per 60 of 64.54. Per stats.hockeyanalysis.com, Toews faced the toughest quality of competition of any NHL forward with at least 500 minutes played last season, as Toews’ opponents averaged a 5-on-5 Corsi of 50.8. This season, his opponents average 50.2, ranking him 124th among forwards in quality of opponents. So he’s facing weaker competition yet still faring worse defensively.
What, then, are we witnessing? This isn’t The Old Jonathan Toews making a triumphant return. The possession numbers suggest he’s instead reversed his career trend and sacrificed some defense for a major spike in offense. He’s still not bad defensively, as his relative Corsi Against per 60 is still among the better figures on the Hawks, suggesting the team as a whole has regressed defensively this season, not just Toews. But he’s currently not the smothering defensive player he’s reputed to be. His offense, meanwhile, is right up there with Artemi Panarin for the team’s best on the year if we judge it by Corsi For per 60 relative to teammates.
Interestingly, with Toews filling the net, the Hawks have won 14 of their past 20 games and seven of their past eight. Unlocking Toews’ scoring seems to correlate directly with Chicago re-emerging as a dangerous Western Conference contender.
Meanwhile, the first-place Minnesota Wild have dropped their past two meetings with the Hawks, including Tuesday’s. The Wild still own a five-point lead in the Central Division with a game in hand, but would anyone put it past the Blackhawks to stay hot and steal the division crown and home ice advantage for the playoffs? If that happens, watch out. Toews has not returned as a powerhouse two-way forward yet, but he has emerged as a new beast altogether, albeit in a small sample size. It’s tough to say if the Hawks are a better or worse team with Toews no longer playing great shutdown hockey, but so far, so good.
Rookies William Nylander, Auston Matthews, and Nikita Zaitsev.
The Maple Leafs suddenly have as much as $15 million to work with at the trade deadline which they could use to make a big deal; Avalanche stars could stay put.
The rebuilding Toronto Maple Leafs are among this season's most-improved clubs. After finishing at the bottom of the standings last season, the Leafs are jockeying for a post-season berth in the Eastern Conference.
Despite this improvement, the Leafs still have some roster weaknesses to address. Their most-pressing need is a skilled puck-moving defenseman. With the playoffs in sight, perhaps the Leafs could address that need by the trade deadline.
That possibility increased when Sportsnet's Chris Johnston last week reported the Leafs quietly placed injured players Nathan Horton, Joffrey Lupul and Stephane Robidas on long-term injured reserve. The moves give the Leafs flexibility in the form of an additional $15 million in salary-cap space.
With that kind of space, the Leafs have room to pursue a big-name player at the trade deadline. They've been linked in recent weeks to St. Louis Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk. Despite the Blues' recent resurgence, TSN's Darren Dreger claims the 28-year-old Shattenkirk remains in play.
The asking price for Shattenkirk is thought to be at least a first-round pick and a top prospect. While the Leafs have the depth to meet that return, they could be unwilling to do so unless Shattenkirk, who's eligible in July for unrestricted free agency, is willing to sign a long-term extension.
If Shattenkirk proves too costly for the Leafs, more affordable options include Buffalo Sabres defenseman Dmitry Kulikov and New Jersey Devils rearguard Kyle Quincey. If they want additional depth at forward, Johnston suggests Tampa Bay Lightning left winger Brian Boyle, Dallas Stars right winger Patrick Sharp or Arizona Coyotes center Martin Hanzal.
DUCHENE, LANDESKOG COULD STAY PUT IN COLORADO AFTER DEADLINE
The Colorado Avalanche reportedly continue to entertain offers for Matt Duchene and Gabriel Landeskog. While the notion of one or both moving before the March 1 trade deadline provides a much-needed spark to the trade-rumor mill, they could still be with the Avalanche when the deadline passes.
It's not as though there isn't any interest in the pair. For several weeks, the 26-year-old Duchene was linked to the Montreal Canadiens. Reports out of Boston earlier this month suggested the Bruins could make a push for the 24-year-old Landeskog. The Ottawa Sun's Bruce Garrioch reports there's talk the Senators kicked tires on both players.
As always, the issue is the asking price. It's believed the Avs seek a good young defenseman, a first-round pick and a top prospect for either guy.
In a recent mailbag segment, CSNNE.com's Joe Haggerty said the Bruins shouldn't give up a promising young blueliner such as Brandon Carlo or Charlie McAvoy for Landeskog. TSN's Bob McKenzie reports Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin has no intention of sacrificing his future. His colleague Pierre LeBrun believes the Sens interest in Duchene is pretty much dead unless the asking price is reduced.
LeBrun suggests the Carolina Hurricanes possess considerable depth in young blueliners and need a scoring center. However, he's not convinced Hurricanes GM Ron Francis will pony up for Duchene. LeBrun suggests Francis try to tempt the Toronto Maple Leafs into parting with William Nylander.
Avalanche GM Joe Sakic apparently isn't under pressure to move Duchene or Landeskog before the deadline. It's expected he'll wait for the off-season, when general managers usually have more salary-cap room and a willingness to deal.
FLAMES COULD LOOK AT GOALIES AGAIN
Prior to the 2016 NHL draft, the Calgary Flames created a stir when it was reported they contacted the Pittsburgh Penguins about goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury. The discussion apparently ended when the Pens asked for the Flames first-round pick (sixth overall). Calgary used that pick to select left winger Matthew Tkachuk.
The Flames eventually acquired Brian Elliott from the St. Louis Blues, but he's failed to play up to expectations as a starting goaltender. With Chad Johnson also struggling of late, Sportsnet's Nick Kypreos reports the Flames could revisit their interest in the 32-year-old Fleury, who's lost his starter's job to rookie Matt Murray.
Earlier this month, Penguins GM Jim Rutherford said he's open to dealing Fleury but prefers retaining him as insurance for the playoffs. Unless Fleury, who carries a modified no-trade clause, asks to be dealt, he could finish the season in Pittsburgh.
The Flames also nearly had a deal in place last June to acquire Ben Bishop from the Tampa Bay Lightning. If they can't pry Fleury out of Pittsburgh, maybe they can once again look into the 30-year-old Bishop's trade status.
Bishop's an unrestricted free agent this summer and isn't expected to be re-signed. If the Lightning put Bishop on the block, they could seek a young defenseman in return. It's doubtful, however, the Flames meet that price unless they get assurances that Bishop will re-sign with them.
Rumor Roundup appears regularly only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Eishockey News and The Guardian (P.E.I.).
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Patrik Laine set the Winnipeg Jets franchise rookie record with 30 goals, surpassing…Ilya Kovalchuk? It’s time to get used to referencing the Thrashers when it comes to present-day Jets history.
When Patrik Laine blasted home his second goal in Tuesday night’s game against the Toronto Maple Leafs, his 30th tally of the season, he set the Winnipeg Jets’ rookie goal scoring record. It takes a split second to realize how, though, because the rookie goal scoring record — not just for the team, but for the league — belongs to Teemu Selanne, who scored 76 goals during his high-flying Winnipeg Jets days. And while it may lead to some confusion down the road, the 18-year-old winger was able to set the franchise mark because Selanne’s Jets aren’t Laine’s Jets.
Most know that to be true, yes, but it’s worth repeating when something monumental, like Laine breaking the franchise rookie goal record, happens. The ‘Finnish Flash’ set his record and scored his points as a member of what is now the Arizona Coyotes franchise, even if that history isn’t celebrated the same around those parts as it is 3,000 kilometres north. As for Laine, he set his franchise’s mark by blasting his way past the previous high of 29 set by Ilya Kovalchuk in 2001-02. It’s a record that’s almost a decade younger and not even close to as hard to surpass, but the record nevertheless.
Even knowing full well that’s the case, it’s still a somewhat jarring fact. Hearing Laine take the franchise rookie record by snapping the mark set by Kovalchuk sounds bizarre. It takes a moment to realize these are the Jets related to Kovalchuk, Marian Hossa, Kari Lehtonen and, to a much lesser extent, Patrik Stefan. This isn’t the same franchise that was led by Selanne, Dale Hawerchuk, Teppo Numminen and Nikolai Khabibulin. It’s not the one that came over from the WHA during the Avco Cup-winning era, and it’s not the same franchise that signed Bobby Hull.
Separating the old Jets from the new Jets isn’t something that happens much, especially not in Winnipeg where the franchise’s outdoor game features an alumni team filled with what are technically former Coyotes. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course, as the former players who were part of Winnipeg’s original NHL run mean more to the city and its fans than the former Thrashers players. Bringing them back is to celebrate the city’s hockey history, not necessarily that of the current franchise that calls Manitoba’s capital home. The fact of the matter, though, is the original Jets alumni has very little to do with what are franchise records for the present-day Jets, and that’s something we have to get used to.
However, as the years go by, it stands to reason that the new Jets, or Jets 2.0, will take over the current franchise record book and erase many of the marks held by former Thrashers. Already, that process has started. Ondrej Pavelec, for instance, is the franchise’s all-time wins leader. Though he started his career in Atlanta, all but 41 of his 152 wins came in Winnipeg. Chris Thorburn also holds the franchise’s games played record, but more than half of his 691 games have come as a Jet, not a Thrasher.
Those two are only a couple on a long list of franchise records held by former Thrashers that have been or stand to be surpassed by present-day Jets. Here are five major marks still held by former Thrashers players — and players most will recognize as Thrashers — that stand to be overtaken by current Jets:
Points by a rookie: Dany Heatley, 67 points, 2001-02
While Kovalchuk was sniping his way to the now-former franchise mark of 29 goals by a rookie, Heatley was doing his best to keep pace — he finished with 26 goals — and managed to set the team’s rookie scoring mark along the way. Appearing in all 82 games that season, he added 41 assists to his goal total for a combined 67 points and he’s held onto the rookie mark since then. There’s a good chance Kovalchuk could have matched or tied Heatley’s mark had the Russian winger been able to play the full season, but he missed 17 games and finished with 51 points.
And that Kovalchuk finished with 51 points means that Laine is already three points ahead for second-place in franchise history. Next up will be breaking Heatley’s record, and Laine’s current points pace suggests that shouldn’t be a problem. After Tuesday night’s performance, Laine is on pace for 40 goals and 72 points. And if he doesn’t miss another game, he’ll have only played 74 this season.
The split history version, wherein the old Jets franchise mark is adopted by the new Jets, is 132 points. Selanne really wasn’t taking any prisoners during his rookie season.
Points in a season: Marian Hossa, 100 points, 2006-07
At his current age, most think of Hossa as that incredibly talented two-way winger who keeps chugging along for the Chicago Blackhawks. Before he turned into the savvy veteran he is now, though, Hossa was one of the best scorers in the entire league. No season was that quite as apparent as the 2006-07 campaign when Hossa blasted home 43 goals and 100 points while playing alongside Kovalchuk during the height of his powers with the Thrashers.
Hossa’s record is one of those that is going to stick around for a while, too. Here’s the full list of players to score 100-plus points in a season over the past three full campaigns: Patrick Kane and Sidney Crosby. That’s it. The current Jets have some players with the potential to set the new mark, however. Mark Scheifele is proving with each passing game that he’s a top scorer in the league, Blake Wheeler neared the 80-point mark in 2015-16 and Nikolaj Ehlers has all the tools to do it. None of this is to mention Laine, who could be a real threat for a 50-goal season soon.
As for the Jets-Coyotes record, Selanne’s 132-point season was the best mark ever put forth by a member of the former Jets. Expect to have the same conversation about this record as we’re having today about Laine snapping Kovalchuk’s mark.
All-time points: Ilya Kovalchuk, 615 points, 2001-2010
This is worth tackling in a couple of parts. Let’s start with the goals, of which Kovalchuk had 328 during his time as a Thrasher. The only current Jet close to that mark is Bryan Little, who has played the majority of his career in Winnipeg after being drafted while the franchise was in Atlanta. Little’s contract is up following next season, however, so there’s a chance he’s not around to set the record. Realistically, Wheeler or Scheifele currently stand the best chance of reaching the 328 mark first, with Laine as the obvious favorite at this point to eventually hold the mark.
Kovalchuk also holds the record for assists, though, with 287. However, Toby Enstrom, who’s played the bulk of his games as a Jet, has a chance to take the mark. He’s 38 back with 249 assists for his career, and a good close to the season plus a productive 2017-18 could have him surpassing Kovalchuk’s mark.
The toughest one overall, though, will be the total points. The closest current Jet is Little, and he’s 199 points behind Kovalchuk. Wheeler is 236 back, Dustin Byfuglien is 288 away from the mark and Scheifele is a whopping 408. Who gets there first? Well, three 70-point campaigns gets Wheeler there, and as the Jets’ captain, he could very well be set to stick around for longer than the two years he has left on his deal once this season closes.
Dale Hawerchuk holds the original Jets records for goals (379) and points (929), but it’s Thomas Steen who possesses the all-time assists mark with 553. Shane Doan, who started his career as a Jet, holds the franchise’s all-time record in every major scoring category with 401 goals, 564 assists and 965 points.
Single seasons wins by a goaltender: Kari Lehtonen, 34, 2006-07
The way things have gone between the pipes for the Jets this season has some feeling like Lehtonen’s record might take forever to fall, but rest-assured that at some point he’s going to have his 34-win total surpassed by someone suiting up for Winnipeg. It’s actually been close to happening in the years since the team moved to Manitoba, too. During the 2011-12 season, Pavelec turned in 29 wins, and Pavelec holds three of the five winningest seasons by a goaltender in franchise history.
The thing is, though, that Lehtonen wasn’t all that good during his record-setting season, and Pavelec wasn’t either in his pursuit of the record. Lehtonen had a .912 save percentage and 2.79 goals-against average, which was better than Pavelec’s .906 and 2.91 marks.
Even through his tough season, Connor Hellebuyck remains the hope for the future in goal, and if he can right the ship come next season with a more experienced Jets team that is, once again, looking to take a step into the post-season, putting up a 30-plus win season shouldn’t be too tall of a task. And if he really hits his stride, don’t look past the possibility he turns in a stellar 35-win season.
In doing so, Hellebuyck — or whoever surpasses Lehtonen’s record — also stands to set the all-time mark for Winnipeg’s NHL clubs. Bob Essensa’s 33 wins in 1992-93 was the franchise record when the Jets moved to Phoenix. Overall, it’s Ilya Bryzgalov who holds the original Jets’ franchise record with 130 wins.
All-time coaching wins: Bob Hartley, 136, 2003-2007
Hartley was less than three seasons removed from a Stanley Cup championship with the Colorado Avalanche when he landed with the Thrashers. The situation wasn’t all that dissimilar to what happened with Claude Julien, actually. Let go by the Avalanche in December 2002, Hartley was hired by the Thrashers a month later and led the team to a 19-14-5-1 record to end the season and ended his tenure with a 136-118-13-24 record. It was his 0-6-0 start to the 2007-08 season that resulted in his firing.
Hartley’s record isn’t set to stand for much longer, however. Paul Maurice is currently 12 wins back of surpassing Hartley for the franchise mark. With the rest of this season and what is currently slated to be the entirety of the 2017-18 campaign remaining, Maurice should easily be able to take the record barring an unforeseen firing. No other coach in franchise history has surpassed the 80-win mark.
The best output from any coach for the former Winnipeg franchise was 106 wins, accomplished by John Paddock. In overall Jets-Coyotes franchise history, Dave Tippett stands atop the list with 273 wins in nearly 600 games behind the bench.
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Evander Kane has been on fire of late and he could interest teams looking to add another scoring threat by the deadline. But trading him now might not be the best move for the Sabres.
The Sabres find themselves in an interesting position as the trade deadline approaches. With 60 games played, Buffalo is four points out of a playoff spot, but, according to THN’s playoff predictions, the Sabres have about a six percent shot at actually making it to the post-season. Stranger things have happened, but with the deadline eight days away, the Sabres have to decide whether they want to buy, sell or stand pat.
The most realistic scenario sees Buffalo GM Tim Murray take stock of what he currently has on his roster and decide how he can make his team better in the future by selling at the deadline. That’s to say Murray should be focused on shipping out expiring contracts or assets deemed non-essential to the future of the club and building for next season. This Sabres team isn’t ready to compete for a Stanley Cup — at least not yet — so no use going all-in at the expense of the rebuild.
That means players such as Dmitry Kulikov, Cody Franson and Derek Grant could very well be trade chips come March 1. All have expiring contacts and serve to be potential rental pieces as the post-season approaches. Captain Brian Gionta could also be added to that list, but he’s reportedly told the team he would prefer to stick around. The most interesting name on the roster, however, isn’t a rental in the traditional sense. That said, Evander Kane, with one year remaining on his deal after this season, could start to draw increased interest due to his recent performance.
Kane has had the Midas touch of late, especially over his past eight games. He’s scored seven goals over that span, all of which have come at even strength. It hasn’t just been this eight-game run, however. His scoring has picked up significantly as the season has progressed. In the past month, for instance, Kane is a point per game player with nine goals and 13 points in 13 games. Since the start of January, Kane has 13 goals and 19 points in 23 outings. Once on pace to finish the year with roughly than 20 goals and 35 points, Kane is now looking to near the 30-goal, 50-point mark for the first time since the 2011-12 season, which was his third in the league.
There’s also the matter of Kane contributing alongside a pair of youngsters, Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart. The trio has produced a combined 15 goals and 37 points over the past four weeks. And Kane has also continued to show he can log and be effective in big minutes, as his place as one of Dan Bylsma’s favorite forwards hasn’t changed, either. Kane has averaged upwards of 19 minutes per game over the past month, third behind Eichel and Ryan O’Reilly, and Kane ranks fourth in average ice time among all Sabres forwards over the course of the season.
Really, for the first time since he was acquired in a blockbuster, eight-player deal in February 2015, Kane is providing what the Sabres wanted out of him and hoped they would get. And that’s exactly the reason why some teams who may have been scared off pursuing the winger earlier in the year might circle back around and check in with Murray now.
However, despite the early season rumbles that Kane was on the block, it seems Murray has stepped back from sell mode. In interviews with WGR 550, both TSN’s Darren Dreger and ESPN’s Craig Custance reported that Kane’s name is out there in trade speculation, but that a deal is only really there to be made if the package is such that Murray can’t really turn it down. And despite all the off-ice happenings, from legal difficulties to the scratch due to oversleeping, that have made some Sabres fans want to see Kane shipped out, Murray would be right to hang on to the 25-year-old if it means potentially landing a better return in one year’s time.
Think of it this way: if Kane’s production over the past two months carries over into the 2017-18 campaign, he could be a near 30-goal scorer and 50-plus point producer by the time next season’s deadline rolls around. Not only does having Kane playing at such a high level stand to benefit the Sabres in their pursuit of a playoff berth. Given his big minutes, ability to break a game open with his speed and shot and fit alongside Eichel and Reinhart, he’s a weapon the Sabres could use. But then, come the deadline, it would be time for the Sabres to start listening to offers.
As next season winds down, so does Kane’s contract. At that point, he’s a true rental and the number of teams willing to pay up for him might increase as they’d be free of the contract if they so choose come the 2018-19 campaign. And it is quite the contract. Kane’s cap hit is $5.25 million for both this season and next, meaning any team competitive enough to want to land him might want the Sabres to take back some salary in the deal. Retaining salary on Kane this year means less money to spend in the off-season for Buffalo. That’s not an issue come next deadline, however, with the deal expiring only months after any potential trade.
Not only that, but trading Kane next year, regardless of what position the Sabres are in, stands to help the team recoup some of the assets that were lost in acquiring him. It would also be worthwhile because, at this point, the likelihood Kane remains in Buffalo beyond next season seems slim. Again, despite the off-ice issues that have plagued him in the past few years, Kane will have his share of suitors and he’ll be free to go to any of the clubs willing to pony up the cash.
It only makes sense then that Murray should be playing the long game with Kane and eying up next deadline, or close to it, as the time to ship the winger out. While there are no doubt other factors at play come next season, that Kane has seemingly started to hit his offensive stride seems to bode well for the chances of a repeat performance. And if he’s flirting with 30 goals come the next deadline, he stands to be one of the hottest assets available for next season’s playoff push.
(Ed. Note: Cody McCormick was listed as a free agent-to-be. McCormick was forced to retire due to blood clots last season.)
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