Tim Costella, Napa, Calif.
Tim Costella, Napa, Calif.
Frederik Andersen has mastered the art of stealing games, but he can't do it forever. The Leafs must play better in front of him to make the playoffs.
He’d faced more shots than all but one NHL goaltender this season. He owned a .928 save percentage over his past 30 appearances. And yet, Frederik Andersen sat alone at his dressing stall Thursday morning at the Air Canada Centre, minding his own business as reporters gathered around fresh Toronto lineup insertion Frank Corrado. Andersen quietly tended to his gear, collecting his thoughts, preparing for a game several hours later against the New York Rangers. It was a perfect portrait of a man best described as unsung in his first season starting in goal for the Maple Leafs.
This is the Year of the Kids, after all. It’s Auston Matthews’ year. It’s Mitch Marner’s year. It’s William Nylander’s year. Heck, Nikita Zaitsev, Connor Brown and Zach Hyman continue stealing headlines of their own. And Toronto boasts a few veteran success stories, too. Nazem Kadri has Selke Trophy voters circling him. James van Riemsdyk has been one of the NHL’s hotter scorers of late.
Andersen, we all know, struggled mightily in his first five games as a Leaf, posting an .851 save percentage and causing a mass panic in the headlines. But he worked out the problems with goaltending coach Steve Briere, who preached getting one’s mind off hockey when away from the rink, and Andersen realized he was forcing things, challenging shooters too much and not relying on his size.
“You want to have that belief that you know what kind of goalie you are,” Andersen said Thursday. “Luckily I had some experience in Anaheim before. I knew I could play at a high level and work through adversity like that. Me and Stevie had some things straightened out, some stuff in my game that needed to be corrected a little bit, and I got back to how I could play.”
He has indeed locked down his play since, and while pundits and social media members generally acknowledge that, it’s still unclear if Leaf Nation understands just how valuable Andersen has become to his team. At 6-foot-4 and 230 pounds, he’s more blocker than athlete, calm and efficient in his movements, meaning he’s less noticeable, not more noticeable, on his good nights. And maybe that’s why he’s overshadowed. He still doesn’t get recognized on the street all that often, even in hockey-mad Toronto.
“Sometimes, but nothing too much where you can’t go anywhere,” he said. “I can still go get a coffee, stuff like that. But you’re happy to take a second to say hi and make their day. So that’s really nothing that bothers me.”
Andersen, though, deserves as much credit as any Leaf for the team’s shocking 21-14-8 start, which puts them right in the thick of the Atlantic Division race with games in hand on almost everyone. Hockey-reference.com’s point share stat refers to how many points in the standings a player is responsible for based on his season performance. The only players owning more point shares than Andersen: Brent Burns, Devan Dubnyk, Sergei Bobrovsky and Cam Talbot. The stat naturally carries a goalie bias, but Andersen still ranks above the likes of Braden Holtby. Maybe that’s because Andersen has become a game stealer.
While the Leafs generate the third-most shots on goal per game at 32.7, they allow the fourth most at 32.8. Andersen gets pelted with rubber most nights. I created a stat: “stolen games,” which consists of performances in which a goalie makes 30 or more saves and his team wins by two goals or fewer. Andersen has accomplished that feat eight times this season. My unofficial NHL stolen games leaderboard:
STOLEN GAMES (30+ saves, win by two goals or fewer)
1. Carey Price, 9
2. Frederik Andersen, 8
3. Craig Anderson, 8
4. Sergei Bobrovsky 8
5. Cam Talbot, 8
6. Corey Crawford, 7
T-7. Devan Dubnyk, 6
T-7. Marc-Andre Fleury, 6
T-7. John Gibson, 6
T-7. Robin Lehner, 6
T-7. Roberto Luongo, 6
So only Price has stolen more games than Andersen according to the stat. But how many more times can Toronto, exciting as heck but still extremely leaky defensively, put Andersen in that position over and over and expect to challenge for a playoff spot? The New York Rangers blitzed him with 40 shots Thursday, four of which beat him. He made plenty of strong saves but couldn't withstand the onslaught.
“He’s been awesome all year, and we hung him out to dry on a few of those tonight,” said Leafs defenseman Jake Gardiner. “Definitely not going to blame him. He’s been great.”
Finding Andersen a proper backup has eluded the Leafs all season. Jhonas Enroth flopped. Curtis McElhinney is ticketed to play in back-to-backs. Coach Mike Babcock indicated before the season he intended for Andersen to start at least 60 games in 2016-17, but Andersen has already suited up for 36 of 43. That puts him on pace to flirt with 70. Felix Potvin holds the franchise’s single-season record for appearances with 74. Andersen’s career high is 54, with 53 starts. At what point might he wilt from all the work? Babcock isn’t concerned. He seemed irritated after Thursday's loss when asked about resting Andersen more in the second half of the season.
“No, not thinking of spelling him, not worried about his workload,” Babcock said.
If that’s the case, and the Leafs intend to keep trotting Andersen out there, they have to shore up their defense. They gifted the New York Rangers breakaways Thursday night, most notably on Michael Grabner’s shorthanded dagger that put the game out of reach in the third period. A playoff berth almost seems more likely than not at this point – but it will slip out of the Leafs’ hands if they keep letting Andersen’s crease become a shooting gallery.
“He’s been a stud for us,” said defenseman Roman Polak. “He’s been great all year, and because of him we’ve won lots of matches. When we play like that, it’s unacceptable. But we have to put it behind us, learn from that and keep going forward.”
Matt Larkin is a writer and editor at The Hockey News and a regular contributor to thn.com. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Matt Larkin on Twitter at @THNMattLarkin
Henrik and Daniel Sedin
Henrik Sedin is a single point away reaching the 1,000-point milestone and Daniel Sedin isn't too far behind. Points alone aren't enough to make a Hall of Famer, but for the Sedins, 1,000 points is another reason to give them the nod.
Henrik Sedin has a chance on Friday night to earn a place among some of the game’s greatest. Entering the outing against the Florida Panthers, the Canucks captain has 999 points to his name, sitting a mere point from one of the game’s biggest milestones — the 1,000-point plateau.
Given the way the past few seasons have gone in Vancouver, it’s taken a bit longer than most would have expected for Sedin to hit the 1,000-point mark, but when he finds the scoresheet for the next time, he’ll have entered into exclusive company. He’ll be the just the 85th player in the 100-year history of the league to earn 1,000 points, the fourth Swedish-born player to accomplish the feat and he’ll have done so having started his career during one of the most dreadful scoring eras the sport has ever seen.
In the months that follow Henrik’s 1,000th point, Daniel Sedin’s hunt for point No. 1,000 will begin. As it stands, he’s 33 points off the mark and there’s a fair chance he has to wait until the 2017-18 season to get there. But when he does — and when he follows Henrik as the fifth Swedish player to do so — it will be one of the toppers on what has been a Hall of Fame calibre career for both Daniel and Henrik.
There will invariably be arguments about whether the Sedins are deserving of the Hall of Fame, and part of the argument will be based in the fact the game isn’t purely about scoring alone. More than a dozen eligible players with 1,000-plus points aren’t in the Hall of Fame, which is proof positive that reaching the milestone isn’t all that makes a Hall of Famer.
There will also be those who aren’t sold on the Sedins given they don’t have a Stanley Cup to their name. Unfortunately, it seems those detractors who value Stanley Cups will never be silenced, as the Sedins are likely to end their careers without hoisting the Cup barring a move out of Vancouver. That doesn’t seem all that likely at this stage of their career. No Stanley Cup may be the lone lasting blemish on their careers, though, given they’ve won at nearly every level, including Olympic gold.
And while the sport’s greatest prize may elude them and it’s undeniable that points alone can’t earn a player their place in the Hall, it can’t be argued that when the Sedins were at the height of their Sedinery, they were near unstoppable. Sure, they were never the biggest stars or the faces of the game in a sport where Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby reigned supreme, but for a two-year period, it was hard to argue against the Sedins being the best the league had to offer.
When it comes to Henrik, 2009-10 was his peak. At 29, Henrik was right near the tail end of the prime of his career and part of a Canucks team that looked primed to make some noise in the post-season. He potted a career-best 29 goals and 112 points, but what made the dynamite season that much more special was Henrik proving he could keep up his scoring touch without Daniel, who fell injured and missed nearly 20 games. Henrik continued to score even with Daniel out of the lineup, and by season’s end, Henrik had captured the Art Ross Trophy, beating out both Crosby and Ovechkin, while also taking home the Hart Trophy as the league MVP.
Lest one have an advantage over the other, the following year it was Daniel’s turn to pace the league. The 2010-11 campaign was another remarkable one for the Canucks, and Daniel’s 41 goals and 104 points were enough to earn him both the Art Ross and what was still then known as the Lester B. Pearson Award as league MVP, as voted by the players.
It was a two-season window of Sedin dominance, but what more telling quality is there for greatness than being literally the best player in the league over the course of an entire season? As far as the Hall of Fame is concerned, there really isn’t one.
Mike Liut and former Canuck Markus Naslund are the only two players in league history to have won the Pearson, now named the Ted Lindsay Award, and not earn themselves a spot in the Hall of Fame, but neither Liut nor Naslund have the additional credentials or milestones. Three players who have won the Hart aren’t in the Hall of Fame, but the only post-expansion player to win the trophy without a nod to the Hall is Jose Theodore. What really seals the deal, though, is the Art Ross. The trophy has been handed out since the 1947-48 season, and over the nearly 70-year history of the award, there is not a single player to have taken it home and not earn themselves a place in the Hall of Fame.
The Sedins will likely never capture Stanley Cups even if they are traded. In today’s environment, a team that has the cap space to acquire the two veterans likely wouldn’t have many other stars around for the near-40-year-old twins to move the needle. They’ll also likely never find themselves among the league’s top 25 in scoring, or maybe even top 50, again, and the next few years of their career might be spent as complimentary pieces on a rebuilding squad.
But what they’ve done both as a duo and as individuals in the years leading up to such a grand milestone have made them surefire Hall of Famers. The 1,000th point will stand as just another check on the list.
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The breakaway challenge is gone, replaced by a long-distance target shooting competition. But wouldn't it be more fun if the players used their shots to break stuff?
The NHL All-Star festivities are fast upon us and there will be change again this year. Gone is the breakaway challenge, which, let's face it, ran the gamut from uplifting to supremely awkward. You could see the pained expressions on some of the players who took part and it's fine to blame humble hockey culture as the problem, but it was never going to be the NBA's slam dunk contest anyway.
The new event this year in Los Angeles will be a the four-line challenge, which invites players to hit targets from the blue line, center ice, the far blue line and the far goal line. Goalies can take shots from the far goal line too, in search of extra points.
This sounds OK to me, particularly if the players are winging the pucks at the target (imagine someone taking a slapshot from center ice and hitting a bullseye?), but I actually had another idea the other day, which I humbly present to you, the fan.
Let the players break stuff.
"it was really fun," Matthews said. "You don't get an opportunity to do that all the time. It was a blast – we were shooting at veggie trays and chocolate fondue and cameras."
For me, the random objects are fun, but what I'd really like as an event is for the divisional all-stars to have a competition in which they see who can do the most damage to a car, just by shooting pucks at it. Yes, Gen Xers, I am proposing that the NHL adapt the bonus level from Street Fighter II:
Now, I don't expect the competitors (two guys per team, shooting at the same time) to actually take apart the car like our good friend Ryu, but I bet they could do some pretty good damage in, let's say, one minute of shooting. Obviously you'd have tarps on the ice to catch any broken glass and obviously it would be an old car with no fluids in it (we don't want it to blow up…or do we?). And hey, we can even toss in a charitable element – like whichever teams wins, they get to donate 10 new cars to the cause of their choice. Admit it: you're a little curious about what Shea Weber or Dustin Byfuglien could do to an old Volkswagen Jetta.
Because most Toronto writers flocked to Frankie Corrado this morning (#FreeFrankie), I wasted a minute of Matthews' time by asking him what he thought of my All-Star car smash challenge. Would it be fun for players?
"I guess so, I don't know," he said with a laugh. "I hit my car a few times growing up – my parents weren't too happy about it – but I guess if it was a car no one cared about, it would be fun to do some damage to it."
Sounds like a resounding "yes" to me. And if the NHL needs a judge for a damage panel? I'm willing to volunteer.
The Jets have done a lot of things well since moving back to Winnipeg. Drafting and developing goalies has not been one of them.
When it comes to their goaltending, the Winnipeg Jets remind me a lot of the clueless prospect with the wicked slapshot. It’s great that he has a bomb from the blueline, but he has a lot of deficiencies in his game that are keeping him from getting better. So what does he do? He continues to work on his slapshot at the expense of the areas of his game that really need work.
In a desperation move that worked, at least in the short term, the Jets recalled veteran Ondrej Pavelec from the minors for their game against the Arizona Coyotes last night. After allowing a bad goal on the very first shot he faced, Pavelec stopped 30 of the next 32 he faced – including a candidate for save of the year - and helped deliver a much-needed victory to his team. Jets coach Paul Maurice hinted strongly that Pavelec had earned the start Saturday afternoon when the Jets host the St. Louis Blues.
And who knows what will happen? Perhaps the Jets will ride a rejuvenated Pavelec down the stretch after picking him up off the scrap heap, and into the playoffs the way the Minnesota Wild did with Devan Dubnyk two years ago. That move was every bit as desperate as the one the Jets made in turning to Pavelec. Dubnyk has emerged as a contender for the Vezina Trophy this year, proving that goalies can get back to the top of their game after hitting rock bottom. Mike Smith did the same thing. There is no shortage of examples.
But the deeper issue here is the Jets and how they’ve handled their goaltending. And that’s where the clueless prospect comparison comes into play. Since moving to Winnipeg from Atlanta five years ago, the Jets have done a ton of good things. They’ve drafted and developed skaters very, very well and have a roster that should allow them to compete on most nights. GM Kevin Cheveldayoff has not been afraid to make significant deals, he re-signed Dustin Byfuglien long-term when conventional thinking had him out of town on the first luxury jet and he stared down defenseman Jacob Trouba when he demanded a trade. The Jets have a terrific group of young players and prospects as well.
Yeah, but that goaltending, though. According to corsica.hockey, the Jets have had a save percentage of .905 since 2011-12, which is better only than the Calgary Flames, New York Islanders and Edmonton Oilers. In that time, they’re the fifth-worst team in the NHL in goals-against per 60 minutes, despite the fact that they’re a very respectable 11th-best in the league in scoring chances against per 60 minutes.
And all the while, it seems that Cheveldayoff and the Jets have been whistling through the graveyard, not worrying too much or addressing the root problem. Since moving the Winnipeg, the Jets have used a total of six goaltenders in five-plus seasons – Pavelec, Michael Hutchinson, Al Montoya, Connor Hellebuyck, Chris Mason and Peter Mannino. That’s not very many, which would be a good thing if the Jets were at or near the top of the goaltending statistics. But they aren’t. And with the exception of 2015-15, the only season they’ve made the playoffs since moving to Winnipeg, they haven’t been.
In Cheveldayoff’s time, the Jets have drafted five goalies – Hellebuyck, Eric Comrie, Jamie Phillips, Jason Kasdorf and Mikhail Berdin. Not one of them was chosen with a pick higher than 59th overall. In addition, he has traded for only two goalies, dealing for the negotiating rights to Jonas Gustavsson before he signed as a free agent with the Detroit Red Wings, and dealing for Peter Budaj, who was left in the minors and never played a game for the Jets. His only free agent signing was Hutchinson.
Those are not the moves of an organization that is being proactive about its goaltending, either in the immediate future or the long-term. And when you ignore that aspect of your game, both from a drafting and developing standpoint, it’s bound to suffer and show up in the results. Back in our annual Future Watch edition in 2015, we at THN boldly predicted that based on their prospect crop, the Jets would win the Stanley Cup in 2019.
We're going to have to amend that because unless they do something bold to address their goaltending, the Jets can forget about winning the Cup. They’re going to continue to struggle to make the playoffs.