“In Columbus you played for your city, your fans and your organization, but there’s definite excitement playing in these games. I wanted to come here to play in games that mean a lot.”
- Rick Nash of the New York Rangers.
“In Columbus you played for your city, your fans and your organization, but there’s definite excitement playing in these games. I wanted to come here to play in games that mean a lot.”
- Rick Nash of the New York Rangers.
Ryan Kesler. Image by: Michael Martin/Getty Images
The usual suspects -- Bergeron, Kopitar, and Toews -- appear to be out of the discussion for the Selke Trophy. Here are five names that seem to have the best chance at stepping in.
When it comes to handing out hardware at the NHL Awards, the Selke hasn't been all that tough to figure out in recent seasons. For the last five years, the same three players have dominated the voting. Patrice Bergeron, Anze Kopitar and Jonathan Toews have accounted for all five wins, as well as eleven of the fifteen finalist spots.
But this year is shaping up like it could be different, with all three players slumping offensively. Maybe that shouldn't matter, since the Selke is supposed to be a defensive award. But over the years, it's morphed into a trophy that recognizes two-way play, which means you need to be scoring to get much consideration. If you pro-rate the lockout year, nobody has won the Selke with fewer than 55 points in the salary cap era. None of the Big Three are on pace to get there this year.
With half a season left to play, that could still change. And it's always possible that in the absence of a slam dunk candidate emerging somewhere else, voters could opt to play it safe and go back to one of the old familiars. But for the first time in years, the Selke really does seem up for grabs.
So who has a shot? Assuming that Bergeron, Toews or Kopitar don't take the trophy home this time, here are the five names that seem to have the best chance at stepping in.
Ryan Kesler, Ducks
The case for: The veteran is having his best season since 2011, and is on pace for about 65 points while playing tough minutes for a first-place Ducks team. His advanced stats won't blow anyone away, but they're good enough that the analytics guys shouldn't push back too hard, and everyone loves a good comeback narrative.
The case against: While it wouldn't be held against him by voters, Kesler doesn't really fit our "new blood" theme; he was the last player to win the award before the Bergeron/Toews/Kopitar trinity took over, and he finished third in the voting last year.
More importantly, there's at least an argument to be made that linemate Andrew Cogliano deserves the award, too. If that line of thinking catches on, the two could end up splitting votes and knocking each other out of the running.
Mikko Koivu, Wild
The case for: While it's meant as a single-season award, voters tend to like to treat the Selke as more of a career achievement; it's rare for somebody to win the award without having built up a resume over the years. That works in Koivu's favor, as he's been considered a strong defensive forward for a decade now, finishing as high as fourth in the Selke voting back in 2009. He hasn't come especially close since, but he's had votes every year.
New coach Bruce Boudreau has leaned heavily on Koivu in the defensive zone, and his ability to handle the duties has been a big part of Minnesota's unexpected success. With the Wild emerging as one of the one of the year's best surprises, voters will be paying attention.
The case against: Koivu's all-around numbers are good but not great, and he's benefitting from a sky-high on-ice save percentage and PDO that's unlikely to continue. With Devan Dubnyk looking like the Vezina favorite and Boudreau having a shot at the Jack Adams, voters might figure that their ballots are already getting crowded with Wild names.
Mikael Backlund, Flames
The case for: Backlund seems to have emerged as a trendy dark horse pick in recent weeks. It's well-deserved: his numbers are excellent, and he's posting them in tough minutes for a young Flames team that asks a lot of him. His offensive numbers aren't jaw-dropping, but he's leading the team in scoring, and that should be enough to satisfy those "two-way" demands if he can keep it up.
The case against: While Backlund's been an underrated defensive player for a while now, he's never received a Selke vote. Again, you can argue that that shouldn't matter, but history has shown that it does. That could make it tough for him to get enough votes to win outright.
Aleksander Barkov, Panthers
The case for: At 21, Barkov would fit the new blood narrative perfectly. And he's already on voters' radars after finishing sixth in last year's balloting. He checks most of the boxes that voters tend to look for, posting solid offensive stats and strong possession numbers. And in a season where the biggest story has been the emergence of the next generation of star players, you could see the voters turning to one of the best young two-way forwards in the game.
The case against: Barkov is hurt right now and has already missed two weeks, so if he's not back soon he probably falls out of the running. He's also been playing a more offensive role this year under new coach Tom Rowe, which may be good for the Panthers, but probably not for his Selke chances. And given how things are turning out in Florida this year, voters may not be interested in having many Panther names on their ballot.
Nicklas Backstrom, Capitals
The case for: If building up enough support to win the award is a long-term process, this could be your guy. Backstrom generated plenty of Selke buzz last year, but finished just outside the top ten for the second straight year. It helps that he's putting up the sort of big offensive number that voters like to see. And after years of largely playing in Alex Ovechkin's shadow, he seems to be settling in as one of those guys that everyone in the hockey world decides has been underrated for too long. What better way to make it up to him than with some awards ballot love?
The case against: In terms of pure numbers, you could make a good case that Backstrom's defensive game was better last year than it is now. That won't necessarily hurt him with voters who feel like he's finally due, but it could keep him from getting the kind of widespread groundswell of support that would help push him past a strong candidate like Kesler.
Honorable mentions (and why they won't win):
- Brad Marchand (Bruins): He's getting some buzz, and has earned votes in the past. But has he really become a better option than Bergeron right now? And if not, how can you win the Selke when you're not the best defensive forward on your own team?
- Nazem Kadri (Maple Leafs): He's a relatively new candidate who'll face the same uphill climb as Backlund, with the added disadvantage that plenty of people don't seem to like him.
- Sidney Crosby (Penguins): He's been underrated in his own end for years, and you could see him getting some consolation ballots if voters decided to break for Connor McDavid for the Hart. But right now, the Crosby focus is still on the MVP race.
- Joe Thornton (Sharks): He gets votes every year and finally had his first top five finish last season, so the timing seems right. But his offensive numbers are down this year.
- Ryan O'Reilly (Sabres): He's been in the mix before. But the Sabres' disappointing season may doom him; there's never been a first-time Selke winner from a team that didn't make the playoffs.
- Jordan Staal (Hurricanes): He'd face the same hurdle as O'Reilly if the Hurricanes miss the playoffs, although these days that seem less and less likely. He may have the best case of anyone in this section.
Sean McIndoe has been writing about the NHL since 2008, most recently for ESPN and Grantland. He spends most of his time making jokes on twitter, where you may know him as @downgoesbrown. He appears weekly on TheHockeyNews.com.
John Tortorella became the first American-born coach to reach the 500-win mark, but Peter Laviolette managed the feat in fewer games and the numbers point to him being the best American NHL coach of all-time.
John Tortorella is used to making headlines, but when he did so as the first American-born coach to win 500 games in NHL history, it was reason to consider Tortorella among the greatest American-born big league coaches of all time. He has the Stanley Cup, the Jack Adams Award, the milestone 500th win and he’s climbing the all-time wins list with each passing victory.
But it’s hard to argue that Tortorella is the greatest American coach the NHL has seen with Peter Laviolette hot on his heels.
On Sunday, Laviolette did what Tortorella had done one month earlier: he became a 500-game winner, the second American-born NHL bench boss to hit the half-grand mark. The thing is, though, Laviolette’s climb to win No. 500 has been more impressive than Tortorella’s and it would seem as though it’s only a matter of time before Laviolette finds his way back on par or above Tortorella on the all-time wins list. And purely statistically speaking, it’s hard to argue with Laviolette being not just the better of the two bench bosses, but the best American-born NHL coach in history.
For some, putting Laviolette in the same conversation as Bob Johnson or Herb Brooks is akin to hockey heresy. There’s reason for that. The accomplishments of Johnson and Brooks are legendary. Johnson is arguably the greatest coach the NCAA has ever seen, a Hall of Famer twice over and a Stanley Cup champion with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1990-91. Johnson had his NHL tenure cut short, tragically passing away in November 1991 to brain cancer. Brooks was likewise a standout coach in the NCAA, a Hall of Famer three times over and most famous for leading the United States to gold at the 1980 Olympics. Sadly, Brooks passed away in August 2003 as the result of a car accident.
The legacies of both Johnson and Brooks are untouchable and their importance to the game as coaches in the United States will never be matched. For both, though, their greatest work and most lasting mark was made outside the NHL — Johnson at University of Wisconsin, Brooks for his part in the ‘Miracle On Ice.’
It’s hard to know where Johnson’s career would have gone had he been able to continue coaching. The 1991-92 Stanley Cup seemed a given, at the very least, but beyond that it’s impossible to say. He finished with 234 wins in 480 games behind the bench, and went 41-35 in the post-season. As for Brooks, he coached 506 games and has a perfect .500 points percentage — 219 wins, 219 losses, 66 ties and two defeats in extra time. In the playoffs, Brooks went 19-21. From a purely statistical point of view, neither matched what Laviolette or Tortorella has accomplished in the NHL.
So if Johnson and Brooks are removed from the discussion, the debate comes down to Laviolette and Tortorella, with a handful of present-day coaches sprinkled in. Despite who’s added to the mix, though, it’s hard to choose anyone but Laviolette as the best American-born coach the league has seen.
While Tortorella was the first to 500 wins, it took him 1,028 games to pick up the milestone victory. By comparison, Laviolette added win No. 500 to his resume in game 970. The 58-game difference in coaching tenures is significant, too, because Laviolette is only 12 games back of Tortorella for the title of winningest American-born coach in league history. Tortorella has a career points percentage of .544, and Laviolette bests that with a mark of .577. And when it comes to the post-season, Laviolette has a decided edge.
Over the course of their respective careers, both Laviolette and Tortorella have seen the playoffs eight times. Over that span, Tortorella has been one-and-done on four separate occasions, while Laviolette has advanced to the second round five of eight times. Both have two post-season runs that went beyond two rounds under their belt and both have a Stanley Cup victory — bookending the lockout with Tortorella winning in 2003-04 with Tampa Bay, Laviolette in 2005-06 in Carolina — but Laviolette has the edge with a second trip to the final. He led Philadelphia to an Eastern Conference championship in 2009-10 and came two wins shy of adding a second Cup to his trophy case.
From a win percentage standpoint, Laviolette holds the edge, too. In 102 playoff games, his teams have won 52. Tortorella’s squads, by comparison, are below .500 in post-season action, dropping 43 of 89 games.
As far as accolades go, the only thing separating the two is a Jack Adams Award. Tortorella won coach of the year for his job in Tampa Bay during the Lightning’s title-winning season, and there’s a fair chance he’s adding a second Jack Adams this season for the job he’s done in turning around the Blue Jackets. Laviolette, on the other hand, is a two-time finalist, coming a single vote shy of the award in 2005-06. Tortorella can have the individual awards, though, because there’s a good chance it’s Laviolette who holds the edge in victories when both coaches call it a career.
The debate about who is a better bench boss — Laviolette or Tortorella — is likely to continue until their careers are done, and it’s only going to get more crowded at the top. In just eight seasons, Dan Bylsma is already at the 300-win mark at the helm of a young Sabres team that is building for the future, Mike Sullivan’s Penguins have won 63 of 100 games under his direction and recently fired Jack Capuano is knocking on the door of his 235th win, which would put him one ahead of Johnson.
But right now, if you had one game to win and needed to choose one American-born coach, Laviolette’s numbers have shown that he’s the best bet to get the job done.
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Len Redkoles/NHLI via Getty Images
The Canucks goaltender made 31 saves in a 4-2 loss at Chicago's United Center on Sunday.
Jonathan Toews’ goal with 1:18 remaining in the third period helped the Chicago Blackhawks double up the Vancouver Canucks 4-2 on Sunday night.
Toews put home the rebound off Richard Panik’s shot at 18:42 of the third period giving Chicago a 3-2 lead. Marian Hossa added his 18th, less than a minute later, into an empty net for the Blackhawks who have now won three straight.
Ryan Miller made 31 saves in the loss – his first regulation loss in 10 starts. Postgame Miller was none too pleased with the quality of the ice at Chicago’s United Center.
On the game winner, Panik's shot deflected off Alex Edler, bounced off the boards and to Toews, who buried his eighth of the season.
“That was the first flat puck all night,” Miller said per The Province. “This ice is the worst ice I’ve ever seen in my career. It was terrible and they’ve got to do something about it."
It was a milestone night for the Blackhawks. In addition to Toews’ seventh career four-point night, defenseman Brian Campbell picked up his 500th career point on Panik’s first period goal, Hossa’s empty netter was his 400th point as a member of the Blackhawks and Corey Crawford made 26 saves for his 200th career victory.
An already depleted Canucks blue line may be without the services of Edler. The veteran defenseman appeared to suffer a right wrist injury during the third period, but did finish the game.
“We have to wait and see, we are getting an update on him,” Canucks coach Willie Desjardins said per Jon Abbott.
Vancouver is already without defensemen Erik Gudbranson (wrist), Philip Larsen (concussion) and Ben Hutton (hand). Jordan Subban is the lone healthy blue liner on the Canucks active roster.
The Canucks continue their three-game road trip on Wednesday in Colorado.
Eric Boulton. Image by: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images
Eric Boulton is the lone survivor of his draft class and among the last of a dying breed. For more than two decades, he has done everything to impress his teammates -- from fighting heavyweights to eating raw potatoes.
The stories are flowing now, and Chris Thorburn is really rolling. The Winnipeg right winger’s voice is rising, picking up pace, cresting every dozen-odd seconds with a hearty chuckle. In places, he sighs in disbelief, a wonder in his voice. The laughter is as genuine as it gets.
Thorburn is talking about Eric Boulton, sharing tales of his former linemate in Atlanta, the bruising enforcer who has carved for himself an unlikely pro career that’s stretched 20 years and counting. Boulton, 40, has crossed paths with all manner of players and coaches during his time in the Rangers, Sabres, Thrashers, Devils and now Islanders organizations, even skating on the same line as Wayne Gretzky in an intrasquad game during one of The Great One’s pre-seasons in New York. But none speak of the pugilist’s goofy side with more reverence than old teammate Thorburn.
He takes us on a trip to Philadelphia, back in Thorburn’s Thrashers days on the road with Boulton in the late 2000s. They’re at a steakhouse, a fancy one with the boys from Atlanta, and the game is called Stupid Money. Its rules are easy to follow – pick a dare, however bold or ill-advised, and whoever has the stones to go ahead with it wins a bit of cash. Boulton is up, and he’s got a good one.
On the table in front of the players is a display of spud potatoes. They’re raw, meant only for decoration, but Boulton has an idea. He spies a big one, 12 inches long or so, and turns to his teammates. How much, he’d like to know, if I eat it?
“ ‘Bolty,’ ” Thorburn pleads. “That thing’s not even washed. Who knows how long it’s been sitting there?”
Boulton is unfazed.
“How much?” he repeats.
Thorburn, a little beside himself, confers with his teammates. They come up with a dollar figure pooled from their per diem cash, the exact number now lost to Thorburn, but, he recalls, “It wasn’t a small amount, because there’s no way (we thought) this guy is going to eat a foot-long potato that’s been in the basket forever.”
With his prize confirmed, Boulton goes to work. In front of his stunned dining party, the six-foot, 227-pound left winger, who once earned his stripes in the NHL by engaging Bob Probert on the ice and giving the legendary grappler more punches than he could handle, wolfs down the entire potato. Only then does he really start to show off.
“And then,” Thorburn remembers, “he ate his 40 oz. ribeye.”
It was classic Boulton, and what else can Thorburn do but crack up at the memory? “I got stories of Bolty,” he confirms. “I could write a book on him.”
Eric Boulton scrapping with Chris Neil. Image by: Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Long and winding though it may have been, there seems to be one uniform truth to the career of Eric Boulton. For as brutal a fighter as he is on the ice, he is as treasured a teammate as you’re likely to find off it.
Boulton was born in Halifax, in 1976, reaching the NHL via the OHL’s Oshawa Generals. He was picked by the Rangers 234th overall in the 1994 draft, one selection after Steve Sullivan, and if that seems like a long time ago, here’s why: Boulton, who wouldn’t make his NHL debut until many years later, is the last remaining player from his draft class still on a big league contract. Ed Jovanovski, that year’s No. 1 pick? Retired in 2014. Ryan Smyth, taken at No. 6? Out of the league in ’14, too. Eleventh overall pick Jeff Friesen had a pretty good career that lasted 893 games and produced 516 points. He’s been out of the NHL almost a decade. No matter how unlikely it seemed then to pro hockey evaluators, only Boulton remains.
Over his first four pro seasons, he cut his teeth with seven teams in the minor leagues, proving his mettle, fighting the toughest guys in the ECHL, International League and AHL. Then in 1999, Buffalo signed him, and Boulton finally reached the NHL in 2000.
At 24, he was old for a rookie then, but still young for a man, and what better way than a tussle with Probert during an exhibition game against the Blackhawks to show his new coaches and teammates what he was about?
“I actually did well against him,” says Boulton, who fought him to a draw for nearly two minutes before the late Probert collapsed underneath Boulton to the ice.
“I proved I can step up and handle myself in this league.”
What followed was a journey through pro hockey that is common among enforcers. Boulton bounced to a few different teams, was among league leaders in penalty minutes a few seasons (top 10 in 2002-03 and 2008-09), played sparingly, and clashed fists when he did. But Boulton’s career is different for how long it has continued, among the longest runs for a so-called fighter in NHL history, even longer than that of Probert, who retired at 36.
Boulton himself never thought he’d get here.
“My goal was to play till I was 34. Then 36. Then 38. Then I thought, I might as well try till I’m 40,” he says. “You can never go back, so you might as well try to play till your legs fall off.”
His stats, especially in recent seasons, have never turned heads (31 goals and 79 points in 654 games). And yet teams keep bringing him back, signing him for one more year, as the Isles did last July, despite Boulton only playing six games for them the previous season. The reason is clear: his value extends beyond what he can bring when his stick hits the ice.
No matter if he is asked to play every 10 games or every 20, he has learned to keep a level head, to be there for his teammates, to mentor younger guys as Adam Graves and Dave Andreychuk once did for him. That he is a famous jokester – gobbling up pineapple skins, or straight-razoring his head bald during other notorious stunts on the road – only adds to his appeal as a dressing room hero.
“Over a long season, the grind can get pretty tough,” Thorburn says. “Bolty always had a way to lighten the mood, make it fun to go to the rink.”
Boulton knows he cannot play forever, and perhaps this season will be his last (in October, the Islanders assigned him to the AHL). Whether he turns to coaching, or joins the media, or simply retreats to a quiet life with his wife, Ryan, and their four young children upon retirement, he is sure to remain the same old beloved Bolty.
The Stupid Money would be to bet otherwise.