Every time I start thinking perhaps I’m wrong and the NHL really is fine the way it is right now, I have the misfortune of seeing an absolutely dreadful game like the Bruins/Maple Leafs match from Saturday (watch highlights). Then I apologize to myself for ever doubting myself in the first place.
I’d say about 80-85 percent of the Boston/Toronto game was played along the boards between the bluelines. Other than the three goals that were scored, there might have been five or six exciting scoring chances at most. The rest of the contest was all about chipping the puck in, blocking shots, or fighting to free the puck from six-man scrums.
Even Leafs coach Paul Maurice called the game “a dog”, and when any NHL coach chimes in on the boringness of a game, you know it had to be unspeakably awful. But the most telling quote came from Bruins goalie Alex Auld after the game, when the newly acquired netminder spoke of the pleasure he got playing under coach Claude Julien’s trap system.
"One of the first things Claude Julien told me when I joined the team (was) that (the Bruins employed) a system that was conducive to goaltenders," Auld told the Canadian Press. “That’s nice.”
That’s nice for goalies, I’m sure. Pretty nice for coaches, too. But nice for fans? Not even close.
And that, in a nutshell, is what is wrong with the NHL; on one level, they must truly believe their employees are their customers, and their customers are their employees.
So, one more time with feeling: Sorry, myself. It’ll be a long time before I question you/me again.
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.
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.
After giving up three goals in five games, the Capitals gave up eight in one on Monday night, but still don't have a regulation loss in 2017.
The Washington Capitals are hoping that history repeats itself. The last time goalie Braden Holtby was pulled in a game prior to Monday night’s wild 8-7 overtime loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Capitals went on to win five straight games.
Monday night’s crazy encounter not withstanding, the Capitals have still been the hottest team in the league despite the loss, compiling a record of 9-0-1 in their past 10 and gaining at least a point in 13 of their past 14 games. They're also the only team in the NHL that has yet to lose a regulation game in 2017. That’s why they’re at the top of thn.com’s weekly Power Rankings. (Last week’s rankings in parentheses.):
THE CREAM OF THE CROP
1. Washington Capitals (2) 2. Minnesota Wild (6) 3. Pittsburgh Penguins (1) 4. Columbus Blue Jackets (7) 5. Chicago Blackhawks (3) 6. Edmonton Oilers (16) 7. Toronto Maple Leafs (13) 8. Anaheim Ducks (8) 9. New Jersey Devils (25) 10. Vancouver Canucks (22)
Defenseman John Carlson, who missed the loss to Pittsburgh Monday night, will likely miss his second game of the season Thursday night against St. Louis…The Wild have a league-high 33 points in the road, including a point in 12 straight road games…The Penguins haven’t lost in regulation on home ice since Nov. 21, a span of 13 games…Boone Jenner and Brandon Dubinsky had 47 goals between them last season, but got just their 12th, 13th and 14th in a 4-1 over Carolina Tuesday night…Good news for the Hawks – in Tuesday night’s win over Colorado, all five goals were scored by their bottom-six forwards…The Oilers are rolling, but Jordan Eberle isn’t. He hasn’t scored a goal in his past 18 games…Morgan Rielly, who has been the Leafs’ all-round best defenseman this season, will miss Thursday’s game against the Rangers and is out day-to-day with a leg injury…The Ducks haven’t given up more than two goals in a game in their past eight games…The Devils picked up seven of a possible eight points on a four-game road trip to get back into the hunt for a playoff spot…Only four teams in the NHL have zero or one regulation loss in their past 10 games. The Canucks (6-1-3) are one of them.
THE MUSHY MIDDLE
11. Detroit Red Wings (27) 12. San Jose Sharks (5) 13. Montreal Canadiens (9) 14. Calgary Flames (14) 15. Ottawa Senators (12) 16. New York Islanders (23) 17. New York Rangers (4) 18. Boston Bruins (11) 19. St. Louis Blues (15) 20. Carolina Hurricanes (10) Darren Helm, out since mid-November with a shoulder injury, could be back in the Red Wings lineup this weekend…After missing the past two games with an upper-body injury, Joonas Donskoi was placed on the injury reserve list…Alex Galchenyuk had a goal in his first game back after missing 18 with an upper-body injury…The Flames are in the middle of the pack in penalty killing this season after finishing dead last in that category last season. And they need a better PK, since they’re on pace to be shorthanded 304 times this season, compared to just 233 last season…The Senators have the league leaders in hits – Mark Borowiecki with 197 – and takeaways – Mark Stone with 55. Erik Karlsson is tied for second in blocked shots with 110…After firing coach Jack Capuano, Islanders GM said he was, “not hiding from the fact that it starts with me.”…This is mind-boggling. Henrik Lundqvist has allowed 16 goals on 76 shots in his past seven periods of work for a save percentage of just .789. “It’s embarrassing, frustrating and disappointing,” Lundqvist said…Bruins star Patrice Bergeron is on pace for exactly half as many goals this season as he had in 2015-16. Last season, Bergeron had 32 and he’s on pace for 16…Vladimir Tarasenko, who had a seven-game goal drought earlier this season, has gone five without a goal. But what’s more concerning according to Blues coach Ken Hitchcock, “he isn’t getting any chances.”…If the Hurricanes miss the playoffs, they can look to their play on the road as a major reason why. They’re just 6-12-6 away from the PNC Arena.
VYING FOR THE PARTICIPATION BADGE
21. Los Angeles Kings (18) 22. Dallas Stars (26) 23. Philadelphia Flyers (20) 24. Florida Panthers (17) 25. Nashville Predators (21) 26. Tampa Bay Lightning (30) 27. Buffalo Sabres (19) 28. Winnipeg Jets (24) 29. Arizona Coyotes (28) 30. Colorado Avalanche (29
Kings captain Anze Kopitar missed Monday’s 2-1 loss to Tampa Bay with a stomach virus, but said he’ll be ready to go tonight against San Jose…Cody Eakin had a Gordie Howe hat trick in the Stars 7-6 win over the Rangers Tuesday night in his first game against the Rangers since earning a four-game suspension for bowling over Henrik Lundqvist Dec. 15…Wayne Simmonds of the Flyers recently announced his engagement and the Flyers are hoping that will spark them. After all, they won eight in a row after Claude Giroux announced his engagement Nov. 30…The Panthers are 9-8-7 since Tom Rowe took over behind the bench for a points percentage of .521, which is just slightly worse than the 11-10-1 record and .523 points percentage Gerard Gallant had as coach…The Predators are one of only two teams that are out of the playoffs despite having a positive goal differential. The other is Carolina…The Lightning hopes to have defenseman Victor Hedman back against the Sharks tomorrow night. He’s missed the past two games with an illness…First, the Sabres couldn’t score. Now they don’t know what to do when they score. In eight of their past 10 games they’ve scored first, but have won only three of those games…In what can only been seen as a desperation move, the Jets will give Ondrej Pavelec his first start of this season tonight against Arizona…The Coyotes, who play in Winnipeg tonight, are tied for last in the league in road wins this season with Vancouver. They have five each…It’s not easy to be this bad in today’s parity-driven NHL, but the Avs are finding a way to do it.
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.
"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.
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.