Pittsburgh Penguins v Chicago Blackhawks

Jonathan Toews’ red-hot run generates Hart Trophy attention

When Jonathan Toews was on top of the hockey world upon hoisting the Stanley Cup and receiving the Conn Smythe Trophy, I couldn’t help but temper the “best player in the world” talk ever so slightly.

People often take anything but boisterous praise as a statement that Player X isn’t any good, but that wasn’t the point at all. For one thing, it was difficult for me to accept the idea that Toews was on the highest rung of NHL players when his career high for points was 69. Beyond that, the Chicago Blackhawks also amassed an outrageously rich supporting cast that made it possible for Toews to simply play his world-class game without having to carry the team’s offense every night. Sure he was great, but probably not on the absolute highest level right then.

Ultimately, I ended with this point: we’ll see how great he is this season, when every team is gunning for his team and the salary cap dilutes that once-staggering depth.

For a while, it seemed like he finally met his match. The team was struggling to the point that a playoff berth was looking questionable at best (not to say they’re guaranteed to land one today) and his offensive numbers weren’t at an all-world level early on. It’s not fair to put all the blame on one player, but as the team captain, the spotlight shined the brightest on Toews.

Toews is on fire when his team needs him the most.

Yet now it appears that Toews is earning every bit of the somewhat-hasty plaudits he received last year. From his rookie year on, he’s exhibited a stunningly versatile game for such a young player, but his offensive output has never been better. After peaking at 69 points in his previous three seasons, Toews is producing his first point-per-game campaign in the NHL. He already has 28 goals and 40 assists for 68 points in 66 games so far in 2010-11.

The best part – though by no means the most surprising one – is that Toews is producing his greatest work when his team needs him the most. He scored a staggering nine goals and nine assists for 18 points in his last 11 games. The only time he didn’t score a point during that span was on March 8th, when the Florida Panthers beat the Hawks 3-2. He also received the league’s player of the month award for February, scoring 21 points in the shortest month of the year.

Toews forces himself into the Hart Trophy discussion.

Toews currently ranks ninth in the NHL with those 68 total points, but it’s that aforementioned all-around play and his lead-by-example mentality that causes many to consider him a worthy Hart Trophy candidate. (It probably doesn’t hurt that Toews has the best plus/minus rating among the league’s top 10 scorers, with an impressive +24 mark.)

One of the most underrated parts of his game is his work in the faceoff circle, by the way. He leads the league with 758 faceoffs won and also has an outstanding 57.4 winning percentage this season. That’s not an ability that will get you on highlight reels, but it’s one of those hard work/attention to detail areas that reveal Toews’ do-everything mentality.

So who knows if Toews will ever make it easy for Hart Trophy voters by putting up 100-point seasons and piling up Art Ross Trophy wins, but he’s the NHL’s answer to a “five-tool player” in baseball. He can score highlight reel goals, provide plenty of assists, displays responsible defensive positioning, is willing to apply the elbow grease necessary to score “dirty” goals in the playoffs and wins more than his far share of draws.

Despite losing the likes of Dustin Byfuglien to free agency, this Chicago team still sports plenty of firepower. Yet it seems like their fate is tied to the work of “Captain Serious.”

Toews is responding by pulling his team – and his already sterling reputation – into the upper echelon of the league’s elite.

Former Avs tough guy Bordeleau signs with the Devils … in Cardiff, Wales

DENVER, CO - NOVEMBER 02:  George Parros #15 of the Montreal Canadiens and Patrick Bordeleau #58 of the Colorado Avalanche engage in a fight in the first period at Pepsi Center on November 2, 2013 in Denver, Colorado.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
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Patrick Bordeleau is on his way to play for the Devils — of the Elite Ice Hockey League in the United Kingdom.

The Cardiff Devils announced that they have agreed to terms on a contract with Bordeleau, who played 129 games in the National Hockey League with the Colorado Avalanche.

In his time with the Avs, from 2013 to 2015, the 30-year-old forward — who stands an imposing six-foot-six-inches tall and 225 pounds — scored eight goals and 16 points with 185 penalty minutes.

As you can see from the clip below, he was known more for fisticuffs than finesse.

That has the club in Cardiff all kinds of excited about this signing.

From the Devils:

Aside from his reputation as an enforcer, the level of skill and ability of Patrick Bordeleau arose the attention of Devils player coach Andrew Lord who is delighted to add him to the roster.

“Patrick Bordeleau brings an awesome dynamic of size, energy and physical play.  He skates well and will add a great presence to our forward unit while also playing quality minutes.  He played multiple seasons in the NHL and his experience and character will be huge for our group.”   

Last month, another former NHL tough guy, Jay Rosehill, signed in the EIHL with the Braehead Clan, which continued a trend that has seen a number of pugilists continue their careers in the UK.

Blues to name Pietrangelo 21st captain in franchise history

St. Louis Blues' Alex Pietrangelo (27) skates against the Chicago Blackhawks' in an NHL hockey game Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2013, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Bill Boyce)
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Shortly after the Blues’ PR department unveiled a “major announcement” scheduled for Thursday, the Post-Dispatch broke news that Alex Pietrangelo will become the team’s new captain.

It’s a big honor for the talented defenseman, who joins the likes of Wayne Gretzky, Brett Hull, Al MacInnis, Chris Pronger, Scott Stevens, Brian Sutter, Bernie Federko and Al Arbour as those that have captained the Blues.

Pietrangelo, 26, was taken fourth overall by St. Louis  in 2008 and has spent his entire professional career within the organization.

A staple of the Team Canada blueline and a two-time NHL 2nd team All-Star, Pietrangelo inherits the captaincy from David Backes, who wore the “C” for five years before signing with Boston in free agency.

Pietrangelo had previously served as one of Backes’ alternates — first earning his “A” in 2013 — along with forward Alex Steen, who’s served as an alternate since 2011. It’s logical to assume Steen will retain his role in the leadership group, but it will be interesting to see who gets the other alternate captaincy.

Poll: Is moving Larkin to center the right move?

NEWARK, NJ - DECEMBER 11: Dylan Larkin #71 of the Detroit Red Wings leans on the bench during a timeout during the game against the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center on December 11, 2015 in Newark, New Jersey.  The Devils defeated the Red Wings 3-2 in overtime.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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This post is part of Detroit Red Wings day at PHT…

It wasn’t that long ago — 2013, in fact — that Detroit had a wealth of options down the middle. Pavel Datsyuk, Valtteri Filppula and Henrik Zetterberg all played center with regularity.

Now, only the latter remains.

We bring this up because, earlier this summer, Detroit GM Ken Holland announced that prized rookie standout Dylan Larkin would be making the shift to center.

Larkin, who bucked tradition by making the Red Wings as a 19-year-old last year, enjoyed a banner freshman campaign, scoring 45 points in 80 games to finish fifth in Calder voting.

But a large chunk of that success came playing wing on a line centered by Zetterberg, who “took a lot of the responsibility off Dylan,” according to Holland.

The for/against debate here is pretty straightforward.

Holland said the “long-term” plan is to have Larkin be a center in Detroit, so why not get that process underway now? That move, combined with the addition of Frans Nielsen, would allow Zetterberg to return to the wing (and potentially play alongside Nielsen.) The more options head coach Jeff Blashill has at his disposal, the more creative he can get at forward.

But would it be too much, too soon for Larkin?

There’s already the looming specter of a sophomore slump, and it’s important to remember he faded down the stretch last season, as the rigors of a full NHL campaign took their toll. He was largely shielded from faceoff duty (and still finished at just 41 percent), only turned 20 just over three weeks ago, and Blashill could go Zetterberg-Nielsen-Luke GlendeningRiley Sheahan down the middle quite easily.

As per usual, we now turn it over to you. Vote away:

Under Pressure: Ken Holland

Colorado Avalanche v Detroit Red Wings
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This post is part of Detroit Red Wings day at PHT…

There’s no denying Ken Holland’s been feeling the heat in Detroit for a while now.

But this season, the temperature could become unbearable.

There are three pressing concerns as the Red Wings look to make the playoffs for a 26th consecutive campaign, all of which fall directly into Holland’s lap:

1) Can the Wings survive without Pavel Datsyuk?

2) What will they do in goal?

3) How will they fix their defense?

To address the first issue, Holland went out and spent $31.5 million in free agency on Frans Nielsen, a good-but-not-great center that turns 33 next season. Nielsen is defensively responsible and a fairly consistent scorer — a perennial 45-to-55 point guy — but lacks Datsyuk’s playmaking ability and deft skill set.

(Though to be fair to Nielsen, most do.)

Still, a solution’s a solution. Nielsen comes to Detroit in relative high regard, earning a handful of Selke votes every season, and was one of the best options available to replace Datsyuk, which was never going to be an easy task.

So onto the goaltending.

The situation at hand — with Petr Mrazek (presumably) the club’s No. 1, and Jimmy Howard now in a backup role — is tough for everybody involved. It’s tough for Howard, who is 32 and pulls in $5.29 million annually, an albatrossian combination with regards to potential trades.

It’s tough for Mrazek, who now faces the added pressure of making good money himself ($4M annually), but is still coming off a year in which he lost the starting gig to Howard, only to regain it halfway through the playoffs.

The situation is tough for Holland, too.

Sinking nearly $10 million into the position was all his doing, and he doesn’t seem to know how to get out of it. He’s flip-flopped on Howard — first saying he’s thought “lots” about trading him, only to later envision a scenario in which Howard sticks around.

Then, there’s the defense.

Holland’s made no secret of the fact he’d “love to get a top-three defenseman” in the door, and was reportedly in talks with Anaheim about a potential Cam Fowler trade. But as we saw with Edmonton trading Taylor Hall to get Adam Larsson, the acquisition price for good blueliners is sky high.

Which could be why Holland hasn’t addressed the position yet.

At the time of writing, Detroit will enter this season with a top-seven group of Danny DeKeyser, Mike Green, Jonathan Ericsson, Niklas Kronwall, Brendan Smith, Alexey Marchenko and Xavier Ouellet.

It’s a good group, but one with warts. There’s not an elite level guy, and it’s not especially young. Green is 30, Ericsson is 32 and Kronwall’s 35… and was just dropped from Sweden’s World Cup team due to a knee injury.

Add it all up, and you’ve got a team with more questions than answers.

And a GM who sounds like he knows the pressure is on.

“I don’t know that there are more than five or six legitimate Stanley Cup contenders; we’re probably not in that group,” he said, per NHL.com. “After that five or six, there are 20 teams without much difference between them. We’re in that group of 20.

“Certainly there are lots of questions about our team.”