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.

Travis Green: ‘I think I’m ready’ to coach in the NHL

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Travis Green has never coached in the NHL, not even as an assistant.

But a lengthy career as a player, followed by success as a head coach in the WHL and AHL, has left him feeling prepared to take the next step.

“I think I’m ready,” Green told Postmedia yesterday. “Every job in the NHL is worth its weight in gold, and I would have 100 per cent interest at options with every team in the league. You hope all your qualities are enticing for one of them.”

After the Flames fired Bob Hartley yesterday, many are wondering if Green could be a candidate to take over in Calgary. Other head-coaching vacancies exist in Anaheim and Ottawa, and potentially Minnesota.

For the past three seasons, Green has been the head coach of the Utica Comets, the AHL affiliate of the Vancouver Canucks. Last year, the Comets made it all the way to the Calder Cup finals, an accomplishment that Green found particularly rewarding since “it wasn’t like we had an all-star team.”

While some GMs won’t risk hiring a coach without any NHL experience — they’d prefer a guy who’s been there before and knows what to expect — it’s worth noting that Jon Cooper didn’t have an NHL track record before he took over in Tampa Bay, and he’s done OK. Heck, Dave Hastol hadn’t even coached professionals before he landed the job in Philadelphia, and the Flyers seem pretty happy with him.

Green is under contract for one more season in Utica, but reportedly has an out-clause to pursue an NHL job.

Related: Will the Sens take a run at Kevin Dineen?

After Game 3 drubbing, Stars rule out Seguin (again) for Game 4

Dallas Stars forward Tyler Seguin (91) competes in the hardest shot competition at the NHL hockey All-Star game skills competition Saturday, Jan. 30, 2016, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
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Any thought Tyler Seguin flying into St. Louis after last night’s 6-1 blowout loss was wiped out on Wednesday morning, as Stars head coach ruled out both Seguin and fellow forward Patrick Eaves for Game 4.

The decision comes after Ruff played a bit coy prior to Game 3. While he said neither Seguin nor Eaves would travel with the Stars, he noted both had resumed skating back in Dallas, adding “they have flights into St. Louis every day.”

Well, the airline schedule doesn’t much matter now.

Game 4 will be played at Scottrade tomorrow night, which means Stars fans clamoring for Seguin might need to look ahead to Game 5, and the potential implications at hand.

Should the Stars even up the series at two heading back to Dallas, Seguin could return for Game 5 and provide what would be a huge momentum swinger.

Should the Stars lose on Thursday and return home down 3-1, Seguin could be inserted into the lineup simply to stave off elimination.

Or, Seguin could not play at all.

Whatever the case, Dallas has a tall task at hand — and it goes well beyond surviving life without No. 91. The club has allowed 10 goals over the last two games, and seems to have an issue in goal, where neither Antti Niemi nor Kari Lehtonen has played especially well.

Andreychuk confident that Stamkos will re-sign in Tampa Bay

Tampa Bay Lightning forward Steven Stamkos (91) competes in the hardest shot competition at the NHL hockey All-Star game skills competition Saturday, Jan. 30, 2016, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
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Former Tampa Bay Lightning player Dave Andreychuk is now a member of the club’s senior management team, and he’s confident that the Bolts won’t lose Steven Stamkos to unrestricted free agency this summer.

“Steven is going to come back. He’s going to be fine,” Andreychuk told Hockey Central today, per Sportsnet.ca.

“I still believe that Steve Yzerman is trying whatever he can do to sign Steven Stamkos, and I believe it will happen.”

Andreychuk — whose official title is VP Corporate & Community Affairs — is not part of the Lightning’s hockey operations, but presumably he speaks with Yzerman, the general manager, from time to time.

Of course, the challenge for Yzerman goes well beyond re-signing the captain. Even with an owner that’s willing to spend to the cap, it simply may not be possible to keep Stamkos, Victor Hedman, Ben Bishop, Nikita Kucherov, Ondrej Palat, Tyler Johnson, Alex Killorn, and Jonathan Drouin.

All eight of those players need new contracts this summer or next.

Stamkos, Hedman, and Bishop are pending UFAs, while the other five are pending RFAs.

Report: Forsling signs with Blackhawks

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A report out of Sweden says that defenseman Gustav Forsling has signed an entry-level contract with the Chicago Blackhawks.

For the past two seasons, Forsling has been with Linkopings HC of the Swedish Hockey League. In 2015-16, the 19-year-old had six goals and 15 assists in 48 games.

A fifth-round pick of the Canucks in 2014, Forsling was a star at the 2015 World Juniors, where he had eight points (3G, 5A) in seven games for Sweden. He was traded to Chicago in return for Adam Clendening.

“He’s an offensive defenseman that plays very well on the power play and has a big shot,” said Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman upon Forsling’s acquisition.

Assuming the report is accurate, Forsling can probably count on starting his North American career in the AHL.

The Blackhawks are hoping to graduate Rockford d-man Ville Pokka to the NHL next season.

Related: Three major challenges facing the Chicago Blackhawks