Why Claude Giroux and Alex Ovechkin should be in the MVP discussion


This year’s MVP race seems to be as wide open as any in recent memory with at least a dozen players — yes, a dozen — that could make a pretty convincing claim to the award depending on how you view it and what your definition of “value” is.

When it comes to who will actually win the award the smart money should be on Tampa Bay Lightning forward Nikita Kucherov, because that is how the voting usually goes.

Kucherov is the highest scoring player on the best team in the league and based on past voting trends that is usually how the voters lean when it comes time to picking a winner (I looked at this when examining the MVP candidacy of Patrice Bergeron a few weeks ago).

It is typically an offensive award, and it typically goes to a player on a top team.

It almost never goes to a defenseman, so we can pretty much rule all of them out.

There is no goaltender that is having a truly special season that is single handedly lifting a mediocre team to the playoffs the way Carey Price did a couple of years ago.

So that pretty much leaves — probably — Kucherov among a group of top forwards.

But that reality eliminates all of the arguments that go into who should win.

So let’s try to take an objective, practical look at things and see who could (or perhaps even should) take the MVP award away from him.

With the New Jersey Devils and Colorado Avalanche exceeding any and all expectations this season Taylor Hall and Nathan MacKinnon, both of whom are having career years, have vaulted to the top of the discussion in the name of “value.”

Are they they best players in the league this season? Maybe not, but without them their teams would probably not be anywhere close to the playoff race.

But if we are going to make them a focus, how can we ignore Aleksander Barkov (one of the best two-way players in the league for a suddenly surging Florida team) or Eric Staal (sixth in the league in goals for a Minnesota team that is probably outperforming its actual play in the standings). Are they not valuable to their teams and worthy of inclusion in the discussion for helping to keep their teams in the hunt?

In Pittsburgh, Evgeni Malkin has been on an incredible run over the past two months and is putting together one of the best offensive seasons of his career. The same is true for Kucherov’s teammate in Tampa Bay, Steven Stamkos.

How about two other superstars in the Metropolitan Division — Alex Ovechkin, the NHL’s leading goal-scorer, and Claude Giroux, who is the driving force behind a Flyers team that has been one of the best in the NHL for the past three months?

With all of that in mind, here is what I did. I took 12 players, most of whom have been receiving talk in the MVP race plus a few others, and compared a few numbers to get a sense of how much they are contributing to their teams.

I looked at total goals, total points, points per game, what percentage of their team’s goals they have contributed to (goals or assists) and what percentage of their team’s goals they have been on the ice for. Some of the results might be a little surprising.

Numbers highlighted in blue means they are the top player in that category among this group of candidates. It is sorted simply by total points.

A few things to unpack here.

If we’re just simply going by “best player” the candidates probably come down to Kucherov, Malkin, McDavid and MacKinnon. This is probably the way it should go because the best player is the one that is probably adding the most value to his team. If Kucherov or McDavid is worth, hypothetically speaking, worth seven wins to their team and everyone else on the list is only worth four or five wins how are they not the most valuable?

But that is not typically how it works.

McDavid’s not going to win because his team stinks and is a country mile outside of the playoff picture.

The problem that Malkin is going to have is that he is playing on the same team as Sidney Crosby and Phil Kessel. The same is true for Stamkos with Kucherov. If one of those players goes down to an injury or is out of the lineup, the team still has the other guy to take over games. When it comes to the number of goals they have directly contributed to or been on the ice for, Kucherov and Stamkos are near the bottom among that group.

Do we punish them because they play on a superior team?

Meanwhile, Bergeron, as great as he is, has had the least impact on his team’s overall offense among the top contenders.

So who should be challenging Kucherov for the top spot?

Hall and MacKinnon are certainly worthy contenders, particularly MacKinnon.

He has had a hand in nearly 38 percent of the Avalanche’s goals and been on the ice for more than 48 percent of them even though he has only played in 57 of their games. When you only look at the games he has played in he has contributed to 41 percent of his team’s goals (second to McDavid) and been on the ice for 52 percent, which is second only to Giroux.

For as much credit as Hall is getting for the Devils’ resurgence (and deservedly so — he has been amazing) MacKinnon has been arguably even more impactful. He is not only having one of the best individual offensive seasons of any player over the past decade, he is making a bigger impact to his team than almost any other player in the league.

But let’s talk about the two superstars that are getting almost zero attention in this debate — Ovechkin and Giroux.

That’s not an incorrect statement

Take a look at Ovechkin’s contributions to the Capitals this season.

He is leading the league in goals. He is on his way to another 50-goal season, and considering his age might be having one of the best goal scoring seasons of his career. He has also been on the ice for more than half of the Capitals’ goals. The offense still very clearly goes through him.

Then there is this: The Capitals are still fighting for the top spot in the Metropolitan Division. They are doing this despite the fact they lost several key players off of last year’s team and several of the returning players have either regressed or gone through significant scoring slumps for extended periods of time. They are doing it because Ovechkin is still a force.

And let’s not ignore Giroux.

We’re probably not paying enough attention to the Flyers in any context because their story is almost as surprising as the Devils or Avalanche. They missed the playoffs a year ago (third time in five years) and actually went on a 10-game losing streak earlier this season. Now they are fighting for a division title.

Look at the impact Giroux has had on his team. More than 54 percent of their goals have come with him on the ice and he is just behind McDavid in terms of actual contribution to those goals. Those are staggering numbers.

So let’s talk who should be contenders.

If I were to rank the contenders right now, keeping all of this in mind and trying to mix best player and the whole concept of value, I think it would probably go something like this with five clear-cut contenders at the top.

    1. Nathan MacKinnon
    2. Claude Giroux
    3. Alex Ovechkin
    4. Taylor Hall
    5. Connor McDavid

MacKinnon is the best of both worlds. He is having a truly remarkable season and is one of the best in the league. He is also the reason his team is in the playoff hunt. The next three are all pretty  much right there when it comes to having great seasons and probably lifting teams above where they should be given how the rest of the rosters are actually playing. McDavid’s team stinks, but he’s still probably worth more wins to his team than almost any other player in the league. That’s still adding value. It’s not his fault his front office failed him.

Then there is the next group.

6. Nikita Kucherov
7. Evgeni Malkin
8. Steven Stamkos

All three are having amazing seasons. All three are amazing players. But they fall into that trap of “well … the rest of their team is pretty darn good, too.”

Then Bergeron, Barkov, Kopitar and Staal would round out the rest of that group because they just don’t have the same offensive impact on their teams that the other eight do. The trio of Bergeron, Barkov and Kopitar are probably among the top two-way players in the NHL right now, but even with their defensive ability it probably doesn’t make up for the added offense players like MacKinnon, Hall, Giroux, and Ovechkin are adding.


Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Bruins’ David Backes suffers leg laceration in collision (video)


A scary scene unfolded in the first period between the Tampa Bay Lightning and the visiting Boston Bruins on Saturday night.

David Backes and Yanni Gourde came together in the Lightning crease, with Gourde’s skate appearing to cut Backes on the outside of his right leg.

Backes was able to make his way to the Bruins bench on his own, but he was clutching the back of his leg before getting some help down the tunnel.

Backes did not return to the game.

The Bruins said that Backes suffered a laceration above his right knee, which required several stitches to close.

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Dundon, Hurricanes suspend search for new GM: report


The Carolina Hurricanes’ search for a general manager is on hiatus.

Sportsnet’s John Shannon reported Saturday that the process of replacing former GM Ron Francis is being put on hold for the time being, citing that owner Tom Dundon needs more time.

“Tom hasn’t had the time he needs to do face to face interviews and feels that waiting will pay off,” Shannon wrote in a tweet.

Francis was removed from his post as GM on March 7 and “promoted” to a new role as president of hockey operations. There was only one catch: whoever replaced Francis would bypass the Hurricanes’ legend and report directly to Dundon.

The search, thus far, hasn’t been going that well, with three potential targets already withdrawing any interest they were thought to have had.

Part of that problem could be how hands-on Dundon appears to want to be. Part of it could just be timing. Fenton, for instance, could be on his way to a Stanley Cup ring this year in Nashville.

Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman touched on the situation in a recent 31 Thoughts column.

“I think what I’m looking for, is we have to be comfortable with each other. That’s the most important thing,” Dundon told Friedman when asked what he wants in a new GM. “I actually like to disagree and argue. I don’t want someone to come in and just do what I say, and I don’t want to make decisions. Someone to create a structure of how something is a good idea, and now we are going to get it done.”

You can add Pittsburgh Penguins assistant GM Bill Guerin to the list:

I don’t think it’s a stretch to suggest that Dundon wanting his hands all over the team — including whatever the GM is doing — isn’t the best selling point.

There’s some good, young talent on the Hurricanes for a new GM to come in and build around, but there’s also some dead weight, including what’s turned into a bad contract with goalie Scott Darling.

No GM wants to play puppet for an owner.

TSN’s Pierre LeBrun said the Hurricanes will suspend their search until the summer when a larger crop of candidates reveals itself.

Still, you have to wonder who’ll be willing to take that plunge. Someone will, of course, but people haven’t exactly been lining up to fill the role.

UPDATE: On Headlines on Saturday, Sportsnet’s Nick Kypreos reported that the salary being offered to a prospective GM in Carolina is $400,000, to which he said he doesn’t see any GM taking as it’s too low. Friedman, meanwhile, believes the search for a new GM is not on a complete hiatus.

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

St. Patrik Laine has Jets looking like perennial contender

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The Winnipeg Jets can thank their own St. Patrik for their success this season and potentially for years to come.

Patrik Laine was the consolation prize in the 2016 NHL draft behind generational talent Auston Matthews. But he has been a cause for celebration in Winnipeg as a franchise-changing superstar at age 19.

Mathieu Perreault saw the power Alex Ovechkin had to alter the direction of the Washington Capitals and turn them into a perennial playoff team and Stanley Cup contender. When Laine arrived from Finland, the winger started doing the same things in Winnipeg.

“The organization wasn’t having a whole lot of success, and then they get Ovi as a young kid and he starts scoring goals, and all of a sudden the team starts winning,” Perreault said.

“They became a very dominant team for many years. So you kind of sense that here, where the team’s been struggling for many years, not making the playoffs. And then you get this young kid coming in and scoring goals for your team and helps your team win games. I think coming up in Winnipeg we’ll have a dominant team for many years.”

That’s because Laine is already a dominant player. With 16 goals and eight assists in his past 14 games, Laine has the longest point streak by a teenager and already passed Wayne Gretzky for the most goals by a player before turning 20.

The best part for the Jets? Laine is just getting started.

“It’s really impressive when you factor in he’s still learning the game,” coach Paul Maurice said. “His scoring has taken off of late, but so has his game, his all-around game. … He’s an impressive young man at 19. At any age, those numbers would be elite. But at 19, that’s pretty exciting because there’s lot of room as he physically matures, for his game to change and become a power forward and a big, strong man who can score off the rush. Take pucks to the net. There are lots of places Patty is going to improve over the years.”

Laine is drawing comparisons to Ovechkin for his shot, which teammates and opposing goaltenders say is even more deceptive than the Russian 600-goal scorer ‘s blast. Capitals goaltender Philipp Grubauer, who has taken Ovechkin shots in practice for years, said Laine’s long stick changes the angle of where the puck is going.

“He shoots it, he pulls it in a little bit weird – long stick – and makes it really hard for us to read,” Grubauer said.

As much as Laine looked up to Ovechkin as a kid, the respect is now mutual. When Ovechkin scored twice Monday to reach 600 and get to 42 this season, Laine answered with his 41st and showed he has what it takes to go goal-for-goal with hockey’s best.

“He’s a great talent and still young and still can produce lots of dangerous (chances),” Ovechkin said.

Laine said it has always been a goal to win the Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy as the league’s top goal scorer, and he’s in the race to do that. Entering Saturday, he’s one behind Ovechkin and one ahead of Pittsburgh Penguins center Evgeni Malkin.

“It’s always been one of my dreams to win it,” Laine said. “It’s good motivation for me.”

Laine is also motivated by trying to help set the Jets up for the playoffs and make a long run this spring. Winnipeg has been banged up and secondary scoring has been hot and cold, but Laine’s scoring pace has his teammates believing anything is possible.

“You give him one opportunity and it’s in the back of the net,” Perreault said. “Right now every shot it seems goes in. It helps us win games when he scores like that. It’s been fun to see.”

Maurice doesn’t know what he sees as Laine’s ceiling, but doesn’t think it matters. As Laine’s game rounds out, he’ll face different kinds of defensive challenges, and then it’ll be up to him to prove he can sustain scoring the way Ovechkin has over the past decade-plus.

“The overall game Patty will play will become far more important than whether it’s 40, 50 or whatever that number (of goals) ends up being,” Maurice said.

“At some point, Patty is going to play 20 minutes a night. Maybe not at 19, but when that happens, he’ll be playing against the `A’ group. It’s not as easy to keep scoring like Ovechkin has when you move up the lineup and you play more minutes and you play against the other teams’ best.”


This stick save by Roberto Luongo is absolutely incredible


The Florida Panthers are one of the hottest teams in the NHL and desperately trying to make an improbable run for one of the playoff spots in the Eastern Conference.

Great goaltending will go a long way toward getting them there, and Roberto Luongo is still one of the best in the business even in his age 38 season.

On Saturday afternoon against the Edmonton Oilers he made one of the saves of the year when he did this to help the Panthers hold on to a 2-1 lead in the second period.

That looked like it was going to be a sure goal for Anton Slepyshev.

Luongo has been limited to just 26 games this season but has been absolutely spectacular when he has played, carrying a .926 save percentage into Saturday’s game.

Unfortunately for the Panthers that save by Luongo was not enough on Saturday as they ended up giving up three consecutive goals to fall, 4-2.

The Panthers entered the day three points out of a playoff spot with games in hand on the teams they are chasing. They are still 16-5-1 win since Jan. 30, but if the New Jersey Devils and Columbus Blue Jackets pick up wins on Saturday their playoff chances are going to take a pretty significant hit, even with the games still in hand.



Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.