Ryan Suter

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Celebrate Labor Day by pondering the ‘hardest working’ NHL defensemen

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It’s Labor Day (or Labour Day), so hopefully you’re getting those last summer nights/hot dog grillings out of your system.

(Not just talking to you, Phil Kessel.)

With the holiday in mind, it seems sensible to get into the theme of things and ponder the “hardest working” players in hockey. For the record, these lists are based on stats, so feel free to project your own opinions about hustle/grit/other things that would show up on a John Cena t-shirt.

If nothing else, it’s refreshing to discuss some stats that don’t get as much attention.

Defensemen tend to be some of the biggest workhorses in the sport, so this first post will be devoted to them.

For forwards and goalies, check out this post.

Sheer volume

In maybe the least surprising development imaginable, Ryan Suter continues to stand out as a guy who just logs an inane amount of ice time.

Suter headlines a list of five players who’ve logged at least 8,000 minutes of regular-season ice time from 2013-14 through 2016-17.

1. Suter: 9,201:55
2. Drew Doughty: 8,906:33
3. Erik Karlsson: 8,897:18
4. Shea Weber: 8,116:20
5. Alex Pietrangelo: 8,055:50

(Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Roman Josi are very close behind them.)

Killing penalties is one of the toughest jobs, and it can be a very specialized one. Using the 2013-14 to 2016-17 standard, only one defenseman logged 1,000 penalty minutes. Meanwhile, six players logged at least 900.

1. Andy Greene: 1,115:48
2. Alex Pietrangelo: 996:28
3. Zdeno Chara: 986:38
4. Karl Alzner: 935:08
5. Jay Bouwmeester: 945:03
6. Francois Beauchemin: 900:15

(Big-minute guys Doughty and Weber also ranked up high in penalty killing.)

For a significant defenseman, Pietrangelo carries a considerable workload. Consider how much tougher his role has become over the last few seasons.

2013-14: 52.3 percent offensive zonne starts vs. 47.7 defensive
2014-15: 48.4 offense, 51.6 defense
2015-16: 46.9, 53.1
2016-17: 43.1, 56.9

Pietrangelo still manages to produce offensively, so the 27-year-old is quite the all-around gem.

Gritty leaders

However you feel about certain “grit” stats and how helpful they actually are for a team, it’s easy to admire players who put their bodies on the line.

Using the framework of 2013-14 to 2016-17, Kris Russell easily leads the NHL in blocked shots with 907, even doing so in 277 games while Dan Girardi comes in second place with 719 in 300 contests. Russell blocks a hearty 3.3 shots per game.

It’s easier to understand Girardi slowing down when you consider the bumps and bruises he likely endures. Girardi blocked 719 shots during that span, and he also delivered 690 hits. (Shea Weber is a similar bruiser: 637 blocked shots, 644 hits in 313 games.)

Karl Alzner piles up those grit stats while spending a lot of time on the PK, which is predictable but also commendable.

***

These stats don’t guarantee that the listed defensemen work “harder” than others. Still, it’s easy to get lost in possession stats and other considerations, and lose sight of how much effort goes into the dirty work in hockey.

If you’re bored and hockey-starved on this holiday, consider clicking around the above links to notice certain names that show up consistently. It might give you a greater appreciation for players you otherwise might have dismissed.

Wild salary cap outlook with Granlund, Niederreiter signed

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The Minnesota Wild are a fascinating team to observe, especially after several players received a shot in the arm playing under Bruce Boudreau.

While the team still needs to settle matters with RFA Marcus Foligno, GM Chuck Fletcher navigated the choppy waters of a challenging off-season, dealing with the expansion draft and finding fair compromises with Nino Niederreiter and Mikael Granlund.

Now that Fletcher avoided arbitration hearings with Niederreiter and Granlund, this seems like a good time to take a wider look at the Wild’s salary structure. In doing so, we’ll see quite the mix of good, bad, and uncertain.

Crossing their fingers

There’s no sense ignoring the twin elephants in the room: matching $7.54 million cap hits for Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, which don’t run out until after the 2023-24 season. As of this writing, Suter is 32 and Parise is 33.

The debates regarding Suter’s ultimate value seem like they’ve died down in recent years, likely because he doesn’t get the same Norris hype that he once did. Right now, it seems like he’s in a reasonable spot, especially since his workload is at least trending toward something more reasonable. He averaged 26:55 TOI in 2016-17 after receiving between 28:36 in 2015-16 to a ridiculous 29:25 in 2013-14. In the grand scheme of things, Suter is fine, though Boudreau would be wise to continue to spead the wealth to Minnesota’s other defensemen.

After many years of outstanding work, Parise now stands as arguably an even bigger concern than Suter.

This is a situation where one must consider value, as Parise is still a fine player; injuries are the main reason he didn’t fall in his typical 25-goal range.

Other signs inspire a bit more concern. His per-game point average was just .61 last season compared to his career average of .8. Parise also didn’t shoot as often (2.8 vs. 3.39 for his career) and has been less of a possesion driver in the past two seasons.

Maybe some of those 2016-17 struggles were injury-related, but it’s tougher to ignore such worries when Parise makes so much money, for so long.

Not every costly veteran sets off alarms, though.

Mikko Koivu enjoyed such a resurgence last season that he was a Selke finalist, but that $6.75M still feels less foreboding when you realize it expires after 2017-18. Maybe he’d take a discount to help his long-time team compete?

Strong deals

Chalk up Granlund at $5.75M and Niederreiter at $5.25M to good-to-great deals.

The Wild’s most promising contract likely goes to Devan Dubnyk, however. At $4.33M, Dubnyk’s delivered at-or-near-elite goaltending for Minnesota. At 31, there’s some reason to expect an eventual decline … but that’s some strong value on paper.

Naturally, goalies are an unpredictable lot, but Minnesota’s outlook has come a long way since the end of the Niklas Backstrom era.

Eric Staal‘s brilliant rebound season makes his $3.5M look like a steal, and at 32, there’s a solid chance that it will remain that way for the two years that cover his current deal.

Mysteries

There are some fascinating situations in Minny.

They saved money in sending Marco Scandella and Jason Pominville to Buffalo for Tyler Ennis and Marcus Foligno. Even so, Ennis has had serious injury issues, making his $4.6M look a bit risky. Then again, what if Boudreau once again revitalizes a flawed talent?

Matt Dumba and Jason Zucker both eyeball RFA statuses after this season, while Charlie Coyle seems like he could go either way on his $3.2M deal. It also remains to be seen if Jared Spurgeon and Jonas Brodin can take that “next step.”

***

Not that long ago, the Wild seemed to be stuck in limbo.

To the credit of Fletcher, Boudreau, and some emerging talents, things look a lot more promising today. The Wild have about $4.8M in cap space according to Cap Friendly, and while Foligno is likely to eat up some of that, there’s at least breathing room there.

It’s not a perfect situation, yet the Wild stand as a reasonably viable contender … though they haven’t yet enjoyed the sort of deep playoff push you’d expect with all of that spending.

Top prospect Kunin has eyes on making Wild roster this season

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After losing Jason Pominville, Alex Tuch and Erik Haula this offseason the Minnesota Wild have some open spots that will need filled this season.

They are hoping that 2016 first-round pick Luke Kunin will be one of the young players that is capable of stepping up to fill one of them.

By all accounts he was one of the most impressive players at the Wild’s development camp and has his sights set on making the roster this season.

“My first camp was about putting a footprint down and trying to get the organization to see what I’m all about,” Kunin said this week, via the Pioneer Press. “I want to show growth and get better every day. That’s the way I like to look at things.”

The Wild selected Kunin with the No. 16 overall pick in 2016 and he followed that up with a pretty dominant performance this past season at the University of Wisconsin where he scored 22 goals and added 16 assists in 35 games. He was a point-per-game player in his two years with the Badgers before turning pro.

He ended up getting a brief look with Minnesota’s AHL team, the Iowa Wild, at the end of last season and made an immediate impact with five goals and three assists in his first 12 games.

With big money players like Mikko Koivu, Ryan Suter and Zach Parise at the top of the lineup the Wild had to shed some salary this offseason by trading veterans Jason Pominville and Marco Scandella to help create space to re-sign restricted free agents Nino Niederreiter and Mikael Granlund (neither has happened yet).

They will almost certainly get significant raises and become part of that big money core. As long as teams are going to invest that much money in the top of the roster it is always going to be essential to have cheap, young talent filling spots on the roster to make an impact for a low cap hit.

Based on what he showed in his brief look in the AHL last season, as well as his pedigree as a top-16 pick in the draft, there is reason to believe that Kunin could be just that type of player for Minnesota.

Connor McDavid captures the Hart Trophy (video)

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Only one player in the National Hockey League scored 100 points this season. That would be Connor McDavid.

He accomplished the feat at the age of 20.

On Wednesday, after such a terrific sophomore season in which he was fully healthy throughout, he was recognized with the Hart Trophy , given to the player deemed the most valuable to his team.

McDavid scored 30 goals, many in spectacular fashion, and 100 points to win the Art Ross, often showing a dominant display of speed and hands quick enough to keep up.

The Oilers made the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time since 2006, making it to Game 7 of the second round against the Anaheim Ducks..

McDavid beats out Pittsburgh Penguins star Sidney Crosby, who has been perhaps the best player in the world over the last two years with Stanley Cups, Conn Smythe trophies and a Rocket Richard Trophy to show for it, and Columbus Blue Jackets Vezina-winning netminder Sergei Bobrovsky for the award.

McDavid also captured the Ted Lindsay Award earlier in the evening.

Here is the Hart Trophy voting:

Points: (1st-2nd-3rd-4th-5th)

1. Connor McDavid, EDM 1604 (147-17-3-0-0)
2. Sidney Crosby, PIT 1104 (14-119-19-11-3)
3. Sergei Bobrovsky, CBJ 469 (4-17-40-29-23)
4. Brent Burns, SJS 273 (1-3-25-29-30)
5. Erik Karlsson, OTT 258 (0-5-28-23-14)
6. Patrick Kane, CHI 206 (0-3-20-20-25)
7. Brad Marchand, BOS 184 (1-1-14-22-31)
8. Nikita Kucherov, TBL 119 (0-0-11-15-19)
9. Nicklas Backstrom, WSH 60 (0-0-3-11-12)
10. Braden Holtby, WSH 19 (0-0-2-3-0)
11. Auston Matthews, TOR 17 (0-0-2-1-4)
12. Alex Ovechkin, WSH 7 (0-1-0-0-0)
Ryan Suter, MIN 7 (0-1-0-0-0)
14. Victor Hedman, TBL 5 (0-0-0-1-2)
15. Devan Dubnyk, MIN 4 (0-0-0-1-1)
Vladimir Tarasenko, STL 4 (0-0-0-1-1)
17. Cam Atkinson, CBJ 1 (0-0-0-0-1)
Cam Talbot, EDM 1 (0-0-0-0-1)

Burns edges Karlsson for his first Norris Trophy (video)

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One would maybe say that Brent Burns won his first Norris Trophy by the hair on his chin … but then that would mean by, you know, a lot.

Anyway, Burns edged Erik Karlsson and Victor Hedman to be named “defense player who demonstrates throughout the season the greatest all-round ability in the position.”

As expected, his speech and beard were equally fantastic, including Burns’ hope that his kids aren’t “chasing around wildebeests” in Texas.

(?)

Burns topped defensemen with 29 goals and 76 points. Karlsson generated 17 goals and 71 points while Hedman 16 goals and 72 points, rounding out a true three-horse race between high-scoring, fantastic all-around defensemen.

Here are the voting results.

2016-2017 Norris Trophy Voting

Pts. 1st-2nd-3rd-4th-5th
1. Brent Burns, SJS 1437 (96-61-10-0-0)
2. Erik Karlsson, OTT 1292 (63-86-9-4-3)
3. Victor Hedman, TBL 728 (3-13-106-21-14)
4. Duncan Keith, CHI 384 (2-4-19-70-31)
5. Ryan Suter, MIN 175 (2-1-9-25-28)
6. Shea Weber, MTL 100 (1-0-6-11-27)
7. Drew Doughty, LAK 51 (0-0-1-10-16)
8. Mark Giordano, CGY 41 (0-0-1-11-3)
9. Dougie Hamilton, CGY 23 (0-0-0-6-5)
10. Justin Schultz, PIT 22 (0-0-2-2-6)
11. Roman Josi, NSH 19 (0-1-0-2-6)
12. Dustin Byfuglien, WPG 15 (0-0-2-1-2)
13. Jared Spurgeon, MIN  14 (0-0-2-1-1)
14. Kevin Shattenkirk, WSH 9 (0-0-0-1-6)
15. Torey Krug, BOS 7 (0-1-0-0-0)
16. Alex Pietrangelo, STL 7 (0-0-0-1-4)
17. Ryan McDonagh, NYR 5 (0-0-0-1-2)
18. Seth Jones, CBJ 4 (0-0-0-0-4)
Zach Werenski, CBJ 4 (0-0-0-0-4)
20. Jaccob Slavin, CAR 2 (0-0-0-0-2)
21. Cam Fowler, ANA 1 (0-0-0-0-1)
Dmitry Orlov, WSH 1 (0-0-0-0-1)
Marc-Edouard Vlasic, SJS 1 (0-0-0-0-1)

Click here for the full history of Norris Trophy winners.