Getty Images

PHT Decade in Review: Top NHL players in fantasy hockey

As 2019 comes to a close, we’re taking a look back at the past decade. We’ll remember the best players and teams, most significant goals, fantasy highlights, and biggest transactions that have happened since 2010. Let us know your memories in the comments.

Welcome to our weekly fantasy hockey column where we usually recommend players you should consider adding and dropping. This time we’re going to do something a little different though. With the decade almost over, we’re going to take this opportunity to highlight the best fantasy players of the 2010s.

To make things interesting, we’ll look at this from two different angles. First we’ll highlight the best fantasy player from each season from 2010-11 through 2018-19 and then we’ll highlight the best overall fantasy players of the 2010s.

2010-11: Only one player reached the 100-point milestone and that was the Canucks’ Daniel Sedin, who scored 41 goals and 104 points. He won the Art Ross Trophy just a year after his twin brother, Henrik claimed it. However, unlike Henrik Sedin, Daniel didn’t collect the Hart Trophy along with the Art Ross. Instead the Hart went to the Ducks’ Corey Perry, who had 50 goals and 98 points. Tim Thomas claimed the Vezina Trophy with a 35-11-9 record, 2.00 GAA, and .938 save percentage in 57 contests in 57 games while Nicklas Lidstrom won the Norris Trophy for the seventh and final time. Lidstrom had 16 goals and 62 points in 75 contests. However, none of them would be my pick for the best fantasy player of the year.

Carey Price, Canadiens – In terms of GAA and save percentage, Price lagged behind Thomas with a 2.35 GAA and .923 save percentage, but the advantage of Price was how much the Canadiens leaned on him. Price played in 72 games and being able to use your top goaltender that often is incredibly helpful in fantasy leagues. Those extra starts also led to Price topping Thomas in wins and shutouts with 38 and eight respectively. This is one of those cases where I’d argue Thomas was the better goaltender that season, but Price is the one I would have rather owned in fantasy leagues.

2011-12: Just like last season, there was only one player who reached the century mark. This time it was the Penguins’ Evgeni Malkin, who had 50 goals and 109 points in 75 games. He cleanly won the Art Ross by 12 points, but Tampa’s Steven Stamkos decisively won the Richard Trophy with an incredible 60 goals while Malkin finished second in that regard. Stamkos finished second in the overall scoring race. Between those two offensive stars, Malkin was picked as the Hart winner. The Rangers’ Henrik Lundqvist won the Vezina with a 39-18-5 record, 1.97 GAA, and .930 save percentage in 62 starts. The Norris was claimed by the Senators’ Erik Karlsson, who had 19 goals and 78 points in 81 contests. Those are plenty of amazing players to choose from, but I think Malkin has the edge here.

Evgeni Malkin, Penguins – I was honestly initially leaning towards Stamkos given how rare it is to have a player score 60 goals in this era, but Malkin had the edge in every other major category that fantasy leagues care about at the time. Obviously, Malkin had more points, but he also had a solid edge in plus/minus (plus-18 to plus-7), power-play points (34 to 25), and SOG (339 to 303). Malkin also had few more penalty minutes (70 to 66), which was a pretty standard fantasy category at the time. None of those category leads alone made Malkin the better fantasy option that season, but put together Malkin is the clear choice.

2012-13: This was the lockout shortened season that was limited to 48 games. Tampa’s Martin St. Louis won the Art Ross with 17 goals and 60 points, but the Capitals’ Alex Ovechkin won the Hart with 32 goals and 56 points. The Vezina was claimed by Sergei Bobrovsky, who posted a 21-11-6 record, 2.00 GAA, and .932 save percentage in 38 games. Montreal’s P.K. Subban was the Norris winner with 11 goals and 38 points in 42 contests. This time around, there is a decisive winner in my mind and that’s Ovechkin.

Alex Ovechkin, Capitals – As noted above, Ovechkin had nearly double St. Louis’ goal total while only falling four points shy, so in that regard, Ovechkin is clearly the better fantasy option. Ovechkin also bested him in other big fantasy categories too including plus/minus (plus-two to neutral), penalty minutes (36 to 14), power-play points (27 to 20), and shots (220 to 112). So there really isn’t much wiggle room to say that you would have been better off having St. Louis that season. In fact, I’d argue that Stamkos was also better than St. Louis that season from a fantasy perspective. Stamkos had 29 goals, 57 points, 157 shots, and 32 penalty minutes, but did lag behind both St. Louis and Ovechkin in plus/minus (minus-four) and power-play points (18).

2013-14: The Penguins’ Sidney Crosby claimed both the Art Ross and the Hart with 36 goals and 104 points in 80 games. No other player even came close to him in the scoring race. The Ducks’ Ryan Getzlaf taking second place with 31 goals and 87 points in 77 contests. Chicago’s Duncan Keith was the Norris winner with six goals and 61 points in 79 games and the Bruins’ Tuukka Rask won the Vezina with a 36-15-6 record, 2.04 GAA, and .930 save percentage in 58 starts. A season I chose Ovechkin as the best fantasy player, I’d give the edge to his main rival of the era, Crosby.

Sidney Crosby, Penguins – All-in-all, this was a pretty meh season when it came to fantasy standouts. Just one player with even 90 points, one player with at least 50 goals (Ovechkin), and not a single goaltender started in at least 65 games. Under these conditions, Crosby won almost by default. It’s worth adding that in addition to his decisive win in the scoring race, Crosby also contributed a plus-18 rating, 46 penalty minutes, 38 power-play points and 259 shots to fantasy owners. He was the leader in any of those categories, but the fact that he was able to help in all of them certainly helped his case. That contrasted Ovechkin, who did lead the league in goals (51) and edged out Crosby in power-play points (39), but was a major burden in terms of plus/minus (minus-35) and fell well behind in points (79).

2014-15: We’ve reached the campaign where Price pulled off the rare feat of winning both the Hart and Vezina. That’s quite the accomplishment, but it was due in part to the lack of competition from forwards. Dallas’ Jamie Benn won the scoring race with 35 goals and 87 points in 82 games and he was one of just five players to even record 80 points. Ovechkin did score 53 goals, but he managed an underwhelming 28 assists. So there wasn’t really a forward who seemed terribly deserving of the Hart. Defenseman Erik Karlsson did have a strong campaign with 21 goals and 66 points in 82 contests en route to winning the Norris, but he wasn’t a serious contender for the Hart either. That’s not to say Price didn’t have a fantastic season though. He certainly stood out from the crowd with a 44-16-6 record, 1.96 GAA, and .933 save percentage in 66 starts, which is why I’m also comfortable saying he was that season’s top fantasy option.

Carey Price, Canadiens – This is the second time in the span of five seasons I’m listing Price as my top fantasy choice. With the relatively weak state of forwards in 2014-15, Price’s main competition was other goaltenders. The Washington Capitals’ Braden Holtby would have been my second choice. He had a 41-20-10 record, 2.22 GAA, and .923 save percentage in 72 starts. Nashville’s Pekka Rinne had as many wins and a slightly better GAA (2.18) compared to Holtby, but Holtby appeared in nine more games and also clearly led Rinne in terms of shutouts (nine to four), which is a big help from a fantasy perspective.

2015-16: Only one player managed to breach the 90-point milestone this season and that was the Blackhawks’ Patrick Kane, who finished with 46 goals and 106 points. His efforts led to him winning both the Art Ross and Hart. The Vezina was claimed by Braden Holtby who posted a 48-9-7 record, 2.20 GAA, and .922 save percentage in 66 starts. In terms of blueliners, Drew Doughty won the Norris with 14 goals and 51 points in 82 contests, but he arguably wasn’t even in the top-five in terms of best fantasy defensemen. For me the top blueliner from a fantasy perspective was the Sharks’ Brent Burns, who had 27 goals and 75 points in 82 contests. Karlsson did have the edge in points with 82, but it’s not often you can find a defenseman who will provide you with even close to 30 goals. At the end of the day though, I feel Holtby was the best fantasy option.

Braden Holtby, Capitals – It’s rare for a defenseman to get 27 goals and certainly Kane was a clear winner in the scoring race, but Holtby tied Martin Brodeur’s NHL record with his 48 wins. No other goaltender gave you even close to that win total in 2015-16 with LA’s Jonathan Quick being the next best option at 40 victories. Holtby was also a strong contributor in GAA and save percentage too while finishing in a tie for second in starts, so he was far more than a goaltender who contributed in one category.

2016-17: And now, we enter the era of Connor McDavid. The Oilers forward actually made his debut in 2015-16, but he was limited to 45 games due to injury. This time around he played the full 82 games, contributing 30 goals and a league-best 100 points. With no other player reaching even the 90-point milestone and the Oilers making the playoffs for the first time since 2006, McDavid won the Hart. Bobrovsky won the Vezina for the second time with a 41-17-5 record, 2.06 GAA, and .931 save percentage in 63 starts. Burns was picked for the Norris with 29 goals and 76 points in 82 contests and it’s Burns I’ll ultimately select as my top fantasy choice for this season.

Brent Burns, Sharks – As I mentioned above, Burns was close to being my top choice in 2015-16, but Holtby’s record-tying wins total edged him out. This time around, no player had a similarly historic season and Burns was just as good. He finished just a single goal behind McDavid and 23 points, which is amazing numbers to get out a defenseman. Burns also led the league with 320 shots, had a strong plus-19 rating, and his 25 power-play points put him just three shy of McDavid. I also want to give an honorable mention to Oilers goaltender Cam Talbot, who posted a 42-22-8 record, 2.39 GAA, and .919 save percentage over a staggering 73 starts. McDavid got the Hart, but I’d argue that Talbot was the single biggest factor in the Oilers’ making the playoffs. He gave them the stability in goal they desperately needed and when he faltered in 2017-18 and beyond, the Oilers fell with him.

2017-18: The Devils’ Taylor Hall won the Hart with 39 goals and 93 points in 76 games, but he wasn’t the league’s best fantasy forward. In fact there were several forwards I would have rather had over him, including the man I’ll pick as the 2017-18 campaign’s top fantasy option. Before I get to that though, I want to highlight Rinne, who won the Vezina with a 42-13-4 record, 2.31 GAA, and .927 save percentage and defenseman Victor Hedman, who won the Norris with 17 goals and 63 points in 77 contests.

Connor McDavid, Oilers – The primary reason why McDavid missed out on the Hart is because the Oilers missed the playoffs, but that’s not a factor in fantasy leagues. Instead, the factors are McDavid’s 41 goals, 108 points, plus-20 rating, 20 power-play points, and 274 shots in 82 games. Of those categories, the only one Hall was clearly the better player was power-play points, where he had 37. Hall also enjoyed the slightest of edges in shots (278 to 274). Neither of those makes up for McDavid’s lead in the other categories though, especially McDavid’s clear edge in points. In fact, I’d argue that McDavid’s closer competition was Tampa’s Nikita Kucherov, who had 39 goals, 100 points, a plus-15 rating, 36 power-play points, and 279 shots. Between Kucherov and McDavid, the gap is actually razor thin.

2018-19: I mentioned a few times above that just one player reached the 90-point milestone that season. In the case of 2018-19, 14 different players got at least that many points. The leader among them was Kucherov, who finished with 41 goals and 128 points in 82 games en route to winning the Hart. His Lightning teammate Andrei Vasilevskiy won the Vezina with a 39-10-4 record, 2.40 GAA, and .925 save percentage in 53 starts. The Norris went to the Flames’ Mark Giordano, who scored 17 goals and 74 points in 78 games.

Nikita Kucherov, Lightning – With scoring on the rise in 2018-19, Kucherov had arguably the best fantasy season of any player over the decade. His 128 points gave him the clear edge over the second place McDavid (116 points). Kucherov also bested McDavid in plus/minus (plus-24 to plus-three), power-play points (48 to 33), and shots (246 to 240). Obviously the SOG totals were pretty close and they both finished with 41 goals, but Kucherov’s clear lead in the other major fantasy categories makes him the easy pick. Edmonton’s Leon Draisaitl deserves an honorable mention though, for finishing with 50 goals, 105 points, a plus-two rating, 29 power-play points, and 231 shots.

So with all that done, how do we pick the best player of the decade? The first question is if we’re looking for quantity or quality? From the start of 2010-11 to present (including this season), Patrick Kane leads the league with 754 points in 696 games, but I didn’t tap Kane as the fantasy leader in any single season. What Kane brought to the table was relative health and consistency. With the obvious exceptions of the lockout shortened 2013 campaign and the still in progress 2019-20 season, he recorded at least 64 points in every campaign. Meanwhile, Crosby averaged more points per game, but injuries resulted in him appearing in 107 fewer contests.

Kane also had the benefit of being in his prime entering the decade. What about those who entered the league during it? They’re at an obvious disadvantage if what we’re looking at are the totals. For example, there’s McDavid, who has only appeared in 326 games in the 2010s for obvious reasons, but he’s the clear decade leader in terms of points-per-game (min. 200 games played). In that category, the top-five are McDavid (1.33 PTS/G), Crosby (1.23), Malkin (1.15), Kane (1.08), and Stamkos (1.06).

This is just looking at skaters. There’s even more of a headache when evaluating goaltenders. When a forward declines for example, that just means that they’ll produce fewer points, but a goaltender has a GAA and save percentage that will be dragged down. Take Price, who is the only person I selected as the best fantasy option in two separate seasons. However, he also had a disastrous 2017-18 campaign where he posted a 3.11 GAA and .900 save percentage in 49 games and he’s been a mixed bag this season as well. That gives him a somewhat less impressive 2.42 GAA and .919 save percentage over the decade, though even then he’s still one of the best goaltenders over this 10-year period.

There’s no ideal way to pick a player, but ultimately the point of this is to make a choice and so I will:

Sidney Crosby, Penguins – If you participated in a fantasy draft over the last decade, there was one thing that was almost always true: Crosby was a clear top-five pick and sometimes the clear top pick overall. You can’t really say that for any other player over the last decade. The closest comparable to that over the same time frame is Ovechkin, but even Ovechkin had a brief period of time where it looked like his shine had worn off back in 2016-17 when he scored 33 goals and 69 points in 82 games and that came after a series of campaigns where he was still scoring goals, but posting underwhelming numbers in other categories. Crosby had disappointing seasons too, but when he disappointed, it was always due to injury and consequently, you knew that if he was healthy, he would be one of the league’s top players if not the very best. Even with the rise of McDavid and Kucherov, Crosby has managed to stay near the top of the pack, scoring 35 goals and 100 points in 79 contests last season. 

There are plenty of others that deserve honorable mentions though. Beyond Kane, Ovechkin, McDavid, and Price, who were all already mentioned, Phil Kessel deserves to be highlighted for being consistently near the top of the league even if he never was quite at the heights of those others. He has 269 goals and 663 points in 742 contests this decade. Stamkos and Malkin were other major standouts who were slowed somewhat by injuries. Stamkos has 332 goals and 655 points in 616 games while Malkin has 257 goals and 652 point in 566 contests. Meanwhile, there is one player you might not expect to find in the top-10 of this decade’s scoring leaders and that’s Blake Wheeler. Health and consistency have led to him scoring 213 goals and 643 points in 733 games, which is good for ninth place on the points list.

When it comes to defensemen, it probably won’t surprise you to learn that Erik Karlsson and Brent Burns were the top two scorers with 564 and 537 points respectively. Keith Yandle might surprise you a bit in third place with 77 goals and 473 points in 741 contests.

In goal it’s hard to pick a standout for the entire decade, but I think Rask is the closest to it. Though he started the decade as Tim Thomas’ understudy, which means he has less overall games played than the likes of Lundqvist, Pekka Rinne, and Price, but Rask has averaged out to be the best of them. He has a 253-151-57 record, 2.31 GAA, and .920 save percentage in 467 contests over that span. Bobrovsky isn’t quite the best goaltender of the decade, but he is the most interesting. He won the Vezina twice, but he also had some pretty underwhelming campaigns sprinkled in there. Taken as a whole, he has a 268-162-41 record, 2.50 GAA, and .918 save percentage in 485 games.

Next week we’ll be back to looking forward, but in the meantime I hope you enjoyed this look down memory lane.

If you’re looking for fantasy hockey information, Rotoworld is a great resource. You can check the player news for the latest information on any player and insight into their fantasy outlook.

Every week Michael Finewax looks ahead at the schedule and offers team-by-team notes in The Week Ahead. I have a weekly Fantasy Nuggets column where I basically talk about whatever’s captured my attention that week. Gus Katsaros does an Analytics columns if you want to get into detailed statistical analysis. If you’re interested in rookies and prospects, there’s a weekly column on that written by McKeen’s Hockey. 

For everything fantasy hockey, check out Rotoworld’s Player News, and follow @Rotoworld_ HK and @RyanDadoun on Twitter.

MORE PHT DECADE IN REVIEW FUN:
• Most significant goals
• Best players of the decade
• Favorite goals, best/worst jerseys
Best NHL teams of the decade
Biggest NHL trades

LA Kings hope late-season surge indicates brighter future

Leave a comment

LOS ANGELES (AP) — The Los Angeles Kings were the NHL’s hottest team before the coronavirus pandemic ended the regular season prematurely. They’re hoping they can eventually build on that success whenever they get back on the ice.

The team with the NHL’s longest active winning streak won’t get a chance to extend it this season, thanks to the league’s decision this week to limit its playoff tournament to 24 teams. The Kings’ seven straight victories before the stoppage comprised the franchise’s best stretch since December 2017, and it had even pulled them out of last place in the Pacific Division.

The Kings haven’t lost a game since Feb. 23, and their 10-3-1 surge prior to the pause suggests coach Todd McLellan’s work was finally paying off after Los Angeles mostly struggled through the first four months of a rebuilding season. The Kings’ only public comment on the abrupt end came in a statement from team President Luc Robitaille.

”It’s unfortunate that our season has concluded, but we fully understand this was necessary and support the decision,” Robitaille said. ”At the time of the pause, we had made considerable progress in the second half and were seeing positive results and encouraging signs for the future. We’ll now turn our attention to the NHL draft and player development so that we can continue building our organization for long-term success.”

Despite their late success, the Kings already were all but certain to miss the playoffs in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 2009.

Even after two straight disappointing seasons, Robitaille, general manager Rob Blake and McLellan all appear to be secure in their jobs and locked in on a long-term plan to return the Kings to Stanley Cup contention.

Los Angeles won the trophy twice in three years before entering a slow decline caused by massive veteran contracts and unimpressive talent development, culminating in the struggles that finally showed signs of ending before the coronavirus upended everyone’s plans.

”If we had a chance to finish the season, we’d want to finish the season,” Robitaille said earlier this month. ”Especially the fact that we have a lot of young players, it’s always good experience for them to play.”

CORE GUYS

A championship-winning veteran core remains in Los Angeles, but the Kings must decide whether to keep it together for another year. Drew Doughty, Anze Kopitar, Jonathan Quick, Dustin Brown and Jeff Carter are all still-productive players locked into big contracts, but Blake knows it’s time to repair the foundation of his franchise to rebuild a winner. Blake values the leadership and experience of those veterans along with longtime depth forward Trevor Lewis, who is the Kings’ most noteworthy unrestricted free agent. Los Angeles already parted ways with stalwart supporting players Alec Martinez, Tyler Toffoli and Kyle Clifford in February, and while it wouldn’t be reasonable to expect big changes given the contract obstacles, Blake would be foolish not to consider more ways to get younger and more financially flexible.

FIND THE NET

The Kings were among the NHL’s lowest-scoring teams again this season, with Kopitar’s 21 goals and 41 assists easily leading the roster in both categories. Los Angeles had only five 10-goal scorers, while only Kopitar and Alex Iafallo topped 40 points. Despite their offensive struggles, Blake saw progress in the Kings’ implementation of McLellan’s system. ”Clearly we wanted to be a strong-shooting team, a team that got pucks to the net, recovered pucks well and generated offense off that,” Blake said. ”I think the year-end review showed that.”

PING PONG BALLS

The Kings have a 9.5% chance of winning the top pick in the complicated draft lottery this summer. For a franchise that hasn’t drafted a star since Doughty in 2008, a high pick would be an enormous boost. The Kings’ draft carries an added degree of difficulty with the departure of assistant general manager Michael Futa, whose contract expires in June. Still, Los Angeles is in prime position to add another elite talent to a solid pool of prospects including first-rounder Alex Turcotte, Gabe Vilardi, Arthur Kaliyev, Samuel Fagemo and Tyler Madden.

HIGHLIGHTS

Iafallo’s transformation from an undrafted free agent to a consistent NHL scorer in less than three years has been a rare bright spot for the Kings’ recent record of player acquisitions. Ditto for Sean Walker, an undrafted defenseman who played his way into a regular NHL role. Walker’s 24 points this season nearly matched the prolific Doughty, who had 28.

LOWLIGHTS

Carter has two more years left on his 10-year contract extension, but Blake said earlier this month that the 35-year-old veteran scorer wouldn’t have been able to return from his mysterious core injury even if the NHL season had continued for the Kings. And though Adrian Kempe was the Kings’ fifth-leading scorer, his inconsistency aggravated the front office and coaching staff. The Swede will strive for steadier production in the years ahead.

Killorn, Lightning jet ski their way to NHL return in ‘Bolts are Back’

Leave a comment

During some of the dog days of the pandemic pause, Alex Killorn gathered Lightning teammates for some tremendous-cheesy “Dock Talk” videos. It only makes sense, then, that he gathered the gang (“the boys?”) for the best segment yet to celebrate the NHL’s return to play. Yes, the “Bolts are back,” indeed.*

* – In small groups

Killorn, Steven Stamkos, and other Lightning teammates celebrated this announcement — on jet skis, with humor — to the tune of Thin Lizzy’s “The Boys are back in town.”

(Warning: that song will probably get in your head if you watch the video above. Maybe it already is?)

Enjoy some of the best moments of Killorn’s great “Bolts are back” video.

Splashy highlights of Killorn, Stamkos, other Lightning players in “Bolts are back”

Killorn makes his “directorial debut” with an honestly very nice overhead pool shot. The video starts strong with Stamkos and Killorn being goofy on their jet skis.

Stamkos "Bolts are Back"
What, Stamkos didn’t spring for fancy airpods? (via Killorn)

In a moment of poor sportsmanship/skismanship, an unnamed Bruin (or, most likely, someone wearing a Bruins shirt?) gets splashed. Figure this one out, Internet. I believe this is the same person who gets dumped in the water (while wearing a Maple Leafs shirt?) later on?

Bruins guy in "Bolts are Back"
Well, that’s rude. (via Killorn)

While there’s plenty of room for debate, I’d argue that Andrei Vasilevskiy (aka “Big Cat”) earns the nod for best cameo. We catch him lifting weights, and grunting something — maybe “you’re the man?” — before spotting his Lightning pals.

Vasilevskiy Big Cat "Bolts are Back"
Do goalies need to be that ripped? Asking for Dominik Hasek. (via Killorn)

Like many great filmmakers, Killorn tackles class when he features Lightning teammate Anthony Cirelli in one of the more memorable sequences of “Bolts are Back.” Notice that Cirelli (“Rocco”) is waiting tables before being summoned. You see, Cirelli is on an entry-level contract. Is his artificially deflated contract being referenced by Killorn?

Clearly.

Judging by Cirelli abandoning his duties, it’s not only good that the Bolts are back, and so seemingly is the NHL. It’s also promising that Cirelli’s due a raise as a pending RFA.

Other cast members

Not every appearance was as strong as a grunting big cat. Then again, maybe it boils down to repeat viewings, because Mikhail Sergachev‘s fanny pack and cat moved up the power rankings over time:

Sergachev cat
Almost a dog-like pose? Not complaining. (via Killorn)

Clearly, Braydon Coburn and/or Killorn are well-schooled on action movie tropes. At least, that’s my headcanon for Coburn being interrupted while cutting wood. Doesn’t that happen in every thriller involving a reluctantly returning hero? Anyway, Coburn joining the group with an open shirt earns one of the bigger laughs:

Braydon Coburn cameo
Alrighty then, “Kobayashi.” (via Killorn)

Killorn isn’t yet at that “obsessive auteur director” level just yet, as I imagine a control freak would have been maddened by the imperfect skiing V:

imperfect V "Bolts are back"
Maddening. (via Killorn)

(Seriously, who is the straggler? Could Cirelli’s jet ski not keep up? Class rears its ugly head again.)

Killorn ties it all together with another great joke: “The Bolts are back” — in small groups.

"Bolts are Back" -- in small groups
(via Killorn)

Killorn actually might be right about the whole “breakout influencer of the year” thing, honestly.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Puck Treasures: The Mario Lemieux candy bun

1 Comment

Puck Treasures is all about showcasing unique pieces of hockey memorabilia. Have an interesting item? Send us an email at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

You know you’ve made it when you get something named after you. It could be a street, a school, a beer… maybe even a candy bar.

We know the famous “Reggie” bar named after baseball Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson in the late 1970s.

Those “Reggie” bars were produced by Standard Brands’ Curtiss Candy Company. After several ownership changes, the D.L. Clark Company, based in Pittsburgh, decided in 1992 to honor the captain of the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions.

Behold, the Mario Lemieux Bun!

Worthpoint.com

Each bun, which featured chocolate, peanuts and caramel, contained one Lemieux hockey card. Select packages included cards autographed by Le Manifique. Check out Sal Barry’s review of the three-card set.

According to the Post-Gazette, Lemieux became the first Pittsburgh athlete with his own candy since the Bubby Bar, named after Steelers quarterback Bubby Brister. It was also the first time an NHL player was featured on an internationally marketed candy bar.

There are still some Mario Buns available on eBay, if you’re interested in collectibles or eating 27-year-old candy.

Too bad they couldn’t have teamed up with Jaromir Jagr peanut butter a few years later for a mega-powers bar.

PREVIOUS PUCK TREASURES:
The 170-year-old hockey stick valued at $3.5 million

————

Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Criticism doesn’t alter Sabres GM’s plan to build with youth

2 Comments

BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — Jason Botterill is very much aware of the criticism he’s attracted overseeing a Buffalo Sabres team that extended its playoff drought to nine years by failing to even qualify for the NHL’s expanded 24-team format.

That doesn’t mean the general manager is going to his alter his vision in continuing to build the organizational depth and developing young talent.

“There’s always urgency in this position, and I’m not surprised that our passionate fans want to see a winner on the ice,” Botterill said during a Zoom conference call Wednesday, a day after the Sabres were officially eliminated following the league’s decision to forego the remainder of the regular season.

“When we talk about development, it also equates to trying to find a winning environment here,” he added. “We want our young players to step in and put them in positions where they can succeed, where they can help out our core players right away.”

Though Botterill saw glimpses of his team being competitive under first-year coach Ralph Krueger, there wasn’t enough consistency to extend the Sabres’ 50th anniversary year after games were placed on pause due to the pandemic in March.

With a 30-31-8 record, Buffalo finished 13th in the Eastern Conference standings with a .493 points per game percentage. The Sabres were edged out from securing the final spot in the expanded format by Montreal (.500).

Buffalo’s playoff drought is the NHL’s longest active streak, and one short of matching the league record shared by Florida (2001-11) and Edmonton (2007-16).

For now, Botterill has ownership’s backing after Kim Pegula this week told The Associated Press the GM’s job is secure for a fourth year.

Buffalo’s season featured a series of peaks and valleys. Following a 9-2-1 start, the Sabres proceeded to go 2-8-3 over their next 13 games. And after a 7-3-1 run put the Sabres in striking distance of the playoff race in February, the wheels fell off with a six-game skid.

“We had too many poor streaks to combat the good streaks,” veteran forward Kyle Okposo said. “One of the keys to making the playoffs and playing well season is to manage those skids. We need to find a way to do better at that.”

Okposo is preaching patience by saying he sees promise in the Sabres developing players, and the simplified structure introduced by Krueger.

“I know people are mad, and they want to win. And we want to win, too,” Okposo said. “But we are going in the right direction, and I think that’s the message I have for fans.”

BRIGHT SPOTS

Captain Jack Eichel scored a career-best and team-leading 36 goals, including nine game-winners. Forward Victor Olofsson finished with 20 goals and had been leading NHL rookies in scoring before missing 15 games with a lower-body injury. Second-year defenseman Rasmus Dahlin finished fourth on the team with 40 points (four goals, 36 assists) in 59 games.

LOW POINTS

Forward Jeff Skinner finished with 14 goals and 23 points, a year after scoring a career-best 40 goals, which led to him signing an eight-year, $72 million contract. Defenseman Zach Bogosian had his contract terminated after refusing to report to the minors. Goalie Carter Hutton won his first six starts before going 0-8-4 in 13 appearances, and finished the season 12-14-4.

BUSY OFFSEASON

The Sabres were estimated to have more than $35 million available under the salary cap this offseason, though that projection will change with the cap expected to remain flat or potential constrict due to lost revenue.

Buffalo’s cap space stands to be eaten up with Olofsson, forward Sam Reinhart, defenseman Brandon Montour and goalie Linus Ullmark the most notable players eligible to become restricted free agents.

Buffalo’s unrestricted free agents include forwards Zemgus Girgensons, Johan Larrson and late-season addition Wayne Simmonds.

YOUTH MOVEMENT

Though Botterill hasn’t ruled out adding experienced talent through trades or free agency, he also expects several youngsters to compete for jobs next season. The candidates includes former first-round draft picks Tage Thompson and Casey Mittelstadt, who spent last season developing in the minors. Then there’s 2019 first-round pick, center Dylan Cozens, who has completed his Canadian junior eligibility.

DOWN DAHLIN

Missing the playoffs doesn’t sit well with Dahlin.

“It’s tough to be here in Sweden with all my Swedish buddies going back and playing, and I’m staying here at home,” Dahlin said via a Zoom call. “It (ticks) me off a little bit.”