Unfinished business: NHL storylines we’re eager to see resolved

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We don’t know when hockey will resume and if the NHL will even get a chance to complete the 2019-20 season. As we wait, we’re left to ponder a lot of what ifs in regards to a number of storylines. There were a little more than three weeks left in the regular season and still plenty of things to warrant attention.

Let’s take a look at what’s still to be resolved in the NHL gets back to playing out this season.

The Rocket Richard chase

With a dozen or so games left for teams, the goal-scoring chase really heated up before the “pause.” Here’s where we currently stand:

48 – Alex OvechkinDavid Pastrnak
47 – Auston Matthews
43 – Leon Draisaitl
41 – Mika Zibanejad
38 – Kyle Connor, Sebastian Aho
36 – Jack Eichel

Ovechkin, already enjoying a history-making season after reaching 700 career goals, is vying for his ninth Richard Trophy. The award has only been handed out 21 times to 12 players (there have been two ties), and only five players — Ovechkin, Pavel Bure, Jarome Iginla, Steven Stamkos, Sidney Crosby — have won it multiple times.

A dark horse? That would be Zibanejad. The Rangers forward entered the “pause” with 11 goals in his previous six games and 17 in his last 13 games total. Another five-goal night and we’re in business.

Playoff races

The difference between the first wild card spot in the Eastern Conference (Carolina) and 11th place is just three points. Over in the Western Conference 11th place Arizona is six points behind Winnipeg for the first wild card, and the Jets are two points behind Dallas for the No. 3 seed in the Central Division.

So, yeah, things are tight, and that’s just in some of the wild card races. The biggest lead among the four division leaders is Boston’s eight-point advantage of Tampa. The other three leaders are ahead by no more than three points.

Even the Presidents’ Trophy could be interesting as the 2019 Stanley Cup finalists vie for the title. The Bruins are up six points (100) on the Blues with a game in-hand. The Avalanche and Lightning are right behind with 92 points.

The awards

Who’s your Hart Trophy pick? Leon Draisaitl? Nathan MacKinnon? Connor Hellebuyck? Artemi Panarin? Jacob Markstrom? There are different ways to go depending on how you define “valuable.”

What direction are leaning in the Vezina race? Hellebuyck has been a very, very big reason why the Jets are in a playoff spot. Tuukka Rask leads all netminders with a .929 even strength save percentage and has posted five shutouts. Ben Bishop is having another solid season as part of one of the league’s best goalie tandems. Markstrom has been Vancouver’s MVP this season.

What about the Calder? We started the season thinking it was Cale Makar’s to lose. Now Quinn Hughes has made a formidable challenge, potentially even overtaking the Avs’ defenseman for the lead.

John Tortorella seemed to have one hand on the Jack Adams Award just a few weeks ago, but with Blue Jackets players dropping left and right due to injury, the team has slipped. Since the NHL All-Star break, Columbus is 6-6-7, yet still hangs on to a wild card spot. Pittsburgh’s Mike Sullivan and Craig Berube of the defending champion Blues were in the running as well.

Entering the race of late? That would be Alain Vigneault of the Flyers, the winner in 2007. Philadelphia won nine straight to vault themselves up the East standings and put forth a challenge for the Metropolitan Division title.

Race for Lafreniere

Here’s where the draft lottery picture stands:

Detroit Red Wings — 18.5 percent
Ottawa Senators  — 13.5 percent
Ottawa Senators* — 11.5 percent
Los Angeles Kings — 9.5 percent
Anaheim Ducks — 8.5 percent
New Jersey Devils — 7.5 percent
Buffalo Sabres — 6.5 percent
Montreal Canadiens — 6 percent
Chicago Blackhawks — 5 percent
New Jersey Devils** — 3.5 percent
Minnesota Wild  — 3 percent
Vancouver Canucks — 2.5 percent
Nashville Predators — 2 percent
Florida Panthers — 1.5 percent
Calgary Flames — 1 percent

(* SJ’s 2020 first-round pick owned by OTT)
(** ARZ’s lottery-protected 2020 first-round pick owned by NJ. If top three, moves to 2021)

There will be no challenging the Red Wings for the best chance at the No. 1 pick given their season. A 17-49-5 record gives them 39 points, the fewest in the NHL. Even if we did play out the rest of the regular season Detroit could win their final 11 games and still finish behind the Senators.

The real fun as we wait to see where Alexis Lafreniere will play next season is how the Senators could benefit. With their pick and the one acquired in the Erik Karlsson trade, Pierre Dorion has a chance to add some big young pieces to a solid prospect cupboard.

Red Wings go for lowest points percentage

Finally, on the subject of the Red Wings’ forgettable season, their .275 points percentage is the second-lowest since the NHL introduced the loser point in 1999-00 (and four years after going to an 82-game schedule). Only the 1999-00 Thrashers (.238) were worse. 

This “pause” is robbing us of potential history and the likely final days of Jeff Blashill as head coach, if Steve Yzerman chooses to go in a new direction.

NHL Power Rankings: Where every team stands right now
Nearly every NHL team has announced plans to help part-time workers
• Where the NHL left off with 2019-20 season in limbo
• NHL allowing players to go back home, isolate until end of March


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.

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