Roundtable: Playoff race excitement; Marleau’s Hall of Fame case

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Which divisional race for the final one or two playoff spots are you most excited to watch?

James O’Brien, NHL writer: In all honesty, the Central Division race between the Predators and Stars might end up being the only race that actually goes “down to the wire,” so that battle wins by default. The two teams are only scheduled to meet once more this season, so at least the Predators and Stars carry decent odds of making this a truly neck-and-neck race. It’s not the worst battle, either, as both the Predators and Stars aren’t far removed from runs to the Stanley Cup Final.

Marisa Ingemi, NHL writer: The Central is the most interesting as a division, period, because the teams are the tightest. The top of the division have the most intense games in the league night in and night out, and for the final spot, there’s so much at stake. It feels like Dallas is going to take that final spot with the way they’ve been playing and their games in hand, but hey, we all counted Nashville out before and they came back here. It should be fascinating to see unfold.

Michael Finewax, NBC Sports Edge Senior Hockey Writer/Editor: It has to be the North. The season was supposed to end on May 7 in the original schedule but now due to COVID, Calgary and Vancouver complete the season with three games ending on May 19. The Flames are four points behind Montreal for fourth and while Vancouver is  eight back but have five games in hand. If it comes down to the May 19th game (and the rest of the divisions have already started their playoffs) if will be quite exciting.

[Your 2020-21 NHL on NBC TV schedule]

Sean Leahy, NHL writer: I’m pretty fascinated by the North and the potential for the Canucks to give us the story of the season. They’ve won three of five following their extended COVID-19 break and face 14 games in 22 days. Vancouver is now 10 points behind Montreal with five games in-hand, plus there’s also Calgary to deal with. The Flames are six points behind the fourth-place Habs and have played one game more than Montreal.

The Canucks blew a good chance to make up ground during Monda’s loss to Ottawa. They have one more with the Senators and then face a difficult run with two against the Maple Leafs; five vs. the Oilers; and two against the Jets. It’s a tall task, but hopefully will be fun to watch.

Adam Gretz, NHL writer: For me it is the west simply because neither Arizona or St. Louis has been able to take control of it. They are both playing some of their worst hockey of the season right now. St. Louis has more games to make up ground, but have you looked at the teams they have to play? It is almost nothing but Vegas, Colorado, and Minnesota, while Arizona gets almost nothing but Los Angeles, San Jose, and Anaheim. In the end the reward for the team that wins that spot is a first-round matchup against Colorado or Vegas. Congratulations for that! 

Jake Abrahams, Managing Editor, NHL content: I’m keying in on the West Division, purely because none of the challengers seem to want to make a move. As of Tuesday, the final playoff spot is St. Louis’, but Arizona is right behind them. Winless weekends for the Sharks and Kings may have put them out of contention for good.

[NHL Power Rankings: Golden Knights on top; Playoff races to watch]

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Patrick Marleau is a Hall of Famer: Yay or nay?

Marisa Ingemi, NHL writer: Yes. People can be real gatekeeper-y about the Hall of Fame based on their own head canon of who is good enough or whatever, but based on all the real evidence he’s a HOF caliber player. Anytime you break a Gordie Howe record that feels like an automatic, like getting 3,000 hits in baseball or something. My basis of the Hall of Fame has always been, can you tell the history of the sport, this era of the sport, without this guy? If you can’t, then they’re in. By that mark, Marleau having the games played record puts him in, but again, a more factual answer looking at reality would lead us to a “yes” conclusion as well.

James O’Brien, NHL writer: Based on who’s in the IRL HOF, rather than the callous, selective one that lives in our minds? Yes, he’s a no-brainer. There are players in the Hockey Hall of Fame who are less accomplished than Marleau. Breaking Gordie Howe’s games played record is the cherry on top. And you know what? That’s great, because Marleau’s been a good-to-great player for an almost unfathomably long stretch. As far as I can tell, Marleau’s a good guy, too. Works for me.

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Sean Leahy, NHL writer: While may not have any major hardware to his name, Marleau should end up having a plaque in the Hall of Fame someday. He’s the owner of the NHL’s all-time games played record, and has over 500 goals (566) and 1,000 points (1,197). Marleau has played 23 years in the league and this season will be the first time he won’t hit double digits in goals.

Marleau also has the international resume to help his case with golds at two Olympics, the IIHF World Championship, and World Cup of Hockey with Canada.

Adam Gretz, NHL writer: I have zero doubt that he is going to get in eventually. He might have a little bit of a wait when he does retire, but he is getting in. There seem to be a handful of factors to get in. Longevity. Milestones. Playing on a great team. If you have two of those three, you have a great chance. He not only has the games played mark, but he is also way high on the ironman streak list and also has over 550 goals and is three points away from 1,200 points. There are only 24 other players in league history that have at least 550 goals and 1,200 points. Out of that group, 23 are already in the Hall of Fame. The 24th player is Alex Ovechkin, who will be in the Hall of Fame.

Honestly the only thing Marleau’s career is missing is the Stanley Cup (he had the Stanley Cup Final appearance with San Jose back in the 2015-16 season) but he has enough games played, goals, points and durability to get in. He is one of those players that was never an all-time great, or the best player of his era, but he was good enough for long enough that he is in. 

[Stunning numbers: Patrick Marleau NHL record edition]

Michael Finewax, NBC Sports Edge Senior Hockey Writer/Editor: Patrick Marleau is a Hall of Famer. Longevity is an important part as so many players are unable to compete into their 40’s. Don’t remember what he has done of late but rather his whole career. He was selected second overall and made the Sharks as a just turned 18-year-old. He had some great years and although he never won the Stanley Cup, he was good enough to win Olympic Gold twice with Canada, both in 2010 and 2014. He has 566 career goals and 1,197 points and in combination with his lengthy career, everything combined makes him a Hall of Famer.

Jake Abrahams, Managing Editor, NHL content: Yes, I think he has to be. Despite Marleau’s all-time games played record and 566 (and counting) career goals, at no point was he ever among the handful of best wingers in the NHL while he played. No championships, no individual awards, never scored more than 86 points in a season. But that doesn’t mean he isn’t worthy. His case reminds me of another Bay Area athlete known for longevity: Frank Gore, the third-leading rusher in NFL history. If you compile for long enough, at some point that can’t be ignored. Yes, a HHOF induction would be more of a lifetime achievement award than anything, but there’s nothing wrong with that.