Which NHL teams have built around their stars the best (and worst)

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Let’s start with a stunning stat here: A member of the Edmonton Oilers’ current bottom-six (their third or fourth line) has not scored a goal (not a single goal) since November 23. That is not only a stretch of eight games, it is a stretch of nine games that has seen the Oilers go 3-5-0 and plummet down the standings after an incredibly fast start to the season.

It is a problem that has plagued the Oilers for years now and been the single biggest thing holding them back during the Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl era.

It has been so bad that when neither player is on the ice during 5-on-5 play the Oilers have been outscored by a 42-82 margin during 5-on-5 play since the start of the 2020-21 season.

That is bad. Awful. Horrific. Just terrible support for two generational talents that should be the foundation of a Stanley Cup contender right now.

But just how bad, awful, and horrific is it? How does that compare to the rest of the league when their two best players are not on the ice? Well, funny you should ask that (you did ask that, right?) because we have the answers for you and attempted to look at which teams are doing the best, and worst job at supporting their stars and why it matters.

First, here is the simple methodology I used:

  • I took each team’s top two forwards in terms of salary cap hit.
  • Looked at how those teams performed from a goals for and goals against perspective without them on the ice.
  • This only takes into account 5-on-5 scoring. While special teams are important, your best players are going to play the bulk of the power play time and impact it, while 5-on-5 play is generally a good barometer for what a team is really capable of.

Why I think this matters and is important:

  • Superstars are an essential part of a championship team. But they can not do it alone. Hockey does not allow for it because your best players are only going to play a third of the game, leaving two thirds of the game for the rest of the team to have to make an impact. Your superstars will not score every game, no matter how good they are, and when they do not somebody else has to pick up the slack. If nobody else can, your team is going to lose.
  • While simply looking at salary cap commitment does not necessarily give you the “best” player on a team, they are still significant players because A) the team thought highly of them to commit that much money to them, and B) every dollar that goes to them is a dollar that can not be spent elsewhere.
  • You better have players beyond your top-two that can contribute.

So with all of that said, here are the top-10 teams in goal differential so far this season when their top-two cap hit forwards are NOT on the ice.

Okay, the Kings are … interesting. The thing holding them back here is that one of those two top salary cap guys (Brown) is having a miserable season on his own, and spends the bulk of his time playing next to Kopitar. When the Kopitar-Brown duo is off the ice, the Kings’ goal differential drops down closer to 50% out of the top-10.

The rest of these teams, though, are generally pretty good and either in a playoff spot right now or very close to a playoff spot. Some of these teams are among the best teams in the league (Tampa Bay, Carolina, Florida, Toronto, Minnesota) or just outside of that group (Pittsburgh, St. Louis).

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Washington (52% goal share without Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom — who has yet to play this season) is the next team just outside the top-10. So again, an outstanding team.

Now, let’s look at the bottom of the list. The teams with the WORST goal differential when their top-two stars are off the ice.

Oh, hello.

This is a grim, grim picture for Edmonton because every other team on this list is absolutely awful. Among the worst teams in the league, and already teams with almost no chance of making the playoffs this season.

Then there is the one team even worse than all of them in Edmonton. It is a testament to McDavid and Draisaitl that this team is even remotely competitive because that bottom-six is, quite literally, the worst in the NHL, and not by a small margin either.

Just for laughs, let’s go back and look at the 2020-21 season and look at the top-10 and bottom-10 teams.

Here is the top-10 with the same metric.

Another interesting team at the top in the Jets, but keep in mind that Jets team made the playoffs and won a playoff series. So by no means a bad team, and everybody else in that list is really good, including the Presidents’ Trophy winners (Colorado), both Stanley Cup Final teams (Tampa Bay and Montreal) and all four final four teams (Tampa Bay, Montreal, New York Islanders, and Vegas). Most of these teams had top-tier talents, and great depth to support them. As a result, they won a lot of games and generally did very well in the playoffs. All of them were playoff teams, and seven of them won at least one playoff round. The three that did not (Pittsburgh, Nashville, and Minnesota) lost their first-round matchups to other teams in the top-10 on this list.

Washington, Florida, and Toronto were the next three teams outside of the top-10 on this ranking. Also playoff teams (and very good playoff teams).

Now, again, the bottom-10 teams.

Same story as above. Every team here was among the worst in the league with the lone exception of, again, Edmonton at the absolute bottom. Another testament to how good those top two players (McDavid and Draisaitl) are with so little help around them. Anaheim and New Jersey were the next two teams above this group.

Edmonton does share one thing in common with the other nine teams here: They won zero playoff games in this season.

The big takeaway from this should be this: If your team does not have balance throughout its lineup, and if it does not have players that can pick up the slack and remain competitive when your two best players are not on the ice, your chances of success disappear almost entirely.

As it relates to this season, it should give you at least some optimism if you are a fan of one of those top teams. And if you are an Edmonton fan, well, you better hope the front office has some magic moves ahead.

[Data in this post via Natural Stat Trick]

Blackhawks’ Jonathan Toews returns to ice, hints at retirement

Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports
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CHICAGO — Longtime Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews returned to the ice but hinted his stellar NHL career could be winding down after 15 years.

Toews, 34, skated with teammates prior to Chicago’s game with the Dallas Stars. It was his first time practicing with them since a game in Edmonton on Jan. 28.

He made a statement through the team on Feb. 19 saying he would be stepping away because of the effects of Chronic Immune Response Syndrome and “long COVID.”

In meeting with reporters, Toews stopped short of saying he hoped to play in any of last-place Chicago’s nine remaining games. His eight-year, $84 million contract is set to expire at the end of the season.

Toews said he’s feeling stronger, but isn’t sure if he’ll be able to play again for the Blackhawks or another team.

“Both if I’m being fully honest,” Toews said. “I feel like I’ve said it already, that I’ve gotten to the point where my health is more important.

“When you’re young and you’re playing for a Stanley Cup and everyone’s playing through something, that means something and it’s worthwhile. But I’m at that point where it feels like more damage is being done than is a good thing.”

Toews, the Blackhawks’ first-round draft pick (third overall) in 2006, joined the team in 2007 and was a pillar of Stanley Cup championship clubs in 2010, 2013 and 2015.

At the peak of his career, he was one of the NHL’s top two-way centers, winning the Selke Trophy as the league’s top defensive forward in 2013.

In 1,060 regular-season games, Toews has 371 goals and 509 assists. In 139 playoff games, he’s posted 45 goals and 74 assists, and he won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP in 2010.

Toews missed the entire 2020-21 season with Chronic Immune Response System, which caused debilitating inflammation and fatigue.

He appeared in 71 games in 2021-22, then started this season with renewed energy before slowing and eventually shutting himself down.

Entering this season, it looked as if Chicago might deal him, as it did fellow star Patrick Kane, before the March trade deadline. But Kane went to the New York Rangers and Toews to injured reserve.

Toews believed he was progressing before a relapse in January left him so sore and tired that he could barely “put on my skates or roll out of bed to come to the rink.”

Toews said his progress over the past month has been “pretty encouraging” and he’s delighted to be back among his teammates. He has no timetable beyond that.

“We’re just going to go day by day here,” Chicago coach Luke Richardson said. He deserves anything he wants to try to achieve here.”

Richardson hoped Toews “can take that next step later in the week and hopefully (he) gives us the green light to go in a game.”

But Toews emphasized his long-term health and ability to lead a “normal life” is most important. He wants to go out on a positive note and not hit the ice for a game playing through excessive pain and dysfunction.

“It’s definitely on my mind that this could be my last few weeks here as a Blackhawk in Chicago,” Toews said. “It’s definitely very important for me to go out there and enjoy the game and just kind of soak it in and just really appreciate everything I’ve been able to be part of here in Chicago.”

Budding Wild star Matt Boldy more willing to shoot, and it shows

Nick Wosika-USA TODAY Sports

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Matt Boldy was unable to resist a smile in the aftermath of his second hat trick in five games for the Minnesota Wild, a young right wing and reluctant star trying to make sense of a remarkable hot streak.

Does the puck feel as if it’s automatically going in the net these days each time he shoots?

“Yeah, it does,” Boldy said in the locker room after leading the first-place Wild to a 5-1 win over Seattle. “My linemates are playing great. Hopefully you guys are giving them a lot of credit. You look at some of those goals – just putting it on a tee for me.”

This non-attention-seeker has found himself squarely in the NHL spotlight. Boldy has 11 goals in nine games since Wild superstar Kirill Kaprizov was sidelined with a lower-body injury to raise his goal total to 28, in part because he’s been more willing to shoot. With vision and stickhandling as strengths and the humility of being a second-year player, it’s easy to be in a pass-first mindset.

“Everybody kind of took turns talking to him. But it’s not that he didn’t want to. A lot of times a situation like that where a guy’s got that skillset, it’s a real unselfish quality, right?” coach Dean Evason said. “But I think he gets now that he helps the team a lot when he scores goals.”

The Wild were confident enough in Boldy’s scoring ability to commit a seven-year, $49 million contract extension to him earlier this winter, after all.

“I think I’ve always had that mentality, but sometimes you just get into spots and it comes off your stick good,” Boldy said. “When things are going well, the puck goes in the net.”’

The Wild are 6-1-2 without Kaprizov. Boldy is a big reason why.

“You go through the slumps, you learn what you need to do to score. I think he’s found a good way to be in the right spot and shoot the puck when he had a good opportunity,” center Joel Eriksson Ek said.

The Wild have only won one division title in 22 years, the five-team Northwest Division in 2007-08. They’re leading the eight-team Central Division with eight games to go, with both Colorado and Dallas too close for comfort. They haven’t won a playoff series since 2015.

With Kaprizov due back before the postseason and Boldy on this heater, a Wild team that ranks just 23rd in the league in goals per game (2.93) ought to have a better chance to advance. Eriksson Ek and Marcus Johansson have been ideal linemates for the Boston College product and Massachusetts native.

Since the Wild entered the league in the 2000-01 season, only five NHL players have had more hat tricks at age 21 or younger than Boldy with three: Patrik Laine (eight), Marian Gaborik (five), Steven Stamkos (five), Alex DeBrincat (four) and Connor McDavid (four). Boldy turns 22 next week, so there’s still time for one or two more.

“He’s big. He controls the puck a lot. He’s got a good shot, good release. He’s smart. He switches it up. He’s got good moves on breakaways. He’s a total player,” goalie Marc-Andre Fleury said. ”Fun to watch him grow this year.”

Pezzetta scores shootout winner; Canadiens beat Sabres 4-3

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BUFFALO, N.Y. ⁠— Brendan Gallagher and the Montreal Canadiens rallied back to avoid playoff elimination with less than three weeks left in their season. The Buffalo Sabres, meanwhile, are running out of chances to stay in the Eastern Conference wild-card hunt.

Gallagher forced overtime by scoring his 200th career goal, and Michael Pezzetta scored the decisive shootout goal in a 4-3 win over the Sabres on Monday night.

“It’s one of those things I think we earned that chance. We weren’t fantastic but we did enough on the road tonight to get a win,” Gallagher said. “Smiles all around.”

The Canadiens could laugh, especially after Pezzetta celebrated his goal by putting his stick between his legs and riding it like a wooden horse — much like former NHL tough guy Dave “Tiger” Williams did during his 14-year NHL career spanning the 1970s and 80s.

“I’m not sure we’ll see that again. One of a kind,” said Gallagher. “I’d be worried about falling over.”

Pezzetta scored by driving in from the right circle to beat Eric Comrie inside the far post. Buffalo’s Jack Quinn scored in the fourth shootout round, but was matched by Montreal’s Jesse Ylonen, whose shot from in tight managed to trickle in through Comrie.

Jordan Harris and Alex Belzile also scored for Montreal, and Jake Allen stopped 30 shots through overtime, while allowing one goal on six shootout attempts.

Montreal would have been eliminated from playoff contention for a second straight season – and two years removed from reaching the Stanley Cup Final – with any type of loss.

The Sabres squandered a 3-2 third-period lead to drop to 3-6-3 in their past 12. Buffalo also blew a chance to move to within four points of idle Pittsburgh, which holds the eighth and final playoff spot.

“Just a little hesitation,” forward JJ Peterka said of the Sabres third-period lapse. “We didn’t play with much energy and we didn’t play that aggressive as we played the two periods before. I think that was the difference.”

Buffalo’s Lukas Rousek scored a goal and added an assist while filling in for leading scorer Tage Thompson, who did not play due to an upper body injury. Peterka and defenseman Riley Stillman also scored, and Comrie stopped 38 shots through overtime, and allowed two goals on six shootout attempts.

Montreal blew two one-goal leads to fall behind 3-2 on Stillman’s goal at the 8:31 mark of the second period.

Gallagher scored on the fly by using Sabres defenseman Rasmus Dahlin as a screen to snap in a shot inside the far left post. With the goal, Gallagher tied Bobby Rousseau for 24th on the Canadiens career scoring list.

“I liked the way we corrected ourselves, it’s a sign of maturity, in the way we stayed on task,” Canadiens coach Martin St. Louis said, in recalling how the Canadiens recently unraveled in an 8-4 loss two weeks ago to Colorado, which plays a similar up-tempo style as Buffalo.


The Sabres hosted their third Pride Night, with Russian D Ilya Lyubushkin electing not to participate in warmups by citing an anti-gay Kremlin law and fears of retribution at home in Moscow, where he has family and visits in the offseason. The remainder of the team wore dark blue jerseys with the Sabres logo on the front encircled by a rainbow-colored outline.

During the first intermission, the Sabres broadcast a video in which GM Kevyn Adams said: “This is about recognizing someone’s humanity and true identity. We know there are people out there struggling with who they are, and we want them to know that they have an ally in the Buffalo Sabres.”


Canadiens: At the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday night.

Sabres: Host the New York Rangers on Friday night.

Flyers chairman Scott to retire; Hilferty becomes successor

Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

PHILADELPHIA — Dave Scott will retire as chairman of the Philadelphia Flyers’ parent company Comcast Spectacor and be replaced by Dan Hilferty.

Hilferty, who was recently named CEO of Comcast Spectacor, will succeed Scott as chairman of the company on April 17 and as the team’s governor on July 1.

Scott joined Comcast Spectacor in December 2013 and the Flyers have struggled under his reign. They will miss the playoffs for a third straight season and haven’t won a Stanley Cup since 1975.

“Our number one goal for the Flyers will be to consistently compete for the Stanley Cup,” Hilferty said. “It is going to be a process that will take time to get on that path, but I’m confident we are headed in the right direction with Danny Briere as interim GM, Coach Tortorella, and our hiring of a President of Hockey Operations soon. Our leadership team will be fully focused to deliver on this for our fans while also continuing to make the sports complex the best location for sports and entertainment in the nation.”

As Chairman and CEO of Comcast Spectacor, Hilferty will lead the company’s entire portfolio, including the Philadelphia Flyers. Spectacor Sports and Entertainment CEO Valerie Camillo will continue to work directly with Hilferty, overseeing the Wells Fargo Center, including its continued transformation, and lead the Flyers’ business operations.