Elias Pettersson

NHL Power Rankings
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NHL Power Rankings: Top MVP candidates

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In this week’s edition of the NHL Power Rankings we take a look at the biggest individual award race — the Hart Trophy for league MVP.

This is always a complicated argument because everyone has a different definition of what consists of “value.” Is it simply the the best player? Does the player have to be on a playoff team to be considered? Those are the questions that bring people to screaming matches the most in this discussion, and this season will almost certainly be the same. Especially since there does not seem to be a runaway favorite at this point.

With these rankings I’m trying to strike a balance between players I think deserve to win, and the players that have the most realistic chance of winning.

Who makes the list?

To the rankings!

The Favorites

1. Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche. He might be the perfect candidate this season because he checks absolutely every box any MVP voter could possibly have. He is the best player on one of the league’s best teams. He has helped carry that team through injuries. He is one of the league’s top scorers and, at this point, one of the best overall players. There is not a single mark against him or his case at this point.

2. Leon Draisaitl, Edmonton Oilers. Recent history suggests players that the scoring title by the margin Draisaitl is on pace to win it by tend to be slam-dunk MVP winners as long as their team makes the playoffs. Barring some kind of incredible meltdown over the next month, the Oilers will be in the playoffs, so he has that going for them. The only factors that might hold him back are the presence of Connor McDavid on his team, and the fact his defensive impact isn’t great. But another 50-goal season and 125 points would certainly get a lot of attention.

3. David Pastrnak, Boston Bruins. He has a shot at becoming just the third-player in the past 20 years to hit the 60-goal mark while also taking the Rocket Richard award away from Alex Ovechkin. Both would be significant accomplishments. Combined with his all-around player he has rapidly become one of the league’s best players.

4. Artemi Panarin, New York Rangers. He has been worth every penny the Rangers paid him this summer. But with the team being a real long-shot to make the playoffs at this point his standing is going to take a hit in the eyes of many voters. But he will still get votes (probably a lot of them, too) because he has been the single biggest reason the Rangers have remained in playoff contention as long as they have.

5. Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers. It is absolutely crazy that after losing out on the MVP award in each of the past two years because the team around him completely stunk, he is going to lose out on the MVP this year because he missed a few games and his teammate (Draisaitl) is having an historically great year.

The second tier contenders

6. Elias Pettersson, Vancouver Canucks. This guy needs more attention. Pettersson has been a franchise-changing talent in Vancouver, while presence has rapidly accelerated the team’s rebuild. He is quickly turning into a complete force all over the ice. A one-man highlight reel every shift.

7. Connor Hellebuyck, Winnipeg Jets. Hellebuyck is the single biggest reason the Jets are in playoff contention right now. He has not only been a workhorse in net, playing a ton of games and facing more shots than any other goalie in the league, he has also been outstanding. The Jets needed an MVP effort from him this season to be competitive, and he has more than delivered.

8. Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning. The reigning league MVP should probably be getting a little more attention than he currently is. He is on track for his third consecutive 100-point season.

9. Brad Marchand, Boston Bruins. Hate him all you want, the list of wingers in the NHL that make a bigger impact than him is small enough to be counted on one hand.

Worthy of consideration

10. Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh Penguins. He faced a lot of criticism for his performance a year ago, but he has been a force for the Penguins this season and helped get them through a never-ending run of injuries. On a per-game level, this is the third-most productive seasons of his career behind only the 2008-09 and 2011-12 seasons. He finished in the top-two in MVP voting in those two years.

11. Auston Matthews, Toronto Maple Leafs. The Maple Leafs might be a disappointment as a team based on overall expectations, but Matthews is having one of the best offensive seasons in franchise history and is one of the few players on the roster that hasn’t failed to meet expectations.

12. John Carlson, Washington Capitals. He is having one of the best offensive seasons in NHL history. That alone will almost certainly get him the Norris Trophy, and it will probably get him more than a few MVP votes.

13. Max Pacioretty, Vegas Golden Knights. Coming into the season it seemed as if Pacioretty’s days as an elite goal scorer were in the rear-view mirror. Not the case. He is having one of the best seasons of his career and is on track for close to 40-goals while also posting dominant possession numbers. I don’t know that his performance is getting enough attention, though, to put him at the top of the list. Even if it is good enough.

14. Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals. I don’t think he’s going to win, but he still has a shot to league the lead in goals on a potential division champion. He’s finished in the top-10 in voting four of the past five years and will probably be somewhere in that neighborhood again this season.

15. Ben Bishop, Dallas Stars. Bishop is one of the league’s best goalies, and has proven that over several years now. He has been a finalist for the Vezina Trophy multiple times and very well could be there again this season. He also has a decent MVP argument given his overall play, combined with the fact the Stars are one of the league’s worst offensive teams among contenders.

16. Sebastian Aho, Carolina Hurricanes. He is very quietly on track for 45 goals this season and is one of the best possession-drivers in the league. He is the face of the Hurricanes’ franchise and the foundation for everything they have built (and are continuing to build).

17.  Zach Werenski, Columbus Blue Jackets. In a season where almost the entire Blue Jackets roster has been decimated by injury (including Werenski himself for a stretch of games), Werenski has been a rock on their blue line and one of the driving forces of their offense. He’s on a 25-goal pace over 82 games and has helped keep his team in the race.

18. Jack Eichel, Buffalo Sabres. If there was any justice he would have a much better chance to win this season. Not only because his season deserves it for the season he is having, but because it is a shame that one of the league’s best, most exciting, and most impactful players is stuck on a franchise that hasn’t given him a chance to win. As it stands, he has virtually zero chance of winning simply because his team stinks. HIs season still deserves recognition.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

The Buzzer: Geekie cool for Carolina; Wild continue wild-card push

Morgan Geekie Carolina Hurricanes debut The Buzzer
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Three Stars

1. Detroit Red Wings’ top line

Handing out a collective award feels appropriate here.

Both Tyler Bertuzzi and Anthony Mantha managed one-goal, three-assist performances. Two of Mantha’s assists were primary ones, while Next Bert nabbed one. Dylan Larkin only finished a stride behind generating a goal and two assists (one primary) while also chipping in a shootout tally to help Detroit upset Tampa Bay. (Larkin even dominated in the faceoff circle, going 14-7.)

The Bertuzzi – Larkin – Mantha trio really seemed to catch fire during “garbage time” last season. Really, Bertuzzi especially saw the benefits start to kick in last March.

The Red Wings are so far behind everyone else for the highest draft lottery odds that they can enjoy these performances from the top line, and maybe some keyed-in work from Jonathan Bernier if this small pattern holds.

2. Morgan Geekie, Carolina Hurricanes

It’s cool enough that Geekie scored his first NHL goal in his first NHL game. Like a cinematic nerd avenging a movie jock, Geekie went big. The 21-year-old generated a three-point debut, scoring two goals and one assist.

This makes Geekie the second player in Hurricanes/Whalers history to generate three points in a debut, and the second in said history to generate two goals in their debut.

In case you’re wondering, the 21-year-old presents some interesting potential to be more than a one-day curiosity.

While his draft pedigree his modest (third round [67th overall] in 2017), Geekie’s produced some solid offense at lower levels. After scoring 19 goals and 46 points in the AHL last season, Geekie already had 22 goals and 42 points in 55 AHL contests in 2019-20.

If nothing else, Geekie helped the Hurricanes complete a key weekend, as Carolina also beat the Islanders in OT on Saturday.

3. Jakob Silfverberg, Anaheim Ducks

Like Geekie, Silfverberg generated two goals and one assist for his team. Unlike Geekie, Silfverberg’s team lost, as Kevin Fiala continued his red-hot streak by scoring in OT for the skyrocketing Wild.

Nonetheless, SIlfverberg deserves recognition. By collecting those two tallies, Silfverberg reached the 20-goal mark for the second season in a row, and the fourth in his last five seasons. It’s unclear if Silfverberg can match his career-high for points (49), but he could enjoy one of his best campaigns with 38 points already.

Nathan MacKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog rank as honorable mentions with one-goal, two-assist nights in Colorado’s snug win. Jake Allen demands some attention for his 29-save shutout against Chicago, too.

Highlight of the Night

Elias Pettersson ranks high on the list of players you don’t want to let loose out of the penalty box. He probably climbed a rung or two up that ladder with this blazing bit of speed and fancy finish:

Standings after Sunday (big wins for Carolina, Minnesota, Columbus)

East

West

Scores

CAR 6 – PIT 2
DET 5 – TBL 4 (SO)
STL 2 – CHI 0
MIN 5 – ANA 4 (OT)
CBJ 2 – VAN 1
COL 4 – SJS 3

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.

Markstrom’s absence shows his importance to Canucks

Canucks
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The Vancouver Canucks have a massive game on Wednesday night when they host the Arizona Coyotes.

Not only are they looking to snap a three-game losing streak and break out of a funk that has seen them lose nine out of their past 13, but they are just two points ahead of the Coyotes in the Western Conference playoff race. They have quickly gone from first place in the Pacific Division, to bubble team just trying to get in the playoffs. Wednesday is your classic four-point game that could either see the Canucks take a major step toward distancing themselves from the Coyotes in the standings, or leave the door wide open for the Coyotes to eventually catch them and move ahead of them.

Probably the biggest issue facing the Canucks at the moment is the injury situation.

Brock Boeser, one of their top overall players, remains out of the lineup, while two of their top defensemen — rookie of the year candidate Quinn Hughes and veteran Tyler Myers — are both game-time decisions for Wednesday.

The biggest injury, though, is the one that has currently sidelined starting goalie Jacob Markstrom.

He is been out of the lineup for more than a week now (and is still at least one week away from returning, and maybe more), a stretch that has seen the Canucks go 0-3-0 and surrender 14 totals goals. Since the start of February the Canucks are just 1-4-1 in the six games Markstrom has not started, while their two backups (Thatcher Demko and Louis Domingue) have a combined .882 save percentage during that stretch.

That is a problem.

Their struggles without him are a testament to how much of an impact Markstrom has made for the Canucks this season when healthy.

For as much progress as they have made this season, and for as good as Hughes has been on their back-end, this still is not a particularly strong team defensively. Entering play on Wednesday, the Canucks rank among the bottom-six teams in the NHL in several defensive metrics, including total shot attempts against per 60 minutes, shots on goal against, scoring chances against, and expected goals against. That is a problem. The one thing that has consistently bailed them out this season and helped mask those flaws has been the play of Markstrom in net. For the season, he sits among the top-eight goalies in both overall save percentage and even-strength save percentage.

Given the number of shots and chances the Canucks give up on a nightly basis, Markstrom is easily one of the two or three most impactful players on the entire roster right up there with Hughes and Elias Pettersson. And given the position he plays and how dependent the Canucks’ defense is on his play, there is an argument to be made he is the most impactful player on the team.

This has been a huge season for Markstrom, not only for what it’s meant for the team, but also for what it’s meant for him personally. He is eligible for unrestricted free agency after this season, and he has made a pretty convincing case that he has a ton of value to the Canucks.

They have seen it when he is in the lineup with the way he’s helped get them back into a playoff position. And they are seeing it now when he’s not there to help stabilize their defense.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Evander Kane rips Player Safety for ‘ridiculous’ three-game suspension

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The NHL’s Department of Player Safety’s decisions have come under fire lately — even more than usual. Following his three-game suspension for elbowing Neal Pionk, Evander Kane absolutely unloaded on George Parros and other decision-makers.

In particular, Kane claimed that “bias transpires in this department.” The Sharks winger claims that they pick and choose who gets “the book” and who gets a pass.

” … No one person can tell you what is or isn’t a suspension in today’s game, it’s become a complete guess,” Kane wrote as part of his statement. “There is a major lack of consistency with NHL Department of Player Safety. A completely FLAWED system in so many ways.”

Kane shares examples of inconsistencies he sees from Player Safety

Kane pointed to Zdeno Chara being fined (instead of suspended) for cross-checking Brendan Gallagher in the face:

Kane also wondered why he was suspended while Lawson Crouse avoided discipline for what Kane believes was a similar hit:

Full statement from Kane on Player Safety

Kane tweeted out his statement:

Read Kane’s statement in text form, if that’s easier:

The fact the NHL Department of Player Safety headed by George Parros continue to pick and choose, who and what they suspend is ridiculous! There have been countless incidents of the same nature through this season and past seasons that have gone unsuspended or fined. No one person can tell you what is or isn’t a suspension in today’s game, it’s become a complete guess. There is a major lack of consistency with NHL Department of Player Safety. A completely FLAWED system in so many ways. From the suspensions to appeal rights, it’s baffling to me how we as players agreed to this. You can’t continue to give some players a pass and throw the book at others. There has to be a outside third party making these decisions to remove the bias that transpires in this department headed by George Parros. None of it makes any sense.

Explanation for suspension

It’s wise to consider the specific suspension for a moment.

The league did thoroughly explain Kane’s suspension. The video describes it as a “dangerous extension of the elbow outward and upward.” It also cited Kane’s suspension history, and history of delivering over-the-line elbows.

Kane’s statement doesn’t really go into much detail about the hit on Pionk itself. Instead, Kane focused on a perceived double-standard, or a lack of clarity. Merely traipse around Hockey Twitter for a bit and you’ll realize Kane is not alone.

Many believe that Zack Kassian should have been suspended for more than seven games for recklessly kicking at Erik Cernak with his skate blade. That Chara fine instead of suspension also ranks up among the more polarizing recent decisions. In general, plenty argue that the league needs to do a better job protecting stars; it’s all too common for Elias Pettersson and others to be targeted.

However you feel about Kane’s statement, it’s clear that this process has a lot of room to improve.

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.

PHT Morning Skate: Protecting Pettersson; more on Zucker trade

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• Ken Campbell nails it in discussing the abuse thrown Elias Pettersson‘s way. Really, it applies not only to protecting Pettersson, but all star players. (The Hockey News)

• The Sedin Twins understand what Pettersson is going through. Unfortunately, their advice boils down to “you just gotta deal with it.” (Vancouver is Awesome)

• Believe it or not, the Sedin twins are still close friends. Who would have thought? (Although twins could get tired of each other, theoretically, so maybe it is impressive …) (Sportsnet)

• Need a connection between the NHL and the inescapable Coronavirus? Apparently the crisis is affecting the supply of sticks. Imagine a scenario where crusty hockey people live their random dream of wooden sticks making a brief comeback … (Boston Globe)

• Oilers fans winced at Connor McDavid hurting his knee. If they (and fans of the sport in general) want a slight silver lining, consider that McDavid claims it’s not related to his off-season injury. (Sportsnet)

• Mathieu Schneider came away from meetings regarding an Olympic return feeling “happy” from the NHLPA perspective. That might be a moot point if the league remains cool to the premise of participating in 2022, but it’s better than nothing. (TSN)

[NHL ON NBCSN: Ovechkin continues chase for 700 Thursday vs. Avalanche]

• During much of the season, the Penguins persisted with strong puck possession stats despite injuries. Adam Gretz details some discouraging recent trends, though. Then again, maybe generally defensively sound winger Jason Zucker could help a bit in that regard? (Pensburgh)

• Calen Addison ranks as one of the Wild’s most important returns in the Zucker trade. Corey Pronman breaks down what Minnesota is getting in the defensive prospect. (The Athletic, sub required)

• It’s tough to wrap your head around the idea of the Rangers actually buying out Henrik Lundqvist. Granted, that might be a pretty practical way to keep two younger goalie options. Blue Seat Blogs explains the potential pros and cons of such a buyout. (Blue Seat Blogs)

• Why the Maple Leafs should trade Tyson Barrie. (The Leafs Nation)

• Scroll through this interesting thread about how the 2012 NHL Draft ranks among the worst. Maybe the Blue Jackets were reasonable in rejecting the Islanders’ entire 2012 stock when Garth Snow came calling for Ryan Murray? (Benjamin Wendorf)

• Jaromir Jagr and Gordie Howe: two peas in a pod. (Featurd)

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.