Nathan MacKinnon might be NHL’s most valuable asset

2 Comments

There are few players in the NHL that have been more impressive and noticeable through the first week of the Stanley Cup Playoffs than Colorado Avalanche forward Nathan MacKinnon.

He looks like he is shot out of a cannon on every shift and is one of the biggest reasons his team has a 3-1 lead on the Calgary Flames and is on the verge of knocking off the top-seeded team in the Western Conference.

MacKinnon may not have the highest point total in the playoffs, but his impact has been massive.

The Avalanche have looked like the better team through the first four games, and one of the biggest reasons for that has been their team speed. They just look faster in every game, and at no time is that more evident than when MacKinnon and his line is on the ice.

There is no answer for him or anything he is doing, and you don’t have to dig too deep into the numbers to see it.

Following Wednesday’s come-from-behind 3-2 overtime win, MacKinnon is leading the league in total shot attempts (44), shots on goals (24), and scoring chances (25) and has been a driving force behind the Avalanche offense, just as he has been over the past two regular seasons where he has emerged as one of the truly elite players in the league.

He has been as dominant as it can possibly get at this level.

He is also one of the biggest current steals in the NHL when it comes to his total value under the salary cap, and from a team perspective has become the most valuable asset on any team in the NHL.

You won’t find anyone arguing that he is the best player in the league, but he is certainly on the very short list of players that stand out head and shoulders above the rest of the pack. Definitely top-10 at this point, maybe even starting to push the top-five. Just consider that since the start of the 2017-18 season only two players in the league (Nikita Kucherov and Connor McDavid) have recorded more points than MacKinnon, while only three have scored more goals.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

He scored 41 goals and 99 total points in 82 games this season, and was at 39 goals and 97 points in only 74 games a year ago (that would have been a 43-goal, 107-point pace over 82 games).

That sort of offensive brilliance is incredibly rare, and MacKinnon is showing no signs of slowing down.

There are two things that make this such a steal for the Avalanche.

The first is that MacKinnon is still only 23 years old, meaning that he still might have his best and most productive days in the NHL sitting in front of him as most scorers hit their peak levels of production between the ages of 22 and 26.

The second is that the Avalanche have him under contract at only $6.3 million per season for four more full seasons after this one.

That means he is under contract for all of his peak years at an astonishingly low rate for the team.

That salary cap hit is only the 62nd largest in the NHL, and putting him right between Keith Yandle and Alexander Radulov on the league’s pay scale.

The Avalanche are going to be getting a bonafide superstar, throughout probably all of his prime years in the NHL, for a price that is probably equivalent to a really good, but not great, first-or second-line player. That is a totally bonkers contract, and it gives the Avalanche an enormous advantage when it comes to building their team around him.

Add in the fact that Gabriel Landeskog makes even less over the next two years, and the Avalanche have only $11 million committed to a pair of top-line stars.

That is one of the biggest reasons you have to be extraordinarily excited about the future of this team, no matter what happens in this series or the remainder of the playoffs.

MacKinnon, Landeskog, and Mikko Rantanen is as good of a trio as there is anywhere else in the league, and they are probably the biggest reason the Avalanche have made the playoffs the past two years.

Now they are on the verge of getting even more around them.

They have a top-four pick in Cale Makar that has made his arrival in the league and, in just two playoff games, already looks like he belongs. They have a pipeline of young players filled with the potential (some in the NHL already; some on their way) and another top-four pick coming this spring thanks to completion of the Matt Duchene trade. Because MacKinnon, Landeskog, and Rantanen are so young (and so cheap) they should all still be a part of the team that pipeline starts to make its biggest impact.

And because their two best players are tied to contracts that are probably for about half of what their market value should be, they have a ton of flexibility to not only keep their other young players (Rantanen, specifically) but also add around them. It is a huge advantage.

(Data via Natural Stat Trick)

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.

 

10 stunning numbers from the 2018-19 NHL regular season

Throughout the 2018-19 regular season we have looked at some stunning numbers from around NHL.

What stood out to us most as the Stanley Cup Playoffs are set to begin?

Let’s take a look…

1. Goal scoring goes up again. The average NHL game featured 5.96 goals per game this season, the highest it has been since the 2005-06 season when the league topped the six-goal per game mark coming out of the 2005 lockout.

If you remember, that was the year penalties skyrocketed around the league with the crackdown on obstruction and interference.

There are a lot of possibilities for the recent increase, including the smaller goalie gear to the continuation of 3-on-3 overtime, to any number of smaller changes in the league. It is never any one thing that leads to drops in scoring, and it is never any one thing that leads to increases. A lot of times it is simply a lot of smaller changes that add up into big changes, and there have been a few in the NHL in recent years with the goalies and overtime rules.

2. Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. The Edmonton Oilers’ teammates finished second and fourth respectively in the NHL scoring race, the first time a pair of teammates finished in the top-five since Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf did it for the Anaheim Ducks during the 2013-14 season.

It is the 15th time it has happened in the past 20 years.

What is stunning about it is the Oilers are only the third team out of that group to have actually missed the playoffs with two top-five scorers on their roster.

Two of the teams reached the Stanley Cup Final (one of them won it), three others went as far as the Conference Final, there was a Presidents’ Trophy winner, and a handful of teams that at least made it to Round 2.

The full list over the past 20 years:

Edmonton: 2018-19: Missed Playoffs
Anaheim 2013-14: Reached Round 2
Tampa Bay 2012-13: Missed playoffs
Tampa Bay 2010-11: Reached Eastern Conference Final
Vancouver 2010-11: Reached Stanley Cup Final
Washington 2009-10: Won Presidents’ Trophy, lost Round 1
Pittsburgh 2008-09: Won Stanley Cup
Tampa Bay 2006-07: Lost Round 1
Ottawa 2005-06: Reached Round 2
Colorado 2002-03: Lost Round 1
Vancouver 2001-02: Lost Round 1
Pittsburgh 2000-01: Reached Eastern Conference Final
Anaheim 1999-00: Lost Round 1
Anaheim 1998-99: Missed playoffs
Colorado 1998-99: Reached Western Conference Final

3. A big year for milestones. Alex Ovechkin and Draisaitl both hit the 50-goal mark this season, making it the first time since the 2011-12 season that two players did it in the same season. Draisaitl is also the first player other than Ovechkin to score 50 goals in a season since that year. There have only been 12 50-goal seasons over the past decade. Six of them belong to Ovechkin, two belong to Steven Stamkos, and Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby, Corey Perry, and Draisaitl all have one each.

There were also six player to top the 100-point mark, the most to do it in one year since the 2006-07 season when seven players did it.

4. All of the Lightning’s dominance. The Lightning’s 62 wins tied the NHL record for most wins in a single season, while their 3.89 goals per game average was the 20th best single season mark since 1990. All 19 teams ahead of them played between 1990 and 1995, just before the start of the NHL’s Dead Puck Era. They are one of only three teams in the top-40 that played after 1995.

Their 28.2 percent success rate on the power play was also the 10th best in NHL history. The nine teams ahead of them and the seven immediately after them all played in the 1970s or 1980s.

Not enough dominance? They became the first team since the 1995-96 Pittsburgh Penguins to feature three 40-goal scorers in the same season (Nikita Kucherov, Steven Stamkos, Brayden Point).

5. Chandler Stephenson‘s historically clean season: The Capitals forward appeared in 64 games this season and did not take a single penalty, the only player in the league to play at least 60 games and not spend one minute in the penalty box. He is one of just 16 players in NHL history to play at least 60 games in a season and not take a penalty, and the first since Butch Goring during the 1980-81 season.

Dallas’ Valeri Nichushkin was close to joining him, going 57 games without a penalty (or a goal!).

6. Aleksander Barkov‘s penalty dominance. We know Barkov is one of the game’s best players thanks to his combination of shutdown defense and now dominant offense, but he is consistently one of the league’s most valuable players in terms of giving his team’s a special teams advantage. Barkov drew 35 penalties this season while only being called for, a penalty differential of plus-31, the best in the league.

Other players that excelled in this area include Vancouver’s Elias Pettersson (plus-28), Carolina’s Warren Foegele (plus-22), and New Jersey’s Nico Hischier (plus-19).

7. The Islanders succeeded in going worst to first. No team in the NHL gave up more goals than the New York Islanders during the 2017-18 season, and no team gave up fewer goals during the 2018-19 season. They improved their goals against number by 102 goals in one season. That is more than stunning, it is completely insane. Read more here on how they did it.

8. Fighting is still rapidly going away. Anyone that is paying attention to the evolution of the NHL game knows that fighting is quickly disappearing from the sport, but you might be shocked as to just how much it is going away. There was not one player in the NHL this season that dropped the gloves more than six times (there were 10). Only three teams (Boston, New York Rangers, Ottawa) had more than 20 fights for the entire season.

9. Drew Doughty‘s ugly season. From the moment he arrived in the NHL Doughty has been one of the NHL’s best defensive players. Between 2008-09 and 2017-18 there were only eight defenders in the NHL that had a better plus-minus than his plus-93. Say what you want about plus-minus (I know the flaws), but anyone that can play nearly a decade and be that far on the plus side in goals is probably pretty solid. This season? He finished as a minus-34, the second worst mark in the entire league, ahead of only Buffalo Sabres defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen. A lot of that is due to playing the most minutes on a lousy team whose starting goalie had a terrible year, but it is still unheard of to see Doughty that far down the list.

10. A stunning shootout stat. There were four teams that did not win a game in a shootout this season (the Toronto Maple Leafs, Calgary Flames, San Jose Sharks, and Ottawa Senators). Before this season there were only five teams in the entire shootout era that went a full season without a shootout win, and two of them came during the lockout shortened 2012-13 season. You can probably credit 3-on-3 overtime for that stat.

The Maple Leafs were only involved in two shootouts total this season, and both of them came in the final two weeks of the regular season.

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.

Oilers’ season captured in second-period meltdown

Associated Press
4 Comments

If there ever was a seven-minute stretch that perfectly summed up the Edmonton Oilers’ 2018-19 season, it happened on Tuesday night against the Colorado Avalanche.

Leading 2-0 nothing in the second period, and with a goal already in the bank by Milan Lucic — the $6 million man’s sixth of the season — the Oilers reverted to their true colors in a span of 7:08.

A promising looking contest, one day after Connor McDavid declared that he was “really, really” frustrated with how this season has gone in Edmonton, the Oilers forgot how to play hockey and Mikko Koskinen forgot how to stop pucks and the walls came crashing in. Again.

The result was four-straight goals from the Avalanche in an epic collapse for Edmonton, even by their own lowly standards.

Nathan MacKinnon walked through three Oilers who were just standing still for the 2-1 goal. The tying goal came when Koskinen, who was handed a silly contract extension earlier this season, whiffed on what should have been a routine save on Tyson Barrie.

Alex Kerfoot scored the go-ahead goal after he was left unmarked in front of Koskinen. The insurance marker came on a backhand from the high slot off the stick of Colin Wilson, another puck that needed to be stopped.

And then there was the defeated skate by 100-plus point man McDavid back to the Edmonton bench. It’s ugly in northern Alberta, and who knows how the Oilers — a cash-strapped team when it comes to the salary cap — get out of this mess. Two 100-point players (Leon Draisaitl being the other) and the Edmonton Oilers are going to miss the playoffs for the second straight season with the best player in the world in their lineup.

If nothing else, it’s a shame for hockey fans who want to see McDavid’s talents while he chases down a Stanley Cup.

Instead, they’re left with efforts like Tuesday night. As McDavid said on Monday, “It’s just not good enough.”


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

PHT Morning Skate: Frustrated McDavid; Habs embracing playoff hunt

6 Comments

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.

• Edmonton Oilers captain Connor McDavid on his frustration level after being eliminated from playoff contention: “It’s really high, it’s really, really high. We want to play in the playoffs as a team. I personally want to play in the playoffs. I’m not happy about it. It’s going to be a long summer.” [Edmonton Sun]

• Injuries are poor execution are the story of the 2018-19 Minnesota Wild. [Star Tribune]

• The Wild have inked Clarkson’s top scorer, Nico Sturm, to a one-year, entry-level deal. [Wild]

• As the Tampa Bay Lightning seek history, don’t expect any players to be rested during this final week. [The Hockey News]

• The Dallas Stars’ run to the postseason has been helped by the play of both of their goaltenders. [Defending Big D]

• How offense is more impactful than good defense in trying to find success. [TSN]

• The line of Nick Bjugstad, Dominik Simon and Patric Hornqvist is clicking at the right time for the Pittsburgh Penguins. [Pensburgh]

• Who will end up the GM of the NHL Seattle franchise? [Seattle Times]

• Previewing the 2019 IIHF Women’s World Championship, which begins later this week. The U.S. is looking for a fifth straight gold medal. [Sporting News]

• The Montreal Canadiens are embracing the challenge that is ahead of them in trying to grab an Eastern Conference playoff spot. [NHL.com]

Jesper Bratt is done for the season and Taylor Hall could very well be next for the New Jersey Devils. [NJ.com]

• There’s lot to get right for the San Jose Sharks as the playoffs approach. [NBC Bay Area]

• One of those things is the play of goaltender Martin Jones. [The Point]

• Los Angeles youth hockey team suspends three coaches, 15 players for anti-Semitic video [USA Today]

Luke Schenn’s played well enough in Vancouver that he could get an extension from the Canucks. [Province]

• Finally, check out the first episode of “Puckland,” NBC Sports’ six-part mini-documentary on the first season of the ECHL’s Maine Mariners:

————

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.

McDavid, Marchand, Gritty top 2019 NHLPA Player Poll

2 Comments

The annual NHLPA Player Poll has been released and there are very few surprises from the results. Over 500 players took part in the 20-question poll answering questions ranging from best forward to best shot to biggest trash talker to best mascot to best hair. The poll was conducted during the Players’ Association’s annual team meetings, which took place between late September 2018 and early January 2019.

You won’t be shocked to read that the players are big fans of both Connor McDavid and Sidney Crosby. The Edmonton Oilers captain was voted “Best Forward” (63.6 percent), “Most Difficult to Play Against” (30.9 percent), and “Player You Would Select to Start a Franchise With” (60 percent). The Pittsburgh Penguins captain was the runner up in all three of those categories.

Reigning Norris Trophy winner Victor Hedman was named “Best Defenseman” (31.7 percent) and Carey Price was given the title of “Best Goalie” (29.9 percent).

In some off-beat categories, Brad Marchand was a double winner. The Boston Bruins pest was voted “Biggest Trash Talker” (21.3 percent) and “Worst Trash Talker” (12.5 percent) by his peers.

Marchand was honored by his victories:

Gritty, as you’d expect, was voted “Best Mascot” (69.4 percent), Hilary Knight (27.6 percent) topped Marie-Philip Poulin (24.1 percent) as the “Best Current Female Player,” and Erik Karlsson (18.4 percent) was given the honor of “Best Hair,” beating out long-time champion Henrik Lundqvist (6.6 percent).

Check out the NHLPA site to see who the players believe is most underrated, who would make the best general manager after retirement, the funniest player, NHL arena with the best ice, and more.

————

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.