Jay Beagle

Cale Makar, Quinn Hughes set up fascinating Calder race

The Colorado Avalanche get Cale Makar back on Friday, providing a worthy excuse to consider his exceptional rookie season. Remarkably, Vancouver Canucks defenseman Quinn Hughes presents a worthy argument for the Calder Trophy, as well.

Back in 2018-19, Miro Heiskanen and Rasmus Dahlin blessed hockey fans with their stupendous seasons, yet Makar and Hughes seem primed to set the bar even higher.

Fittingly, forward Elias Pettersson won the 2018-19 Calder, while Buffalo Sabres sniper Victor Olofsson cannot be ignored for 2019-20. For the sake of simplicity, this post’s deeper discussion will mostly focus on Makar and Hughes, though.

Makar, Hughes both light up scoreboards

First, the part you likely already know: both of these smaller defensemen can score.

With eight goals and 28 points in just 29 games, Makar dazzles the most. That said, Hughes is no slouch, generating 27 points in 37 games. Hughes managed 15 power-play points already, which earns a tie for second-best among all NHL defensemen. (Makar looms not all that far behind with 12 PPP, tying the likes of Dougie Hamilton and Roman Josi despite missing time with injuries.)

Nathan MacKinnon already ranks Makar among the best — not just among the best rookies.

“I am surprised,” MacKinnon said, via the Canadian Press in early December. “In the playoffs he was so amazing, but I think he’s the most dynamic defenceman in the league.”

Expect Makar’s production to settle down — even electric defensemen don’t steadily shoot at 13.8 percent — but not to an extent that he won’t remain dangerous for the Avs.

Makar and Hughes: more than just scorers

Look, there’s no denying that Makar and Hughes are being played to their biggest strengths. While both average more than 20 minutes of ice time per game (Hughes’ average: 21:20; Makar: 20:10), they’re both logging less than 10 seconds of penalty kill time each night.

Penalizing them too much for that can be silly, particularly since such decisions sometimes boil down to coaches being too timid.

Either way, their overall play is remarkable.

Consider this side-by-side RAPM chart comparison of their even-strength play, via Evolving Hockey:

Both excel by any standards, not just “rookie defensemen” standards.

Hughes recently achieved the rare goal of surviving a game against Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl with his dignity intact, drawing praise.

“For sure, he surprises me,” Jay Beagle said of Hughes on Monday, via Sportsnet. “I knew he was a great skater coming in. You could tell that from Day 1. Great with the puck. But there are obviously things that you learn about a guy just from playing more games with him, (and) his play away from the puck and his reads, it takes a long time for some guys to get that. He has it right away, which is good for us.”

Hughes and Makar aren’t making many big mistakes

Neither Hughes nor Makar are giving their coaches many excuses to plant them on the bench. (Hockey coaches almost trip over their feet to chastise a young player for a bad penalty or turnover.)

You could argue that Makar’s most impressive stat so far isn’t his wild 28 points in 29 games. Instead, “200 Hockey Men” might lean on Makar’s zero penalty minutes so far. Hughes rarely makes trips to the box, either, with a mere eight PIM in 37 games.

Olofsson also shines

Olofsson deserves credit for making this more than just a race between Makar and Hughes.

People might have been too quick to dismiss Olofsson because of just how hot his shooting start was, as he remains extremely impressive. His 16 goals easily leads all rookies, as Dominik Kubalik is the only other in double digits with 10. Olofsson also leads all rookies with 34 points in 38 games. Olofsson ties Makar with a rookies-leading three game-winning goals.

Makar and Hughes stand above Olofsson from an all-around standpoint, in my opinion. Olofsson’s Evolving Hockey RAPM charts provide some context:

Regardless, if Hughes, Makar, and Olofsson stay in the ballparks of their current play, they’d make for a formidable trio of Calder Trophy finalists. Hockey fans — not just Canucks, Sabres, and Avs fans — should consider themselves lucky.

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.

The Buzzer: Jeff Glass continues his remarkable story

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Players of the Night:

Jeff Glass, Chicago Blackhawks: Sure, his shutout bid was stopped by Patrik Laine in the third period, but he made a game-saving stop on Laine latter in the frame that help the Blackhawks to the win. Glass was on a different level on Friday. What a story he’s become.

Jay Beagle, Washington Capitals: Beagle scored with two seconds left in the third period to break a 3-3 tie and help the Caps to a last-second win.

Al Montoya, Edmonton Oilers: Alvaro stopped all 19 shots he faced after coming in to relieve Cam Talbot. The Oilers rallied in his presence, winning 4-2 after going down 2-0 in the first 3:17 of the g ame.

Highlights of the Night:

This is Jeff Glass doing what a lot of goalies can’t: stopping Patrik Laine’s one-timer.

Ovechkin reclaimed the league-lead in NHL goal scoring, from where he does it best:

Jordan Stall’s 200th NHL goal came on a beautiful set up:

Who needs/wants overtime? Jay Beagle doesn’t:

Factoids of the Night:

Some Beagle facts:

MISC:

Scores:

Canucks 5, Blue Jackets 2

Flames 4, Panthers 2

Capitals 4, Hurricanes 3

Blackhawks 2, Jets 1

Oilers 4, Coyotes 2

Washington Capitals ’15-16 Outlook

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The easy answer, of course, is to get past the second round.

It’s a place Washington hasn’t been since the ’98 Stanley Cup Final which, when you consider what’s transpired in the aftermath, is a really long time ago. Six coaches have come and gone — Ron Wilson, Bruce Cassidy, Glen Hanlon, Bruce Boudreau, Dale Hunter, Adam Oates — and seven different captains have served.

All told, it’s seventeen years and counting without a trip past Round 2, a drought Barry Trotz wants to end.

“Last year was a foundational year for us,” the Caps’ head coach told the National Press Club in July. “We want to have a parade down one of these great streets.”

To achieve that goal, Caps GM Brian MacLellan went out and had himself a splashy summer — well, as splashy as someone with his financial constraints could, anyway. Despite hovering close to the cap ceiling, MacLellan accomplished his goal of adding quality wingers in Justin Williams and T.J. Oshie.

The sophomoric analysis and narrative is that Williams, a former Conn Smythe winner dubbed “Mr. Game 7,” would help the team win important playoff games. Oshie, the U.S. Olympic hero in Sochi, would thrive in the nation’s capital, while wearing stars n’ stripes while riding an eagle (or something like that).

The reality is a tad more complex.

Despite boasting the NHL’s sixth-best offense in ’14-15, the Caps’ forward group didn’t exactly set the world on fire. Alex Ovechkin was responsible for a whopping 22 percent of the team’s goals, and two of the teams’ top-five point-getters were defensemen. The hope is that Williams and Oshie will balance things out — especially on right wing, where the likes of Jay Beagle and Tom Wilson were briefly parachuted in.

“You don’t like to see revolving players go through that spot all year,” MacLellan told the Washington Post. “You’d like to have more stability where a guy’s there permanently or almost permanently.”

To be fair, it’s likely that MacLellan made the Williams and Oshie moves with an eye on the playoffs. Williams’ postseason exploits are, as mentioned above, well-documented and while Oshie doesn’t have much of a reputation for playoff performances, he could be viewed as a more talented/gifted goalscorer/gamebreaker than the guy he replaced (Troy Brouwer).

In the postseason, that’s a big deal; do remember that in blowing their 3-1 series lead on the Rangers last season, the Caps only mustered five goals over the final three games.

So to sum it up, the outlook for next season is the same outlook we’ve seen in years prior. Can they finally get over that playoff hump?

Or come springtime, will it be the same old Caps?

It’s Washington Capitals day at PHT

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For the most part, Washington’s ’14-15 campaign was a success.

Under new head coach Barry Trotz, the Caps had 45 wins, 101 points, got back into the playoffs and won a series for the first time in three years.

All good things.

But in the end, success was fleeting. Once again, Washington lost a Game 7 to the Rangers — for the third time in four seasons — and, once again, Washington failed to get past Round 2 (for the 17th straight year). That rekindled talk of the Caps’ inability to come through in the clutch and, subsequently, talk of Alex Ovechkin’s inability to come through in the clutch.

In the end, though, you’d have to say the positives in Washington outweighed the negatives, thanks in large part to quality individual efforts.

Ovechkin had his highest goalscoring season in six years, netting 53 en route to winning the Maurice Richard Trophy. No. 1 goalie Braden Holtby posted career-highs across the board and narrowly missed out on being a Vezina finalist. John Carlson finished fifth in the NHL in d-man scoring, and top-10 in Norris voting.

Combine those with the growth shown by youngsters Evgeni Kuznetsov and Andre Burakovsky, and the year — even though it ended in disappointment — could be seen as a stepping stone to a brighter ’15-16.

Off-season recap

GM Brian MacLellan made some pretty aggressive moves this summer, specifically at wing. Former Conn Smythe winner Justin Williams was added in free agency and then, in a bit of a stunner, U.S. Olympic hero T.J. Oshie was acquired from St. Louis.

The team’s objective, MacLellan revealed early in the process, was to find right wingers capable of playing on the top line (next to Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom) and the second unit (next to Kuznetsov and Burakovsky).

So, mission accomplished — though it didn’t come without a price.

Washington lost a trio of veteran forwards this summer: Troy Brouwer was sent to the Blues in the Oshie deal, Eric Fehr signed in Pittsburgh, and Joel Ward inked with the Sharks. Longtime blueliner Mike Green also left in free agency, as did trade deadline pickups Tim Gleason and Curtis Glencross.

Those departures were partly due to the price of the aforementioned acquisitions, but also because MacLellan had some big-ticket players in house that needed new contracts.

Chief among those was Holtby, who was rewarded for his banner season with a big five-year, $30.5M extension. Significant money was also spent elsewhere: Kuznetsov was given $6M over two years, Marcus Johansson $3.75M over one (by way of arbitration), and checking forward Jay Beagle $5.25M over three.

At the draft, the Caps were relatively quiet with just four picks, though did raise some eyebrows by picking highly-touted Russian goalie Ilya Samsonov with their top selection, at No. 22 overall.

Johansson on brink of big raise, but his role with Caps might decline

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Marcus Johansson had his arbitration hearing today and whatever ruling gets handed down by Friday afternoon, it’s likely to be a substantial boost from his 2014-15 salary of roughly $2.2 million, but will he earn his next sum?

That’s open for debate and it doesn’t have as much to do with Johansson as it does with the changing makeup of the Capitals as Chuck Gormley argued for CSN Washington:

With Ovechkin and Andre Burakovsky slotted as the Caps’ first- and second-line left wings, and T.J. Oshie and Justin Williams slotted as their first- and second-line right wings, Johansson figures to start the season as a third-line left wing with centers Brooks Laich or Jay Beagle and right wing Tom Wilson.

His power-play time (2:55 per game last season, fourth on the club) could also dip because of the additions of Oshie and Williams.

And yet Johansson did record 20 goals and 47 points last season after finishing with 44 points in his previous campaign, so he could very well get somewhat close to his asking price from the arbitrator. Given that, Gormley wondered if the Capitals might end up walking away from Johansson’s contract. They would have the option of doing so provided that the arbitrator’s assigned salary is more than $3.8 million.

Keep in mind that Washington only has about $5 million worth of cap space to begin with and that’s excluding Justin Peters, who will presumably start the 2014-15 campaign in the minors, so the financial flexibility gained from a walk-away would be noteworthy.

At the same time, ending up with nothing in return for Johansson would be a tough pill to swallow. While a contract in the neighbor of $4 million isn’t ideal for someone playing on the third line, he would still have value to Washington in that role.

Finally, it is worth mentioning that Johansson and the Capitals can still agree to terms on their own before the arbitrator’s ruling.

Related: Arbitration looms, but Johansson not worried about future with Caps