Penalty Minutes: MacKinnon’s Calder push; deadline’s most puzzling deals
If Nathan MacKinnon had wanted to distinguish himself in the Calder Trophy race and put some distance between himself and the rest of the field, he’s certainly doing a good job.
The Avalanche’s 18-year-old forward is riding a 12-game points streak, which ties him for the fourth-longest this season. Only Chicago’s Patrick Kane, Anaheim’s Ryan Getzlaf (14-game points streaks) and St. Louis’ Alexander Steen (13) have had longer.
MacKinnon has five goals and 12 assists during the streak, helping to continue to fuel Colorado’s unlikely season. The Avalanche, a non-playoff team last season, own the NHL’s fifth-best record with 85 points and sit only one point in the Central Division behind Chicago with a game in hand on the Blackhawks.
Avalanche coach and vice president of hockey operations Patrick Roy might have raised some eyebrows before the draft when he said he might take MacKinnon over Seth Jones and others with the first overall pick, but Roy’s hockey acumen once again is being proven right. Roy, of course, had owned, managed and coached the Quebec Remparts of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, the same league in which MacKinnon competed for the Halifax Mooseheads.
Clearly, Roy knew what he was getting.
Going back into history, MacKinnon’s streak is tied for the longest by an 18-year-old since Wayne Gretzky in 1979-80. He presently sits eight away from the team record, which is held by, of all people (not Joe Sakic, not Peter Forsberg) Paul Stastny.
"I’m sure Gretzky had about 50 more points than me during the point streak," MacKinnon told the ‘Denver Post.’ "I’m really hanging on here. It’s still pretty cool. He’s called the ‘Great One’ for a reason and it’s nice to have I guess one small stat that’s similar as him."
With the league’s new playoff format this year, the Avalanche are pushing what could become a very interesting subplot for the remainder of the season. Presently, they would face Chicago in the first round. If they can finish ahead of the Blackhawks, the Avalanche would have home-ice advantage in the first round.
What a shocker it would be if the Avs and MacKinnon could take out the defending Stanley Cup champions in the first round.
One of the more disappointing and underachieving teams this season has been the Hurricanes.
Without a playoff berth to their credit in five years, the Hurricanes signed forward Alex Semin to a five-year, $35-million contract extension last season and appeared to fix their goaltender issues by signing Anton Khudobin in the offseason. Of course, both Khudobin and incumbent starter Cam Ward have missed long periods of time with injuries while others have under-performed.
The Hurricanes moved one of those under-performers, wing Tuomo Ruutu, at the trade deadline, as they essentially assumed a selling posture. Carolina obtained 23-year-old center Andrei Loktionov in exchange from New Jersey.
"Tuomo was a good player for us but injuries have been an issue for him," Rutherford told Raleigh’s ‘News & Observer’ of shoulder and hip surgeries Ruutu had in the past. "He’s at the point now where he is healthy and getting his game back but based on the return on investment we decided to take advantage of the opportunity to get a younger player for him with a good upside."
This is not to say that the Hurricanes will not get hot and turn things around — there’s still time — but the road ahead represents a steep climb.
With 63 points, the Hurricanes are six points out of the final wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference but have to move past five teams — Ottawa, New Jersey, Washington, Detroit and Columbus — to reach eighth. Further hindering their chances is the fact the Hurricanes have played 63 games, two more than Detroit and one more than the Blue Jackets.
Following the Olympic break, the Hurricanes embarked on what appeared to be a make-or-break, five-game road trip. It appears mostly to have broken them. The Hurricanes lost the first four in regulation, starting with 3-2 loss at Buffalo, the league’s worst team, as they allowed a goal in the final minute of regulation.
If the Hurricanes cannot make the playoffs, they will have some big decisions to make: potentially on the fate of coach Kirk Muller, who would enter his fourth season in 2014-15 and certainly on the fate of Ward, who has had trouble staying healthy for two seasons running now. (Ward has plenty of wear-and-tear on him, having played 452 career games; he led the league in games as recently as 2010-11 with 74.)
There also is the situation involving top defenseman Joni Pitkanen, who will be attempting to play next season for the first time in 18 months. Rutherford and vice president of hockey operations Ron Francis will have to decide if they think a rebuild is in order or if a few tweaks can finally turn things around.
The addition of Ryan Miller in goal should make the Blues the favorite to win the Cup.
The Ducks dealt big wing Dustin Penner to Washington but did not add any more scoring. Curious.
The Penguins remain without two of their top defensemen in Kris Letang and Paul Martin, both injured, but just keep rolling.
The Avs only had four Olympians, which could serve them well in terms of being rested for the stretch.
5. Chicago Blackhawks
Getting the sense the ‘Hawks are on autopilot? They’re 4-4-2 in their past 10.
It’s going to be the Karri Ramo show in goal from here on out.
27. New York Islanders
The Islanders might not be so happy to see defenseman Andrew MacDonald on a regular basis in the future, having traded him in division to Philadelphia.
Roberto Luongo is back where he belongs, making the future a little brighter.
29. Edmonton Oilers
Between Ben Scrivens and Viktor Fasth, the Oilers finally might have the right answer in goal.
The Sabres stocked up on draft picks, giving them a possibly a rosy long-term future, but a dim short-term one.
The top team in the West (and the league) against the top team in the East. Four of the top 13 scorers in the NHL (Sidney Crosby, Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Evgeni Malkin) — and five in the top 20, if you want to throw in Chris Kunitz. After a two-game hangover following the Olympic break, the Penguins got their game back in order with a sound 3-1 win over Nashville on Tuesday. The Penguins were hitting on all cylinders as Crosby assisted on all three goals. Now, the Penguins will work in Marcel Goc (acquired from Florida at the trade deadline) as a potential checking center against other team’s top lines. Maybe they can try him out against Getzlaf and Perry. The Penguins also will get to see if forward Lee Stempniak (acquired from Calgary) can give them a bit more firepower. As if they need it. They already own the league’s top power play and rank fourth in scoring — one spot behind the Ducks.
In a 6-1 win over the New York Islanders on Saturday, Jagr scored his 700th goal and also earned an assist, tying him with Marcel Dionne for ninth all-time in assists with 1,040. Jagr is only eight goals behind Mike Gartner for sixth on the all-time goal-scoring list. Jagr also went plus-1, had four shots and two giveaways in 18:30.
In a 5-1 win on Saturday against Pittsburgh in a Stadium Series game at Soldier Field, Saad had one assist and went plus-4 with three shots, one hit, one blocked shot and two takeaways in 17:57 of time on ice. Not bad for the Pittsburgh-born Saad, who narrowly missed making the U.S. Olympic team, which was coached by the Penguins’ Dan Bylsma.
Two days after agreeing to a six-year, $33-million contract, Girardi went minus-3 in a 6-3 loss to Boston as the Bruins scored five goals at even strength and one shorthanded, for which Girardi happened to be on ice. The 29-year-old defenseman also had two shots, two hits, two blocked shots and one giveaway in 20:49.
With the dust having cleared over the last 24 hours with the passing of the NHL trading deadline, the winners and losers have been assessed. It’s obvious that Montreal’s pick-up of wing Thomas Vanek was a big win for the Canadiens and one can make the case that the New York Rangers’ trade of their captain Ryan Callahan along with a first-round pick and a second-round pick for 38-year-old Martin St. Louis could end up as a net loss in the long run.
But there are always some deals that just leave us shaking our head and it’s hard to categorize these as either a win or a loss. Here are three examples in which we’ll try to plumb for some answers. They all happen to affect players at the position with the quirkiest of personalities — goalie.
• Tim Thomas to Dallas
Knowing something about the personality of Stars starting goalie Kari Lehtonen, we are having a hard time trying to figure this one out. When he was coach of the Atlanta Thrashers, Bob Hartley tried to do everything he could to get Lehtonen to take on a mentality similar to that of Patrick Roy, with whom Hartley won the Stanley Cup in Colorado in 2001.
It did not take.
Lehtonen simply does not have that kind of ultra-competitive, hard-charging personality. He’s easy-going and low-key. Having Thomas, a two-time Vezina Trophy winner and Cup-winner with Boston in 2011, backing him up does not seem like the kind of move to which Lehtonen might respond well.
General manager Jim Nill has been on the job for less than one season in Dallas. That would seem to be enough time to get to know the personality of his franchise goaltender. Or maybe it doesn’t matter to him. The team, of course, always comes first. But Thomas, who will be 40 two days after the regular season ends for Dallas, will not be around for the long haul. Lehtonen, 30, who has four more years on his contract that average $5.9 million, will.
"He’s experienced and I think that’s going to be good for Kari Lehtonen to see a guy, how he prepares, how he handles pressure," Nill told the ‘Dallas Morning News.’ "Kari is kind of growing into this role. It’s Kari’s team still, but when we have back-to-back games or four games in six nights, he knows there is somebody that can go into the net and the team is going to continue to win. That’s very important."
This is Lehtonen’s 10th season in the league. It’s true he’s never won a playoff series but he’s been a No. 1 goalie for a long time and has been a key part of the Stars’ season. Kind of strange to say he’s growing into his role.
Furthermore, coach Lindy Ruff said Thomas would be rewarded if he plays well. That means more games, setting up perhaps some uncomfortable dynamics in the locker room.
It could work out fine but also has the potential for some unforeseen consequences.
• Reto Berra to Colorado
Having three goalies is never a healthy situation. There’s never enough practice time — forget about playing time — and it makes for odd dynamics in the locker room. Colorado, which is coached by Roy, the former goalie, is one of two teams along with Carolina that is committed to carrying three goalies for the remainder of the season.
Clearly, the Avalanche are going to make the playoffs. They have an 18-point margin at this point over ninth-place Phoenix in the Western Conference. So why, then, the need for a third goalie?
With 31 wins (second in the league) and a .925 save percentage (tied for seventh), Semyon Varlamov is having a Vezina-caliber season. Plus, back-up Jean-Sebastien Giguere is having a quality season himself. He has a .912 save percentage — which is better than some starters’ — and a 2.62 GAA so it’s not like the Avs have a huge drop-off when they need to rest Varlamov.
It seems here that Roy was spooked by a back injury that the 36-year-old Giguere suffered earlier this season. Roy referenced an incident in late January that gave Colorado impetus for the deal.
"It was a very simple drill and (Giguere) hurt his back," Roy told the ‘Denver Post.’ "We started questioning ourselves."
It would stand to reason that perhaps all is not well between Roy and Giguere, who backstopped Anaheim to the 2007 Cup. After a 4-3 loss in January, Roy ripped into his back-up.
"I think Jiggy should have played better tonight," he said at the time. "We’re not going to look at our team. We might not have had the jump we should have but Jiggy needs to be better. He hasn’t played well in the last four or five games. He should stand up and say, ‘I’m not playing up to what I should.’ And he did not. He needs to be better, and we need him playing better. Period."
It could be that finishing ahead of Chicago to earn home ice in the playoffs is a huge goal of Roy’s and his take-no-prisoners mentality.
This one might not upset the apple cart since Giguere is a back-up but still comes across as odd and, perhaps, even unnecessary.
• Devils keeping Martin Brodeur
Martin Brodeur is far too classy to ask for a trade. If he did, he did a good enough job of keeping it private so that the flames of controversy were not fanned any more than they already were by his hinting around that he would not mind being moved.
Nick Kypreos of Canadian cable broadcaster Sportsnet reported that Brodeur asked Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello to trade him but if it were true, Lamoriello, who is known to do things his way or the highway, did not comply.
Brodeur said he simply wants to play more but with Cory Schneider outplaying him by far (1.92 GAA to 2.49, .923 save percentage to .899) and the Devils locked in a fight for their playoff lives, coach Pete DeBoer keeps coming back to Schneider.
On Wednesday night, as Brodeur defeated Detroit 4-3, the game took on the hockey equivalent in terms of ceremonial meaning of the Last Supper. Yet Brodeur remained a Devil.
This will not make a franchise legend happy and virtually ensures he will play for another team next season, which might have been the outcome all along. Maybe in this case, Lamoriello used Brodeur’s character strength against him: He knows Brodeur is too classy to make himself into a locker room problem.