Puck77

National Hockey League: Who Will Take Home The Hart Trophy?

The NHL Awards Show is coming up, and the finalists have already been announced. There are favorites and there are snubs, and fans have been vocal about who should win, and who deserves a nomination.

 

The Hart trophy is no different, and there have been varying cases for all three finalists. The Hart Trophy, for those who don’t know, is awarded to the player who is judged to be the most valuable to his team. Here are the finalists, and why they should, or could, win.

 

Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning

Why He Should Win: Kucherov finished the season with 128 points, which, for this era, is unbelievable. He showed dominance in the league that had not been seen since the Jaromir Jagr and Mario Lemieux era in Pittsburgh. He has already claimed the Art Ross trophy for most points in the entire league. A guy so dominant deserves this trophy certainly, but are point totals really enough?

Why He Should Not Win: Kucherov has every reason to win, but let’s look at what awards the players this trophy. “The player judged to be the most valuable to his team.” His own team. This is not league MVP, which Kucherov would claim, hands down.

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Was Kucherov really that vital to his teams performance? Well, yes, but if you take him out, the Lightning will still be a playoff team. They have Steven Stamkos, Brayden Point, Victor Hedman, Ryan McDonagh, and Andrei Vasilevskiy. He’s also not a captain, nor an assistant captain, so you can’t turn to leadership qualities for help. Yes, he led his team in points by a wide margin, and yes, he had a historical season in every sense. But no, Tampa would not blow up if he were not there.

 

Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins

Why He Should Win: Sidney Crosby is the Pittsburgh Penguins. While Phil Kessel was swirling in trade rumors and Evgeni Malkin struggled, Sidney Crosby remained Sidney Crosby. He led the Penguins in points with 100, 18 more than second place Kessel. He led the team in assists with 65, 10 more than second place Kessel. He finished second on the team in goals with 35, behind linemate Jake Guentzel (40) and ahead of third place Kessel (27). He was tied with Kessel for power play goals (12) and had the most time on ice among forwards, averaging 20:59. He is the heart and soul of the Penguins, and their captain.

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Why He Shouldn’t Win: The Penguins had a down year in terms of where they finished as a team, as well as some individually underwhelming production. Crosby did not, as he held strong to his name. However, he’s just like Kucherov in a sense that the Penguins may not be awful if he were to leave them. Crosby is a huge figure in the locker room, but the Penguins still have so much star power with Malkin, Guentzel, Kris Letang, Kessel, Justin Schultz, and Matt Murray. They would still be a far different team, but I still believe they’re good enough to make the playoffs.

 

Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers

Why He Should Win: As the captain of the Oilers, he went on to do McDavid things. He finished second in the league in points with 116, just 12 points behind the otherworldly production of Kucherov. He finished with 41 goals, which is tied with Kucherov for sixth in the league. He also notched 75 assists, second to only Kucherov (87) around the entire league. Edmonton is not a good team, and if you take McDavid off the roster, they’d be worse than the Ottawa Senators. What McDavid does for this team, no one can top it.

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Why He Shouldn’t Win It: While Kucherov was able to lead the Lightning towards a President’s Trophy, and Crosby was able to snag a playoff spot with the Penguins, McDavid was left golfing. He wasn’t good enough to get his team to the playoffs, despite being one of the best players in the league.

 

Deeper Dive

One way to decide whether or not a player was more lucky than successful is by looking at a stat that ultimately quantifies a players luck.

Higher than a 100 PDO means that person was lucky, and likely won’t repeat their season at that clip. Under 100 PDO is unlucky, and likely means that player could have done better. 100 PDO is average, not lucky or unlucky.

Kucherov finished the season with a 102.7, Crosby finished with a 101.9, and McDavid finished with a 100.7. That being said, Kucherov’s historic season was spectacular, but required a lot of luck, and he likely will never reach that total again in his career.

Crosby did not have as spectacular of a year, posting the lowest goal, assist, and point totals among the finalists, but still required some luck to reach triple digits, and if the Penguins struggles continue into next season, Crosby may not reach the 100-point plateau.

Meanwhile, McDavid was just a little over average, not requiring much luck to reach an incredible 116 points, and has a good chance of consistently hitting those marks despite being on a relatively weak roster.

 

In Conclusion

McDavid deserves this trophy through and through, because he produced at a very high rate, and didn’t need a lot of bounces to go his way to reach his mark, showing that he can consistently reach that same production season by season. He’s also the only guy you can look at and say “Without him, his team would really struggle.” He’s also the captain, and the captain of any team is extremely important as is. So while he didn’t produce like Kucherov did, he has the “C” on his sweater, and not as much luck on the ice.

 

Stats via NHL.com

PDO via Hockey-reference

Featured Image Photo Credit: Nikos Michals

Detroit Red Wings

Detroit Red Wings: The Path To The Draft

With the Detroit Red Wings only having a few games left in the regular season and no playoff series to prepare for, the teams management has fully turned their attention to the 2019 NHL Entry Draft.

Albeit a disappointing year in terms of where the team finished in the standing, every good rebuild needs to bottom out. While some point towards the Edmonton Oilers and Buffalo Sabres as reasons not to tank and finish at or near the bottom of the standings, the teams that have found success with bottoming out include the Toronto Maple Leafs, Tampa Bay Lightning and Pittsburgh Penguins as teams who have tanked the “right way”. They are all teams that have drafted at or near the top of the draft and supported their young stars with young veterans and good role players. For every Auston Matthews or Sidney Crosby there is a Nazem Kadri or a Jake Guentzel.

The Red Wings core is composed of Dylan Larkin, Andreas Athanasiou and Anthony Mantha along with young pieces such as Filip Zadina, Filip Hronek and Dennis Cholowski. The team is set up better than many teams who are going into a top draft position.

With the Red Wings current position in the standings, 3rd from the bottom, they are looking at a likely top 6 pick at worst while hoping to get lucky and win the lottery for one of the top two spots in this year’s draft. Both Jack Hughes and Kaapo Kakko are projected to be superstar talents and they could be the final building block for the core of this Red Wings roster that is hoping to show measurable improvements next season.

Over the next few weeks, the folks here at Puck77 will be going over draft prospects and taking deep dives on some of the players that will likely get chosen in the upcoming draft. Today we take a brief overview at the top 10 players that will likely be there for the Red Wings.

The Superstar Franchise Changers

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Jack Hughes is an NHL star in the making. He is an undersized centre at just 5’10” and 180 lbs, but the skill that he possesses completely wipes away any concern about his size. His playmaking ability will be near elite the day he steps onto NHL ice. His transition game is outstanding as he often carries the puck from end to end, sets up a teammate and collects points. A high-end point producer, he also has an NHL ready shot and will shore up the centre depth of whatever team is lucky enough to draft him. If Detroit were the team to win the lottery and select Hughes, he would be able to create one of the deadliest 1-2 punches down the middle in the NHL with himself and Dylan Larkin.

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The other franchise altering player in this draft is forward Kaapo Kakko. A powerful goal scorer with underrated playmaking ability. Equipped with a deadly shot from almost any position on the ice, he is a powerful skater who has the full toolbox in the offensive zone. Whether it’s battling on the boards or dangling a defencemen in the slot, Kakko is an elite offensive talent. Playing primarily wing, he does have some experience at centre so the team drafting him, likely with the 2nd overall pick, will be able to add a scoring threat to the wing immediately and possibly groom him into a center in the near future. Adding a scorer like Kakko would immediately provide a deep-set of wingers that include Athanasiou, Mantha, Zadina and the underrated Tyler Bertuzzi.

The Tier after the Locks

While the players picked from 3-10 in the draft aren’t going to step in right away and solidify their star status, they all possess talent that can help add to a solid core and build a team with great depth. There are players at virtually every position in this range and they all have varying skill sets. So, a teams choice of one player over the other could be based on a number of attributes that team values.

If the team wants to shore up their depth down the middle they have options like big, playmaking center Kirby Dach, shifty water bug Peyton Krebs or the powerful skating and high IQ Dylan Cozens? Or maybe you want a guy who might be the most complete 200 foot player in the draft Alex Turcotte or possibly his fellow USNTDP member the high skill and speedy Trevor Zegras? All of these centres are distinctly different from each other, all could conceivably play the wing of needed and a team could go any which way.

Maybe the team is looking for a high-end defencemen and chooses the neutral zone wizard and breakout king in lefty Bowen Byram. He is an effective power play QB and has speed to burn.

Another option here would be left winger Vasili Podkolzin. An edgy player who thinks the game offensively among the best in this draft class. An instigator who comes through in the big moments, often times in big spots for the national team tournaments.

The Red Wings Draft Strategy

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While no one outside of Ken Holland and the Red Wings management team knows what their strategy is, the Red Wings have a few glaring weaknesses. With a defensive core that has a few good young players in Cholowski and Hronek, they don’t have that future #1 guy. Could they fill that need with Byram?

Another glaring omission on this roster is the depth at center. Behind Dylan Larkin, this team doesn’t have much. There are a number of centremen available. Many of which fill the need of playmaker for some of their high-end wingers.

The Red Wings are in asset acquisition mode at the moment. And whether those assets are young players or draft capital, they need to take the best things that are available. This draft should work that same way. Take the best player available. Whoever this management group ranks highest of the available players is the player they should take. Best player available strategy is the smartest move. 

When it’s all said and done, this team will be coming away from this draft with a possible future star. Another brick in building their team back to its glory days.

For more on the NHL and the Red Wings follow me on Twitter @theTonyFerrari

All stats and information are referenced from hockeydb.com, eliteprospects.com, hockey-reference.com and NHL.com

Featured Image Photo Credit – Nikos Michals

Just How Good Has Jake Guentzel Been for the Pittsburgh Penguins?

Jake Guentzel was drafted 77th overall in the 2013 draft by the Pittsburgh Penguins.

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Jake Guentzel‘s first NHL goal came on November 21, 2016 against the New York Rangers. He ended up scoring two that game as the Pens came away with a win.

In his rookie season, he put up 33 points (16 goals, 17 assists) in 40 games played. Fifteen of his sixteen goals came at even strength as well. Despite having a solid start, Guentzel wasn’t finished there. The Penguins were looking to make a long playoff run that year and they needed help all throughout the lineup. They got exactly what they asked for. Guentzel would go on to have 21 points (13 goals, 8 assists) in 25 games as the Pens hoisted their 5th Stanley Cup in franchise history going back-to-back. The rookie was making quite the impression around the league but one question was always asked, would he produce without Sidney Crosby?

Sophomore Season

Heading into his sophomore season, that question loomed over Guentzel. Most fans around the league and even analysts were ready to write his rookie season off as a fluke. Guentzel didn’t get those rumors to go away with his 48 points (22 goals, 26 assists) in 82 games. Sure, 48 points is nothing to just ignore. But, it certainly isn’t something to write home about either. The Penguins looked poised to make another playoff push this season. They finished with 100 points and 2nd place in the Metropolitan division behind the Washington Capitals. Questions swirled around about whether or not Guentzel could produce in the playoffs like he did the year before. Those questions quickly got their answer. Guentzel would have 21 points (10 goals, 11 assists) in just 12 games. Unfortunately, the Penguins would come up short in the 2nd round.

Junior Season

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Nobody really knew what to expect from Guentzel heading into the 2018-19 season. Everyone knew the kid could play, but didn’t know just how well he could play. He would have 15 points (8 goals, 7 assists) in the first 20 games of the season. Alright, can this kid keep it up?

Guentzel would have 20 points (9 goals, 11 assists) in his next 20 games. Thirty-five points in the first fourty games is good, right? The Penguins were sold.

Hard Work Pays Off

The Pens would sign Guentzel on December 27, 2018 to a 5 year contract worth 30 million (6 million per year). The Pens would continue through their season and Guentzel had no intentions of slowing down. Currently, Jake Guentzel has 71 points (38 goals, 33 assists) in 76 games. Guentzel is tied for 7th in goals with Connor McDavid, Alex DeBrincat, and Cam Atkinson. Pretty good company.

Playoff Push

The Pens are currently 3rd in the Metropolitan division with 93 points. The Pens are chasing down the division leaders, Washington Capitals & New York Islanders. They are 8-1-4 in the month of March and are hoping to stay in a playoff spot for the remainder of the season. The Pens last regular season game is on April 6th against the New York Rangers.

We’ll keep our eye on the Pittsburgh Penguins and we will keep you up to date.

Stats from HockeyReference, NHL.com

Puck77 has an agreement with the Pittsburgh Penguins to use their official transparent logo as our featured image.

Pittsburgh Penguins

Pittsburgh Penguins: Preparing for life without Sid and Geno

Jake Guentzel signed a new 5-Year, $30 Million contract yesterday, Helping set the Pittsburgh Penguins up for success after Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are gone.

Sidney Crosby (Sid) and Evgeni Malkin (Geno) is as recognizable as Calvin and Hobbes or Penn and Teller. However, much like Laverne and Shirley, all good shows must come to an end. At 31 and 32 years old, respectively, the Penguins two superstars may be on the back nine of their careers. That may not mean that the team has to go through a long swoon once they are gone. 

While the core of their roster is in their 30’s, the Pittsburgh Penguins have quietly been hoarding their young talent. They have already locked up Brian Dumoulin, Olli Maatta, Jake Guentzel, and Bryan Rust through 2021-22. This will ensure that the new generation of Penguins will have great mentor-ship coming from players that were led by one of the greatest captains of today’s generation. 

Analyzing the Jake Guentzel Deal

If you follow some of the great hockey minds on Twitter, you may think that every Restricted Free Agent (RFA) gets an offer sheet. I had to be the disinformant, but we haven’t seen an offer sheet since the Philadelphia Flyers signed Shea Weber to one in 2012. That was quickly matched by the Nashville Predators. 

However, with current crop of projected RFA’s, it may actually happen this off-season. This is why it was essential for Jim Rutherford to get Guentzel locked up before the uncertainty of the off-season. I know it seems unlikely that Jake would garner an offer sheet, but with his big game resume, his price could have been too much for the Penguins to afford. This would have left them in a situation similar to the William Nylander contract dispute that we witnessed this past off-season. I am not comparing the two players as a one-for-one comparison, merely analyzing the situations. 

Career So Far

 Jake Guentzel, a former 3rd round pick out of Nebraska-Omaha, has been with the Penguins organization since the 2nd half of the 2016-17 season. He has amassed 114 Points in 159 Games. His true value has been his performance in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, where has a whopping 42 Points in 37 Games. 

The best part of Guentzel’s game does not show up on any stat sheet. He loves playing with Sidney Crosby. I know that everyone would relish the opportunity to play with one of the greatest Center Iceman in the history of the game, but not everyone can do it well. Jake is a shooter, and he does not yield to Sid, as some young players have tended to do in the past. Sid always trusts that Jake will be in the right spot on the ice and make the correct play. The threat that this creates for opposing defenses only makes a guy like Crosby even more dangerous. So the argument that Guentzel is a product of Sidney Crosby, actually goes both ways. 

Adjusting His Game

A little known fact about the one-time Omaha Maverick is that he is a natural Center Iceman. Even as recently as his time in the American Hockey League (AHL), he was still playing Center. When he was called up to the big club, he was immediately put on the Left-Wing. At 5’11” and 180 pounds, he does not have the stereotypical build of an NHL Center, and he quickly adapted to his new role by scoring twice in his NHL debut. I think it is safe to say that the transition could not have gone better for him. 

What the Future Holds

It is hard to envision a scenario where the Pittsburgh Penguins try to move Jake Guentzel back to Center. He could serve as a gap filler after either Sid or Geno retires. There is a wealth of good center iceman coming up through the Pens farm system, including Teddy Blueger and Jordy Bellerive, so it would not serve as a long term solution to leave Guentzel at center. Especially considering the success he has already had as a winger. The most important change that I envision for Jake Guentzel is the change to his uniform. No, I am not talking about a trade or exposure to the Seattle expansion draft. I believe that Jake Guentzel will serve as the next Captain of the Pittsburgh Penguins. It seems bold to even imagine another Captain after Crosby, but Guentzel is a perfect transition to the next young, not yet drafted, Penguins ambassador. 

Let me know your thoughts on the Jake Guentzel extension in the comments below. 

stats provided by our friends at hockey-reference.com 

Pittsburgh Penguins

Pittsburgh Penguins Exemptions May See Another Emotional Departure

No fan base may be more fearful of the upcoming expansion draft than the Pittsburgh Penguins. After all the last expansion draft saw the Penguins expose franchise goaltender and fan-favorite, Marc-Andre Fleury. The decision in this go round may also leave the fans in a similar state of emotional distress.

First, let’s take a look at who will be protected from the Seattle franchise. In the Vegas expansion, the Penguins chose to protect 4 forwards and 4 defensemen. Of course this was a moot point, as the Penguins had already worked a deal for the Knights to draft Marc-Andre Fleury. I would expect the team to choose the more forward oriented protection list this time around.

Forwards:

Sidney Crosby, Center

Let’s get the obvious out of the way. The face of the franchise and the league for the past 15 seasons will not be exposed. He will certainly finish his career with the Penguins and have his jersey hung in the rafters next to Mario Lemieux and Michel Briere.

Evgeni Malkin, Center

Another obvious choice here, Malkin has a No-Movement Clause which exempts him from exposure. Even without that certainty, Malkin is still at a very productive stage of his career. He should still be in the 80 point production range and be in the all-star conversations.

Jake Guentzel, Center/ Left Wing

Meet the future of the organization. Jake will be in line for a big payday in the coming offseason. He is going to be christened to be the next face of the franchise. He has adapted to a change in position and is a prolific playoff scorer.

Dominic Simon, Center/ Right Wing

Much like Chris Kunitz and Pacal Dupuis before him, Simon has excelled playing a full-time role on Crosby’s wing. Dominic is a very intelligent player, who always puts himself where Sid wants him to be. He is a fast and gritty player that does all the small things in all three zones. He will be a productive player for a long time to come.

Zach Aston-Reese, Left Wing

Aston-Reese is another guy that can play with elite level players. He has spent time flanking both Malkin and Crosby. ZAR was playing top 6 minutes in last year’s playoffs before encountering a broken jaw at the hands of Tom Wilson. He still shows relentlessness in the tough areas and uses his speed and IQ to make plays for the elite players around him.

Bryan Rust, Left Wing/ Right Wing

You want a guy that plays 3rd line and kills penalties, that’s Bryan Rust. You want a guy to play in your top 6 and makes your elite players better, that’s Bryan Rust. You need a Left Winger or Right Winger, that’s Bryan Rust. You get the point. This is the most versatile guy on the Penguins roster. You cannot let a guy like that walk out the door.

Patric Hornqvist, Right Wing

Affectionately known as “Horny,” Patric is a grinder that plays exceptionally well within 3 feet of the crease. A guy like Hornqvist is a guy that you don’t notice until he is not there. At the time of writing this, Hornqvist is on the IR with an Upper Body Injury and the suffering of the Power Play is noticeable. Outside of all that, he is an emotional leader in the locker-room that would be sorely missed.

Defensemen:

Kris Letang, Right Handed Defenseman

Letang has a No-Movement Clause in his contract that will prevent him from being exposed. Beyond that, he is the best Penguins defenseman and they cannot let his leadership leave.

Brian Dumoulin, Left Handed Defenseman

Dumoulin is a phenomenal positional defenseman. He is very smart as to how he approaches the game. He has been playing across from Letang for the last few seasons and they have formed one of the best shutdown pairing in the league.

Juuso Rikola, Left Handed Defenseman

Juuso is an un-drafted defenseman that forced his way onto the roster out of training camp this year. He has added an element of physicality and speed that the Penguins defense core lacks in a single body. Rikola is going to be a staple for the Penguins defense well into the future.

Goaltender:

Matt Murray, Goaltender

The protection of Murray is going to be a point of contention for Penguins fans. He is still a 24 year old with 2 Stanley Cups. Matt has had his share of injury and personal concerns to fill a career. Hopefully, he finds a way to get trending in the right direction and stay healthy. If he does, the Penguins could not afford to let another franchise goaltender leave.

Notable Omissions:

Phil Kessel, Right Wing

Assuming the reality finally catches up with media trends, I assume a deal will be worked out to trade Phil Kessel and give the Penguins some much needed salary cap relief.

Justin Schultz, Right Handed Defenseman

With his current contract set to expire at the end of the 2019-20 season, I do not envision a scenario that the Penguins can afford to re-sign Schultz.

Jack Johnson, Left Handed Defenseman

I am sure most fans will be actively lobbying for GM Jim Rutherford to work all angles to trade Jack Johnson. However, I do not believe he will explore such options and expose Johnson during the draft.

Olli Maata, Left Handed Defenseman

Currently the fourth longest tenured member of the Penguins roster, Maata will be exposed to Seattle. Furthermore, I expect Seattle to select Maata with their Penguins selection. He may not pop out statistically, but he plays a very sound game and has a ton of postseason experience that will help a young locker room.

This is a very early projection of what the exemption list may look like. Many of the players that are protected and exposed may not even be on the roster at this time. This was a very fun thought experiment and is by no means an insider opinion. I hope you enjoy and let me know in the comments who you would protect and who you think Seattle will snipe off the Penguins roster.

Salary and contract information provided by capfriendly.com