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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

Pittsburgh Penguins: Does Trading Evgeni Malkin Actually Make Sense?

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After a near decade of speculation, the straw finally seems to be breaking the camel’s back in terms of Evgeni Malkin trade rumours. Trading a superstar is no joke, and the return has to be excellent to make the deal worth it. So it raises the question: Would trading Malkin make sense for the Pittsburgh Penguins?

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First off, let’s get this out of the way. Evgeni Malkin is no stranger to trade rumours.

The Russian superstar seems to be the target of ‘done-deal’ trade rumours every 4-5 years, with the most recent boom coming in the summer of 2015. The Penguins, coming off a disappointing first-round loss to the New York Rangers at the time, were vocal about the lack of depth scoring. Sportnet’s Elliotte Friedman said this regarding Malkin at the time (April 27 2015):

“If you can get two or three pieces including a guy that can play with (Sidney) Crosby, don’t you think about it?…There are teams that could pull it off. I’m looking at a Florida, a Nashville, a team with young assets that could do this”

Of course, in hindsight, the quotes are strange. The Penguins, for context, added Phil Kessel that summer and proceeded to win two of the next four Stanley Cups. However, the belief in Pittsburgh is no different now than four years ago, despite the extra superstar and two Stanley Cups.

Recently, Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford, who was eager to defend noted lightning-rod defenceman Kris Letang, seemed lackadaisical when asked about Malkin. Rutherford, via Josh Yohe of the Athletic, said this:

“I’m just not at the point where I’m making any decision on that at this point.”

These quotes are especially odd, considering the wide-variety of high-profile sources (such as Friedman) suggesting the opposite. Furthermore, most teams put vocalized confidence in a questioned asset before making decisions, presumably to relieve pressure from the situation. Yet, most notably, Rutherford did not do this. Rutherford decided to leave the future of a franchise superstar hanging in the air. Thus, the consensus seems to be leaning towards the ‘inevitability’ of a Malkin trade.

How Good Is Evgeni Malkin?

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Malkin is good, that much is obvious. But, the former second-overall pick is now 32-years-old and has three years left on his current contract at $9.5 million (cap hit) per season.

If the Penguins wanted to maximize on Malkin’s value, they should have moved him already. The Penguins have roughly $294K in cap space, and need to resign Marcus Pettersson, Teddy Blueger, and Matt Cullen (if he sticks around). Pettersson, who proved himself as a top-four defender on the Penguins after being traded from Anaheim, could command roughly $2.5 million on a bridge deal. Blueger entered the Penguins line-up late in the season and impressed with his scoring ability, although he is likely a $1 million depth piece. The same could be said of the evergreen Cullen.

Now, it would be foolish to think that any of these players take priority over 1000-point scorer Malkin. However, The Penguins are in desperate need of defense, as the team has three non-NHL defensemen playing well-below their pay grade.

Erik Gudbranson, Olli Maatta, and Jack Johnson have long been said to be some of the worst NHL defensemen in terms of analytics. Malkin, on the other hand, has consistently been one of the Penguins best players.

In 852 career NHL games (all with the Penguins), Malkin has scored 391 goals and 1002 points (1.18 P/GP). On top of these Hall Of Fame  worthy stats, since 2007-08 (774 Games), Malkin has registered a 52.7 CF% and a 100.8 PDO. This means that Malkin is a very good individual player, and remains a big difference maker on the Penguins.

Often surrounded by average players, Malkin is credited with creating 373 goals for his teammates over his 852 game career, and has averaged 0.72 assists per game.  Thus, Malkin is certainly a huge factor for Pittsburgh, and has consistently proven his worth to the Penguins over and over again.

Conclusion

As evident by the statistics above, there is almost no factor suggesting that Malkin should be traded, yet the rumours rage on.

At this point in time, I don’t see Malkin being moved. Unless maybe the Florida Panthers finally ‘cash in’ on their decade long interest on the three-time All-star.

Statistics, Quotes, and other information retrieved from hockey-reference.com, theathletic.com, Sportsnet.ca, eliteprospects.com, and capfriendly.com

Featured Image Photo Credit: Nikos Michals

 

Pittsburgh Penguins: Endgame?

 

The Penguins are not shy to controversy. After suffering a 4-0 series loss in the 1st round at the hands of the New York Islanders, questions immediately started swirling.

Following game 4, there was some talk about the possible trade of star players, Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel, & Kris Letang. It was also said that there aren’t many untouchables other than Sidney Crosby. Pretty scary scene for Pens fans.

Would trading big names help the Pens in the long run?

Personally, I don’t see how trading any of your top players could help the team win right now. Which general manager, Jim Rutherford, has spoken about quite a lot saying that he is in “win now” mode. Now if the team is planning for the future, then trading some bigger household names would be a great idea. Accumulate draft picks, prospects, or just younger roster players in general.

A closer look

Evgeni Malkin has been one of the best players on the Pens roster for over a decade now. But injuries might’ve had a jump start on his decline. Malkin had 98 points (42 goals, 56 assists) & was +16 just last season. This year, he had just 72 points (21 goals, 51 assists) & was –21, the lowest +/- he has had in his career. Also the lowest amount of goals he has had since the 2012-13 season where he had 9. If you’re looking at the big drop off in just 1 season, that should be quite worrying.

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Phil Kessel has had some of his best years in Pittsburgh. More specifically in the 2017-18 season when Kessel had his very first 90+ point season. He registered 92 points (34 goals, 58 assists). Even in a “down” season this year for Kessel, Kessel managed to accumulate 82 points (27 goals, 55 assists). Kessel also has an incredible iron man streak of over 500 games. Finding a player who consistently produces & remains healthy is hard to come by.

Kris Letang has been rather injury prone since coming into the league back in the 2006-07 season. His career high in points is 67 points (16 goals, 51 assists) in the 2015-16 season. Since then he has registered 66, 32, 51, and 56 points. Eben with the injury prone years, Letang continues to be the backbone of the Pens defense. No other Pens defenseman makes a bigger impact than he does at even strength & on the power-play.

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Now these are just 3 of the bigger names to be linked to trade speculation. After reading that, would you trade any of the three?

Possible FA’s to target

None of these players are set in stone to test free-agency, but here’s a quick breakdown of possible players that could benefit the Penguins.

Mats Zuccarello. Zuccarello is known as one of the best locker room players in the league. He’s also one of those sneaky-good players that are rarely given the spotlight. He has played for the New York Rangers for 9 years until he was acquired by the Dallas Stars at this years trade deadline. Zuccarello is coming off a 40 point season (12 goals, 28 points) & only played in 47 games due to injury. Zucc currently has 10 points (3 goals, 7 assists) in 12 playoff games. Game 7 is tonight against the St. Louis Blues in case you were wondering.

Anders Lee. The Penguins have always been weak on the left wing & could use the services of a talented one that won’t break the bank. Lee is coming off of a 51 point season (28 goals, 23 assists) with the New York Islanders. He also had 4 points (1 goal, 3 assists) in the playoffs this year.

Jake Gardiner. Even though the Pens are pretty deep on the backend, there’s always room for improvement. I’m expecting the Pens to move one or two of their defenseman this offseason, so bringing in a guy like Gardiner to fill those shoes could be beneficial. Gardiner had a bit of a down year after only recording 30 points (3 goals, 27 assists) in 62 games. He had 2 assists in the playoffs as well. I always felt like Gardiner was never given the credit he deserved.

Endgame?

This could be a very big offseason for the franchise going forward. Nobody is really considered “safe” & we could very well see a totally different Pens roster take the ice next season. Trust in GMJR.

Stats from HockeyReference & NHL.com

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Pittsburgh Penguins: What’s The Offseason Game Plan?

The Pittsburgh Penguins season ended with a disappointing 4-game sweep to the New York Islanders.

With Sidney Crosby entering his 15th season next year, what has to change to enjoy the most success in his twilight years?

Contract Situations

 

Pens Salary Cap

So as you can see from the graphic (courtesy of capfriendly.com), the Penguins will enter next season with very few free agents to tend to. The three biggest questions will be surrounding Zach Aston-Reese, Teddy Blueger, and Marcus Pettersson. Each is a restricted free agent and have carved a role in the everyday lineup.

The Pens will enter the offseason with roughly $81M in salary allocated to their existing lineup. With Gary Bettman speculating that the salary cap would likely increase to $83M, that leaves just over $2M for the team to use for their RFA’s and any free agent acquisitions. Let’s break this down by player and see if there is any way for Pittsburgh to free up some space and be a contender for some attractive free agents.

We will break these down in the order they appear on Cap Friendly.

Forwards

Evgeni Malkin– Cap hit: $9.5M, Full NMC

Easily, one of the top 5 players of this generation. Geno will retire as a member of the Pittsburgh Penguins. He ha made that very clear in recent interviews. 0% trade chance.

Sidney Crosby- Cap hit: $8.7M, Full NMC

One of the most team friendly contracts in the salary cap era. Crosby is not going anywhere. 0% trade chance.

Phil Kessel– Cap hit: $6.8M, 8-Team NTC

Another offseason. Another year of the Phil Kessel trade rumors. There is not a more polarizing figure in all of hockey. Fans love him and the media loves to hate him. With Toronto retaining a portion of his salary and Kessel producing over a point per game over the last two seasons, I find it unlikely they move him. 25% trade chance.

Patric Hornqvist– Cap hit: $5.3M, 8-Team NTC

Coming off of the first year of a new 5-year contract, Hornqvist endured a rash of injuries and disappointing stretches. He finished with only 37 points and only 6 power play goals. Whether or not the concussions that he suffered was the cause of his second half struggles remains to be seen, but if the team gets the right offer, a Hornqvist trade is plausible. The Penguins may be forced to retain some of his salary, which I believe they are not interested in doing. 33% trade chance.

Nick Bjugstad– Cap hit: $4.1M

Acquired if February via trade, Bjugstad netted 14 points in 32 games for the Penguins. With two more years remaining on his current contract and a full offseason with the team, I think he will be back with the Penguins next season. 10% trade chance.

Bryan Rust– Cap hit- $3.5M

There was a contingent of people who believed that Rust would be the package piece used to offload a bad contract. That piece ended up being Conor Sheary, but more moves must be made this offseason. Penguins fans are going to clamor for moving some defensemen with an expensive cap hit, but that cannot be done without incentivising the deal. Pittsburgh has never been a team that retains salary, so a player with term on a value contract  is the incentive needed to get those deals done. Rust has played on both wings on all four lines and would add value no matter where he goes. 80% trade chance.

Jared McCann– Cap hit: $1.25M

Another midseason acquisition, McCann immediately had impact for the Penguins. When he was acquired, many speculated that he would be the third line center with Nick Bjugstad playing on Crosby’s wing. The opposite became the norm. Jared McCann provided a goal scoring touch that many players, who played on Sid’s wing , could not. His ability to score shorthanded helped lead the Penguins to third in the NHL in that category. With one year remaining on his current contract and his RFA rights, it is very unlikely that the team moves McCann. 0% trade chance.

Dominik Simon– Cap hit: $750K

For years, Mike Sullivan has paraded Simon up and down the lineup trying to find his role. He often ended up putting him on the top line with Jake Guentzel and Sidney Crosby, much to the chagrin of fans. He was never able to utilize the space created and finish the opportunities provided to him. Netting only 8 goals in 71 games. He is a possession mammoth, averaging over 55 in both Corsi and Fenwick values. Much like the Daniel Sprong situation before, a change of scenery could launch Simon to greatness. 60% trade chance.

Jake Guentzel- Cap hit: $6M

Guentzel signed a new contract in December guaranteeing him another 5 years in the Steel City. Coming off of a 40 goal campaign, it is not likely we have seen the best he has to offer. 0% trade chance.

Defensemen

Kris Letang– Cap hit: $7.25M

The career leader in most offensive categories for Penguins defensemen, Letang had a bounceback year following the disappointing 2017-18 campaign. He was oft mentioned in the Norris Trophy discussions this year, and barring health concerns next season, he should be a preseason favorite for that award next year. There is a small contingent of the Pens fanbase that do not like the aggressive nature that Letang plays with, but it is a high risk, high reward style. 5% trade chance.

Justin Schultz– Cap hit: $5.5M

Playing just 29 games due to a broken leg, Schultz picked up the slack when Letang missed time with an upper body injury late in the season. He finished the season wtih 15 points, including 6 on the power play. After a disappointing start to his career in Edmonton, his value may never be higher. If the Penguins want to make a splash in free agency, a packacke with Bryan Rust and Justin Schultz would be the best way to free up money to target the biggest names. 30% trade chance.

Brian Dumoulin– Cap hit: $4.1M

Dumo is the ying to Letang’s yang. He is the most reliable defenseman on the Pens roster. He had a rough go of things in the playoffs, as he did not look fully recovered from the injury that caused him to miss the last few games of the season. I cannot find a discernible scenario where the Penguins win a trade involving Brian Dumoulin. 0% trade chance.

Olli Maatta– Cap hit: $4.08M

Oft the ire of fans contempt, Maatta found himself being the odd man out in the playoffs. Suffering through injuries and one of his worst statistical seasons of his career, perhaps a change of scenery would work wonders for the Finnish defenseman. I am not sure what his value would be following an abysmal campaign, but Jim Rutherford should definitely entertain all offers. 90% trade chance.

Erik Gudbranson– Cap hit: $4M

Gudbranson was an unlikely upgrade to the blue line at the trade deadline. He had great chemistry with partner, Marcus Pettersson. Their length provided unique challenges for opposing offenses. After starting the season as -27 with Vancouver, he rebounded for a +7 with Pittsburgh. 5% trade chance.

Jack Johnson– Cap hit: Cap hit: $3.25M

Now for the portion of the arthicle that you all tuned in for. Johnson was a failure from the onset for most fans. He played all 82 games this year before being scratched for the first game of the playoffs. Playing primarily as a third pair defenseman, Johnson finished with his lowest average ice time of his NHL career. After the acquisition of Gudbranson at the deadline, Jack Johnson is the cheapest of the 6 contracted defenseman. This fact may make him the most moveable on the team. Rutherford has often been quick to move on from perceived mistakes, so if he deems this a mistake, he may trade the veteran defenseman. 73% trade chance.

Goaltenders

Matt Murray– Cap hit: $3.75M

Coming up on a contract year and the price of goalie contracts going up, Murray may be in his most critical crossroads of his young career. The memory of his back to back Stanley Cup wins are growing further in people’s memories. He will need a productive first half of next season or a trade could be entertained. 0% trade chance.

Casey DeSmith– Cap hit: $1.25

During the first half struggles of Matt Murray, the Penguins locked up DeSmith to a 3-year extension. He will continue to be the insurance plan going into next season. 0% trade chance. 

Tristan Jarry– Cap hit: $675K

The rollercoaster ride for Tristan Jarry has been wild for the young netminder. He was in line to be the backup to Murray before DeSmith won the job out of training camp. Now with only one year remaining on his entry level contract and no room on the roster for three goaltenders, it is likely that Jarry will be moved this offseason. 100% trade chance.

Summary

As you can see, there is a lot of options for the management to assess. With only $2M in cap space going into the offseason, they have no choice other than trades to improve the roster. GM Jim Rutherford will have some tough decisions to make in the coming weeks, but he has been very good at making deals.

Stats from NHL.com and Hockey-Reference

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

 

 

 

 

Pittsburgh Penguins Poised for Another Cup Run?

The Pittsburgh Penguins are getting healthy, just in the nick of time.

With the playoffs just around the corner, the Pens are hoping for the return of Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang.

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The Pens announced that Malkin was considered week-to-week on March 17th. Malkin suffered an injury playing against the St. Louis Blues (Penguins lost 5-1) on March 16th, after taking a cross-check from his former teammate, Robert Bortuzzo. Malkin took part in the Pens practice on April 3rd and was part of the 1st power play unit. All signs are pointing in the right direction for Malkin to be ready to go tonight against the Detroit Red Wings.

Kris Letang, who recently missed 11 games due to neck injury, is again dealing with an upper-body injury. It was announced on March 25th that the Pens will be without Letang but the time frame was never specified. He has missed the last 4 games. On Thursday, Letang took part in the Pens practice and wasn’t wearing a no-contact jersey. But, it hasn’t been confirmed if Letang will suit up in the final two regular season games. 

Playoffs? You Kidding Me? (My Jim Mora Moment)

The playoffs are still not a guarantee for the Penguins. After suffering a loss on Tuesday night to the Detroit Red Wings, the Pens are in dire need of a win. The red hot Columbus Blue Jackets and the Montreal Canadiens are right on their tail, while the Carolina Hurricanes are nipping at their heels. The Penguins have 97 points and Carolina has 95. Columbus and Montreal both have 94.

The Penguins have won 10 of their last 17 games. As mentioned prior, they take on the Detroit Red Wings tonight and they’ll face the New York Rangers on Saturday. Both games will be at home in the Steel City.

Scenarios

The Penguins need to win just 1 of their last 2 games to clinch a playoff spot. They can also clinch with a Montreal or Columbus loss in regulation.

If the Playoffs started today, the Penguins would match up against the New York Islanders. Who wouldn’t want to watch this series? On one side, you have the unexpected juggernaut that is proving the hockey wrong. Then on the other, you have the fallen kings hoping to reclaim their thrown.

The season series was split 2-2 between the teams as well.

Now comes the scenario that Pens fans (myself included) don’t want to think about. What if the Penguins lose their final two games in regulation and miss the playoffs? I know, scary stuff. But, it could happen. If Montreal and Columbus win out AND Carolina wins just one game, the Pens will miss the postseason for the first time in 13 years.

I Need A Drink, A Jagrmeister Perhaps

Playoffs season is the best time of the year. But, it’s certainly not for the hearts of fanbases cheering their teams on.

Now, let’s sit back and enjoy the complete chaos that is about to be unleashed this coming weekend. It’s a BIG week for the playoff push.

Stats from NHL.com and Hockey-Reference

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