Ever since the New York/Long Island/Brooklyn Islanders fired Head Coach Jack Capuano and implanted Doug Weight, the Islanders have been red hot. After a 3-0 shutout win tonight against the Montreal Canadiens, the Islanders are now 12-4-2 under Weight and making a push at the right time for a playoff run, going 7-3-0 in the last ten.
With the Eastern Conference so closely contested, coupled with the way the Isles are playing, the team just may keep the Wild Card spot they are holding currently. Carolina is in last place in the East, yet is only ten points out of the last Wild Card spot. This also makes for a very interesting trade deadline in a week and a half. Are the Isles buyers or sellers?
Is this current Islanders team anything more than a one-round wonder, or is there staying power? As stacked as the East is this year, I’m betting on "one and done" unless a few additions are made and some bodies can come off the injured reserve list, which currently has five players holding spots.
With over $5.5 million in available cap space, I could easily see New York adding a player or two, but I still do not think that is the answer. As for star power, the Islanders have one, John Tavares, and that’s it. Andrew Ladd had struggled mightily this season after signing as an Unrestricted Free Agent this past summer to try and fill Kyle Okposo’s skates. Travis Hamonic, on the IR since January 7th, is out indefinitely, and his return would bolster the defensive corps for sure. The Islanders are a very young team, but they need to act now or never, or risk losing John Tavares at the end of next season, and there will be 30 other teams all jumping for a player of his skill set. Nobody is going to want to play where the organization puts zero effort into trying to win, and Ladd is no refill for Okposo, but at least he tried.
Would adding Matt Duchene from Colorado be an answer? It would certainly add much needed offensive power, but the Islanders need help on the defensive side of the ice. While currently sitting at eighth in goals for and 23rd in goals against, tell me Kevin Shattenkirk wouldn’t look good in Brooklyn, and just to stick it to the Rangers to boot.
With Ryan Strome, Brock Nelson, and Anders Lee starting to play to their potential, and prospects such as Matthew Barzal and Josh Ho-Sang, there are the means to add a player if so desired. The Isles also have the albatross contract of Jaroslav Halak sitting there, so maybe they could try to get rid of that. And then there are the two young and promising goalie prospects in Eamon McAdam and Stephon Williams. Going after Ben Bishop doesn’t sound all that far-fetched.
The recent shutout of Montreal was just game two of a nine-game road trip, and this road trip will either be the make or break point for New York. At Columbus Saturday, then having five days’ mandatory break before hitting Dallas and Chicago in back-to-back nights, then every other day in Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver and closing things out against the red-hot St, Louis Blues. If the Isles come out of this trip .500 or better, they are in a good place. As I look deeper into the season, the Isles also go on a four-game road trip to close out the season. Someone wasn’t on their side when making the schedule this year.
Getting back grinders Casey Cizikas and Cal Clutterbuck from IR will also toughen up the Islanders, and the sooner the better, as this scheduling may catch up with the boys before this road trip ends. Only three Islanders are over 50% IN Corsi for percentages: Tavares, Lee and Josh Bailey. So again, tightening up the defensive reigns will benefit this team dramatically, and since primary goaltender Thomas Greis isn’t quite Henrik Lundqvist, improving the team defense is imperative.
I for one would love to see the Islanders mortgage a few prospects and picks and make a run for playoff success, but with no guarantees that Bishop or Shattenkirk are going to sign with them when they become UFA’s at season’s end, it seems like a lot to risk for a one-year push.
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As I am marveling at this year’s crop of rookies, I looked back to see which previous rookie classes have had this many impact players. I had to go back to 2005-06, with Calder winner Alexander Ovechkin along with Sidney Crosby, Henrik Lundqvist, Ryan Miller, Jeff Carter, Ryan Suter and Brent Seabrook. While not all of them had a major impact immediately, they are all still very relevant right now. The next class as stud worthy in my humble opinion was the 1990-91 class, which consisted of Calder winner Eddie Belfour and runner up Sergei Fedorov along with Mike Richter, Rob Blake, Mats Sundin and the mighty Jaromir Jagr. Each class has its share of good and bad players, but this year’s class could be bordering on legendary.
Auston Matthews (C, Toronto Maple Leafs): The number one overall pick is living up to all the hype and is a generational talent. With 27 goals and 46 points so far this season, Matthews makes me wish I hadn’t let everyone else be the one who drafted him. He still goes through the usual rookie doldrums, but he will be a finalist come June for the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s best rookie and in a class this deep, it will be earned.
Patrik Laine (RW, Winnipeg Jets): The second pick in last year’s entry draft, Laine is a goal scoring machine, especially at home. Once Winnipeg learns to win the tough games on the road and these young guys mature, Laine and the Jets will be having parades in June up in Winnipeg. Laine currently sits at 26 goals and 47 points, and missed five games with concussion-like symptoms. The next ten years in the NHL are going to be very entertaining up north of the border.
Mitch Marner (C, Toronto Maple Leafs): Marner is quietly and very effectively playing nose to nose with Auston Matthews as the future leaders of Leaf Nation. With his 15 goals and 48 points, the former London Knight is leading all rookies in scoring, with the Leafs separating all three uber rookies on three different lines often this season. Marner has blown doors off at each level of his development and I see him winning an Art Ross Trophy or two in his future as NHL’s leading scorer.
Matthew Tkachuk (LW, Calgary Flames): Speaking of former London Knights, Marner’s former teammate Tkachuk has been on fire lately, and his season numbers are slowly piling up. The son of former NHL player Keith Tkachuk, Matthew is a chip off the old block, never afraid to get to the dirty spots in the corners and camping in front of the goalie. Matthew has 11 goals and 35 points so far, and 92 Penalties in Minutes and is most certainly the most physical forward of this rookie crop, all while only playing 14:21 minutes per game.
Zach Werenski (D, Columbus Blue Jackets): This former Michigan Wolverine continues to chip away at the offensive numbers while providing the young Blue Jackets much needed defensive stability, which lacked in the past. With eight goals and 33 points and a plus/minus +14 halfway through the season, 50 points is very doable and the future is bright in C-Bus.
William Nylander (C, Toronto Maple Leafs): After a 22-game stint last year, Nylander has hit the ice running this season as the third head of the three-headed rookie monster in the mecca of hockey. Willie usually plays on the top line for the Leafs with Leo Komorov and Nazem Kadri, and is a top power play unit contributor. With 15 goals and 38 points so far, this young Leaf and his rookie brethren will be killing it for years to come.
Sebastian Aho (RW, Carolina Hurricanes): Small stature hasn’t stopped Aho from being a top offensive option for the Canes this year. With 17 goals and 32 points so far, Aho is emerging as one of the young, talented leaders of a very young Carolina team bursting from the seams with draft pick talent throughout the organization at all levels. My NHL League Pass has been used quite often to watch the Hurricanes and will be there more often as this young team grows and wins a Cup.
Anthony Mantha (RW, Detroit Red Wings): After a 10-game debut last year, the hulking forward earned his time in the AHL across state here in Grand Rapids and is now a fixture on the Wings top line, and will be there for years to come. One of the few current bright spots on Detroit’s future watch along with Dylan Larkin, Mantha is averaging over 16 minutes per game and has added 13 goals and 16 helpers so far and is a plus/minus +14 on a team that hasn’t been very responsible on the defensive end, so that is a good thing.
Mikko Rantanen (RW, Colorado Avalanche): GM Joe Sakic decided to let Mikko own his spurs on the thin Colorado roster, and he's doing ok for a rookie, with 11 goals and 26 points, but sits at plus/minus -22. However, this isn’t all his fault, as Colorado has been dreadful in their own end and is one of the worst puck possession teams in the NHL. Patience is the key in Denver, as this is a very young team, and I think it would be foolish of the franchise to trade away any of their young stars right now.
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Last week I presented players 11 through 20 from my own list of the 100 greatest players in NHL history. I must say that I wish the Soviet Union had allowed their players to leave what has become Russia instead of sneaking away, for this list would look very different. As I’ve mentioned before, these sorts of lists are all speculative and vary from person to person, but these are mine, and here are my top ten players, and two more players who have scored 150 points in a season. Have you guessed number five yet?
10) Ray Bourque (D, Boston Bruins - 1980-2001): Had I grown up a Bruins fan, Ray and Nick Lidstrom may have had their places changed on my list, but I’d take either in a heartbeat. The 19-time All-Star Ray Bourque was class personified, and the highest scoring defenseman in NHL history. A five-time Norris Trophy winner, and finally a well-deserved Stanley Cup with the Colorado Avalanche, where he still played like the Bourque of his prime on defense.
9) Mark Messier (LW/C, Edmonton Oilers - 1979-2004): Moose is, and always will be one of my all-time favorite players, and he will always be considered one of the greatest players ever. A 15-time All-Star, six-time Stanley Cup winner, and an ice general, Mess simply focused his will to win onto his teammates. As in who can ever forget the Game 6 guarantee against the New Jersey Devils, besides New Jersey? Third on the NHL’s all-time points list with 1887 points, I doubt in my life I’ll see another as great.
8) Bobby Hull (LW, Chicago Blackhawks - 1958-80): The Golden Jet has 610 NHL goals and tacked on another 303 WHL goals, with nine 50+ goal seasons. The first NHL star to defect to the World Hockey Association, Hull continued to dominate all the way to the Hall of Fame and is the greatest left wing the professional hockey establishment has ever had.
7) Nicklas Lidstrom (D, Detroit Red Wings - 1992-2012): In all the years I’ve watched hockey, I have never seen a player who made the game look so effortless. Lidstrom is a seven-time Norris Trophy winner and a four-time Cup winner as well, and he captained the 2008 Red Wings to his fourth Cup. He won the Conn Smythe Trophy in the 2002 Cup run on a team with nine players in the NHL’s top 100 and nine Hall of Famers. There was never a better rearguard.
6) Martin Broduer (G, New Jersey Devils - 1992-2015): I had a real debate with myself over placing Brodeur here over Patrick Roy, and the argument continues, but Marty was as steady as she goes. A generational talent who backstopped a team that was defense first, and earned three Stanley Cups to show for the effort. Most wins all-time (691), four-time Vezina Trophy winner, five-time Jennings Trophy winner, and 125 shutouts. Enough said.
5) Jaromir Jagr (RW, Pittsburgh Penguins - 1991-current): I’m just amazed at the level Jags continues to meet with his play, and he keeps adding to his totals. This year hurts with line mates on long term IR (Jonathan Huberdeau and Aleksander Barkov), but even so, last season Jagr passed Mark Messier for second all-time in points and Gordie Howe for second all-time in goals. Makes me wonder what his numbers would be had he not sandbagged in Washington and left for the Kontinental Hockey League in Russia for three seasons.
4) Bobby Orr (D, Boston Bruins - 1967-79): At this point, these men are way too humble to lay claim as the greatest of their sport, but in an interview, it was confirmed the players think Gordie Howe was the greatest ever. So, Bobby Orr is fourth. He was the man who transitioned the position of defense. The eight-time Norris Trophy winner played until his knees gave out, and his legacy was set forever. He's now a successful player agent.
3) Gordie Howe (RW, Detroit Red Wings - 1947-80): Mr. Hockey was simply one of the greatest players of all-time, and a legendary scorer with the ferocity to match his ability. He played effectively well into his forties in the WHA, where he got his first 100-point season as a pro at age 40.
2) Mario Lemieux (C, Pittsburgh Penguins - 1985-2006): A friend of mine who played with Mario Lemieux in Pittsburgh and against Wayne Gretzky always told me stories of how much better Mario was than Wayne. Had Mario played the same 93% of his games as Gretz did, I may have him number one overall, and I have absolutely zero issues with him here. He was simply the best player I have ever seen play the game.
1) Wayne Gretzky (C, Edmonton Oilers - 1979-99): The numbers do not lie, and 61 league records can back that up. Four Stanley Cups, eight straight MVP Awards, nine total, 10 Art Ross Trophies, and the only player to ever eclipse the 200-point plateau, something he accomplished four times over five years. The Great One scored 92 goals in one season and has more assists than any other player has total points.
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With the NHL trade deadline less than three weeks away, the rumor mill has fired up production, and its workers are getting plenty of overtime. Many of the names being bandied about have been in the air since the end of last season, but now it’s go time, and many of said players will be moved. But are the moves necessarily the best for player's current teams? Let’s look at some of these skaters who are possibly going to be moving, and their potential new homes.
Kevin Shattenkirk (D, St. Louis Blues): Shattenkirk is in the final season of a four-year contract with an average annual value of $4.25 million, and he can become an unrestricted free agent July 1st. The Blues have a pretty solid defensive corps right now, and dealing Shattenkirk can be done, sadly. The N.Y. Rangers keep coming up as trade partners. In addition, The Blues should really try to move Alexander Steen ($5.8 million) and Paul Stastny ($7million) although their contracts are not up, and losing the young defensemen is simply just a cost issue. Shattenkirk, however, will draw plenty of interest and I cannot see the Blues letting him walk away for nothing; expect the defenseman to have a new address come early March, but in my opinion, a team can never have enough talented defensemen, and the Blues should really try to keep Shattenkirk.
Ben Bishop (G, Tampa Bay Lightning): Another cost issue here, and I cannot see any way possible that the Lightning can keep Bishop beyond this season: The team could barely afford Nikita Kucherov, this year and that was a three-year bridge deal. Tampa also has pending RFA’s: Tyler Johnson, Johnathan Drouin, and Ondrej Palat to sign along with Bishop’s pending UFA contract. Dallas, Winnipeg and Philadelphia could all use a new goalie to help them into the playoffs this year, and the Jets and Stars have plenty of cap room, while Winnipeg has prospects to send back to Tampa.
Thomas Vanek (LW, Detroit Red Wings): Vanek has proven 29 other teams wrong, and he can still produce and be a team leader. The left wing has stated that he would like to stay in Detroit, and how much his family likes the city and Detroit area. Sadly, my Wings playoff streak will end this season, and we will be able to get something for him, as Vanek only signed a one year $2.6 million deal. Chicago could most certainly use a player of Vanek’s ilk to play alongside Johnathan Toews and Marian Hossa. Montreal could try Vanek out again for a post season run as well.
Marc-Andre Fleury (G, Pittsburgh Penguins): If Pittsburgh can convince Flower to waive his no-trade clause, he will be moved, otherwise Fleury is out there for the waiver draft, and would most certainly be scooped up. As I mentioned with Bishop, Fleury could certainly help a team in need of quality goaltending, and seeing him in Winnipeg would be sweet. I’m not completely sold on Dallas and their defense, but the Jets are young, hungry and could have Marc-Andre for an extra year while the boys mature. Still Dallas could certainly use Fleury, and he is way better than their current two headed tandem. Ottawa and Toronto would be viable landing spots as well, but the Leafs seem content, and will not give up their very bright future for a short playoff run.
Matt Duchene and Gabriel Landeskog (C and LW, Colorado Avalanche): My question here: are the players and picks Colorado would get in return better than these two? My answer is a big, fat "no." Duchene is the elder of the two at 26-years old, and is just moving into his prime years, while the team as a whole is putrid, it’s fixable. Trading any of the big three--Nathan MacKinnon is the third--is not worth ther set-back in the rebuild of the Avalanche. Some questionable player signings are one reason Colorado will blow this year, and the long term injury bug has bitten as well. Colorado is a young teamnwith some solid pieces in place up front, and drafting or signing free-agent defensemen and a legit goaltender could change the dreary outcome in the"Mile High City" (which now takes on two meanings).
Finally why doesn’t Colorado make a trade for Kevin Shattenkirk? The defenseman would be a perfect fit for a team that is dying for a top four defender. With the fragileness of Semyon Varlamov in the net, Bishop wouldn’t be a bad grab either, but Shattenkirk would be sweet, and the thought of him in the Rockies gets sweeter the more I think of it. Colorado can be buyers at the trade deadline, and they’re getting a lottery pick in the upcoming NHL Entry Draft too. That suggests I feel that dumping these core players would be a huge mistake by GM Joe Sakic, and there is zero need for it: Time is what is needed most in Colorado, along with me as Assistant GM.
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As the players and fans gather for one of the innovative strategies--the three on three format--implemented into All-Star game activities sports-wide, the NHL will also name its 100 Greatest Players list this weekend as part of the 100th Anniversary of the NHL. The league has already released the early league players, but this weekend they will officially give everyone a number and an official order will be presented that we as hockey fans can bicker over and debate.
But, since I have this space, I’m going to give you the Top 20 in my view, Of course this list is as subjective as any GOT list, so enjoy, and pick it apart if you will (@PolkaPat if you want to bicker!). Players are listed with their primary team.
By the way, this was harder than I expected. It’s always an arduous task when trying to compare players from different eras, rules, and competition. Here are my picks 20 through 11, with the Top 10 coming next week.
20) Mike Bossy (RW, New York Islanders - 1977-87): The best goal scorer in league history when speaking percentages, with a 0.76% Goals Per Game average, just one percent more than Mario Lemieux. Like Lemieux, both players had amazing careers cut short by injury. Bossy was the first superstar player of my childhood, and had he played a full 20 or so seasons, Boss would be in the top 10 on any list. Mike never scored less than 51 goals over his first nine seasons, and in his injury-shortened final season, he still managed 38 goals in just 63 games. The abuse Bossy took in front of the net ended the career of one of the brightest and best.
19) Steve Yzerman (C, Detroit Red Wings - 1984-2006): One of only five players in NHL history to score 150 points in a season (three others are on this list), can you name the fifth without looking it up? Stevie Y was an offensive juggernaut when he broke into the league, and then came Scotty Bowmen, and Yzerman changed his game to defense and the Stanley Cups started pouring in, along with a Selke Award as league’s best defensive forward.
18) Stan Mikita (C/RW, Chicago Blackhawks - 1959-80): Size never stopped Mikita from being both one of the more physical players of his era, along with being among the most dynamic. One Stanley Cup, two Hart Trophies, two Art Ross Trophies, and an 11-time All-Star, Mikita also leads the league in an unofficial statistic, the Gordie Howe Hat Trick: that’s a goal, an assist, and a fight in the same game.
17) Doug Harvey (D, Montreal Canadiens - 1948-69): Harvey won seven Norris Trophies along with six Stanley Cups and was the NHL’s first premiere defenseman, and one who set the mold for future defensemen. The 13-time All-Star also placed in the Hart Trophy race’s top five on five different occasions.
16) Ron Francis (C, Hartford Whalers - 1982-2004): Probably one of the most underrated players in NHL history, and also one of the game's most consistent. Francis rarely missed games and played for 22 years, allowing him to pile up impressive numbers and cement a legacy in the NHL’s record books. Francis won two Stanley Cups during his career with the back-to-back Champion Pittsburgh Penguins in 1991-92.
15) Guy Lafleur (RW, Montreal Canadiens - 1972-91): The Flower is one of the most prolific scorers of his era or any era for that matter, punching in 50 goals or more for six straight seasons. His name appears on the Stanley Cup five times, with two Hart Trophies and three Art Ross Trophies as well.
14) Patrick Roy (G, Montreal Canadiens - 1985-2003): After winning the Stanley Cup his rookie year, St. Patrick wrote his own history, and it’s a great book. Roy went on to win another Cup on 1993 with the Habs and two more with the Colorado Avalanche. Five Jennings Trophies, three Vezina trophies and three Conn Smythe trophies are in his cabinet at home as well, and Patrick was also an 11-time All-Star.
13) Jean Beliveau (C, Montreal Canadiens - 1951-71): There are not enough kind adjectives to describe Jean Beliveau the man and player. He retired the year I was born and I would have given anything to see him skate in his prime. A 10-time Stanley Cup winner, 13-time All-Star, two-time Hart Trophy winner, and won the first ever Conn Smythe Award as the playoffs best player, simply one of the greatest ever.
12) Phil Esposito (C, Boston Bruins - 1964-81): In my humble opinion, Espo was the first real legit big time scorer, the first player to eclipse 150 points in a season and in between 1971-75, he scored 76, 66, 55, 68, and 61 goals respectively. Phil won two Stanley Cups with the Boston Bruins, two Hart Trophies as league MVP, and five Art Ross Trophies as the NHL’s leading scorer along with 10 All-Star nods. Not many players have come close to approaching Espo’s offensive resilience, and I doubt we will see one anytime soon.
11) Maurice Richard (RW, Montreal Canadiens - 1943-60): Rocket Richard is as immortal a player as there has ever been in the NHL, and he was the league’s first superstar. Rocket is the NHL’s first sniper, and the NHL has rightfully named a new trophy in his honor for the league's leading goal scorer each season. The first player to ever score 50 goals in a season, Rocket scored 544 career goals in only 978 games. The eight-time Stanley Cup winner and 13-time All-Star was the hero to millions and is considered royalty in NHL circles. Roclet retired before I was born, but I still cried when Rocket died.
Look for my Top 10 of All-Time next week and remember you can always hit me up @PolkaPat