As I sit here and ponder what’s been at times a confusing and long hockey season with less than a month left in the regular season, I wonder about something else. The Hart Trophy race. For weeks, it’s been basically a two horse race between the Pens’ Sidney Crosby and Oilers’ Connor McDavid.
What if I told you there were other choices the professional writers hockey association or whatever it’s called should consider? It’s easy to vote for Crosby, who’s the best player in the game. With the impressive 74 points in 62 games including a league leading 35 goals. McDavid is up to a league leading 76 points with a league best 52 assists while leading the Oilers on the verge of their first postseason since ’05-06.
Most would argue Evgeni Malkin or Brent Burns for the third candidate. Malkin quietly with one of his best years in a while way over a point-per-game at a similar clip to teammate Crosby with 72 points in 61 games. They really are an amazing 1-2 punch made scarier by the electric Phil Kessel (21-40-61). Meanwhile, Mr. Burns leads all NHL defensemen with 27 goals, 43 assists and 70 points on the Sharks to rank seventh in scoring. He hasn’t lit the lamp in a while. I want to see him get those last three goals for 30.
While most of the discussion has centered around Crosby, McDavid and Burns, here comes Patrick Kane in his race car passing Crosby as if he were standing still. With another goal and two assists in a 4-2 win at Montreal, the rating MVP is now tied with McDavid for the league lead in points with 76. What’s more? Up to 31 goals, he’s closing fast on Crosby, Malkin and Max Pacioretty in the Rocket Richard race. It hasn’t been a Hart year for Kane. But someone forgot to tell him. All he’s been doing is scoring at a ridiculous clip. Since February, Showtime has 27 points including 16 goals and 11 assists with two hat tricks.
While Kane continues his all out assault leading the Blackhawks past the suddenly slumping Wild into the West’s top spot, there is another candidate emerging in the East for a team that isn’t at the top of their division. His name is Brad Marchand. Already, I can hear the bleeps from hockey fans who hate Marchand and aren’t Bruins fans. I don’t like Boston either or some of the antics Marchand pulls. But that doesn’t make him less of a candidate.
You have to be blind or oblivious not to see what he’s doing for the Bruins. It really started when Marchand got to play with Crosby for Team Canada in the World Cup of Hockey helping them win the championship over Team Europe. It was then that they realized how good he is. He’s a royal pain in the ass. But this guy is ridiculously skilled to go with his Claude Lemieux snarl. The difference is he’s a lot better than Claude was in helping the Canadiens, Devils and Avalanche win Stanley Cups.
Marchand has been on fire. A third period hat trick led the Bruins past the Canucks 6-3 on Monday night. He did it by scoring two beauties both on backhands with the second one of the best goals of the season on a ridiculous fake and deke, backhand tuck job. Then finished off the hat trick in style with the turnaround shot from the red line into an empty net. That tied him with Crosby for the league lead with 35 goals. He also has the same amount of points (74) but in eight more games.
So, how long has Marchand been doing this? Since Jan. 24, he has 29 points including a jaw dropping 18 goals with 11 assists- including four two-goal games and one hat trick. Three of his seven game-winning goals have come during the torrid stretch. Twenty of his 35 goals have come on the road which puts him one ahead of Crosby to lead all players in road goals. His three shorthanded goals tie him for second. Since entering the league, nobody has more shorthanded goals (22) than Marchand.
After registering only an assist in his first 20 games during ’09-10, he played a pivotal role on the Bruins first Stanley Cup championship team since 1972. In ’10-11, Marchand finished with 21 goals and 20 assists for 41 points with 51 penalty minutes, a plus-25 rating and five shorthanded goals in his first full season. He followed it up by scoring 11 times with eight helpers for 19 points with 40 PIM to help Boston win their sixth Cup. The 19 points ranked third in team scoring in his first postseason as mostly a 22-year old before turning 23.
He’s been a permanent fixture playing alongside one of the game’s best two-way centers Patrice Bergeron. Arguably the best face-off man, Bergeron’s been one of the most consistent players since he entered the league as an 18-year old in ’03-04. With a core that included David Krejci, captain Zdeno Chara, former Bruins Milan Lucic and Tyler Seguin along with Tuukka Rask, they nearly won a second Cup in three years before falling in six to the Blackhawks in the 2013 playoffs.
The organization has made some tough decisions since. That included trading away the very talented Seguin to the Stars for a less impressive package that resulted in Reilly Smith becoming underachieving Jimmy Hayes with Loui Eriksson leaving for the Canucks last summer. Imagine if they didn’t butcher that. They made the right decision parting with the bruising Lucic who was moved to the Kings for Colin Miller, Martin Jones and a 2015 first round pick that became Jakub Zboril. Jones was sent to the Sharks for AHLer Sean Kuraly and a 2016 first round pick that became Trent Frederic.
The most controversial was dealing Dougie Hamilton to Calgary for three picks including a first rounder (Zachary Senyshyn) and two second rounders (Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson) and Jeremy Lauzon with the latter two taking part in the recent U20 World Junior Championship.
They dismissed popular Cup winning coach Claude Julien after a decade. He of course landed on his feet with Montreal where the Habs are battling the Senators for first in the Atlantic Division. Interim coach Bruce Cassidy has done a good job with the B’s. Since taking over, he’s instilled a more offensive system that’s benefited Marchand along with other Bruins including evolving scoring forward David Pastrnak and center Ryan Spooner seeing hikes in production.
Without Marchand, the Bruins aren’t where they are in the standings. The 28-year old from Halifax leads them in almost every major statistical category including goals (35), tied for first in assists (39), points (74), plus/minus (19), tied for first in power play goals (8), shorthanded goals (3) and game-winners (7) with a team best 17.5 shooting percentage.
He’ll never get the accolades of a Crosby, McDavid, Kane or even Jonathan Toews because he’s viewed differently. Even if Crosby and Malkin mix it up, they’re not viewed as dirty players. But guys who get the uniform dirty and don’t back down. Neither does Marchand. But he has gotten away with stuff which is what makes him a lightning rod.
MVP candidate? Are you sure we have the right guy? I unequivocally say yes. But will he even be one of the three choices when it’s all said and done. Probably not. Like everything, it’s too political. It would be like the NBA doing the right thing and giving the MVP to the more complete Kawhi Leonard or LeBron James over stat masters James Harden and Russell Westbrook.
Say Marchand wins the Richard and somehow wins the Art Ross. Shouldn’t he merit serious consideration? You betcha.
-When the Islanders are reliant on Thomas Greiss solely, they look bad when they go to J.F. Berube and he gives up four goals including a couple of awful ones forcing Greiss back in for a 10th consecutive game in an ugly 8-4 home loss to the Hurricanes at Barclays Center. Greiss wasn’t ready and it wasn’t pretty. A defeat that could’ve been even more costly had they not bounced back from two down to beat Carolina in the rematch 3-2 in overtime on captain John Tavares’ game-winner. Will they reconsider recalling Jaroslav Halak for a start down the stretch?
-Rookie Josh Ho-Sang looks good so far recording a goal and assist for his fifth and sixth points since his recall from Bridgeport. A night after scoring his first goal in his home debut, he made a great drop for Tavares on the winner. So far, so good for the 21-year old former 2014 first round pick. He is 3-3-6 in eight games with a minus-four rating. But interim coach Doug Weight hasn’t been shy about using Ho-Sang in key situations including three-on-three. Full marks.
-Ho-Sang becomes the latest Jewish hockey player. Current NHLers Mike Cammalleri, Zach Hyman and Jason Zucker are also Jewish. Former NHLer Eric Nystrom– son of Islanders Cup hero Bobby- was also Jewish. Ex-Devil David Warsofsky was also Jewish.
-Mathieu Schneider remains the most successful carving out an All-Star career while playing for 10 NHL teams including the Islanders and Rangers. He won a Stanley Cup with Montreal in ’92-93, the World Cup with Team USA (’96) and was inducted into the Jewish International Hall of Fame in 2014. A year later, he went into the United States Hockey Hall of Fame.
-Remember Rick Nash the superstar who used to score highlight reel goals? I guess $7.8 million and injuries don’t get you much these days. Nash and Marian Gaborik are shells of themselves. Both were once dynamite finishers. Now, they’re overpaid and hanging on. Nash still has something left. Gaborik probably doesn’t.
-I got through one period of the Devils/Coyotes before turning the channel. They were so awful giving up three goals in a lopsided first to a rebuilding Arizona that it reminded me of the Dark Ages watching the Rangers skate around aimlessly between ’97-98-’03-04. Surely, this isn’t what’s become of hockey in Newark?
-With his 20th goal in a frustrating loss at San Jose, Jack Eichel is up to 48 points in 49 games. Unfortunately, it’ll be remembered for this unfortunate sequence:
He didn’t take kindly to the mishap slamming the boards by the bench a couple of times. Who could blame him? What if Eichel didn’t have that freak injury in practice before the season. Where might the Sabres be?
-The Maple Leafs could be too inconsistent to take advantage of the Islanders one goalie system. How else to explain a 7-2 no show against the Panthers? Auston Matthews has suddenly gone cold at the wrong time.
–Patrik Laine looks to have all but sealed the Calder scoring his 33rd the other night. He has 60 points in 62 games for Winnipeg. Matthews remains at 31 goals and 56 for Toronto with Mitch Marner stuck on 54. With a goal and two assists, Zach Werenski hit 10 goals and 33 helpers for the season as a first-year defenseman for playoff-bound Columbus. He’s also a plus-20 at the age of 19.
-Meanwhile, Matt Murray has 26 wins with only 8 regulation losses with a 2.33 goals-against-average, .925 save percentage and four shutouts for the Pens. Matthew Tkachuk has 44 points for the playoff bound Flames. Sebastian Aho is up to 20 goals and 18 assists for the Canes as a 19-year old rookie. Brady Skjei has 32 points including 29 helpers as the Rangers’ second most consistent defenseman on the Rangers back end.
-What it all proves is that this year’s Rookie Class is a deep one with a bright future.
-We neglected to mention Nikita Kucherov of Tampa who’s on a tear. Tied with the Islanders for the final wildcard on Victor Hedman’s OT winner in a 2-1 victory over Ottawa, Kucherov is carrying his team. He’s got 22 points over his last 11 games for the Bolts, who have two fewer ROW (30) than the Isles’ 32. Each team has 13 left while Toronto has 14 remaining with 30 ROW. Florida has 71 points with 14 left while the Flyers have 70 with 14 to go.
-Who will be Las Vegas’ first goalie? Antti Raanta or Scott Darling? Or will it be Ben Bishop? Place your bets.