The Minnesota Wild haven’t officially clinched a playoff spot, but they should later this week, however, their playoff aspirations took a major hit with Ryan Suter’s injury on Saturday. Injuries are brutal at any time of the year, but having your top defender injured in the final week of the regular season is the ultimate stroke of bad luck.
The Wild are a solid, but not spectacular team, and I’m curious to see how they respond this week.
1. Minnesota has been without Jared Spurgeon since he was injured on March 13th against Colorado and now Suter is out for the rest of the regular season and it is unlikely he is ready to start the playoffs. If they were healthy they would have been hard pressed to defeat the Winnipeg Jets, but they have virtually no chance without their top two defenders. Suter plays 26:46/game while Spurgeon averages 24:32. Matt Dumba (23:46) and Jonas Brodin (21:27) will play more, and their other four defenders will be Ryan Murphy (18:55/game and only 17 games played), Nick Seeler (13:22 in 18 GP), Nate Prosser (13:08/game in 52 GP) and Gustav Olofsson (12:46/game in 41 GP).
2. The Wild play four games in six days this week starting tonight versus the Oilers, and then on the road in Anaheim (Wednesday), Los Angeles (Thursday) and San Jose (Saturday). Minnesota is 1-2-3 in their last six games, and they desperately need a win over the Oilers. Lose tonight, in regulation, and their hold on a playoff spot becomes much less stable.
3. I’ve noticed recently many writers have penned articles stating who they think should win the Hart. I don’t recall reading as many in the past, and I’m guessing we are seeing more of these for two reasons: There is no obvious choice, and this is the first year votes will be made public. I’m not going to try and sway other voters to see things how I do, nor do I assume people who vote opposite from me are out of touch. There is no obvious favourite, and it will be a great debate, but we should remember if you vote someone #1 and others #2 or #3, that shouldn’t be looked at as not liking a player. Voters have to select five players in order from one to five. I take voting very seriously and I try to look at every available statistic, but I also realize all voters won’t value the same things, nor should we. This week could decide who wins the Hart, the race is that close. Nathan MacKinnon’s odds could change a lot depending on if the Avalanche make the playoffs or not. It will be a factor, and I understand why making the playoffs matters.
4. Nothing in life is “fair.” Many Oilers fans feel Connor McDavid should win the Hart. I understand why they think that way based on his play. But history tells us many voters will value a playoff appearance more than others. If a team misses by three points, five points or twenty points, they are still in the draft lottery instead of the postseason. Mario Lemieux is the only player to win the Hart without making the playoffs and he scored a ridiculous 168 points when he won in 1988. The Penguins were also a pretty good team. They had the 12th most points in the NHL, but only the top four from each division made it and they finished sixth in the ultra-competitive Patrick Division. The Patrick had six of the top-12 teams in the NHL and the Penguins missed by one point. Lemieux also had 89 more points than Dan Quinn, who was second on the Penguins in scoring. Lemieux did win without making the playoffs, but his Hart winning season was the ultimate outlier.
5. How many Norris or Vezina trophy winners, for best D-man and goalie, have been won by a player on a non-playoff team? None, It could happen, but the winner would need a season as dominant as Lemieux, which will be incredibly hard to match.
6. Here are things I look at. How much of an impact the Hart candidate had on his team. I don’t think you should punish a player for having good teammates, but teammates should be a factor. It has been proven it is more difficult to score without playing with elite players. The great ones still can, but even they can see a dip. Look at Patrick Kane’s production without Artemi Panarin. Kane’s two most productive seasons came when Panarin was on his wing. Panarin didn’t make Kane better per se, but he complemented him very well, and he was able to put Kane in positions to score more.
7. The toughest aspect is trying to value every part of the season equally. We naturally are more influenced by what we see now rather than what we saw in October and November. Nikita Kucherov had the best first half of the season, but if he had that in the second half would he stands out more? Do we value a second half surge more than a strong start? Will Taylor Hall, MacKinnon, Evgeni Malkin and Connor McDavid benefit from having a strong final 40 games?
8. Don’t be fooled into “East coast bias” when it comes to PHWA voting. Looking at the five awards the PHWA vote on: Hart, Lady Byng, Selke, Calder and Norris the winners have been split equally recently. In the past eight years the Hart has seen four players from the West Conference and four from the east win. Same with the Lady Byng and the Selke, although Patrice Bergeron is the only player from the East to win it. The Norris has had five from the west and three from the east while the Calder has had five from the east and three from the west. So over the past eight years those five awards have had a total of 40 winners and the west and east conferences have each won 20.
9. If you wanted to make an argument for “ECB,” then look at the Vezina trophy, which is voted on by NHL General Managers. Since 1994, only two goalies from the Western Conference have won: Calgary’s Mikka Kiprusoff in 2006 and Sergei Bobrovsky in 2013 when Columbus was in the Western Conference, although the Blue Jackets play in the eastern time zone. Since they went to best goalie, not the goalie(s) on the team who allowed the fewest goals, in 1982 no Pacific time zone goalie has won. Only two MST goalies have won: Kiprusoff and Grant Fuhr (1988) with the Oilers, and the only CST goalie to win was Ed Belfour in 1991 and 1993 with Chicago. Granted, outside of Jonathan Quick the PST hasn’t had many contenders, but it is interesting to note in 35 years of voting only five times has the winner come from the Western Conference.
10. The Hart isn’t the only hotly contested award. Do you see a clear cut favourite for the Norris, Selke or Lady Byng? Matt Barzal is seemingly the only clear cut favourite for the Calder. The other four trophies will produce some great debates over who should win.
Anze Kopitar, Sean Couturier, Alexsander Barkov and Patrice Bergeron are in a battle for the Selke, but Bergeron will only play 64 games. Can he win a 5th Selke when he missed 22% of the season?
Drew Doughty, John Carlson, Victor Hedman, Seth Jones, PK Subban and Alex Pietrangelo will be near the top for the Norris. I suspect it will come down to Doughty, Carlson and Hedman, but I won’t be surprised to see Jones as a regular finalist in the future. He’s an outstanding young defender.
The Lady Byng is always difficult to assess and D-men are always overlooked, which makes little sense for me. They are in a position to take penalties for more often than forwards. Oscar Klefbom did receive some first place votes last year, so maybe more voters are realizing D-men can win this award. Ryan O’Reilly, Jaccob Slavin, William Karlsson, William Nylander, Alex Barkov and Anze Kopitar are some of the leading contenders.
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Source: Jason Gregor, Verified Twitter Account, 4/2/2018 – 9:30 am MST