Pekka Rinne got to live out every goalie’s dream on Thursday night. With time winding down in the third period of Nashville’s game against the Chicago Blackhawks, Rinne controlled the puck behind his own net and launched it down towards an open net. The rest, as they say, is history.
The other night I was watching the Leafs vs. Jets tilt and was just wowed by the speed and entertainment. A match-up once dubbed as potentially this generation’s Crosby vs. Ovechkin, Matthews vs. Laine has been more like Crosby vs. Bobby Ryan. But nonetheless between, Auston, Marner, Nylander, Laine, Scheifele, Ehlers and Connor, there was no shortage of prime-time, next generation talent. While the Leafs lost the match-up, Matthews put on an absolute show.
Between the game against the Jets and the game against the Oilers this week, my buddy Blake texted me asking “if you could start a franchise and could have any one player to build around where would Auston Matthews be on your list.” Well last night I dusted off the keys and hammered out a list of the NHL’s best and brightest young stars.
To help make sense of the best building blocks in this topsy turvy NHL landscape, here’s the a list of my top 10 current NHL players to build a team around. I’ve limited the list to under age 27 (the NHL’s RFA age). The age limit is to put a focus on a player’s upside and not hypotheticals like “would you take 10 years of Matthew Tkachuk’s prime or the end of Ovechkin’s prime?” That’s a conversation for another day.
1. Connor McDavid
Imagine building your organization with the best scorer since Gretzky? Imagine if he also had the engine of a Ferrari? And he’s also just 22 years old? Just so long as you don’t pair him with**checks notes** some combination . of Milan Lucic, Patrick Maroon, Kailer Yamamoto, plus one of the most shallow supporting casts in the league, a leaky blueline, and a revolving door of goaltending mediocrity, then you should be well on your way to contention.
The guy is an absolute cheat code.
2. Nathan MacKinnon
Now this list of mine is strictly some gut-feeling/analytical mix of a players production right now, crossed with upside, skillset, age and position-based value. If I was to factor in cap hit into the conversation, MacKinnon would leapfrog McJesus and place #1 with a bullet. I’ve poured over the numbers and found that $6.3 mil AAV is significantly less than than $12.5 mil. Dubious as you may be, I’ve double checked the math.
But in my hypothetical world I’m just talking about skill. Shred the contracts and put everyone in a fantasy draft. Who are you starting a franchise with? MacKinnon is a world-class skater, has great hands in-tight and is simply too strong to knock off the puck. He was Hart trophy finalist in 2017-18 and had at least 95 points in each of his last two seasons. And he’s only 24 years old. Cheque please!
3. Auston Matthews
Here’s where I’ll get roasted for “being a homer” or “not watching enough non-Leafs games”. Here are five blind resumes of up and coming star players. Who would you take?
Personally Player A looks rather appealing. Definitely the best scorer per 60 minutes and leads the pack in even strength goals despite being the youngest and playing by far the fewest games. AND he’s a center? Now we’re cooking with gas. Now let’s take a look behind the curtain to get a look at who this mystery sniper is.*
*the other players listed are:
Player B: Leon Draisaitl
Player C: David Pastrnak
Player D: Aleksander Barkov
Player E: Jack Eichel
In a league where a premium is paid for goal-scoring and elite centers, Matthews is a premier player scoring at a historic clip. Facts are facts.
4. David Pastrnak
With Ovie and Patty Kane both closer to the end of their careers than the beginning, Pastrnak and Kucherov look like the heirs apparent to the pinnacle of the sniping wing archetype. As with MacKinnon above, if I took cap hit into account, Pastrnak and his criminally underpaid $6.66 AAV would probably slide him up ahead of Matthews, maybe even McDavid, on this list. I for one do not cheer for underpaying players at the benefit of the fat cats upstairs, but maybe that’s just me. The math geeks, nerds and Bruins fans mocked the contracts Toronto has handed out in the last calendar year. I for one celebrate it as a victory for the common Joe firing pucks at their garage door.
5. Nikita Kucherov
Only McDavid and Kucherov and McDavid have 100+ points in each of their last two seasons. Between the two right wingers, I gave Pastrnak the slight nudge in the rankings since he’s three years younger and is currently having a better season than Kuch.
6. through 8. is some combination of Aleksander Barkov, Leon Draisaitl and Jack Eichel
Honestly my rankings on these three elite centers varies from day to day. It really depends on what you’re jonesing for. Looking for a future Bergeron-esque perennial Selke candidate? Barkov’s your man. Looking for a dynamic offensive weapon who can single-handedly carry a team’s scoring? Eichel’s your man. Looking for some kind of hyrbid of the two? Can I interest you in the new model of Draisaitl?
9. Andrei Vasilevskiy
While he’s having a bit of a down year, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a more dynamic goalie than the 25 year-old reigning Vezina trophy winner. While Binnington won a Cup with St. Louis last year, I give Vasilevskiy the edge since Binnington has yet to show that he can dominate over the course of a full regular season schedule. Vasilevskiy has been the backbone of a Tampa Bay squad that has been best regular season team over the past three seasons.
10. Seth Jones
I wanted to include one defenseman and Seth Jones seems to check off all of the boxes. At age 25 Jones still has his best years ahead of him, yet already has already has two top-10 finishes in Norris Trophy voting.
I also considered Ekblad for his early career goal-scoring prowess, but he hasn’t even come close to Jones’ heights yet. I considered Chabot since he leads all NHL defensemen in ice-time despite only being 22 years-old. My qualms with Chabot–while he’s still amazing–is that he’s being force-fed minutes by a lackluster Senators team and is still a long way from establishing the two-way dominance that Jones has. The other d-man that I considered for this list is Cale Makar who has been nearly a point-per-game player as a rookie, which is absurd. The only caveat I can throw at him is that Makar has 64.8% of zone starts in the offensive zone. For context Erik Karlsson–who has long been criticized as a purely offensive defenseman–is a career 55.6% oZS% and only had one season where he surpassed 60%. While Makar has been impressive, he’s largely been used as a specialist and has a long way to becoming an Erik Karlsson rather than a Mike Green or Tyson Barrie.
Among defensemen age 27 or under, I think Jones has the best combination of two-way play, dynamic skill and ceiling to grow. Any team would be ecstatic to have him as a building block.
Honourable Mentions: Elias Pettersson, Mark Scheifele, Filip Forsberg, Sebastian Aho, Mitch Marner, Brayden Point, Johnny Gaudreau, Jonathan Huberdeau, Jake Guentzel, Kyle Connor, Miko Rantanen, Nikolai Ehlers, Patrick Laine, Williams Nylander, Dylan Larkin, Aaron Ekblad, Cale Makar, Zach Werenski, Thomas Chabot, Morgan Rielly, Dougie Hamilton, Rasmus Dahlin, Ivan Proverov, Jordan Binnington, John GIbson, Ilya Samsonov, Carter Hart, Matt Murray, Joonas Korpisalo
I’m just going to start this off by saying that this season didn’t end the way I was hoping for, but I’m also not completely surprised how everything turned out. Regardless, it’s time to break down exactly what went wrong for the Patriots leading up to their Wild Card loss to the Tennessee Titans.
It’s no secret that the offense had struggled through most of the season. Luckily, the defense was able to carry them to a 12-4 record and an AFC East title, but that still wasn’t enough to earn a first-round bye. It was the first time that the Patriots have had to play in Wild Card Weekend since the 2009 season, and unfortunately, it ended with the same result.
Well folks, it finally happened. The New England Patriots are back to being the New England Patriots that I know and love. Months of so-called “analysts” saying that this team isn’t good and that Tom Brady has fallen off a cliff, but the Patriots beat the Buffalo Bills to lock up the AFC East title for the 11th consecutive season.
I’ll admit, this season hasn’t felt as easy as the last 11, but I guess that’s what happens when you lose the best tight end to ever play football. Despite that, the Patriots started the year 8-0, and now have a 12-3 record heading into a Week 17 matchup against the Miami Dolphins.
Yeah I’m worried. Last night should’ve been a win for your Toronto Maple Leafs but evidently the team didn’t agree. CBJ isn’t the most talented team by any stretch but you could see that they wanted that win. We’re 10 games into the season and Toronto’s biggest problem has been the fact that their core four, Matthews, Marner, Nylander and Rielly, have had zero interest in battling for the puck. Sure they’ve been capitalizing and scoring when the other team makes a mistake. But the rest of the time, particularly in their own zone, they’re letting the other team dictate the pace and physicality. Last night’s game was the perfect example where Marner , Matthews and Nylander had good nights on the box score, but were invisible in the neutral zone and their own end.
Here’s a clip of the O Dog on Over Drive going off on the team’s effort last night:
Now tonight they’re in Boston with back-up Michael Hutchinson in net. Unless Babs lights a fire under these guys you can see the loss coming from a mile away. That’s why I’ll be tuning into the Toronto Raptors season opener tonight.
Tonight the 2019 championship banner is being raised at Scotiabank Arena in tonight’s NBA season opener between the Raptors and the New Orleans Pelicans. I for one am fired up to tune in and watch one of my teams finally in a championship banner celebration. I may blog Leafs games but I’m equally as big of a Raptors fan as I am a hockey fan. How can you not be pumped up for tonight?
Here’s a few thoughts I have on the 2019-20 edition of the Toronto Raptors:
Kyle Lowry is still here
With a big booty that would have Mike Babcock flustered, Kyle Lowry is entering his 14th NBA season. The savvy vet is still good enough to carry offensive play, as evident by his performances in games Kawhi was load managing. At 33 years old Lowry is still a top 10 point guard in the league. Last season among guards (includes point and shooting guards) Kyle ranked 13th in Win Shares (6.6), 9th in Assist % (34.8), 12th in defensive rating (108), and 12th in Value Over Replacement (2.8). Last year he only had the 24th ranked usage rank among guards so expect his scoring to tick up closer to where it was during the DeRozan era.
The core of “the next” Raptors team is already on the roster
Fred Vanvleet is the eventual heir apparent to the starting point guard role. Patrick McCaw and Norm Powell are solid, young two-way wings. Before a sophomore season from hell, OG Anunoby’s rookie season garnered optimistic (if not wildly unrealistic) Kawhi Leonard comparisons.
But the centrepiece of this core is Pascal Siakam. The 2019 NBA’s Most Improved Player, Siakam looks like a guy who can be a 20-10 power forward with playmaking abilities and a bit of shooting touch. Last year he was the second scoring option on an NBA winning roster and is still only 25 years old. I can’t wait to see how good this guy can be.
The Raptors are the hardest team to predict for 2019-20
If everybody’s healthy and all breaks right for the Raps, I could see them being a top three seed in the Eastern Conference. But of any team with legitimate playoff aspirations, Toronto is probably the most likely to tear the roster down. They have Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka on expiring contracts and will likely flip them to a contender at the first sign of a lost season. Lowry has a year and a half left under contract and a championship team in need of a point guard might give up a nice haul in order to chase a ring.
The Action Network as the Raptors over-under win total set at 46.5. The last time the Raptors dipped below 47 wins was when they had 34 in 2012-13. Hammer that OVER folks. Let’s have ourselves a year!
That 5-4 OT win Saturday night was a bit of a rollercoaster. There’s a lot to take away from it, and quite a bit of it was troubling. I couldn’t get a preview up in time on the weekend since I was mixing in a few cervezas in Ottawa. Some things are bigger than sports.
Let me preface this by saying that, if the Leafs plan on actually beating Boston this year, Saturday was a must-win. Playing the against Boston’s back-up goalie at home with Freddy in net on their side of the ice. Toronto really had a chance to take it to ’em. The Leafs were able to squeak out a win in OT despite being outshot 46-29, with some real stretches of ugly play. Nobody asks how, just how many, right? Well for Toronto to have some sustained success over a full 82 games + playoffs the “how” will matter. There’s a lot of loose bolts to tighten up here.
To their defence, it was Toronto’s first game with John Tavares on the shelf so every team’s line was thrown into a relative blender. We got a look at Kerfoot on the second line. Matthews and Marner spent a good chunk of ice-time on the same line. Nylander even played some center. Toronto’s a deep enough team upfront that they can survive, hell even thrive, until JT gets back. But it’s a huge loss all the same.
The Blue Jackets are currently treading water at 3-3-2. They’re 30th in Goals Per Game with 2.25 and 17th with Goals Against Per Game with 3.25. They look to be pretty snake bitten seeing as they’re fifth in shots per game with 35.0 and 24th in shots against with 30.1. A .500 record given their inability to score the puck is resiliency at it’s finest. Don’t be surprised if their shots don’t start going in and the Jackets rocket up the standings.
Players of Interest
The Big Asses
Babs likes big butts and he simply cannot lie. Timashov and Moore have been revelations this year and I guess we’re finally putting a finger on just what makes these guys go. Folks we’re talking about a couple big asses that just won’t quit. Moore’s got 5 points in 9 games and Timashov has 4 in 6 games. That’s tremendous production for a couple of guys getting bottom six ice-time. Production from secondary sources has been a god send in the early part of the season.
36 shots on net and only 2 goals? That is the definition of snake bitten. A career 11.7 shooting %, there’s just no way Atkinson is going to continue to score at a 5.6 clip. Expect a lot of goals soon. Hopefully just not tonight.
Marner + Matthews
Babcock gave these two an extended look on the same line on Saturday and the results were largely underwhelming (other than the Matthews to Marner feed in 3-on-3 OT). I’m sure they will get another chance but, if they want to form their own super line, they need to look dominant when they’re given the chance. I for one think that Nylander looks more comfortable on Auston’s right wing, but if the Marn Dog proves me wrong I certainly won’t be upset.
The Jackets are getting Anderson back after missing the last six games with an upper-body injury. Ol’ Torts seems pumped about it:
“You’re [darn] right it does, he’s one of our best players. In the time he’s spent with me, he is one [heck] of a hockey player. There is so much there where in my mind where I can project what he can be. He can be something special.” — Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella on Josh Anderson
Sometimes it’s tough to get the train on the tracks. Missed the game 9 Saturday night write-up. No Phil’s thoughts tonight as he sweats out the Vodka + Mountain Dew Baja Blasts consumed on his trip to Queen’s homecoming.
It’s tough to get a full 82 game schedule into the blog game. Blogging the Leafs can be a game of load management, but I can’t afford to pull a full Kawhi. The Klaw is on a three year $103 million contract and I’m out here trying to stay alive in the blogging streets. It’s up to me to pick up this pieces, skate back to the bench and get ready for the next shift. Go Leafs.
Not gonna lie, I just realized there was a game tonight. If this game preview seems a little more slapped together, then usual I apologize.
The Maple Leafs rode a four goal second period to a big win over the Wild last night. That puts the team at 4-2-1 on the year, third place in the Atlantic. There’s nothing much to really say other than they just outplayed the Wild and took care of business at home. The big guns led the way Marner, Tavares, Rielly, Matthews and Andersen all producing.
Tonight it’s the battle of the back-up goalies with the Leafs trotting Michael Hutchinson and Capitals starting rookie Ilya Samsonov. Like Toronto, Washington is also off to a similarly so-so start with a 3-2-2 record. The core that won the 2018 Stanley Cup is still largely intact so by year’s end, expect them to be in the mix. Right now Washington has the third best Corsi For % in the NHL with 54.66 so you have to think that the underlying possession numbers will result in a string of wins.
Players of Interest
Through seven games, “T-Dog” Moore leads the Leafs with a PDO% (Even Strength Shooting % + Save % with player on ice) with 112.1. After a big 4-2 Tuesday night over the Wild, Moore was moved to the left wing of the Tavares, Marner line. I like this adjustment with the speed, hands and grit that Moore brings to the puck retrieval role. His work in the dirty areas should open up the ice for JT and Marner. I think Moore might be the best fit considering he’s more comfortable in a chippy role than Kapanen and has better hands than Hyman.
Washington’s first round pick in 2015 looks to be getting a shot to supplant Braden Holtby. The 22 year-old rookie has a .944 save percentage in his first three games. For years he’s been touted as the best goalie prospect in hockey and the early returns have been promising.
Have yourself a night Morgan!
Great night for fantasy hockey that’s for sure. Now there are still some kinks that the Rielly-Ceci pairing need to iron out in their own end, but you can’t complain too much after that game.
Here’s some quick talking points from couch correspondent Phillip Waind:
“Very tired. Pulled an all nighter playing 7 hours of Risk last night. I’m battling to stay awake all day just to keep my sleep schedule from being completely nocturnal. Gotta love reading week. Anyways, I missed last night’s game and can’t imagine I’ll be awake for tonight’s. Just like I abandoned the idea of the blue army taking control of Asia, I too hope that Babcock abandons the idea of Kapanen as a top six forward.”
Remember That Leaf
Originally came to Toronto by way of the Cody Franson to Nashville trade. The full trade was Lepsic from Nashville Predators with Olli Jokinen and round 1 pick in the 2015 draft (*Travis Konecny) to Toronto Maple Leafs for Mike Santorelli and Cody Franson.
Leipsic was unreal with the Toronto Marlies scoring 124 points in 141 games in three seasons with the Leafs’ AHL affiliate. I was pretty rattled when Toronto lost him in the Vegas expansion draft after choosing to protect Matt Martin.
It ended up not being too huge of a loss with Leipsic not really sticking on with Vegas or Vancouver. Now he finds himself on Washington’s fourth line
*The Leafs would trade Konecny pick down twice in 2015 to draft Dermott and Bracco
Let’s keep this train rolling. Tough task for Michael Hutchinson to steal a win on the road against the dangerous Capitals squad, but sometimes winners gotta win. A night after the Nationals clinched a World Series berth, it’d be a real shame to whoop that Capitals in Washington. Real shame.