Take Town: Busy, busy, busy
Not that I have any say in the matter, but I've spent most of the season kind of ideologically opposed to Nathan MacKinnon winning the MVP. It's not that I have anything against MacKinnon, because he's a blast to watch, but rather the fact that it just seems like one of those awards a handful of voters with some very big platforms decided over the summer they were going to will into existence.
This always bothers me, and it definitely happens sometimes. They really tried to force it with Cale Makar winning a few years ago, coming off the Avalanche Cup win, but it didn't really work because Makar missed 22 games last season (he still finished third in Norris voting and was a second-team All-Star, a courtesy not extended to Mark Giordano either time he was the best defenceman in the league and missed 20ish games). It certainly happened successfully when Drew Doughty won the Norris.
And I mostly resisted it as the season went along because, despite MacKinnon's head start, I figured Connor McDavid was playing injured for the first few weeks of the season but would close the gap. For a while, it certainly looked like he would. But by his own standards, McDavid hasn't exactly been ultra-productive during this Oilers winning streak; only six goals and 19 total points in 14 games. Unbelievable for like 98 percent of hockey players, but for him? Kinda pedestrian.
Over that same stretch, going back to Dec. 21, MacKinnon has 16-18—34 in 16 games. And that includes two separate games with four goals and an assist. So in this case, I guess you just have to go with it. The guy's been undeniable this season, and it's not just points. He's been really good defensively as well. Evolving Hockey has his defensive WAR sitting close to top-50 in the league among forwards; I probably don't have to tell you that there's no need to bother looking up Nikita Kucherov's defensive impact, which is more in the negative than MacKinnon's is positive. It's crazy how good MacKinnon has been.
I guess sometimes the shadowy cabal that really decides things gets it right.
Speaking of McDavid…
Over the last season or two, I haven't really been all that interested in watching more Washington Capitals games than is necessary (they have been a pretty boring team and they're not very good, a lethal combination). But I've always been compelled to check whether Alexander Ovechkin scored a goal, right? You have to. Any time he hadn't scored one, I would just kinda sigh. Feels like we really need to see this guy break the record. But now he's only got eight goals this season and it all feels like a lost cause. He's 65 away from breaking the record, and at this rate, he'd need to play until he's like 45 or something? What a bummer.
Anyway, the reason I bring that up is I do the same anytime I'm not watching an Edmonton Oilers game (though my excuses for not doing so are less understandable than, "Why would anyone want to watch a Capitals game?") because I have to see how many points McDavid put up.
And I just have to laugh at myself for closing windows disappointed that McDavid """only""" had one point in a given game. He's currently tied for ninth in the league in points, and third in points per game, and I'm like, "This bum!!!"
What a time to be a fan of the sport. McDavid's current points-per-game rate (1.463) would have been first in the league in 11 of the 20 full seasons since the turn of the century, and a bunch of the seasons it wouldn't have been were because McDavid himself scored at a better pace than that (as did Kucherov and Leon Draisaitl a couple times). Hell, right now, Jack Hughes is scoring 1.4 points per game, but he's only fifth in the NHL, and that number would have been the league leader eight times since 2000. I never thought we'd see stuff like this.
I am obligated to put in this section that point production is of course not the be-all, end-all evaluation of a player's value, because if I don't they're gonna start saying I'm an eye-test, watch-the-games guy. But ultimately the game is about scoring more goals than your opponent and if you score a lot, it's really cool. So my hat's off to 'em. This is a beautiful era.
You extended who?
I have to admit some befuddlement about what they're doing in Chicago.
A couple weeks ago, they extended Nick Foligno (two years, $4.5-million AAV). Wouldn't be my choice for a good-sized 35-plus contract like that but he's a classic good-in-the-room player for a young team that needs veterans and he's actually been pretty good for them. Fair enough, I said. They make you spend to the cap floor, right?
Then a few days later, they extended Jason Dickinson (two years, $4.25-million AAV). He's also having a pretty good season for them, and at least he's only 28, and maybe that's slightly more than I'd be willing to pay for the guy but it's not egregious and this is a team with almost nobody signed for next season.
Then, just yesterday, they re-signed Petr Mrázek (two years, $4.25 million AAV), and now it's starting to feel like the copier's broken or something. It's not that Mrázek has been bad or even close to it. Depending on who you believe, he's currently 21st in the league (plus-7.5 via Evolving Hockey) or 25th (plus-3.2 via Natural Stat Trick) in goals saved above expected. But that's coming off two seasons in which he was abysmal, and apart from a one-year blip where he punched well above his weight in just 12 appearances for the Carolina Hurricanes in the (fake) 56-game season, his current performance is his best by far since 2015-16. So this is Chicago buying as high as possible on a goalie no one really wanted two years ago.
And again, they gotta pay someone, and it's better to be comfortable with your goalie, even if he's not unbelievable or anything, than try to pick through the UFA market in the summer. But taken as a whole, this is a lot of money committed to players who aren't likely to be as good as they have been for another two years, a.k.a. the remainder of Connor Bedard's entry-level deal. One imagines that basically all the cap money they're giving these guys will just be transferred straight into Bedard's savings account in summer 2026, and the cap's going up, etc. etc.
But I thought the point of having really good young players on ELCs was to be a little more competitive than Chicago has been this season and is certainly trending to be next year. You pointedly don't spend on those guys so that you can give that money to older players who can move the needle for you.
Not that I thought Chicago would be particularly competitive in the next year or three, but this is potentially a classic case of death by a thousand cuts. Especially if the three most recent cuts were done with big scary knives.
Are they really gonna let Bedard go his entire ELC without the team being that competitive? This franchise won the Stanley Cup while Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane were in Year 3. Just something to think about.
Watch the throne
Feels like this is just about gonna do it for the Los Angeles Kings' coaching staff, at a minimum. They're still in a playoff spot, but all the teams below them are a little too close for comfort and, more to the point, not the kind of team with which you want to find yourselves in the same conversation, let alone postseason contention.
Blowing a 3-1 lead on home ice against the Buffalo Sabres, another team that's felt days away from firing its coach for a few weeks now, and giving up the last four goals of the game with no pushback has Todd McLellan saying things you heard out of Lane Lambert not so long ago, about how he doesn't really have an explanation for what's happening, and Drew Doughty is calling out unnamed players left, right, and center.
The fact is, they're 3-7-5 in the last 15 games, dating back to the first games back from the Christmas break. That's somehow not even a bottom-six points percentage in the league over that stretch, but when you're below teams like the Ottawa Senators or Columbus Blue Jackets over almost 20 percent of your season, that stinks.
The thing is, the underlying numbers are mostly pretty good, but they have the second-worst shooting percentage since late December (only Chicago's is worse). That's a coach killer, in itself, but beyond that the stuff like high-danger chances are a lot more middling than they were when things were going well. Something is slipping here, and some big-name players/flashy acquisitions aren't pulling their weight. If the coach is publicly throwing up his hands, there's only so much, "They're not committed to making a change there, yet," people are going to accept.
To put it all another way, the Kings aren't this bad, and I think we all know that, but if the results don't start turning around in a hurry, and if no one involved seems to have a solution, they gotta switch things up. Can't waste these seasons, given the state of the roster.
One last thing
I don't have a ton to say about the Hockey Canada case right now, but it feels like I should address it.
We can make some really educated guesses about who's going to be turning themselves in over the next few days, but otherwise, we can't really say for sure how their teams and the NHL as a whole are going to respond until we learn more. And I don't want to get into the Takes Business on something so gravely serious.
The London police are going to hold a press conference two Mondays from now with more info, and hopefully, by then, we have some clarity about where this is all headed. But for now, suffice it to say that this is a really public, dark stain on the sport, and if you want to get into conspiracy theories about expansion announcements and the like, it's hard to blame you.