While Alex Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby and Sergei Bobrovsky rank as some of the sexiest headliners in the Hart Trophy argument, I’ve noticed that more than a few pundits have named John Tavares as a legitimate MVP candidate. (Most recently, it was Barry Melrose.)
It’s easy for a player like Tavares to slip under the radar. Really, 2009’s top overall draft selection actually has quite a bit in common with Steve Stamkos, the guy who went No. 1 the year before.
Although Stamkos’ trophy case of NHL awards and his one great playoff run within one game of a Stanley Cup finals appearance gives this generation’s answer to Brett Hull a higher profile, both work at a slight-to-significant disadvantage when it comes to Hart chatter. Each player has languished on teams that have been awful-to-mediocre in most seasons. Despite the “New York” in the Islanders’ team name, the Long Island bunch also receives far less attention than the other New York team who plays in Madison Square Garden. The two also seem primed to put the heat on Alex Ovechkin in the race for the Maurice Richard race, as Tavares’ two goals bumps his total to 26, leaving him third overall (Ovechkin has 28 and Stamkos notched 27).
The two even have partners in crime who share at least spiritual similarities. Matt Moulson and Martin St. Louis have really helped to amplify their more heralded linemates’ work, even if Moulson has traditionally been more of a “triggerman” with Tavares while St. Louis has transformed into the Adam Oates to Stamkos’ Hull.* Each complementary player even had to fight odds to make it to the big level; St. Louis went undrafted while Moulson only was technically selected in the ninth round in 2003 (263rd overall by the Pittsburgh Penguins).
This comparison would get even better if Tavares was a right-handed shot and got benched by Melrose early into his rookie season ... but you can’t have it all.
If you want to be unbearable about the whole thing, an argument can be made that Tavares’ growth has “plateaued” this season (which is about the most negative slant that you can put on point-per-game production). After seeing his output climb steadily since his rookie campaign, he had 81 points in 82 games in 2011-12 and currently has 45 points in 44 games this season.
Attribute it to luckier shooting if you’d like, but Tavares has made a significant leap as a fantasy asset because more of his points are coming from goals. Last season, he had 31 tallies in 82 games. If he finishes really hot, he can conceivably push that 26 to a matching 31 in just 48 contests.
His SOG rates are pretty much the same, however. Perhaps he’s simply improved his shot - pundits have pointed out that he’s the “improve a major asset of his game in the offseason” type guy, specifically his skating - but it could also be a matter of getting better bounces. He had a 10.8 shooting percentage last season and averages a 12.8 mark in his career, yet he’s connected on 17.7 percent of his shots this season.
Even if that rate will probably dip, it isn’t likely to be enough to ruin his value by a large degree. It seems pretty clear that he’s a legitimate star, even if it might take a while for the greater hockey world to notice.
* - Obviously, with Tavares scoring so many goals, it might be unfair to say that Moulson is just a guy who’s benefiting from nice assists.
One stat that could be sneaky-misleading for 2013-14 might be penalty minutes (PIM). A single big game can make a daffodil look like a guy who can at least give you a boost in that area (Teemu Selanne had 20 PIM in one game, giving him a semi-useful 28 this season, for example ...).
While fighting majors are great currency - and identifying who tends to fight specific players or at least guys on specific teams might be worth the research if you’re the obsessive type - here’s a look at some guys who took quite a few minor penalties who might also bring additional value on top of that.
Alexandre Burrows - 25 minor penalties
David Backes - 24
Evander Kane - 23
Chris Neil - 23
Steve Ott - 22
Scott Hartnell - 22
If this was an imaginary competition, then Burrows would probably give the same reaction about Hartnell as Gabriel Landeskog did when he beat out Ryan Nugent-Hopkins for the Calder Trophy: “I won pretty much because I played more games.” Hartnell compiled his 22 minors in 28 games compared to 43-44 contests played by the rest of the field. Crazy.
One last note (though not minors-specific): Milan Lucic might be a significant disappointment this season - word is he might be a healthy scratch on Friday night - but at least his 65 PIM make him viable.
INJURIES (full list) AND QUICK HITS
Considering the frightening situation going on in Boston, be alert for a possible cancellation/postponement for Friday’s match with the Pittsburgh Penguins. Naturally, the hope is that the safest options are taken in a scary and dizzying time .... It appears that Ray Emery is day-to-day with a lower-body injury. Big short-term win for Corey Crawford owners, it seems ... Kari Lehtonen looked tremendous in his return on Thursday, so start away ... Keep an eye out for Nicklas Backstrom updates, as he left last night’s game in the third period after being struck in the arm with a puck ... Seems like Michael Ryder’s issue was minor. Great news for a guy having a fantastic contract year ... Semyon Varlamov appears like he’s set for a return from his hip issues. If you’re desperate, there are worse options. There are probably better ones, too, though ... Sounds like no dice for Patrick Sharp in Chicago’s next game and it seems like a coin flip that he’ll play again before the end of the 2013 season ... Some were surprised to see Ilya Bryzgalov start on Thursday. After losing, it wouldn’t be shocking to see Steve Mason get some more reps ... Ray Whitney has been fantastic lately, so snatch the veteran up if your league happens to be that lax ... Phil Kessel’s three-assist night pushed him to 46 points in 44 games. Hope you took advantage of a panicking owner earlier this season.