Sidney Crosby has two won Hart Trophies, two Conn Smythe Trophies, two Art Ross Trophies and three Stanley Cups: And if the season ended today, he would not be on my ballot for Most Valuable Player in the National Hockey League for the first time in years.
This isn’t a condemnation, necessarily, of Crosby, who has scored nine points in his past three games after a slow period, but more of an indication of where the meandering Pittsburgh Penguins find themselves just past the halfway point of the schedule.
Crosby has been a finalist for the Hart in six different seasons and top five (on the ballot of five) seven times in a magnificent career. But he has been nowhere near the scoring leaders for most of his 13th season, although a second-half push is forever anticipated.
Crosby’s not alone with his team struggles. Connor McDavid’s Edmonton Oilers are nowhere near the playoffs, as are Erik Karlsson’s Ottawa Senators. When asked at the beginning of the season to list the top 50 players, those were basically a consensus top three.
The betting here is that Crosby and the Penguins will find their way to the post-season. The same won’t or can’t be said of McDavid and the Oilers or Karlsson and the Senators this season.
The playoffs will begin in April and some of hockey’s brightest lights won’t be involved.
THIS AND THAT
My Hart Trophy ballot after 40-plus games might look something like this right now: 1. Nikita Kucherov; 2. Steven Stamkos; 3. Blake Wheeler; 4. Nathan MacKinnon; 5. John Tavares. And trying to find a place for Patrice Bergeron … With Victor Hedman now hurt, Karlsson and Ottawa struggling and Brent Burns not dominating the way he did a year ago, Drew Doughty jumps back in the lead for the Norris Trophy as the NHL’s top defenceman. The Kings have only given up 99 goals against, best in the league, and Doughty is on the ice for almost half every game … Gerard Gallant runs away with the coach-of-the-year award in Las Vegas, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t some quality work being elsewhere. On the list of the impressive: Jon Cooper, Tampa; Bruce Cassidy, Boston; John Stevens, Los Angeles; Travis Green, Vancouver; Paul Maurice, Winnipeg; John Hynes, New Jersey; Jared Bednar, Colorado. Worst first-half coach: Phil Housley in Buffalo, where the Sabres are a disaster … Mike Babcock breaks the Leafs’ season down in five-game segments. He wants six points for every five games played. That would give the club 96 points after 80 games. Right now, they’re one point behind where Babcock expects them to be … So what’s more annoying, Babcock’s unwillingness to put Auston Matthews on the Leafs first power play — wouldn’t you like to see Mitch Marner and Matthews together with the man advantage? — or his stubborn belief that Roman Polak can help his hockey team. When St. Louis traded Polak to Toronto years back, the reason: They didn’t think they could continue to grow with Polak on their blue line … Marner is the Leafs’ most creative passer. Matthews is their best shooter. It’s normally the opposite to have a centre as best passer and a winger as best shooter. See Wayne Gretzky and Jari Kurri, Adam Oates and Brett Hull, Bryan Trottier and Mike Bossy.
HEAR AND THERE
A big league scout on Yangervis Solarte, the newest Blue Jay: “I want to see him race (Kendrys) Morales. I think it would be close.” Imagine a Jays middle of the lineup with Justin Smoak, Morales and Solarte clogging up the basepaths. That lineup would be slow, slower, slowest. The scout did say of Solarte: “He has a contact bat. I think he’ll hit 20 home runs in Toronto. He can play multiple positions, but is below average at all of them. But he puts the ball in play, doesn’t walk much, and hits the ball very hard and doesn’t strike out much.” … The notion you win with pitching and defence doesn’t seem big on the Blue Jays blueprint. Pitching looks fine so long as Aaron Sanchez is healthy. Defence, not so much … Did like the fact the Jays gave a little extra to Sanchez when they didn’t have to in negotiations. He remains a huge part of their future. They need him back and near the top of the rotation. If he can do that, he’s a bargain at $2.7 million … I don’t often cheer for players, but I’m hoping Devon Travis can come back and be healthy. He’s a quality kid with big league talents. He just needs to stay away from injuries, if that’s possible.
SCENE AND HEARD
The possibility of Johnny Football in Montreal: Johnny Crescent Street. Is there a worse city in Canada for Manziel to possibly land of he doesn’t end up in Hamilton? … The Internet has been abuzz with rumours the Seattle Seahawks have interest in bringing in Marc Trestman as an offensive coordinator. Trestman, to date, has said nothing about it, which isn’t good for the Argos. He needs to declare whether he’s staying or leaving … How predictable is this: UFC president Dana White no longer talks to Floyd Mayweather’s promotional team and is talking of going into boxing and do some promoting there … If you’re of a certain age, Keith Jackson was one of the sporting voices of your life. Loud, succinct and unmistakable. To me, he will always be the Granddaddy of them all. His expression. Now gone at 89 … What many forget: Jackson was the original voice of Monday Night Football. He lasted one season with Howard Cosell … Weird thing: Since winning the U.S. Open, not only has Sloane Stephens not won a tournament, she hasn’t won a match … Department of idiotic: Tonya Harding getting a large ovation at the Golden Globe Awards … There has been no talk of firing Todd McLellan in Edmonton and most people believe him to a very sound coach. So we wonder, if McLellan is so adept at the job, why are the Oilers special teams so horrendous?
AND ANOTHER THING
What a fortunate city and country this is, having Masai Ujiri and all his sense and sensibilities running the Raptors … If you don’t like Fred VanVleet, you don’t like basketball … Is this the year the Cleveland Cavaliers finally dry up? I know it’s January, I know they look slow and bored and defensively incompetent. But LeBron James’ body language tells me he’s concerned … Dwane Casey deserves to be the Eastern Conference coach in the NBA all-star game. The way he has transformed his team, under challenging circumstances and with some stubborn stars, has been surprising and impressive … The Western Conference playoff race in the NHL is going to be fascinating: There are six teams, two spots, and just four points between them at this stage of the season … When the NHL players first went to the Olympics, there was great resentment from athletes in lesser-known sports. After an Olympics or two, though, there was almost absolute acceptance. Those athletes are being cheated just as we are without NHL players in South Korea … If there’s a model out there for the new Canadian Olympic hockey team to follow, it’s the Vegas Golden Knights. Nothing was expected of them and they’re making history. They play hard, they play fast, they put pressure on their opponents and they’re relentless, without a star in their lineup … Happy birthday to Connor Brown (24), Hacksaw Jim Duggan (63), Carl Weathers (70), Roger Jackson (76), Fred Boimistruck (56), Peter Holland (27) and Justin Tuggle (28) … And hey, whatever became of Manny Legace?
MARLEAU’S CONTRACT MAY FORCE OUT JVR
The Leafs aren’t letting anyone know what their plans are for James van Riemsdyk in the future, which is typical of the way in which they choose to conduct their business.
Nothing wrong with that so long as they find a way to retain the scoring winger.
It won’t be easy and it won’t be cheap and here is where it may get a little complicated for the Leafs’ financial people. The team has already committed $6 million a year to Patrick Marleau for next season and the year after that. Nothing wrong with Marleau, but that’s an expensive price for a complimentary player. It’s also the price, maybe a little below, what it will take to keep van Riemsdyk, who is a difference-maker on the power play and around the opposing net, in a Leafs uniform in the future.
His 19 goals, most of them from around the goal crease, ties Auston Matthews for most goals on the Leafs. The scoring from Nazem Kadri, William Nylander, Mitch Marner and Tyler Bozak has declined this season, which has brought more attention to JVR. If somehow the Leafs can’t retain him budget-wise because of the money invested in Marleau, it will go down as one of the great miscalculations of Lou Lamoriello’s time in Toronto.
Knowing Lamoriello and more importantly knowing the financial acumen of Leafs salary specialist, Brandon Pridham, they already have their plan in place and the dollars work. But until a deal is done, there will be questions about van Riemsdyk, who was offered up in trades in the summer and won’t be traded this season.
DONALDSON DEAL DOESN’T SOLVE ANYTHING
The uncertainty that surrounds Josh Donaldson and the Blue Jays has not been settled in any way with the signing of a one-year, $23-million contract.
If anything, the arrangement leaves the impression that Blue Jays management is flying by the seat of their pants, not heading in any particular direction. They have made an expensive stop-gap determination by signing their best player — one of the best in baseball — for one more season, which that could lead to more confusion come the summer.
Basically, what GM Ross Atkins has done here is in keeping with their off-season mantra: This team will contend, sort of. And if they don’t contend, say by mid-season, that’s when Donaldson’s name will be dangled in trade talks. A contract signed beyond next season would have altered that viewpoint and Donaldson was certainly open to a longer deal.
But here’s the troubling part: If the club isn’t in the race come July, they will have to trade Donaldson or lose him in free agency for nothing at the end of the season. Trading him in mid-season is not necessarily the ideal way to approach moving a superstar. But in signing him for one season, management has made just one thing clear: They don’t know what direction the club is heading in. They’re playing to the ticket-selling public and signing Donaldson for one year was a hedge of a bet and nothing more.
OLYMPIC HOCKEY DOESN’T NEED NHLERS TO BE EXCITING
I was fortunate enough to cover the hockey tournaments at the 1992 and 1994 Winter Olympics, the two Games prior to the entrance of National Hockey League players — and both were among the most memorable events I’ve ever been around.
In ’92, there was the famous Eric Lindros Canadian shootout win against Germany and later a gold-medal loss to the Unified Team, which was a Russian team divided into numerous pieces that included Nikolai Borschevsky, Dmitri Mironov and Dmitry Yushkevich.
In ’94 in Norway, Canada played for gold against Sweden, and lost in a shootout to the now-famous Peter Forsberg goal. There were some famous players on that team — Paul Kariya and Petr Nedved to name two — but most of the team was little-known. The hockey, at the time, was frenetic and dramatic and to be honest, fun.
The past five Olympic Games featured NHL players. It’s ridiculous they are not back for PyeongChang, but that’s old news now. The tournament next month should be similar to ’92 and ’94 and while it may not feature stars who aren’t named Pavel Datsyuk and Ilya Kovalchuk, it should feature the same kind of frenzy and intensity tournament hockey can breed.
Team Canada was so superb four years ago at Sochi that the hockey was clinical and one-sided. The gold-medal game had no magic at all as a matchup. Yes, it was best-on-best and the Canadian best was too good for the rest of the world. Now it’s a coin flip. Now we don’t know what to expect and I’m looking forward to the great unknown.
It’s Canada. It’s hockey. It’s who we are.
Source:: Toronto Sun – Movies