Welcome back for another edition of the Friday Five, where we point out quirks, quips and questions that pop up throughout the week in the NHL season.
1. Samsonov squarely in the Calder Trophy race
Barely one month ago, Cale Makar seemed poised to be the runaway winner of the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year.
That was before the Colorado Avalanche defenceman went down with injury – and before Ilya Samsonov began to take over the Washington Capitals’ crease.
The Professional Hockey Writers Association is voting on Midseason Awards this week and Samsonov has made it an interesting race.
Samsonov became just the 10th different rookie netminder to earn a win in nine consecutive decisions on Thursday night, matching the run Jordan Binnington had for the St. Louis Blues last season.
Samsonov is 9-0-0 with a .939 save percentage and 1.66 goals against-average since Nov. 30. The 22-year-old Russian is turning the cap-strapped Caps’ conundrum with pending free agent Braden Holtby into a rather easy decision. In 16 starts, Samsonov is 14-2-1 with a .926 save percentage and league-leading 2.10 goals against-average.
The big question in Samsonov’s candidacy will be his workload: How many appearances is enough to warrant Calder consideration?
Binnington helped supply a framework to that answer last season. He didn’t make his first NHL start until Jan. 7. He made 30 starts and also led the league in GAA, earning a second-place finish in Calder voting and the fifth spot on Vezina ballots.
Given that Samsonov has been on the roster all season, he probably needs to be approaching 40 appearances by the end of the year to topple what has been a monster season from Makar.
That’s why Makar is still currently at the top of my ballot. Makar, 21, opened the season with 28 points in 28 games as a defenceman. He hasn’t produced quite as much (five points in nine games) after his three-week absence, but he hasn’t exactly gone quiet.
Here is my Calder Trophy ballot if votes were due today:
1. Cale Makar, D, Avalanche. Fun fact: Makar went the first 40 games of his career (including playoffs) without taking a penalty.
2. Ilya Samsonov, G, Capitals. Samsonov is starting to push aside a Vezina winner in Holtby.
3. Quinn Hughes, D, Canucks. Hughes has lived up to the hype in Vancouver with 33 points in 47 games while playing 21:35 per night.
4. Victor Olofsson, RW, Sabres. Olofsson went down with injury on Jan. 2, but he posted 16 goals and 19 assists for 35 points in his first 42 games of the season.
5. Dominik Kubalik, LW, Blackhawks. Kubalik has quietly inserted himself into the conversation with 18 goals and 10 assists for 28 points in 46 games for the Hawks, who remain in the playoff chase.
2. Should NHL veterans be given an All-Star waiver?
The NHL has a little bit of an attendance problem when it comes to All-Star weekend. Alex Ovechkin opted for rest and bailed for a second year in a row. This time, goaltender Tuukka Rask and Marc-Andre Fleury joined him.
NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly admitted in a recent podcast with colleague Pierre LeBrun that their absences are “concerning.”
So that got us thinking: Should the NHL have some sort of length of service waiver? For example: Ovechkin has attended seven previous All-Star weekends. How many should he have to attend before he is free and clear to take off without penalty?
It doesn’t make sense to continue to penalize fans – let alone impact the competitiveness of a regular-season game – to have a star like Ovechkin sit out for one game before or after the All-Star break just because he’d like to rest when he’s been a mostly faithful servant.
Before 2019, Ovechkin only missed twice in his career, once for injury (2016) and once because he was suspended (2012).
The idea of a waiver is at least up for consideration.
“I don’t know what we will do yet, if anything,” Daly said via email Friday. “No need to rush any decisions. We have time.”
It’s a sticky situation – one that I see from both sides. Fans and sponsors pay big money to see the best of the best at All-Star. Players are well-compensated – each player receives a $25,000 stipend for attending – and this is one weekend in a schedule that has 186 duty days and a five-day bye week that provides additional rest.
By the way, Rask declared on Jan. 13 that he was he declining his invite to All-Star to rest. He went down with a concussion on Tuesday in Columbus. If he remains injured, Daly said he will not have to sit out an extra game.
“The obligation is to sit out a game either going into the break or coming out of the break,” Daly said. “If his injury forces him to do that, there is no ‘suspension’ per se.”
3. ‘Big Save Dave’ stars in the shootout
One player who is excited to be at All-Star weekend is Calgary Flames goaltender David Rittich.
Rittich stopped all three Maple Leafs shooters in the shootout on Thursday night to cap off an excellent performance in net. Rittich has certainly earned his “Big Save Dave” nickname when it comes to the shootout.
The league-wide save percentage for goaltenders in the shootout is .686 this season.
Rittich has an impressive .889 save percentage in the skills competition, good for third in the NHL among goalies who have seen 10 shots.
Martin Jones, Sharks - 10/10 - 1.000
Tristan Jarry, Penguins - 10/11 - .917
David Rittich, Flames - 16/18 - .889
Braden Holtby, Capitals - 9/12 - .800
Robin Lehner, Blackhawks - 3/10 - .300
Tuukka Rask, Bruins - 6/11 - .545
Alex Stalock, Wild - 7/11 - .636
Frederik Andersen, Maple Leafs - 13/20 - .650
If only all of Jones’ shots faced were breakaways. He is the best shootout goalie in the league, but ranks 54th in save percentage (.890), which is second-worst among all goalies with at least 15 appearances this year. Lehner has struggled his entire career in the shootout, with the worst all-time save percentage among goalies who have faced 90 shots (.515).
4. Midseason transaction check-up
The ‘Bread Man’ has done the very difficult: Artemi Panarin has lived up to every dollar of that $81.5 million contract so far on Broadway.
Panarin, 28, leads the NHL in even-strength points (52) by a sizable margin over Colorado’s Nathan MacKinnon (44). Both players have been forced to do a lot of the heavy lifting themselves – MacKinnon in Colorado because of injury, and Panarin, well, because he plays for the Rangers.
The Arizona Coyotes have struggled acclimating to new forward Taylor Hall. It’s been Hall who has been just fine, collecting 14 points in his first 15 games with the Yotes. The Coyotes were 19-12-4 before Hall arrived from New Jersey; Arizona is just 7-7-1 since.
5. Case of the yips?
The yips are a notorious baseball and golf ailment, but there was a curious sequence on Thursday night in Boston that made you wonder if there is a hockey version.
Three nights after overskating a shootout attempt and ending a game in Philadelphia, Bruins winger Brad Marchand failed to get a shot off on a clear breakaway against the Penguins.
To be fair, Marchand did collect his 21st goal of the season later in the game. But if nothing else, at least Marchand has a sense of humour: