It's What's Up, What's Down: yet another effort in sports journalism to deliver information through a simple and easily understandable medium. Here we look at the players, teams and things building toward something — and the players, teams, and things accomplishing squat.
It's early, I know, but Leon Draisaitl has his nose out front of everyone in the first strides of the race toward end-of-season accolades, including his superstar teammate.
With two more goals on Tuesday night in a loss to the Winnipeg Jets, Draisaitl extended his lead in the Rocket Richard and Art Ross races to five goals and four points, respectively. He's averaging more than a goal and two points per outing for the first-place Oilers, contributing more, at least in terms of strict production, than Connor McDavid, who is stuck on a *paltry* 1.93 points per game.
The NHL's leader in all-situations scoring rate with nearly one point for every 10 minutes logged, Draisaitl leads the league in both even-strength points and power-play goals. He also paces all players with five game winners.
But the most convincing evidence that he's emerging from McDavid's shadow, at least to a certain extent, is the production away from No. 97. While it hasn't necessarily been a defensive masterclass, and the predictive numbers would suggest it's not sustainable, Draisaitl is routinely winning the track meet the Oilers seem to be welcoming in his matchups as the anchor of the second line.
Most Points Through First 15 Team Games of a Season Since 1996-97:
Leon Draisaitl (2021-22) - 33
Jaromir Jagr (1999-00) - 33
Daniel Alfredsson (2005-06) - 31
David Pastrnak (2019-20) - 30
Mario Lemieux (2002-03) - 30 pic.twitter.com/Ffubuer6YY
— Sportsnet Stats (@SNstats) November 17, 2021
In over 133 five-on-five minutes without McDavid, Draisaitl's units have claimed 10 of the 13 goals scored over the space of 15 games. On the flip side, while McDavid's defensive metrics, projected numbers, and overall influence appears to be far better, the opponents actually have an edge on the aggregate scoreboard versus his units.
It's been quite productive in the minutes Draisaitl and McDavid share together, naturally.
Draisaitl secured his spot as the league's MVP two seasons ago partly for what he did while McDavid was out with injury, single-handedly propelling the Oilers on their postseason march while the season hung in the balance. Many believed that was his only chance, and that situational factors set the table for an otherwise impossible outcome: that Connor McDavid wasn't even the most valuable player on his own team.
But through the season's first meaningful chunk, and with both players healthy, that might just be the case.
Down: Subban's dangerous defence
I'm not sure how long P.K. Subban has had this ugly quirk in his game, but the trail-leg contact he's utilizing in his defensive-zone coverage needs to stop. Subban has been fined twice already and now injured two others in separate slew-footing incidents through just a little over a month of the season.
One of the most dangerous plays in hockey, Subban's latest backside kick-out finally resulted in real and consequential damage with New York Rangers forward Sammy Blais tearing his ACL.
This has got to stop! @NHLPlayerSafety another player injured, another outstretched leg from #NJDevils PK Subban. Has to be one of the dirtiest players in the league. Suspend him! #NYR Sammy Blais could not put weight on his leg and won’t return. pic.twitter.com/wRmHZa5Gyh
— Hockey Hound (@HockeyHoundShow) November 15, 2021
This was maybe the most subtle example (and honestly, maybe it was incidental) of Subban's problematic defensive tactics, but it should carry with it the biggest penalty through consequence and accumulation alone.
He's lost the benefit of the doubt.
Subban has shown he clearly hasn't learned from the combined $20,000 worth of fines received to this point for the repeated tactic.
Up: Brotherly love
There might not be a better moment in the NHL all season.
In his second game of the season after starting the year with an injury, Kevin Hayes scored his first goal of the campaign, and more importantly the first for his brother, Jimmy, in Tuesday's win over the Calgary Flames.
— Philadelphia Flyers (@NHLFlyers) November 17, 2021
Hayes told reporters after the game that the puck was recovered, and will be presented to Jimmy's son.
Fittingly, Jimmy Hayes' college roommates and current Philadelphia Flyer Cam Atkinson scored the overtime winner in the game.
Down: Buying low?
We believed a reckoning was coming after Pittsburgh's thrashing of the Toronto Maple Leafs three-and-a-half weeks ago.
Just not for the Penguins.
Mike Sullivan's bunch has been brutal since that shorthanded victory that marked the low point of the season for its opponent, falling to 2-8 without a regulation win in its last 10 with a loss Tuesday versus the Buffalo Sabres. The Penguins are now seventh in the division and nine points back of the top-three seeds.
Sidney Crosby's return was supposed to provide a spark. Instead the Penguins have lost by a combined score of 8-2 since the captain returned to the lineup.
Pending sale aside as the John Henry-led ownership group circles around the franchise, this was intended to be something of a last hurrah for this generation of the Penguins, who have taken steps back season over season since winning back-to-back Stanley Cups in 2016 and 2017.
Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang, Bryan Rust and Jeff Carter are each on the precipice of unrestricted free agency. With the way it's going, the decisions on these stars could be made far easier for Ron Hextall and Brian Burke.
A Penguins trade deadline fire-sale would be something.
Up/Down: Hall of Fame futures
As it goes, the conversation after the Hall of Fame induction class transfers to who's next, and then on to who might be after that.
The Zone Time crew tackled three potential candidates — John Tavares, Shea Weber, and Ryan Getzlaf — without me, so I thought I'd share my thoughts on the three.
For me, Tavares doesn't make the cut, at least not yet. He's in a decent spot from a per-game production standpoint in terms of goals and points, but it's probably likely that he slips outside the top 100 all time as the back nine of this career continues. His peak was somewhat fleeting, earning legitimate Hart Trophy consideration over a span of only three seasons. He has a decent international resume, but he hasn't played major roles since the world juniors. Building on that national team success or winning a Stanley Cup in Toronto feels like a necessity.
Weber seems like the most obvious candidate of the three. He was deep in the Norris Trophy conversation for 10 consecutive seasons from 2008 to 2017, though he never did win it. It seems his career has been cut short and the team success isn't there either, but Weber's international resume is undeniable.
With Getzlaf, my mind immediately went to: how do you separate him from Corey Perry? His 1000th point (converted Tuesday night) puts him in a different production class compared to his long-time teammate, but Getzlaf is without the peak seasons and individual hardware. Do you credit Getzlaf for sustained (albeit slightly diminished) influence or Perry for winning a Hart Trophy and Rocket Richard at his peak? Perry has also been to two more Stanley Cup Finals, but was only in those situations because he was bought out late in his career. It's possible that they both belong given the fact that these two have won everything (and in the case of Perry, literally everything), but it's maybe more likely that both fall just below the threshold.
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