My take on some of the notable NHL news and notes of the past week.
Tyler Seguin’s recent knee injury could be the death knell of the Dallas Stars playoff hopes.
The Stars are struggling to remain in contention for a wild-card berth in the very competitive Western Conference. Seguin and linemate Jamie Benn was the biggest reason the Stars were still in the running. He was on pace for a career best 45-goal, 87-point season. Before the injury, Seguin was challenging for the league’s scoring title..
It’s expected Seguin could miss between 3-6 weeks. The longer he’s sidelined, the less chance the Stars have to clinch a playoff berth. Replacing his offense is a daunting challenge for the rest of the lineup.
Speaking of the NHL scoring race, Chicago Blackhawks winger Patrick Kane enters this week atop the leaderboard with 63 points, three up on Philadelphia’s Jakub Voracek, four up on Seguin and five ahead of Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby.
The 26-year-old Kane, who a few years ago was the subject of punchlines for his drunken bad behavior off the ice, has become a mature star since the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season. He won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP during the Blackhawks 2013 Stanley Cup run. This season, Kane’s the ‘Hawks dominant scorer by a wide margin.
Kane is presently on pace for a career-best 40-goal, 90-point performance. He has to be considered among the favorites for the Hart Trophy, while his four minor penalties this season could put him in the running for the Lady Byng Trophy.
Regardless of this season’s outcome, Kane has put his awkward youth behind him to become a truly dominant NHL star.
When center Paul Stastny left the Colorado Avalanche last summer to sign with the St. Louis Blues, most observers acknowledged it would have some impact upon the Avs’ offensive game. It was expected the addition of Jarome Iginla and moving 2014 Calder Trophy winner Nathan MacKinnon to second-line center could offset Stastny’s absence.
Entering this week, however, the Avs were 24th overall in goals-for, compared to fourth overall last season. While Iginla and a healthy Alex Tanguay lead the Avs in scoring (38 points each), MacKinnon’s nine goals and 31 points are well off last season’s 24 goals and 63 points. The 19-year-old MacKinnon spent time last season skating on Statsny’s wing. The youngster is certainly feeling Statsny’s absence this season.
MacKinnon isn’t the only young Avalanche scorer to struggle this season. Matt Duchene and team captain Gabe Landeskog are on pace for around 50 points (Duchene had 70 last season, Landeskog 65), while 2014 Lady Byng Trophy winner Ryan O’Reilly could reach 45 after reaching a career-high 64 points last season.
The New Jersey Devils recently announced winger Ryan Clowe won’t return to the lineup this season. Clowe, 32, saw action in only 13 games this season. He hasn’t played since suffering concussion symptoms on November 6. Devils GM Lou Lamoriello wouldn’t speculate on the possibility of Clowe’s return next season.
Over the past year and a half, Clowe’s suffered four concussions. He runs the risk of serious and permanent brain injury if he attempt a comeback next season.
Clowe would be best served by retiring. He can still be involved in pro hockey via coaching, scouting or other jobs. It’s simply not worth risking his health pursuing his playing career.
The city of Las Vegas is one step closer toward landing an NHL franchise. The VegasWantsHockey season-ticket campaign collected over 5,000 season-ticket deposits in 48 hours, over halfway toward their goal of 10,000 deposits.
NHL leadership, of course, continues to be coy over the notion of an expansion franchise in Las Vegas, but they’re not fooling anyone. While there’s not the great rush to expand compared to the 1990s, the league is very interested in putting a franchise in Las Vegas, as well as Seattle if a new arena can be constructed.
Vegas is already well on its way. In addition to promising season-ticket deposits, a 20,000-seat arena is under construction on the Vegas strip, a joint venture of MGM and AEG. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman downplays the possibility of expansion to Las Vegas, but he recently toured the construction site of the new arena.
NHL purists will bemoan the possibility of another franchise in the American Sun Belt, but it will become a reality.