On 2022 NHL All-Star Game snubs, and who should be ‘Last Men in?’

Yes, there are ways to enhance the NHL All-Star Game, including ways to cut down on “snubs.”

Truly, the league could pursue fun, entertainment, and … if they have time left over, a fair representation of each season’s NHL All-Stars. In a dream world, there would still be those messy, almost certainly drunken “fantasy draft” exercises to divide up teams. Maybe we could all even embrace the reality that “The Skills Competition” has been better than each All-Star Game since … (runs out of fingers to count with)?

But the bottom line is that all of the camouflage and flourishes can’t obscure the deeper reality that the 2022 NHL All-Star Game can only be so enthralling. It’s ultimately an exhibition for sponsors and fans (especially young ones).

If anything, it’s best to embrace the salty spirit of NHL All-Star snubs. Thanks to Nathan MacKinnon, we got at least a dash of that.

MacKinnon, Marchand on 2022 NHL All-Star Game snubs

One thing that validates the existence of NHL All-Star Games is that, when they happen, they can serve as neat time capsules.

For every Rory Fitzpatrick fan-voted surge that gets spiked, there’s the occasional John Scott All-Star Game show-stealer. In the case of the 2022 NHL All-Star Game, there was a chance to celebrate a shockingly strong season from Nazem Kadri.

When Kadri hasn’t been making waves with terrible playoff suspensions, he’s often been an underrated player. Yet, even those who noticed his sneaky-good work didn’t expect him to rank fourth in scoring with 48 points. This could’ve been a chance to remember it in a “formal” way.

[Check out the 2022 NHL All-Star Game rosters here]

But, there simply wasn’t room for Kadri, and that bothered Avalanche teammate Nathan MacKinnon.

“It’s silly. I don’t think every team should send a guy,” MacKinnon said, via Peter Baugh of The Athletic. ” … It’s an All-Star Game, not a Participation Game.”

Can we dock MacKinnon a point off the bat for referencing every crusty person on earth complaining about “participation medals?”

Anyway, MacKinnon has a point about how strenuous it can be to try to fill out rosters while including at least one player from the lowliest NHL teams.

[Seriously, it was tough to thread the needle under the league’s current format]

That said, his most prescient point was unintentional: again, the 2022 NHL All-Star Game, and snub talk … “it’s silly.”

Like it or not, NHL fans do want to see their teams represented, at least more often than not. We also shouldn’t ignore the elephant in the room: players often decide to skip out on the NHL All-Star Game, anyway. Sometimes even if it means getting suspended.

Add in the additional risk of players convening during the age of COVID, and you wonder if Brad Marchand and others aren’t exactly heartbroken about missing the 2022 NHL All-Star Game.

2022 NHL All-Star Game: Who should be ‘Last Men In?’

While by no means comprehensive, the league seized on the spirit of snub debates by letting fans vote on “The Last Men In” for the 2022 NHL All-Star Game. Voters can submit ballots here until Jan . 17.

Being that fans can submit “up to 10 ballots every 24 hours,” let’s try to gauge who should be “The Last Men In” in our own, PHT way. That’s with polls and some quick analysis.

Eastern Conference

Atlantic Division

Boston Bruins — Charlie McAvoy
Buffalo Sabres — Tage Thompson
Detroit Red Wings — Lucas Raymond
Florida Panthers —  Aleksander Barkov
Montreal Canadiens — Tyler Toffoli
Ottawa Senators — Brady Tkachuk
Tampa Bay Lightning — Steven Stamkos
Toronto Maple Leafs —  John Tavares

Take Our Poll

My pick: Steven Stamkos

Sheesh, isn’t it enough that Steven Stamkos still didn’t get to go to the Olympics? Let’s provide some solace in the form of an All-Star nod. Best yet, Stamkos very much deserves it. After the Lightning basically won a Stanley Cup without him, it seemed like Stammer’s best days were behind him. It was even plausible to trade him for salary cap space.

Yet, this season, he’s been brilliant. Most obviously, Stamkos ranks sixth in scoring with 45 points.

As nice as it would be for Charlie McAvoy to get more mainstream attention, or for Brady Tkachuk to get a chance to be a goofball on a national stage, Stamkos is the pick.

Metropolitan Division

Carolina Hurricanes — Andrei Svechnikov
Columbus Blue Jackets — Jakub Voracek
New Jersey Devils — Jesper Bratt
New York Islanders — Mathew Barzal
New York Rangers —  Mika Zibanejad
Philadelphia Flyers — Cam Atkinson
Pittsburgh Penguins — Jake Guentzel
Washington Capitals — Evgeny Kuznetsov

Take Our Poll

My pick: Jake Guentzel

Hopefully, this serves as a reminder that Jake Guentzel isn’t just some player who lives off of Sidney Crosby. Don’t get me wrong; Crosby enhances Guentzel’s play, but the underrated Penguins forward is brilliant in his own right. Stylistically, it would’ve been refreshing to see Mathew Barzal run free in an All-Star environment, but Guentzel’s the fair choice.

Western Conference

Central Division

Arizona Coyotes — Phil Kessel
Chicago Blackhawks — Seth Jones
Colorado Avalanche —  Nazem Kadri
Dallas Stars — Jason Robertson
Minnesota Wild — Ryan Hartman
Nashville Predators — Roman Josi
St. Louis Blues —  Robert Thomas
Winnipeg Jets — Mark Scheifele

Take Our Poll

My pick: Nazem Kadri

All of that talk about Nazem Kadri being an All-Star snub and … phew, it sure was close between him and Roman Josi.

Kadri has the substance to earn the Central Division “Last Men In” nod. There’s also the style, too. The novelty of a good but rarely heralded player beating a Norris Trophy winner feels just right.

(Just stop delivering bad hits, please, Kadri.)

Pacific Division

Anaheim Ducks — Troy Terry
Calgary Flames — Matthew Tkachuk
Edmonton Oilers — Darnell Nurse
Los Angeles Kings — Drew Doughty
San Jose Sharks — Logan Couture
Seattle Kraken — Mark Giordano
Vancouver Canucks —  J.T. Miller
Vegas Golden Knights — Jonathan Marchessault

Take Our Poll

My pick: Troy Terry

At minimum, each “Last Men In” pick has at least one really tough matchup. In the Pacific Division’s case, I struggled between Troy Terry and Matthew Tkachuk.

Between that stunning point streak, and just how fun the Ducks have been, Terry gets the edge. That said, maybe we can just make sure the Tkachuk brothers can attend the 2022 NHL All-Star Game anyway? Have some sibling skills competitions?

Anyway, which players would you add to the 2022 NHL All-Star Game rosters? And do you have any snubs to get off your chest? Do tell, and do vote.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

NHL Rink Wrap: Penguins push streak to 10; Kaprizov injury

Top players from Thursday in the NHL

Gabriel Landeskog/Avalanche top line in general

If you have to pick one player from the Avalanche’s 7-1 shellacking of the Jets, you might go with Gabriel Landeskog (hat trick plus an assist). Although, is it ever really wise to count out Nathan MacKinnon, especially when he erupts for five points (1G, 4A)?

When you add in Mikko Rantanen‘s three-point evening (1G, 2A), it gets that much more compelling. By blowing out the Jets, the top Avalanche line reminded us that they may remain the most explosive and dominant in the NHL.

We also got another taste of the Avalanche near the height of their powers. Injuries and/or COVID haven’t made that possible for significant chunks of 2021-22, and that may allow the Avalanche to sneak up on people. At least, as much as this collection of talent can sneak up on anyone.

Johan Larsson, Coyotes

Coming into the NHL slate of games on Thursday, Johan Larsson didn’t have a single goal. He ended the night with three after collecting a hat trick.

In most cases, you’d expect Larsson to make his biggest impact defensively. He’s been more explosive lately, however. On Dec. 28, Larsson generating three assists. During the past three contests, Larsson’s produced more than half (six) of his 11 points in 20 games this season.

Uneven offense or not, there’s a solid chance Larsson will set a new career-high in 2021-22. He’s never generated more than 18 points in a season, yet again, he already has 11.

Highlights from NHL games on Thursday

Joe Thornton became just the sixth player in NHL history to reach 1,700 games played. Maybe a powerhouse Panthers team can get “Jumbo Joe” that elusive first: a Stanley Cup ring?

Speaking of firsts, Matt Boldy scored his first goal in his first NHL game, and the Boston-area native did so in front of family as his Wild beat the Bruins in Boston.

The family reaction of that first Boldy NHL goal makes for an even better highlight.

Now, this might be a bit much from the Wild, although it may be one of the only Matt Boldy puns that doesn’t either hinge on “bold” or “boldly.”

Nikita Kucherov looked dangerous in his return to NHL action on Thursday. This assist to Brayden Point was the highlight, but Kucherov looked dangerous early and often.

Nifty stuff from Dylan Strome.

Might as well soak in the frightening glory of the top Avalanche line from dominating the Jets:

Similarly, these Coyotes – Blackhawks highlights include that Larsson hat trick:

NHL takeaways from Thursday

NHL COVID news from Thursday

Some of the NHL COVID news from Thursday came pretty late, as Ducks – Red Wings was postponed, and Igor Shesterkin was unable to suit up for the Rangers. Read up on the bad news here.

Boldy scores, Wild win, but Kaprizov leaves with injury

Keeping with the theme of NHL COVID/injury/etc. news for the Wild, there was some good in the mix.

In what’s a great story, former Boston College star Matt Boldy scored his first goal in his first NHL game for the Wild, and did so in front of family to help Minnesota beat the Bruins. As you can see in the highlights section for the NHL on Thursday, Boldy scored his first NHL goal quite impressively, too.

By beating the Bruins, the Wild ended a five-game losing streak.

Unfortunately, there’s some bad news. After scoring his 14th goal of the season, Kirill Kaprizov left that game after a hit by Trent Frederic. Frederic ended up in more than one fight following that hit on Kaprizov.

While Frederic said he didn’t mean to hurt Kaprizov, Dmitry Kulikov believes it was dirty, and that Frederic “knew” Kaprizov was in a vulnerable position. Whether it was a bad hit or bad luck, here’s hoping Kaprizov avoids anything too severe.

Penguins push winning streak to 10 games

Want a quick idea of how strong the Atlantic Division is, and the quality at the top of the Eastern Conference, in general? An already-solid Penguins team pre-winning streak has now won 10 straight games … and merely sits in wild card position.

As much as injuries opened up opportunities for the likes of Evan Rodrigues, the bottom line is that the Penguins could look even scarier if they truly get fully healthy.

Granted, picturing full health hasn’t always jived with Pittsburgh’s larger reality. (See: the period when Sidney Crosby struggled with concussions, and unfortunately, much of Evgeni Malkin‘s later years.)

Impressively, the Penguins only needed to go beyond regulation in one of the 10 games during their current winning streak.

Lightning win, Kucherov looks impressive in return to lineup

During recent years, Nikita Kucherov’s had quite the way of dismissing rust. Or, at least, if he’s rusty, then it’s hard to fathom what Kucherov would accomplish at full speed.

In what ended up being a lopsided game on Thursday (instead of a potential big NHL showdown), Kucherov collected two assists. Scroll to the highlights and you’ll see the first Kucherov assist, where he really set the table for Brayden Point.

Even with Kucherov in tow, the Lightning are by no means a lock to win the Atlantic Division, or even gain home ice advantage over one of the Maple Leafs or Panthers. Then again, the Lightning did quite alright without home ice early in their last playoff run …

Friday’s big story

Two games, four likely playoff teams

Assuming the NHL doesn’t need to postpone any games on Friday, we’ll see two games between four likely playoff teams: Flames at Hurricanes, and Capitals at Blues.

With the Hurricanes hot (four-game winning streak, wins in eight of 10), that game could be an interesting test for the Flames. For the most part, things have gone right for the Flames this season (at least relative to other teams). But you could argue that they’re experiencing at least a mild bit of turmoil. In their past two losses (including to the Lightning during the NHL action on Thursday), the Flames have been outscored 10-3. They’ve also dropped six of eight games (2-5-1). Not a meltdown, yet the Hurricanes heighten the risk of more tension for the Flames. (Especially since Carolina boasts the rest advantage.)

In the other game, the Capitals hope to strengthen their standing in the competitive Metro, while the Blues have at least a shot at a Central Division title — or at least comfier seeding.

Thursday’s NHL scores

Wild 3, Bruins 2
Sharks 3, Sabres 2
Lightning 4, Flames 1
Devils 3, Blue Jackets 1
Penguins 6, Flyers 2
Stars 6, Panthers 5 (SO)
Avalanche 7, Jets 1
Coyotes 6, Blackhawks 4
Golden Knights 5, Rangers 1
Predators 4, Kings 2

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

NHL Rink Wrap: Crosby helps Penguins win again; Oilers’ struggles continue

Top player in the NHL on Wednesday

Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins

The Pittsburgh Penguins extended their winning streak to nine games on Wednesday night with an impressive 5-3 win over the St. Louis Blues. Had it not been for goaltending (some strong goaltending early on by Jordan Binnington and a tough night for Casey DeSmith before he was benched by Pittsburgh) this game could have easily gotten away from the Blues. Crosby played a key role in the Penguins’ win, recording rqo points including the game-tying goal midway through the third period. The Penguins are looking really impressive this season and are about to get Evgeni Malkin back in the lineup for the first time this season. Crosby is also starting to find his rhythm after a slow start coming back from offseason wrist surgery. After Wednesday’s performance he now has 20 points in his past 13 games, and 22 points in 20 games for the season overall.

Highlights from around the NHL on Wednesday

John Tavares extended his point streak to seven consecutive games thanks to a lucky bounce off the boards.

The Pittsburgh Penguins scored two goals in 12 seconds thanks to take the lead in the third period against the St. Louis Blues. Sidney Crosby and Evan Rodrigues scored the goals, with Crosby tying the game and Rodrigues giving them the lead on a power play goal following a delay of game penalty after the Blues lost a challenge for potential goaltender interference.

Leon Draisaitl added to his league-leading goal scoring title by scoring his 26th goal of the season on Wednesday night.

Three takeaways from the NHL on Wednesday

The Oilers struggles continue

The Edmonton Oilers losing streak reached five games on Wednesday night with a loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs. They did not have Connor McDavid due to COVID protocols, and as expected the offense struggled without him. The Oilers are now 18-14-2 on the season after a 9-1-0 start. The problems are the same as they have been for years. No scoring depth beyond the top two players, a weak defense, and questionable goaltending. Here is another stat that is eye-opening: They have not won a game with Dave Tippett behind the bench since December 1. They are 2-9-2 since then, with those only two wins happening while Tippett was away from the team in protocols. Another thing to watch on Thursday is that if the Los Angeles Kings beat the Nashville Predators, the Kings would jump the Oilers in the Wild Card standings and dump them out of a playoff position for the time being. A San Jose win against Buffalo would also bring them to within a point of the Oilers. It remains a staggering failure on the part of the front office that this team is not better than this given the two superstars at the top. This team should be competing with Vegas and Colorado for the top spot in the Western Conference right now. Not competing with Los Angeles and San Jose for a Wild Card spot.

Penguins should be in the market for another goalie

The Pittsburgh Penguins look like Stanley Cup contenders as long as the goaltending does not repeat what it did in the playoffs a year ago. Tristan Jarry has been outstanding so far this season as the starter and has done a nice job rebounding from his playoff series performance. His backup, Casey DeSmith, however, has not been as productive. Going back to the end of the 2020-21 season he has now allowed at least three goals in 11 of his past 14 starts, including nine starts with at least four goals. He got the start on Wednesday and was benched midway through the second period after giving up three goals, including one just moments after the Penguins scored their first goal of the game. The quick hook from coach Mike Sullivan was telling for a lot of reasons. For starters, it was only three goals. Also because the Penguins are playing the first part of a back-to-back and will be on the road on Thursday night against the Philadelphia Flyers. Given that Jarry is still a question mark and an unknown for the Stanley Cup playoffs, a more solid, capable backup goalie should be a focal point for general manager Ron Hextall and the Penguins’ front office this season.

Another strong showing for Jack Campbell

Probably one of the most unexpected developments in the NHL over the past two years has been Jack Campbell’s emergence as the starting goalie in Toronto. He won another game on Wednesday, improving his record to 17-5-2 on the season with a .940 save percentage. In his first 52 starts with the Maple Leafs over the past two seasons he is now 37-10-5 with a .930 save percentage, making him one of the most productive goalies in the NHL during that time. He went from first-round question mark to Vezina Trophy contender almost over night.

Thursday’s big story

There are 11 games on the NHL schedule for Thursday and a couple of notable ones to keep an eye on. For starters, the Dallas Stars are finally back on the ice for a game for the first time in three weeks when they play the Florida Panthers. There is also a great rivalry matchup in Philadelphia where the Flyers will be hosting the Pittsburgh Penguins who are trying to extend their current winning streak to 10 consecutive games. There is also a great interconference matchup in Vegas when the Golden Knights host the New York Rangers in what could be a potential Stanley Cup Final preview.

Wednesday’s NHL Scores

Toronto Maple Leafs 4, Edmonton Oilers 2
Pittsburgh Penguins 5, St. Louis Blues 3
New York Islanders vs. Vancouver Canucks (Postponed)

SEE IT: Cale Makar turned the ’Hawks into sock puppets

The stop on a dime is impressive enough, which turns Dach’s ankles into a fine paste. It’s like the world stopped spinning for just a second. But it’s the hands in close on Marc-Andre Fleury that’s the real treat. Makar is at a terrible angle here and yet manufactures enough space by faking the forehand shot to get to his backhand and then roof it on an angle and trajectory that only Sidney Crosby would generally think of much less attempt. It’s the kind of play the NHL has wanted to get on ESPN for years, and now it can. This is disgustingly beautiful art, iike Body Worlds or something.

Makar is, probably, the best defenseman in the league, and that goal was his 28th point in just 25 games. It was his 14th goal, three more than any other d-man in the league. He’s well on pace for the first of what probably will be a collection of Norris trophies. Skating like that is simply unplayable for most.

So yeah, it’s overtime when that kind of space is simply given to players, but this was the idea. Makar does stuff like this during five-on-five too. The idea is that next time the Avalanche are on ESPN, or TNT, more people might tune in to see what else Makar comes up with. Chances are they won’t be disappointed.

Ovechkin, McDavid lead 2022 NHL All-Star Game captains vote

Nathan MacKinnon, Auston Matthews, Connor McDavid, and Alex Ovechkin are your leaders for the 2022 NHL All-Star Game captains vote. Voting ends Saturday night with each division having a captain selected via fan vote.

According to the NHL, Ovechkin leads the way with 7.7% of total votes and is ahead by more than double of Sidney Crosby in the Metropolitan Division. McDavid is right behind the Capitals captain with 7.2% of total votes and with a 17.6% lead over teammate Leon Draisaitl in the Pacific. Matthews is currently ahead of Steven Stamkos for the Atlantic captaincy, while Nathan MacKinnon tops voting in the Central.

The 2022 NHL All-Star Game will once again be a three-game, 3-on-3 tournament. The weekend’s events will take place Feb. 4-5 at T-Mobile Arena beginning with the NHL Skills event that Friday night.

Here’s a look at the division leaders:

METROPOLITAN

Alex Ovechkin, Capitals – 30.5%
Sidney Crosby, Penguins – 14.1%
Sebastian Aho, Hurricanes – 6.9%

ATLANTIC

Auston Matthews, Maple Leafs – 16.9%
Steven Stamkos, Lightning – 11%
Patrice Bergeron, Bruins – 7.4%

CENTRAL

Nathan MacKinnon, Avalanche – 13.9%
Kirill Kaprizov, Wild – 10.2%
Cale Makar, Avalanche – 8.3%

[MORE: PHT’s selections for the 2022 NHL All-Star Game]

PACIFIC

Connor McDavid, Oilers – 28.7%
Leon Draisaitl, Oilers – 11.1%
Trevor Zegras, Ducks – 6.8%
Matthew Tkachuk, Flames – 3.9%

The full rosters, which will be selected by NHL Hockey Operations, will be announced Jan. 13. As is tradition, the league tries to have all 32 teams represented.

————

Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Evan Rodrigues is taking advantage of his increased role with Penguins

The Pittsburgh Penguins extended their winning streak to eight consecutive games on Sunday afternoon with an 8-5 win over the San Jose Sharks. Even with an extensive list of injuries and man-games lost throughout the season (keep in mind Evgeni Malkin has still yet to play in a game for them this season) they still look like a playoff team with better scoring depth than they sometimes get credit for having.

The performance of their bottom-six this season (and even going back to a year ago) has been among the best in the league.

Leading that performance has been a shocking breakout performance from veteran forward Evan Rodrigues.

Let’s start with a few numbers.

  • Rodrigues recorded a hat trick in the Penguins’ win on Sunday, bringing his season stat line to 13 goals, 13 assists, and 26 total points in 31 games.
  • That projects out to an 82-game pace of 34 goals, 34 assists, and 68 total points.
  • Entering this season his career averages per 82 games were 12 goals, 18 assists, and 30 total points.
  • His actual career highs were nine goals, 20 assists, and 29 total points.

He has either already shattered his previous career highs, or is on track to do so this season. It is a stunning breakout for a 28-year-old player that has mostly been a depth player for most of his career. Especially given his path to the Penguins for this season.

They originally acquired him late in the 2019-20 season in a deadline deal that sent Dominik Kahun to the Buffalo Sabres. That offseason the Penguins traded him to the Toronto Maple Leafs as part of a package to acquire Kasperi Kapanen. After the Maple Leafs did not qualify him an offer as a restricted free agent, he hit the open market where the Penguins were able to bring him back on a one-year $700,000 contract. He followed that up with a so-so campaign that saw him produce 14 points (seven goals, seven assists) in 35 games. He again hit the open market as an unrestricted free agent, and the Penguins again brought him back, this time on a one-year, $1 million contract. They are being rewarded with this performance.

What stands out the most about Rodrigues’ performance this season is that there does not seem to be anything that is unsustainable about it. He is not riding the wave of an outrageously high shooting percentage. He has not really spent a lot of time playing next to Sidney Crosby or Malkin (he has barely played next to Crosby, and Malkin has not yet played this season) and has shown an ability to drive his own line.

He is averaging more than 3.38 shots on goal per game, while his possession numbers are among the best in the NHL.

Among the 525 NHL skaters that have played at least 250 minutes of 5-on-5 hockey this season, Rodrigues currently sits….

  • Total shot attempts share: 4th (61.6 percent)
  • Goals for share: 38th (64.1 percent)
  • Expected goals share: 4th (63.9 percent)
  • Scoring chance share: 4th (61.8 percent)
  • High-danger scoring chance share: 14th (62.1 percent)

During 5-on-5 play, he has legitimately been one of the absolute best players in the NHL this season.

So what is driving this performance for Rodrigues?

The first thing has to be opportunity. Not only is he playing close to 18 minutes per game (prior to this season he never played more than 15 minutes per game, and was typically around 10-12 minutes per game) but he has also already played more than 72 minutes of power play time (nearly two-and-a-half minutes per game). Prior to this season he barely played more than one minute of power play time per game in his career. Those extra minutes add up. While Rodrigues’ individual numbers in Buffalo were never as strong as they are this season, there was definitely an argument to be made that probably deserved more ice time and a bigger role than he was getting.

On more of an eye-test level, the increased role and increased production has seemed to lead to an increased confidence level for Rodrigues. He is not afraid to challenge defenders with the puck and has played a mostly fearless game in the offensive zone. He has always had a strong shot and some talent. Maybe he just needed an opportunity.

The fact that he has strong underlying numbers go with his production, combined with a sustainable shooting percentage, would seem to suggest there is a chance he might be able to retain at least some of this production into future seasons. The timing for that could not be any better for him given that he is again scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent after this season.

Evan Rodrigues taking advantage of increased role with Penguins

The Pittsburgh Penguins extended their winning streak to eight consecutive games on Sunday afternoon with an 8-5 win over the San Jose Sharks. Even with an extensive list of injuries and man-games lost throughout the season (keep in mind Evgeni Malkin has still yet to play in a game for them this season) they still look like a playoff team with better scoring depth than they sometimes get credit for having.

The performance of their bottom-six this season (and even going back to a year ago) has been among the best in the league.

Leading that performance has been a shocking breakout performance from veteran forward Evan Rodrigues.

Let’s start with a few numbers.

  • Rodrigues recorded a hat trick in the Penguins’ win on Sunday, bringing his season stat line to 13 goals, 13 assists, and 26 total points in 31 games.
  • That projects out to an 82-game pace of 34 goals, 34 assists, and 68 total points.
  • Entering this season his career averages per 82 games were 12 goals, 18 assists, and 30 total points.
  • His actual career highs were nine goals, 20 assists, and 29 total points.

He has either already shattered his previous career highs, or is on track to do so this season. It is a stunning breakout for a 28-year-old player that has mostly been a depth player for most of his career. Especially given his path to the Penguins for this season.

They originally acquired him late in the 2019-20 season in a deadline deal that sent Dominik Kahun to the Buffalo Sabres. That offseason the Penguins traded him to the Toronto Maple Leafs as part of a package to acquire Kasperi Kapanen. After the Maple Leafs did not qualify him an offer as a restricted free agent, he hit the open market where the Penguins were able to bring him back on a one-year $700,000 contract. He followed that up with a so-so campaign that saw him produce 14 points (seven goals, seven assists) in 35 games. He again hit the open market as an unrestricted free agent, and the Penguins again brought him back, this time on a one-year, $1 million contract. They are being rewarded with this performance.

What stands out the most about Rodrigues’ performance this season is that there does not seem to be anything that is unsustainable about it. He is not riding the wave of an outrageously high shooting percentage. He has not really spent a lot of time playing next to Sidney Crosby or Malkin (he has barely played next to Crosby, and Malkin has not yet played this season) and has shown an ability to drive his own line.

He is averaging more than 3.38 shots on goal per game, while his possession numbers are among the best in the NHL.

Among the 525 NHL skaters that have played at least 250 minutes of 5-on-5 hockey this season, Rodrigues currently sits….

  • Total shot attempts share: 4th (61.6 percent)
  • Goals for share: 38th (64.1 percent)
  • Expected goals share: 4th (63.9 percent)
  • Scoring chance share: 4th (61.8 percent)
  • High-danger scoring chance share: 14th (62.1 percent)

During 5-on-5 play, he has legitimately been one of the absolute best players in the NHL this season.

So what is driving this performance for Rodrigues?

The first thing has to be opportunity. Not only is he playing close to 18 minutes per game (prior to this season he never played more than 15 minutes per game, and was typically around 10-12 minutes per game) but he has also already played more than 72 minutes of power play time (nearly two-and-a-half minutes per game). Prior to this season he barely played more than one minute of power play time per game in his career. Those extra minutes add up. While Rodrigues’ individual numbers in Buffalo were never as strong as they are this season, there was definitely an argument to be made that probably deserved more ice time and a bigger role than he was getting.

On more of an eye-test level, the increased role and increased production has seemed to lead to an increased confidence level for Rodrigues. He is not afraid to challenge defenders with the puck and has played a mostly fearless game in the offensive zone. He has always had a strong shot and some talent. Maybe he just needed an opportunity.

The fact that he has strong underlying numbers go with his production, combined with a sustainable shooting percentage, would seem to suggest there is a chance he might be able to retain at least some of this production into future seasons. The timing for that could not be any better for him given that he is again scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent after this season.

No surprise, NHL players disappointed to miss 2022 Winter Olympics

With COVID-19 cases swelling and potentially harsh quarantine measures hovering, the NHL and NHLPA made it official: NHL players will not participate in the 2022 Winter Olympics.

For some, there might be a measure of relief. If they were already worried about making the call, the NHL and NHLPA instead made it for them. Right or wrong, there’s a drive to “fit in” in hockey culture.

But you know all of those talks about “childhood dreams?” The stuff dusted off before every Winter Classic? Those apply to NHL players dreaming of Olympic play. As much as they wanted to win a Stanley Cup, those players also dreamed of piling up gold medals.

(And, as they grew older, NHL players likely dreamed of … uh, having fun during their time at the Olympic village.)

Here are how some NHL players reacted to not going to the 2022 Winter Olympics.

Kane, others lament not being able to play for U.S. Olympic team in 2022

Yes, Patrick Kane played for the U.S. in the 2010 and 2014 Winter Olympics. He never got to win the gold, though, and at 33, it’s fair if Kane wonders if he’ll get another chance.

So, Kane is disappointed, especially since he could’ve been more of a veteran presence this time around. He also seems aware of the unfortunate realities NHL players may have faced if they did participate in the 2022 Winter Olympics.

“[I was] definitely fortunate to play in Sochi, and Vancouver was just unbelievable. I don’t think the Olympic experience will be even close to comparable to what we had there in 2010,” Kane said, via the Chicago Sun-Times. ” … [But I] felt like I would’ve had the chance to be in a leadership role this year, so it would’ve been fun to play with a lot of younger players and some great players around the league.”

[Glimpses of what the U.S. men’s Olympic hockey team might have looked like]

Back before it was clear NHL players wouldn’t go to the 2022 Winter Olympics, Canadian John Tavares pondered facing Maple Leafs teammates Auston Matthews (who would naturally rep the U.S.).

“It’d be a lot of fun. Obviously unique and pretty different,” he said back in October. “I think we’ll be looking at each other a little bit differently than we do today and throughout the season.”

Leaf through PHT’s pre-season projections for the U.S. Olympic team, and Kane seems spot-on in thinking they’d be “pretty competitive.”

Between Connor Hellebuyck, John Gibson, and others, the would-be U.S. Olympic hockey team looked loaded in net. However you feel about Seth Jones, USA Hockey’s come a startlingly long way on defense. And the mix of aging forwards like Kane with up-and-comers like Matthews would have been a delight.

[And don’t forget players like Troy Terry, whose U.S. Olympic stock was skyrocketing.]

If future Winter Olympics involve NHL players, many will get another shot — for the U.S., and other countries. But just like with 2018, the 2022 Winter Olympics carry painful “What if?” questions.

“It was going to be an awesome opportunity, but I guess this is just what we have to deal with,” said Hellebuyck.

Crosby, others lament not being able to play for Team Canada

Sure, it’s probably a little bit different for Sidney Crosby. He has that iconic “golden goal,” one he scored after screaming “Iggy!” in overtime during the 2010 Winter Olympics. And Crosby won gold with Team Canada again in 2014.

Ice Hockey - Men's Gold Medal Game - Day 17
(Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

Of course, superstars like Crosby always want to add more, more, more to their trophy cases. So it’s not surprising that Crosby told The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun (sub. required) about how “disappointing” it would be for NHL players to miss the 2022 Winter Olympics.

Crosby was quick to note those who haven’t had a chance to score a golden goal of their own, either.

[Before the season, PHT projected possible Team Canada Olympic rosters]

It’s already disappointing not to see Connor McDavid in that setting. But few players stick out in that way more than Steven Stamkos, who hasn’t repped Team Canada in the Olympics due to a mix of injuries and just general bad luck.

“You grow up dreaming of winning a Stanley Cup and I’ve been able to accomplish that,” Stamkos said, via The Athletic’s Joe Smith. “You grow up wanting to represent your country and win a gold medal. That’s something I probably won’t have a chance to do now.”

Interestingly, Stamkos also noted to Smith that he would have participated in the 2022 Winter Olympics if he had the choice, even with quarantine concerns.

At 31, it’s not totally impossible for Stamkos to get another Olympic shot. Especially if he plays like he has this season. But you can’t blame him if he wonders if this was his last chance.

Would-be top Sweden defenseman and Stamkos’ Lightning teammate Victor Hedman tried to point out a rather obvious silver lining. There’s still another Stanley Cup to chase.

Hopefully, the NHL can navigate this new set of COVID challenges and award a 2022 Stanley Cup champion — safely, and as fairly as possible.

But fans aren’t the only ones bummed about NHL players missing out on the 2022 Winter Olympics. Players clearly are frustrated, too.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Ice hockey at the Beijing Olympics: Rules, format, which NHL stars will compete?

For the first time since Sochi 2014, ice hockey’s biggest stars will appear at the Winter Olympics after the NHL agreed to a break in the season to allow its players to compete at Beijing 2022.

Players like Canada’s Sidney Crosby, the USA’s Auston Matthews and Russian Alexander Ovechkin will be among the men’s players lining up in China, as the Russian Olympic Committee attempt to retain their title.

Getting the NHL back on side is a huge coup for the Games, with ice hockey now set to be one of the highlight events. Speaking earlier this year, the general counsel of the NHLPA – the players’ union – said: “Representing their country in the Olympics is important to the players, even in these uncertain times.

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“The players look forward to pulling on their nation’s hockey sweater at the upcoming 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing as they compete for the gold medal.”

The president of the sport’s world governing body, Rene Fasel, said it will mean a return to “best-on-best hockey”.

Russia – competing under a neutral flag – celebrate winning gold at Pyeongchang 2018

Image credit: Getty Images

Ice hockey participants and medal prospects

With the NHL allowing players back at the Olympics for the first time in eight years, the field is going to be stacked. Last time that happened, Canada beat Sweden 3-0 to win gold, but a competition without those NHL stars allowed the Russians to win the title four years ago, as they got the better of Germany.

Teams have begun announcing their rosters, with Crosby, Matthews and Ovechkin all involved, as well as German Leon Draisaitl, the Czech Republic’s David Pastrnak and Sweden’s Victor Hedman. It is going to be a brilliant tournament.

In the women’s competition, the USA will be looking to defend their title after beating Canada in a shoot-out in 2018. The Finns, Russians and Swedes will all be top contenders.

Ice hockey events and format

Men

In the men’s competition, teams are split into three groups of four:

  • Group A: Canada, USA, Germany, Canada
  • Group B: Russian Olympic Committee, Czech Republic, Denmark, Switzerland
  • Group C: Finland, Sweden, Slovakia, Latvia

Teams in each group play each other once to determine seeding, with the three winners going straight through to the quarter-finals, as well as the best ranked second placed team.

The rest will progress to a play-off, consisting of four matches and eight teams. From the quarter-finals onwards, it is a straight knockout through to the gold and bronze medal matches.

Women

Qualifying for the women’s competition is not yet complete, although it is currently shaping up like this:

  • Group A: USA, Canada, Finland, Russian Olympic Committee, Switzerland
  • Group B: Japan, China (3x qualifiers).

This will be the first time that 10 women’s teams will compete in ice hockey at the Olympics. The top teams are all clustered into Group A, and nations play all the other sides in their pool. Whatever happens, each side from Group A progresses to the quarter-finals, along with the best three teams in Group B. From there, it is a straight knockout.

Who won the last Olympic gold in ice hockey and which country has won it the most times?

Guess? No, you guessed wrong, it was not Canada who won gold at Pyeongchang 2018, although it was a men’s competition heavily skewed due to the absence of NHL players.

Russia, competing under a neutral flag due to doping breaches, took the gold by beating Germany.

In the women’s competition, the USA saw off Canada – but only after a tight final which was decided by a shoot-out.

Canada has won more men’s Olympic golds than any other country with nine, and 16 medals in total. They also top the all-time table in the women’s competition with six to the USA’s two.

Ice hockey rules

Put simply, whoever puts the puck into the back of the net the most times wins – easy! Much like football, the sport is easy to follow. A game involves three periods of 20 minutes, with a 15-minute break between each period. The teams switch ends at the start of each period.

If the score is tied at the end of regulation play, a five-minute sudden death overtime is played in all phases apart from the final, where that changes to 20 minutes. If no team scores, the game will be settled by a penalty shoot-out. That will involve three players per side taking shots at goal, which then moves into sudden death if the score is level.

Players can be sent off for serious offences, or sin-binned (put in the penalty box) for periods of between two and 10 minutes.

The USA are the reigning women’s champions

Image credit: Getty Images

How many countries play ice hockey in the Olympics?

12 teams take part in the men’s competition, starting off in three groups of four ahead of a knockout round.

In the women’s competition, 10 sides will compete for the first time, with all five teams from Group A advancing through to the knockout phase, and the best three from Group B.

How many players are on an ice hockey team?

This is where it gets a bit more complicated for viewers not used to watching ice hockey. Six players per side are on the ice at one time, typically made up of a goaltender, two defenders and three forwards.

Entire positional lines can be changed during breaks in play, or one player at a time if it is while play is ongoing – which is called changing ‘on the fly’.

How many periods are there in ice hockey and how long is a game?

Each match is made up of three periods of 20 minutes, with 15 minutes break in between all of them. At the Olympics, if the score is level at the end of regulation time, a 5-minute sudden death overtime is played – meaning if one team scores, it is game over. In the gold medal match, that is extended to 20 minutes.

A penalty shoot-out will take place if the score is still tied at the end of overtime.

What is a power play in ice hockey?

This is when someone has been sent to the penalty box, leaving one of the teams shorthanded. Players can be sent to the sin-bin for anything from two minutes to being sent off completely. Power plays typically last two minutes, but can be as long as five minutes.

If a team scores during that two-minute penalty (the most regular punishment), the player who is being punished can end their time in the box early. Four-minute penalties are also common, and during this time the team is left with a player down.

If a player from each team is sent to the penalty box at the same time, the players have to serve their time – but they can be substituted with another player so that it remains six-a-side.

For offences classed as ‘major’, ‘misconduct’, ‘game misconduct’ and ‘match’, suspensions are typically 5, 10, 20 and 25 minutes – or ejection completely. If the opposition team scores, they still have to serve their time off the ice. In these scenarios, the suspended player can be substituted – although typically another, innocent, player will have to serve a two-minute ban so that the opposition can have a two-minute power play.

Confused?

What is icing in ice hockey?

This is a rule which essentially stops teams from parking the bus. Put simply, if an attacking team fires the puck from inside their own half (behind the centre line), and it crosses the red goal line at any point (without going in the net of course), play is stopped – unless it travels along the boards, back across the line and to an attacking player first.

When play is stopped for icing, there is a face-off in the defensive zone of the attacking team.

The whole reason for the rule is to stop teams running down the clock when they are either shorthanded, or trying to protect a lead by wasting time.

Why is fighting allowed in ice hockey?

Just because fighting happens all the time during games, it does not mean it is legal. Fighting carries an automatic five-minute penalty, but as it takes two to tango, usually it means losing the player rather than going a player down.

There are exceptions of course – there could be situations when a player has been more violent than the other, or if other team-mates pile in. That is when things get messy…

Like it or not, it is part of the culture of the sport, and it is often through retaliation to a hooked stick, or standing up for another team-mate.

What does the A or C mean on the ice hockey jersey?

The ‘C’ on an ice hockey jersey simply stands for the team captain, like when a football skipper wears an armband.

The ‘A’ means assistant then, right? Not quite – this stands for alternate captain, and there are usually two or three of them – although goaltenders can not hold either position. Usually a senior player or strong leader, they will be part of the decision making group and step in as captain when the regular skipper has been substituted, is serving a penalty, or possibly injured.

How heavy is an ice hockey puck?

There is a reason why players wear a lot of padding! Pucks weigh between 154-168g. These 1 inch thick and 3 inch wide rubber disks can often reach speeds exceeding 100mph as well, meaning the protection is very much needed.

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