In this week’s Blake’s Takes, I look at the increase in offense this season, Erik Karlsson’s recent resurgence, and say goodbye to Rick Nash.
1. Offense is Up
If you take a peek at the statistical leaders in the NHL this year, one thing should jump out at you. Individual offense is WAY up this year. As of Sunday, each of the top six leaders in points is on pace to hit the 110 point mark this season. Those men are, in order, Nikita Kucherov, Mikko Rantanen, Connor McDavid, Johnny Gaudreau, Nathan MacKinnon, and Brayden Point. The last time six players cracked even 100 points in a season was the 2006-07 season. The top six scorers that year were Sidney Crosby, Joe Thornton, Vincent Lecavalier, Dany Heatley, Martin St. Louis, Marian Hossa, and Joe Sakic. The last time six guys cracked 110 points in a year was way back in 1995-96 when the following group did it: Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr, Joe Sakic, Ron Francis, Peter Forsberg, and Eric Lindros. That’s a lot of Hall of Famers.
What I’m trying to get at is that this has been one hell of a year for offense. One thing to consider is that both the 2006-07 and the 1995-96 season were different eras of hockey. The 1995-96 season snuck in just before the dead-puck era started and where goalies were far less athletic and skilled than they are now. The 2006-07 season was right after the lockout, where rule changes and the enforcement of existing rules led to increased scoring.
The stats go deeper than that. This year, each team is averaging 3.04 goals per game. That’s the highest mark since the 2006-07 season, where the average was 3.08. And I bet you can guess the next time that average exceeded the mark of the 2006-07 season. It was the 2001-02 season. Just kidding! The 1995-96 season saw an average of 3.14 goals. Outside of the 1994-95 season, the 3.14 never dipped below 3.00 since the 1969-70 season. So, what I’m saying is that goal scoring is really trending up this year, and we should enjoy it while it’s here.
2. Unloved Team: The New York Rangers
Oh, how the mighty have fallen. Just four seasons ago, the Rangers had lost the Conference Finals, but it was their third trip in four years, having also lost a Stanley Cup Finals in that span. Only two of their top ten scorers in the 2014-15 season were over 31 and they had a lot of young talent. As of Sunday, the Rangers sit in 11th place in the Eastern Conference. Yet only five points away from last place Philadelphia. Not to mention, they are in one of the worst positions a professional franchise can be in. They have too many long-term contracts on their books to tank yet aren’t good enough to crack the playoffs. They have six players on their roster with at least two additional years on their contracts, none of which are cheap. Last year, they smartly began moving towards a rebuild when they traded J.T. Miller and Ryan McDonagh to the Lightning. It’s a shame because one of their best players of all time, Henrik Lundqvist, will almost certainly end his career in New York without a ring.
If I had to sum up the Rangers this year, I would say this: They have a lot of role players that never amounted to much more than being role players. Guys like Mike Zibanejad and Chris Kreider are solid, and really great pieces to add to a team with star power. But, they are certainly not guys to build a team around. Both are relatively young, yet their potential is crystal clear. It’s unfortunate for the Rangers because they are all but wasting a talent like Kevin Shattenkirk. Shattenkirk signed a long-term deal with New York to compete for a Cup, not to toil away in the middle of the Eastern Conference. A note to all Rangers fans, buckle up for a long and hard rebuild because it’s just beginning.
3. Erik Karlsson is on a Roll
Everyone assumed Erik Karlsson would step right into San Jose and produce immediately. Hockey fans were frothing at the mouth dreaming of a blue line with Karlsson and Brent Burns. So, many were surprised when one of the best players of a generation got off to a sluggish start in his new home. Karlsson only notched seven points (all assists) in his first month with the Sharks. His November pretty similar, scoring two goals and adding six assists. Two goals and 13 assists after two months are not up to par for Erik Karlsson. But he has really turned it on since. Here are his scoring totals by month this season.
If anything jumps out at me, it’s that so far into January, the Sharks are 6-0 and Karlsson has nine points. That’s pretty exceptional. His December was pretty awesome too. He scored in all but two games and had multiple assists in four of those games. He has clearly been on a higher level over the last two months and earned his trip to the All-Star Game in San Jose.
4. A Bertuzzi Hat Trick
Saturday night was the first time a player named Bertuzzi scored a hat trick in an NHL game since 1/14/2006 when Todd Bertuzzi scored three goals in an 8-1 victory against the Islanders. His nephew, Detroit Red Wings forward, Tyler Bertuzzi, scored three goals against the Wild on Saturday.
The younger Bertuzzi has been a rather interesting player so far in his career. He was a second-round pick by the Red Wings in the 2013 draft. Many felt like he was a reach that early in the draft. Then, he helped the Grand Rapids Griffins, the Red Wing’s AHL affiliate, to a Calder Cup during the 2016-17 season. He was also named the Jack A. Butterfield Trophy award winner, MVP of the Calder Cup Finals. Bertuzzi had an okay rookie season, notching 24 points in 48 games. But, I wasn’t sold on his ability. I knew he was a good hockey player but he wasn’t that great at anything. He wasn’t a dynamic playmaker and couldn’t put the puck in the net at will. He still isn’t amazing at either of those things, but he has come a long way in one year.
In 45 games so far this season, he has scored 13 goals and 25 points. Not only have his goal-scoring numbers jumped, but he is producing at a faster pace. It looks like he could be a valuable contributor to the Red Wings for seasons to come. I’m excited to see if he can continue to score at this pace and develop a real offensive game.
5. Rick Nash Retirement
Rick Nash announced his retirement this past weekend and it sucks to see him go. Nash decided to walk away from the game because of concussion-related symptoms. He was the first pick in the 2002 draft and didn’t waste any time lighting the lamp. During his second year, a 19-year-old Nash cracked the 40 goal plateau and looked to be the savior of a new Columbus Blue Jackets franchise. As much as I liked Nash, it feels as though he never reached his potential. For a while, it looked like Nash was on his way to the Hall of Fame. He scored 40 goals again with 79 total points during the 2008-09 season but never came close to that again. He had one more great season after being traded to the Rangers in 2014-15 scoring 42 goals. Nash was consistently good, but not consistently great.
But, my hat is off to one of the most exciting players during the 2000s and Columbus’ first superstar. Nash won the Rocket Richard Trophy in 2004 (shared with Ilya Kovalchuk and Jerome Iginla), made the All-Star team six times, won gold at the World Championships, and won two Olympic Gold Medals. Happy trails to Rick Nash. ■
Blake Isaacs is a die-hard Red Wings fan that doesn’t go to as many games as he should. He is also a big fan of 7-Eleven Slurpeees, Chipotle, and all things Michigan State. Follow him on Twitter @bisaacs1995.