Happy Super Bowl Monday! This week, I take notice of the work of a few young superstars and a huge league initiative. Plus, the return of the Unloved Team of the Week.
1. Connor McDavid Gets Better
Connor McDavid scored his 30th goal and notched his 45th assist of the season on Saturday afternoon against the Flyers. He is now on pace to score 49 goals and 73 assists, which would both be career highs. Last year, McDavid led the league in points for the second straight year and set a new career high in goals with 41. His personal achievements were overshadowed by the poor play of his team, which definitely cost him his second Hart Trophy. Like last year, the Oilers season seems to be trending down, while McDavid is trending up. I only wanted to point out that McDavid continues to prove he is the best player on planet Earth at 22 years old. If only he could lead his team back to the playoffs, then we could see if he can improve on that stage.
2. Matthews Extension Talks Heat Up
Reports recently came out that the Toronto Maple Leafs and their superstar Auston Matthews have started negotiating his next contract. I for one am beyond excited to see how many Brinks trucks the Leafs back up to Matthews’ doorstep. Matthews is clearly an elite player and any team would give him the money he wants. The big question is how much money they will agree on. The Leafs have a few big contracts on their books and signing Matthews to the deal he deserves will hamper the Leafs’ cap space. The reports say that the two sides are trending towards a five or six-year deal, instead of the max eight-year deal.
Usually, I would think that Matthews should sign the biggest deal he can and guarantee a huge payday, just in case he were to get injured or his play decline. Matthews’ case is special. If Matthews signs a shorter deal, he can become a UFA earlier in his career. That means he can sign a max contract at a younger age. If he signs a five-year deal now, he will become an unrestricted free agent at 26 years old. He can sign an eight-year max contract at 26, and guarantee he is handsomely paid until he turns 34. Assuming he doesn’t get hurt, he can sign another solid contract at 34; probably something in the neighborhood of three years and $12 million.
If Matthews signs the eight-year deal now, he won’t become a UFA until he is 29. Many teams won’t be as willing to give a 29 year-old an eight-year max contract. Even if they do, he will only be able to sign a few one-year pacts to finish out his career. The three-year age difference could be the difference in that $12 million contract.
If I’m Matthews, I would bet on myself now and sign a five-year contract for as much money as possible. Then cash in again at 26 and guarantee big money into my mid-thirties.
3. Black History Month
Many of you are familiar with the NHL’s “Hockey is for Everyone” campaign, where the NHL promotes the inclusion of minority groups. This year will be the first time the league promotes Black History Month through their Hockey is for Everyone platform.
I love this move by the NHL because they are attempting to be inclusive to a demographic that is largely absent from their sport. There are only about 20 black (African-American or African-Canadian) players in the league, and the casual fan probably couldn’t name more than three of them. This decision by the NHL shows commitment because it’s not something they have to do, it’s something they want to do. I truly hope this focus on Black History Month promotes the game to the African American and African Canadian communities and shows fans that the league is serious when they say that hockey is for everyone.
4. Unloved Team of the Week: Anaheim Ducks
With the All-Star Game being a major topic for my column last week, I didn’t have room for an unloved team. The Ducks are the team I’m choosing this week. They are truly unloved because they will always be LA’s number two team, behind the Kings. Anaheim sits in 12th place in the Western Conferences. Right behind Arizona and ahead of Edmonton. Not the company I would want to be in. Their place in the standings sucks because they surely won’t be picking high in the draft and they won’t be in the playoffs.
Their roster is more depressing than the hope for their season. Franchise cornerstones Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry are trending in the wrong direction and are going to take the organization down with them. Both 33-year-olds are aging fast and it’s doubtful that either returns to their former glory. If you include Ryan Kesler into the mix, the three high-paid forwards have scored a combined 40 points this year. Getzlaf and Perry only have two years left on their contracts, so the Ducks won’t be in salary cap hell forever.
If there is one thing to be said about the Ducks’ season, it’s the play of their netminder, John Gibson. Gibson has been the best goalie in the NHL this season and is one of the few players on the roster trending up. In his 43 starts this season, he is 17-17-8 with a 2.86 GAA, a .916 Sv%, and two shutouts. Those numbers might not jump off the page at you, but an x-ray of Gibson’s back would because it’s going to break from carrying the entire franchise. The Ducks need their younger players develop in time to take advantage of Gibson’s prime years.
5. The Jets’ Fire
I love when small-market teams are elite. There is nothing better than seeing a team in a city that no one cares about forcing you to pay attention. The Winnipeg Jets have been doing that for over a year now. They REALLY forced me to pay attention on Saturday night when they scored six first-period goals against this week’s unloved team, the Ducks, and won the game 9-3. Winning is something the Jets have done quite a bit of this season. They are currently one point behind the first-place Calgary Flames in the West. The Jets are one of the deepest teams I have ever seen and they get it done at both ends of the ice. The Jets aren’t flashy, but they are oozing with talent. I would love to see Winnipeg host a few games in this year’s Stanley Cup Finals. ■
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.