Assuming he takes the ice for every game the rest of the way, Connor McDavid will play just 45 games for the Edmonton Oilers this season. Given that, is it really plausible for him to win the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year? Backers of Artemi Panarin, Dylan Larkin and Jack Eichel would certainly say no way.
But perhaps we shouldn’t be so quick to discount the possibility. Especially if McDavid is able to lift the Edmonton Oilers into playoff contention in the very weak Pacific Division.
After going pointless Saturday in Montreal, McDavid has six goals and 11 assists. That’s 17 points in the 16 games he’s played, or an 88-point pace for an entire season and a 48-point pace for his 45 games. Panarin hit the weekend as the runaway rookie scoring leader with 50 points, 15 more than Larkin and Eichel and 16 more than Arizona’s Max Domi.
Panarin is on a 75-point pace playing alongside Patrick Kane on one of the game’s best teams. But at 24 and as a veteran of the KHL, you wonder how much voting bias he will deal with when balloting is done at the end of the regular season.
There are almost certainly going to be a fair amount of voters − and you would assume many from Canada − who will downplay his rookie accomplishments in much the same way it was thought baseball voters would with Ichiro Suzuki when he came from Japan as a 27-year-old rookie in 2001.
Ichiro won a batting title at .350 and had 242 hits for a 116-win team. The voices of dissent were silenced, as he got 27 of 28 first-place votes over the likes of CC Sabathia, Alfonso Soriano and David Eckstein. Panarin will certainly not be that dominant.
McDavid came out blazing in his return from a broken clavicle after a three-month absence. He had three points Tuesday against Columbus and two more Thursday in Ottawa. What if that kind of production keeps up?
McDavid is certainly raising everyone around him; look no further than Jordan Eberle’s five points in McDavid’s first two games, after he had posted five in the previous nine games. Or Eberle’s three goals − equaling his total in the previous 18 games.
And let’s not forgot how McDavid was heating up before his injury after collecting just one point in his first four NHL games. That means he entered Saturday with 16 points in his next 11 games, the kind of pace that gets you to 110- and 120-point seasons.
Then there’s the team standings to watch. Entering Saturday night the Oilers were 10 points out of a playoff spot in their division. Could they get super-hot like last year’s Senators, catch the Ducks and get into the playoffs for the first time since 2006? If that ever happened, it would almost certainly be because they were carried by McDavid.
Wideman should do the time
To this corner, the 20-game suspension of Calgary defenseman Dennis Wideman is an easy call. You can’t touch officials, period. And what Wideman did to linesman Don Henderson was an out-and-out plummeting. He was forceful, extending through the hit, and didn’t try to mitigate it one bit.
For those who say Wideman was concussed and didn’t know what he was doing, I get the argument. He had taken a big hit in the corner and he conceivably could have thought the body he came up upon near his bench was a Nashville player. Doesn’t matter. He has to take responsibility for his actions, no matter what state he was in.
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman will hear Wideman’s appeal, reportedly on Wednesday in New York. He should listen to Wideman’s case and then tell him to take his deserved seat.
The officials can’t be left thinking it’s open season like they did during the 1988 playoffs after then-New Jersey coach Jim Schoenfeld’s infamous “have another donut” tirade against referee Don Koharski prompted a wildcat strike during the Eastern Conference finals.
The bigger issue that comes out of this is (again) the NHL’s handling of concussions. Wideman finished the game, even though a concussion spotter called to the Calgary bench and recommended he be checked out. The Calgary Sun reported a trainer went to Wideman, who said he was fine and stayed in the game. That’s absurd. Every player will say he’s fine in that spot.
If the league is serious about concussions, the spotters should be able to mandate when players go to a quiet room to be checked out and not simply suggest it. Players aren’t going to honor a suggestion and, frankly, I don’t trust enough teams would honor it either. The game officials need to be notified and the player ordered off the bench or the ice.
Quieter Torts in pain
John Tortorella has been forced to be quiet on the Blue Jackets’ bench, and it’s not any sort of edict from the league or Columbus management. It’s because he suffered two broken ribs in a collision with forward Rene Bourque during an outdoor practice Jan. 22.
A sliding Bourque undercut Tortorella from behind and sent the coach crashing to the ice in an accident virtually identical to what happened here to Lindy Ruff in 2012. The then-Sabres coach suffered three broken ribs when he was crushed by Jordan Leopold one morning in First Niagara Center.
Tortorella missed three games and returned just in time to see his team play McDavid last week in Rexall Place.
“I think a number of players over the years have wanted to take a run at me,” Tortorella joked prior to the game in Edmonton. “I don’t think Rene was one of them.
“I was embarrassed,” Tortorella said. “It couldn’t have happened at a worse time. It was a public practice. It’s outdoors there, with people around. I don’t want to be in that spot, getting walked off the ice. But the biggest thing is, and the hardest thing is, you want to be with your team, you want to work. That was the most frustrating part.”
Craig Hartsburg went 2-0-1 coaching in Tortorella’s absence, but the head man said he used the time off wisely. He said he has now completed Columbus’ fitness testing, training camp and exhibition schedules for September, a task most teams don’t get to until the summer.
• The NHL’s crackdown on goalies started at the All-Star Game as Kay Whitmore, the former netminder whom the league now has in charge of the equipment issue, showed off potential changes to jerseys, pants and arm padding.
The word being tossed around is “contoured,” as in close fitting items without a lot of loose, floppy parts to catch pucks. A 1-0 championship game during a 3-on-3 tournament certainly showed that the goalies have quite the advantage these days.
• One of the more emotional moments at Bridgestone Arena was a video tribute to Boston Pride forward Denna Laing, who suffered a severe spinal injury during the Women’s Winter Classic on New Year’s Eve in Gillette Stadium. Laing spoke on the video from her hospital room, thanking the hockey community for its outpouring of support. When her mother and sisters were introduced in the crowd, the building erupted into a prolonged standing ovation -- including the players and coaches on both All-Star benches. Quite a scene.
• Wild forward Nino Niederreiter tweeted a picture of himself and teammates Marco Scandella, Matt Dumba and Darcy Kuemper on the fairway of a golf course in Cancun, Mexico, over the All-Star break − with an extra guest. An alligator made its way out of an adjacent lake on to the grass and the players scooted near it for a quick photo op.
“It was probably three or four feet away with his mouth open the whole time looking at us,” Niederreiter told The Minneapolis Star-Tribune. “So we took a quick pic and got out of there.”
Around the boards
• The Senators’ struggles have resulted in plenty of meetings last week, including a players-only one after Thursday’s 7-3 wipeout against Edmonton. When Dave Cameron was asked by reporters who would start in goal Saturday in Toronto, the coach had no answer and cracked, “I’ve had 402 meetings today and that’s 403.”
• You want tone deaf? Here’s Barclays Center CEO Brett Yormark, speaking to Sports Illustrated last week about the numerous obstructed view seats for Islanders games in Brooklyn: “Are fans aware of those obstructed seats before they purchase them? Yes they are. There’s really nothing we’re going to do from a capital improvement standpoint. You can watch the game on your mobile device. The game is on the scoreboard.
“There are many ways to view the game if you’re in one of those obstructed seats. We aren’t going to be able to change the seats in the building. That is what it is. But there are certainly other ways we can enhance the experience.”
Translation: Sorry, suckers. You get what you get. Not I would call quality customer service.
• The Panthers had their seventh sellout of the season Saturday against the Penguins – after having just five all of last year. Their tickets-sold count is up more than 3,400 per game.
• Amanda Kessel, the sister of Penguins forward Phil Kessel, has returned to play at the University of Minnesota after being off the ice since suffering a concussion at the 2014 Sochi Olympics. Prior to this season, Minnesota officials said they expected Kessel to again stay off the ice and not play in her final season of NCAA eligibility, but she returned Friday night against North Dakota.
Kessel led Minnesota to a 41-0 record and a national title in 2013, and won the Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award (the women’s hockey Heisman) after leading the nation in scoring with 46 goals and a career-high 101 points. She redshirted in 2013-14 to barnstorm with the national team in preparation for the Olympics and sat out last year due to the concussion.