Weekly Western Leaders (from March 2nd to March 8th)
Goals – 4 – Leon Draisaitl – Edmonton
Points – 9 – Gabriel Landeskog – Colorado
Shots on Goal – 23 – Timo Meier – San Jose
PIM – 10 – Mackenzie MacEachern – St. Louis, Nicolas Deslauriers – Anaheim
Best plus/minus – plus 7 – Duncan Keith – Chicago
Worst plus/minus – minus 5 – Matt Irwin – Anaheim, Mattias Ekholm – Nashville
Hits – 18 – Sammy Blais – St. Louis
Blocked shots – 13 – Matt Irwin – Anaheim
FOW – 51 – Jonathan Toews – Chicago
FOL – 43 – Jonathan Toews – Chicago
Giveaways – 9 – Duncan Keith – Chicago
Takeaways – 7 – Mikael Backlund – Calgary
Team 5 on 5 SH% (min 3 GP) – 33.33 – Zack MacEwen – Vancouver
Highest CF% (min 3 GP) – 74.4 – Valeri Nichushkin – Colorado
Lowest CF% (min 3 GP) – 26.3 – Josh Archibald – Edmonton
Highest PDO (min 3 GP) – 120.7 – Alex Galchenyuk – Minnesota
Lowest PDO (min 3 GP) – 71.8 – Logan O`Connor – Colorado
Save percentage (min 2 starts) – 98.2 – Connor Hellebuyck – Winnipeg
In part two of our look at the core three we will look at the remaining Western Conference teams:
The Wild are contractually committed to Zach Parise (35-years old), Ryan Suter (35-years old) and Jared Spurgeon (30-years old), till 2024-25 but need to get younger and better quickly. You certainly don't want your core average age to be these three at 33.33. In that respect, I would say their core three should be:
Kevin Fiala (W) – In hindsight, maybe Paul Fenton did know a thing or two, as the trade with Nashville (Mikael Granlund) is looking like a steal for Minnesota. Fiala is just 23 years of age and is on pace for a career high of 69 points. He has 14 points in his past eight games. He certainly has the talent to reach a point-per-game in the NHL over a full season.
Ryan Suter (D) – Suter still plays at a very high level and hasn't shown many signs of slowing down at his age. When Matt Dumba had 50 points in 2017-18, Dumba`s all-around game still wasn't up to what a team would like to build around as a top pairing defenceman. Suter buys the Wild about two or three seasons, to see if Dumba or Jonas Brodin can elevate their games to be the top defencemen on this team.
Jared Spurgeon (D) – Signed till the end of 2026-27, with a full no-movement clause (NMC) until the end of 2023-24, he is by default a core three member of this team. He is an expensive salary at $7.575 million AAV for seven years and he will be 37 years old at the end of it. He and Suter are a very solid pairing that complement each other very well, so if the Wild can keep Suter, Brodin and Dumba and Spurgeon healthy for the next three or four seasons, they are a pretty formidable top four.
Average age of core three: 29.33
This is a team in transition, which will need to re-tool on the fly as they are too good to tear things down for a full rebuild. They still are in the playoff battle, but that is a far cry from being a top contender, year-in year-out since 2014-15. I had written a Frozen Tools Forensics column on the team in March of 2019 (here), some of which has come true and some that has not (they didn't keep together their top four defence).
Roman Josi (D) – His eight year contract extension will kick in at the start of next season at $9.059 million AAV, with a full NMC for the entirety. He is head and shoulders the best player on the Predators and should be for a few more years. He's on pace for 76 points at the age of 29, and with 63 points in 68 games he has already set his career high in points.
Ryan Ellis (D) – Ellis is signed until 2026-27 for a very reasonable $6.25 million AAV and has no movement or trade clauses. If not for injury this season and missing 20 games, he would be on pace for a career high 63 points. He and Josi are one of the best defensive pairings in the NHL and should continue to be for a few more years.
Filip Forsberg (W) – He only beats out Matt Duchene and Ryan Johansen because of his age and his ceiling. There is certainly an argument to be made that his 0.96 pts/game in 2017-18 was the outlier and his average pace of 0.82 over the past three seasons is the ceiling. He has missed some time in each of the past three years but has still managed to consistently score 26 goals or more five years running and currently has 19 right now. I think Duchene and Johansen will both be vital pieces going forward but there will be severe regret with both contracts sooner than later.
Average age of core three: 27.67
Even before their improbable run to win the Stanley Cup, I had questioned their back end and the lack of depth, so I think it would be a big mistake to let Alex Pietrangelo leave via free agency. They did acquire and re-sign Justin Faulk to a seven year $6.5 million AAV contract, which seems pretty steep right now and doesn't leave the Blues much salary cap room to re-sign Pietrangelo.
Vladimir Tarasenko (W) – There is hope that he will return in time for the playoffs this season, but with shoulder injuries, the team and player will need to be prudent. Tarasenko has yet to elevate past the 75 point mark in his career and at 28 years of age, he is probably at his peak from 65-75 points and 35-40 goals each season. Even there, he is a very valuable piece to this team moving forward.
Ryan O'Reilly (C) – Conn Smythe trophy winners don't grow on trees and O'Reilly is signed until the end of 2023 (along with Tarasenko), and this appears to be the window for this core. He has backed up last season's 77 points and is currently on pace for 71 this year.
Alex Pietrangelo (D) – There is no doubt that another NHL team would offer him a very lucrative eight year contract on July 1st, 2020, if he hasn't re-signed with St. Louis before then. The big question for the Blues is, do they want to commit $9 or 10 million AAV for their 30 year old captain? I don't think they have much choice.
Average age of core three: 29.00
Doug Wilson made a huge decision on June 17th, 2019 when he re-signed Erik Karlsson to an eight year $11.5 million AAV contract. In hindsight it is obvious that the level of this team going into this season was overvalued by Wilson and knowing what we know now, makes it a poor signing. The Sharks have eight players signed till 2022-23 and the average age of those eight will be over 32. This is a team that is watching their window close.
Erik Karlsson (D) – Who would have thought that Karlsson would get injured and only play 56 games this season? Unfortunately, pretty much everyone had thought that. Injured or not, he is just not the same player that he was and perhaps he won't ever be again. He is still a transition machine and a force in the other team's end, but I just don't consider him a game changer any longer. I'd love for him to prove me wrong next season. He has become more Erik Gustafsson than Cale Makar in my mind.
Logan Couture (C) – Another eight year deal that went into effect this season is with Couture for $8 million AAV. He is a solid 65-70 point player that will score 25-30 goals year-in year-out if healthy. The Sharks just lack that 80-90 point ceiling forward that they hoped Tomas Hertl or Timo Meier would become.
Timo Meier (W) – He has had a step back from last season's 30 goals and 66 points, but he still leads the Sharks in scoring this season at the age of 23. He's a physical, scoring winger that most teams covet and he should bounce back in the coming years. The Sharks need him to.
Average age of core three: 27.33
The Canucks were exceeding expectations this season, until recently and are battling for a playoff spot with a very young, very talented core. I'm not even including Bo Horvat, Brock Boeser or Jacob Markstrom on this list and that speaks volumes to the three that the Canucks have ahead of them.
Quinn Hughes (D) – Coming into this season, the hopes were high for Hughes and he has come in and blown through the bar that was set. His zone exit and passing are second to none on this team and there is no doubt he is the best defenseman on this roster now. He had issues with down low coverage early on this season, but he adapts so quickly to any fault he might have, that it has not been as much an issue of late. The Canucks would be lost without him.
Elias Pettersson (C) – He has become stronger in his second season and is on pace for 80 points and should reach 30 goals. There have been fewer 'wow' moments this season but his game has grown in lesser noticed ways. There are very few players that put in the effort each night that he does. Last year he faded in the last quarter, but this season the Canucks need him to elevate them to the playoffs.
J.T. Miller (W) –He had a great start to the season and had 40 points in his first 42 games, which most people (including me) thought, his production would decrease in the second half. Instead he has raised his game even more and has 31 points in his last 26 games. His work ethic and strength along the boards in either end is well ahead of any other Canuck and he is becoming an elite player if he's not already there.
Average age of core three: 22.33
For a franchise in only their third season, it didn't take them long to identify a few players and lock them up long-term. Signed to at least 2024 are Jonathan Marchessault, William Karlsson, William Carrier, Nate Schmidt, Shea Theodore, Mark Stone and Alex Tuch. This franchise shows every sign of improving in the short and long term. How did they do this so quickly?
Mark Stone (W) – Vegas re-signed Stone to an eight year deal at $9.5 million AAV that has a full NMC clause. They are locked in tight. He is a bona fide point per game winger that tilts the ice in his favour. He is only 27 years old, so might be able to play until the end of the contract at a level high enough to remain a key player.
Shea Theodore (D) – I'm going to guess and say that Anaheim wishes that they still had Shea Theodore. He is signed to a very reasonable $5.2 million AAV until 2024-25 and he has blossomed offensively since joining Vegas in 2017-18. Not a physical player by any means, but offense will carry him far. He has 11 goals and 25 assists in his past 48 games (a 62 point pace) and has set a career high in points at 45.
Cody Glass (C) – Although he has faltered in his rookie season, with injury and inconsistencies, he has held his own in many regards and will be a very good player in this league. With William Karlsson and Paul Stastny ahead of him at center, his ceiling is much higher than those two and he should be on the top two lines in a year or two.
Average age of core three: 23.67
Even before Dustin Byfuglien was unable to report to the Jets, most people knew this team would be in trouble on the back end. The team actually did very well in hindsight in trading the rights to Jacob Trouba for Neal Pionk and a 1st round pick in 2019 that became Ville Heinola. Pionk has been much better than thought and is on pace for 52 points and more importantly is playing better than expected in his own end. This team is still stacked at forward and goalie and not included below are Blake Wheeler, Nikolaj Ehlers or Connor Hellebuyck (He would have been my first core three goalie, but my fear of goalies performing at high levels for many years prevented it). There is still a window for them but they need to patch up the defence in the next two or three years or it will close.
Mark Scheifele (C) – He has averaged more than a point per game for the fourth season in a row and will break 30 goals for the third time in his career. For a big man, he is not physical or a great 200 foot player, but his offense is special and that will help the Jets until his contract expires in 2024.
Kyle Connor (W) – He has only gotten better and better and in his third full season, he has already reached career highs in goals with 36 and points with 71 and is on pace for 84 points. He is a perimeter player, but is sheltered enough (59.5% OZ starts) that his contributions far outweigh his faults. He is signed until the end of 2026.
Patrick Laine (W) – I have to give credit to Laine as he struggled last season and it could have been attributable to an injury he was carrying, but he has played well this season and has become much better at five on five. Last season, at even strength he had 15 goals and 12 assists in 82 games, and this year he already has 19 goals and 26 assists in 66 games. That isn't to say he still doesn't have a lot of work to do without the puck, but he is making progress. He has 136 career goals at the age of 21, which is no small feat.
Average age of core three: 23.33
I hope this helps some people in keeper pools that rely on information that stretches a year or three into the future. These are the players that I would key on getting and holding onto with both hands. Sadly, I don't have any of them.
Thanks for reading and if you have any comments or suggestions, please let me know below and/or follow me on Twitter @gampbler15.