Wayne Gretzky’s No. 99 is retired throughout the NHL not only because he is considered the greatest player in League history, but because the number and his name are synonymous.
Though there is no debate over the best player to wear that number, there are 98 other numbers with more than one worthy candidate. That is where the “NHL’s Who Wore It Best?” comes in.
NHL.com writers and editors have cast their votes, each selecting his or her top three for each number, with the top vote-getter receiving five points, second place getting three points and third place one point. Candidates will be debated, and the winners revealed, in a weekly, five-part series first airing on Sportsnet, NHL.com and League platforms each Friday at 5 p.m. ET, and re-airing each Tuesday on NBCSN (5 p.m. ET) and NHL Network (6:30 p.m. ET). NHL.com will provide the list of winners each Friday at 5:30 p.m. ET.
Each Tuesday on NHL.com, selected writers will each make his or her case for which player in League history wore a certain number best. Each Friday, in a companion piece, the debate will center on current players.
Today, the discussion is focused on the best player to wear No. 31.
Brian Compton, deputy managing editor
Billy Smith is regarded by many as the greatest money goalie of all time. It’s hard to argue, considering he was the backbone of the New York Islanders from 1972-1989, including their dynasty years, when they won four consecutive Stanley Cup championships (1980-83) and 19 straight Stanley Cup Playoff series. Allow me to repeat: They won 19 straight playoff series. During those five postseasons, Smith went 69-21 and was voted the Conn Smythe Trophy winner in 1983 as playoff MVP. By no means is this any disrespect to Grant Fuhr or Carey Price, two undisputed world-class goalies, but when you have such involvement with something that hasn’t been done since — and will likely never be done again — how can that be topped?
William Douglas, staff writer
Smith is right up there with four straight Stanley Cup rings. But Fuhr can flash five rings of his own from the Edmonton Oilers’ Cup wins in 1984, 1985, 1987, 1988 and 1990. His came playing behind offensive-minded Oilers teams that sometimes treated defense as an afterthought. Fuhr faced 24,371 shots in his 19-season NHL career, ninth-most among goalies. Still, he was voted winner of the Vezina Trophy as the best goalie in the NHL in 1987-88, when he was runner-up to Mario Lemieux for the Hart Trophy as NHL MVP. Fuhr, who wore No. 1 from 1981-83 before switching to No. 31, was a workhorse. He played in 79 games — 76 consecutively — for the St. Louis Blues in 1995-96, a record that still stands. Fuhr also scored 47 NHL points (all assists) and is tied with Martin Brodeur for second among NHL goalies since 1955-56 (Tom Barrasso, 48). Wayne Gretzky called Fuhr the greatest goalie who ever lived. I’m not going to argue with The Great One.
Rob Reese, fantasy editor
With respect to Smith, Fuhr and Curtis Joseph, I am taking the side that Price is the best player to wear No. 31. His stats and season-to-season consistency speak for themselves. To me, what’s even more impressive is his ability to remain among the best goalies in the NHL despite receiving average goal support. The Canadiens rank 17th in goals per game (2.74) since Price entered the NHL in 2007-08, yet he’s helped them reach the playoffs eight out of 12 seasons.
Sure, Price has had little goal support, but Fuhr rarely had the consistent defensive help that Price does and Smith did. To the Oilers of the 1980s, offense was their defense. They led the NHL is scoring, averaging 4.70 goals per game from 1981-91, Fuhr’s tenure with Edmonton. The Oilers were 12th in the NHL in goals-against during the same period, allowing 3.71 per game. Former Oilers defenseman Paul Coffey perhaps best summed up Edmonton’s reliance on Fuhr in the 2018 documentary “Making Coco: The Grant Fuhr Story.” “I don’t block shots,” Coffey said. “We need a better goalie.”
William makes some great points about the Oilers’ high-risk, high-reward style of play, and I also concede that there could be a recency bias with Price. But Fuhr did have the luxury of playing behind Gretzky, the greatest player of all time, and those teams had some of the greatest offenses of all time. With that said, Fuhr is a solid candidate and did bail out the Oilers on numerous occasions. But when I think of the best to wear a certain number, Price’s individual efforts on an average offensive team seal the deal for me. As for Compton’s mention of Smith’s postseason success, it’s hard to argue. Time will tell with Price.
You’re right, Rob. It’s hard to argue. In fact, it’s close to impossible. And yes, as Mr. Douglas points out, Fuhr does have five rings. One caveat, though: Fuhr did not see any action in the 1990 playoffs; Bill Ranford, after playing 56 regular-season games, was the clear-cut No. 1 goalie and went on to win the Conn Smythe Trophy. Give me the guy who carried the torch throughout the Islanders dynasty and came within three victories of five consecutive Stanley Cup championships. Billy Smith is the true No. 31.
Edited By Harry Miller
Source: – NHL.com
NHL Rumors: Canadiens, Maple Leafs, Red Wings, Sharks, Awards, More – The Hockey Writers
In today’s NHL rumor rundown, the NHL has officially honored a few stars with awards, putting any debate to rest about where the play-in points might go. In Montreal, the Montreal Canadiens got good news and potentially bad news. The Toronto Maple Leafs are adding a prospect to their playoff roster, and the San Jose Sharks have questions they aren’t quite ready to answer.
Montreal Gets One Player Back, Another Questionable
Montreal Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin revealed on Twitter today that forward Jonathan Drouin will be healthy and active for the team’s playoff series. Drouin missed most of the season due to a variety of injuries, and if he’s back and healthy, and anywhere close to the 2018-19 version of himself, this could be a huge boost for the Habs.
Unfortunately, the availability of forward Max Domi is in question. Bergevin spoke to media and noted that there are questions about whether or not Domi will play because he’s a diabetic, and team doctors may determine it is unsafe for him to join the team during the pandemic. Medical testing has shown that diabetics are 25% more likely to require hospitalization and while Domi has had no prior issues with his Type 1 diabetes during his NHL career, the Canadiens don’t want to take any unnecessary risks.
Bergevin also explained to Renaud Lavoie of TVA Sports this week that the team will not be issuing contract offers to prospects Allan McShane, Cole Fonstad and Samuel Houde.
Red Wings to Keep Blashill
Detroit Red Wings GM, Steve Yzerman noted on a conference call with media that he is not planning on making a coaching change at this time. Helene St. James of the Detroit Free Press, explained that Blashill signed a two-year contract extension in 2019 that carries him through the 2020-21 season. While his 153-194-52 record isn’t glowing, he’s not being held responsible for the failures of the team.
When he met with the media following the February trade deadline, Yzerman backed Blashill, saying it was unfair to judge him on the team’s record because of various factors, most notably the number of injuries (Larkin and Bertuzzi were the only Wings not to miss a game this season).
source – ‘Detroit Red Wings GM Steve Yzerman will keep Jeff Blashill as head coach’ – Helene St. James – Detroit Free Press – 05/27/2020
Maple Leafs Will Add Robertson to Roster
Toronto Maple Leafs GM Kyle Dubas announced on social media that 2019 top pick Nick Robertson will join the team for their playoff run. Dubas had previously noted he expected Robertson to battle for a position on the team next season but the situation surrounding the NHL now has changed things.
Robertson, 18, recorded 86 points in 46 games for the OHL’s Peterborough Petes and also starred for Team USA at the World Juniors. He may not play much with the Maple Leafs, but the thought is that he’ll get an opportunity.
Related: Every Stanley Cup Winner Since 1960
Sharks Coaching Situation
Amalie Benjamin of NHL.com noted that San Jose Sharks GM Doug Wilson said on Tuesday that interim head coach Bob Boughner isn’t guaranteed a job with the organization next season. Wilson notes, “We are still in the process.”
“I’ve talked to all our players. I’ve been talking to Bob quite a bit lately, talking about just how we want to play and some adjustments, and some things that were learned through not only our team this year, but around the League, what works and what doesn’t.
“So it’s a process that’s ongoing. Very difficult to come in and coach a team halfway through the year. You don’t necessarily have all the ingredients in your staff that you want around you. … I think he came in and did a very good job.”
Wilson noted that he also talks to Joe Thornton almost daily and they are continually in communication about their future plans. It sounds like Thornton will be back with the team next season.
NHL Awards Handed Out
The league officially announced the winners of the Art Ross, Maurice “Rocket” Richard, William M. Jennings, and Presidents’ Trophy today. Leon Draisaitl takes home the 2019-20 Art Ross, Alex Ovechkin and David Pastrnak will share the Rocket Richard Trophy, and Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak take home the Jennings as the goaltending duo with the lowest goals-against-average.
Catch up on all the latest NHL Rumors
At least two CFL teams unsure about playing games in 2020: report – 3downnation.com
It appears that not all nine CFL teams are in agreement regarding the 2020 season.
Sportsnet’s Arash Madani reported on Thursday afternoon that at least two privately-owned teams are unsure about playing a shortened season.
Per #CFL sources: There are at least two privately-owned franchises in the league unsure at the moment on whether or not they want to proceed with playing games at all this year. All three community-run teams are in favour of a shortened season. Story coming…
— Arash Madani (@ArashMadani) May 28, 2020
Playing games would allow the league to draw revenue from its television contract, but it remains unclear if fans will be able to attend games. Paying player salaries and travel expenses without gate revenue could lead to big losses for private owners, which could explain why some teams may prefer not to play a shortened season.
Madani also reported that all three community-owned teams — Edmonton, Saskatchewan, and Winnipeg — are in favour of playing a shortened season.
CFL chief financial officer and head of football operations Greg Dick believes a decision regarding the 2020 season must be made by August. Commissioner Randy Ambrosie hasn’t specified a timeframe, though he told TSN 1290 that the “drop dead date” is his to decide. He has also stated that the earliest games could be played is September.
The league recently allowed teams to reopen their training facilities, though there are a number of restrictions in place regarding usage.
A statistical look at the Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Columbus Blue Jackets play-in series – TSN
The National Hockey League’s Return to Play format is official, and assuming all goes to plan, we are about six weeks away from watching hockey once again.
The new format – in the event you live under a rock – will feature 24 teams in total, and will open up with a 16-team qualifying round. The opening best-of-five series offers new life to eight teams that were below the original playoff cutline, and should create waves of excitement for eager sports fans.
With such a significant layoff, there will be ample questions about preparedness for every team. But the good news is with 70 or so regular-season games logged, we do have a rather strong understanding of each team’s strengths and weaknesses.
To shake off the rust here, I will preview each qualifying round series over the next few weeks. Today we will start in the Eastern Conference, with the eight seed Toronto Maple Leafs taking on the nine seed Columbus Blue Jackets.
Regular Season Performance
One of the things that I think makes a Toronto-Columbus matchup so intriguing is that the teams are polar opposites.
The Maple Leafs are a high-flying offensive team with loads of superstar talent up front, and carried one of the league’s more prolific offences through the regular season. Toronto’s 3.4 goals per game was actually third in the league, trailing only Tampa Bay (3.5) and Washington (3.4). Despite the wondrous offensive production, Toronto is still just an eighth seed – in large part because only five teams gave up more goals per game (3.2). Elite offensive team, shaky defensive team
The Blue Jackets live on the other end of the spectrum. Their 2.6 goals against per game was fourth best in the league – a surprisingly strong performance considering the exodus of talent from Columbus last summer. In many ways, it’s a classic John Tortorella team: incredibly disciplined in the defensive zone, with five-man units that show very capable in pushing opposing forwards well into the perimeter.
It’s also a classic Tortorella team because scoring was a problem all season long. 5-on-5 scoring and power-play production – which has been an area of concern for a few years now in Columbus – are ineffective, in large part because the team cannot create offence from the low slot:
Skater Overview (Goals Above Replacement)
There is no doubt that Toronto’s Auston Matthews is the best skater heading into this series. Matthews’ fourth professional season was absolutely electric, with 47 goals and 33 assists in 70 games played. The season stoppage ultimately barred him from chasing down the Rocket Richard Trophy, finishing just one marker back of Boston’s David Pastrnak and Washington’s Alexander Ovechkin.
What differentiates Matthews from a number of other prolific scorers in Toronto is that the Maple Leafs showed a semblance of defensive competency with him on the ice. Toronto was a full goal better than its opponents for every 60 minutes of even-strength play with Matthews on the ice – a number that compares to the likes of Mark Stone and Evgeni Malkin.
Consider some of the other Leafs attackers, and you have a very different story. Mitchell Marner (+0.0 goals per 60 minutes), Kasperi Kapanen (-0.2 goals per 60 minutes), and John Tavares (-0.4 goals per-60 minutes) are just a handful of examples of productive offensive players who traded off those goals because of leaky defensive play behind them.
Matthews isn’t the only player in the series to drive such an impressive on-ice goal differential, though. Oliver Bjorkstrand – the 25-year-old Columbus forward in the midst of his own breakout season – also finished a goal better than his opponents per 60 minutes, coming into his own with linemates Gustav Nyquist and Pierre-Luc Dubois.
But the story of Columbus ultimately centers on their blueline. The team’s top pairing of Zach Werenski and Seth Jones has become one of the most formidable defensive duos in the league, and Toronto’s top-six forwards are going to see an ample amount of both in this series.
The Jones/Werenski pairing is strong on both sides of the ice, and over the years it has led to some incredible goal rates. By season:
– 2016-17: +9 goals
– 2017-18: +16 goals
– 2018-19: -10 goals
– 2019-20: +14 goals
For Toronto to prevail in this series, neutralizing Columbus’ best units – anchored by the Jones/Werenski pairing – will be critical.
Goaltender Overview (Goals Saved Above Average)
The questions about how porous the Maple Leafs defence has been this season has been quite tough to answer, if only because the goaltending has been comparatively abysmal. For every scoring chance where the blueline left a Toronto goalie out to dry, you had another lifeless shot from the point that somehow found its way in the back of the net.
Frederik Andersen did improve as the season progressed, and the acquisition of Jack Campbell from Los Angeles did prove to be a major upgrade over Michael Hutchinson. Andersen will be the guy in this series, but it’s probably fair to say he doesn’t have the longest leash of goalies in the qualifying round.
In Columbus, Tortorella had tough decisions to make in the post-Sergei Bobrovsky world. His tandem of Elvis Merzlikins (33 games) and Joonas Korpisalo (37 games) proved more than capable, and were one of the biggest reasons the Blue Jackets stayed in the hunt this season.
But in a short series, the value of a rotational goaltender system is diminished – Tortorella ultimately has to pick one. The games played edge would seemingly give it to Korpisalo, but on performance, Merzlikins was a definitively better goalie. I would be surprised if the Latvian isn’t given the Game 1 start.
If anyone is still counting out Columbus after last season’s unbelievable sweep of the Tampa Bay Lightning, they are foolish. This is a strong, defensively disciplined team that’s going to scratch and claw for every inch of the ice.
But this Toronto lineup just has too much firepower in the forward ranks, and there are serious concerns about where the scoring will come from on the Columbus side.
The pick is Toronto in five.
Data via Natural Stat Trick, HockeyViz, Evolving Hockey, NHL.com
NHL Rumors: Canadiens, Maple Leafs, Red Wings, Sharks, Awards, More – The Hockey Writers
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