William Nylander or Auston Matthews?
When it eventually comes time to negotiate a new contract with Mitch Marner, who will be used as a comparable?
At this time last year, the answer would have been Nylander after he and Marner finished with identical 61-point rookie seasons. But that’s isn’t the case this year.
Marner, who headed into Wednesday night’s game with a team-leading 65 points in 76 games, has three more goals and 11 more points than Nylander. In a two-year span, his 126 points in 153 games (0.82 points per game) is closer to Matthews’ 122 points in 138 games (0.88) than it is Nylander’s 115 points in 157 games (0.73).
As a centre, Matthews plays a more valuable position than Marner and is arguably a more complete player. He also has far more goals (69, compared to Marner’s 39), more even-strength points (93, compared to Marner’s 79), and a far better plus-minus (plus-22 compared to Marner’s minus-3).
Then again, Chicago’s Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane are two completely different players who don’t play the same position. And they received identical eight-year, $84-million contracts in 2015-16.
And while Matthews and Nylander have played together on a top line for the last two seasons, Marner spent the first few months of this year in coach Mike Babcock’s doghouse, averaging fourth-line minutes alongside Matt Martin and Dominic Moore.
It wasn’t until the All-Star break, when Marner was elevated to a line with Nazem Kadri and Patrick Marleau, that the 20-year-old burst out offensively. Since then, he ranks just outside the top 10 in scoring with 13 goals and 31 points in 25 games. And he’s doing it while averaging two fewer minutes per game than Matthews.
“Naz and Patty have been fun to play with, it’s been great,” said Marner, who admitted the start to the season weighed on his confidence. “You can get frustrated pretty quickly. I think that’s the thing I was doing. I was getting frustrated.”
First things first: the Leafs have to re-sign Nylander, whose entry-level contract expires on July 1, making him a restricted free agent.
He won’t come cheap. Expect the 21-year-old to use Boston’s David Pastrnak (six years, $40 million) as a comparable. The following year, it gets even more difficult with Matthews and Marner both in need of new contracts.
For Matthews, the number probably lies somewhere between Connor McDavid’s eight-year, $100-million contract and Jack Eichel’s eight-year, $80-million deal. And as long as Marner continues to produce at an elite level, there isn’t a reason why he shouldn’t be demanding the same.
• It’s the time of year when teams start signing players NCAA free agents. But while the Sabres (Casey Mittelstadt) and the Blackhawks (Dylan Sikura) have nothing to lose in giving up a roster spot to kid straight out of college, it’s a different scenario for the ninth-place Panthers, who expect 20-year-old Henrik Borgstrom to make his NHL debut on Thursday.
“We feel that he’s ready to be a good pro — not just a pro,” head coach Bob Boughner said of their 2016 first-round pick, who had 52 points in 40 games for the University of Denver. “I think if anything, it’s going to help us. It’s going to inject some youth and enthusiasm and fresh legs into our lineup at this time of year.”
• Florida’s Aaron Ekblad is tied for second among defenceman with 15 goals. He said a big reason for his offensive success this season occurred in the summer, when he sought out the skills/skating coach who has been working with Connor McDavid, Taylor Hall and Mathew Barzal.
Ekblad, who was one of the few defencemen at the Power Edge Pro camp, not only improved his speed, footwork and stick-handling, but he also learned how to counter some of the deception techniques the top forwards use. “With all the guys I saw at that camp in the summer, when I play against them I notice them using it,” he said. “The defensive game is extremely difficult these days. It’s all about knowing what’s coming.”
• No GM has a perfect trade record, but Peter Chiarelli’s looks particularly bad right now. Three of the top 10 scorers (Blake Wheeler, Phil Kessel and Taylor Hall) are players he traded during his time in Boston and Edmonton, while Tyler Seguin is ranked 22nd, and Islanders forward Jordan Eberle has 22 more points than Ryan Strome, who he was swapped for in the off-season. In other words, this might be a bad time to consider moving Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.
• I don’t know what’s more surprising: that the Devils are in a playoff spot or that it’s backup goalie Keith Kinkaid — not Cory Schneider — leading the charge. Kinkaid has won his last three starts, and Schneider hasn’t won a game since Dec. 27. Wonder if the Devils, who have 21-year-old Mackenzie Blackwood in their system, consider moving Schneider in the summer. If so, I wonder if the Canucks would be interested in taking him and his $6-million salary back.
• It’s hindsight, but why didn’t the Calgary Flames insist that the first-rounder they gave up in the Travis Hamonic trade be lottery protected? Flames president Brian Burke should have known better. The worst part about that is Calgary could have been in a position to draft Matthew Tkachuk’s brother Brady. Can you imagine?
• For the second straight year, the Blues were sellers at the trade deadline. And for the second straight year, it looks like it will lead to a playoff spot. St. Louis, which traded Kevin Shattenkirk to Washington last year, is 9-3-1 since trading Paul Stastny to Winnipeg. That’s not an indictment of Stastny, who has 10 points in 13 games since joining the Jets and has looked terrific on a line with Patrik Laine and Nikolaj Ehlers.
• With a little more than a week before the start of the playoffs, I’ve narrowed down my Stanley Cup contenders to the following five teams: Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh, Nashville, Winnipeg and Toronto. Coincidentally, I wouldn’t be surprised if any of those teams bows out in the first round. Vegas isn’t in my list of contenders for one reason: I’m still not sold on them. I hope I’m wrong, but if the Golden Knights see the Ducks in the first round, I’m predicting a four-game upset.
• Chasing down a playoff spot in the last stretch of the season, Ekblad admitted he was scoreboard watching on Tuesday night when New Jersey came from behind and beat Carolina 4-3. With the win, the Devils moved three points ahead of the Panthers for the final wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference.
“Absolutely, we’re all thinking about it,” Ekblad said of the playoff race.
And yet, the only team Ekblad really had to worry about was his own.
Heading into Wednesday night’s game against the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Panthers had two games in hand on Devils and three games in hand on the Philadelphia Flyers, who held a five-point lead on the first wild-card spot.
As Ekblad said, “If we win out the rest of our games, we’ll have more points than them. So our fate is in our hands.”
Of course, it’s not so simple when you look at who those teams have left on their schedules.
Philadelphia, 90 points
Games remaining: 5
It was a month ago when the Flyers looked like they might win the Metropolitan Division. On Wednesday, they headed into Colorado hanging on for dear life. The good news is that aside from Boston, Philadelphia’s remaining games are against non-playoff teams that have more incentive to lose out for a lottery pick.
New Jersey, 88 points
Games remaining: 6
New Jersey, which is riding a three-game winning streak, recently defeated Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh. Based on its strength of schedule, there’s every reason to believe the winning should continue as the Devils are 8-2-3 this season against it upcoming opponents.
Florida, 85 points
Games remaining: 8
Five of Florida’s remaining eight games are against likely playoff teams, including three against the Bruins. Playing against teams that have already clinched can sometimes be an advantage, but chances are Boston will be battling Tampa Bay for top spot in the East.
• Is it “Falling for Dahlin” or “All in for Dahlin”? Either way, with the season winding down the focus for non-playoff teams has turned to the NHL Draft Lottery, which will take place on April 28 in Toronto. This year, there is even more incentive in finishing last, as the NHL bumped up the odds for the bottom-four teams:
Change in lottery odds
The last-place Buffalo Sabres have the best odds at winning the No. 1 overall pick and selecting consensus top prospect Rasmus Dahlin of Sweden. But as we saw last year, when the 27th-place Devils won the No. 1 pick and the 19th-place Flyers won the No. 2 pick, anything can happen.
Here is a look at five teams that need to win the lottery the most.
Despite finishing last in 2014 and 2015, the Sabres have never had a first-overall pick. With Mittelstadt joining Jack Eichel — and with Alex Nylander developing in the minors — the team could definitely use a defenceman.
The Senators will probably lose Erik Karlsson this summer. But the loss wouldn’t hurt as much if they can get another high-skilled Swedish defenceman. Who knows, winning the lottery might actually persuade Karlsson to think about re-signing.
The last time the Red Wings had a No. 1 pick was in 1986 when they selected Joe Murphy. Since then, the team has drafted in the top 10 only three times. So, yeah, unlike Edmonton or Buffalo, Detroit is due for some good luck.
New York Islanders, 24th
The Islanders also own the Flames’ first-round pick, so they have two shots at this. New York could lose captain John Tavares after another disappointing season, although the No. 1 pick could change his mind.
No, it wouldn’t necessarily be fair for the Oilers to win the lottery for a fifth time since 2010. But if we’re talking about needs, then it’s no question that Edmonton needs a Paul Coffey-like defenceman who can move the puck up to McDavid.
• Email: firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter: @Michael_Traikos