Surging Lightning, exploding Stars and Olympics (Puck Daddy Countdown)

(In which Ryan Lambert takes a look at some of the biggest issues and stories in the NHL, and counts them down.)

8 – No Olympics

This is stupid, right? Everyone but the owners agree this is stupid? I just want to make sure we’re all on the same page here. Because it seems very dumb. And therefore, exactly what the NHL wants.

7 – Not retiring

I was really sad this week to see Clarke MacArthur, who’s only played 66 games the last two seasons, isn’t going to retire despite concerns about his concussion history.

This is something you hate to see anyone mess with. His latest concussion, suffered in training camp, was his fourth. In 18 months.

I get that guys are competitive and they want to stay active and make money as long as they can, but man, there’s life after hockey. Lots of it, in fact. You gotta think about that a lot more than wringing an extra 80 games out of the league.

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Not to tell this guy how to live his life, but read up on Marc Savard or Kurt Sauer’s day-to-day and it’s a grim future if he suffers another one. When and if he comes back, I’m gonna be terrified to watch every shift he takes.

6 – The Rangers

Henrik Lundqvist being out as much as three weeks is probably bad, right? He’s .931 since January ended. That’s vintage Lundqvist. Maybe a little better. Having him on the shelf in the heat of this particular divisional playoff race? I mean Antti Raanta’s having a good season and everything, but…

5 – A Stars rebuild?

Apparently the Stars might be looking to blow it up? What?

This is a team that almost went to the Western Conference Final last year, right? Like, things haven’t gone that south that quickly, have they?

On the one hand I guess you can argue they have. The goaltending and defense were even worse this year than last — which, as I keep saying, is what happens when you let a first- and second-pairing guy walk in the summer and make literally no effort to replace them — but you watch this team sometimes and you get the feeling that with even passable goaltending they’d be fine.

Their two goalies have cost this team like eight or nine points in the standings, mathematically speaking. Eight or nine points puts them ahead of Los Angeles and first out of the playoffs right now. Still not good, of course, but it’s one fix that vaults you ahead of three teams in the West and seven league-wide.

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And maybe you keep one of those defensemen you let walk? That might add another win to your total. And maybe a bunch of guys don’t miss time, which happens to everyone but Dallas seems to be suffering even more than most non-playoff teams in terms of man-games lost to injury.

Believe me, I’m usually quick to say, “Blow it up!” for just about any team. I don’t think the problems are that bad in Dallas. They’re certainly not going to trade Jamie Benn or Tyler Seguin, right? And if they don’t, and they’re making those two players sit through a rebuild of, what, two to four years?

That’d be a shame.

4 – Two more MVP candidates

Listen, I have a lot of love for Nikita Kucherov. I have even more love for Brad Marchand.

But I’m begging you here: Can we not say anyone who gets really hot down the stretch here is an MVP candidate. Like, for once?

It’s a two-horse race. Maybe three if you want to throw Dubnyk into the mix (and he doesn’t keep sliding down the leaderboard). Crosby or McDavid. Those are your choices. And the answer is McDavid. So please, no.

3 – Erik Karlsson

Can we talk about how quietly the best defenseman in the sport over the past four years is putting together another almost-point-a-game season? Since 2011-12, he has 376 points in 411 games. And that’s with missing most of that season because of an incident that required a forensic investigation.

In that same time period, only 13 other players in the entire league had at least that many points. All of them are, of course, forwards. If you go by points per game over that stretch, Karlsson moves into the top 10.

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And here’s the real mind-blower. Even with missing all those games, Karlsson’s 376 points is the most by a defenseman, obviously, but the gap between himself and second-place Dustin Byfuglien is 95.

Ninety-five.

Ninety. Five.

Ninety.

Five.

That’s one smaller than the gap between second-ranked Byfuglien and 28th-ranked Justin Faulk.

Safe to say at this point: Karlsson is the best defenseman since Lidstrom and you might not see one better in the rest of your miserable lives.

2 – The Lightning

Let’s not all look at once, but a team that was a huge, huge, huge seller at the deadline is making a huge, huge, huge playoff push. As I write this after Monday’s games, they’re a point back of Toronto for the last wild card spot in the East.

And while “last wild card spot in the East” isn’t exactly a high bar to clear (92-93 points seems about right for the cut-off), they might just get there, or better.

After Feb. 2, they were 22-24-6. Of course that’s a seller. Why wouldn’t it be? But since that date, they’re 11-2-3. That’s obviously an unsustainable run of success but given the talent level on this team and the strength of schedule they’re looking at the rest of the way, I like their odds here.

The fact is they had just about every All-Star on their team have a down year at the same time. Well, at least a “down 50 games.” And Stamkos has been hurt all year.

I’ll tell ya, I wouldn’t want to play a team with the Triplets, Stamkos, Drouin, Hedman, Stralman, and Vasilevskiy coached by Jon Cooper in the first round. That’s a 1-8 upset waiting to happen. Especially if they play the Capitals ha ha ha ha ha.

1 – The Flames

Speaking of teams making big second-half rebounds, Calgary’s on 10 straight wins and it wasn’t so long ago that I was calling them one of the less impressive teams in the league.

But here’s the thing: This isn’t just a PDO bender (although it’s ‘not’ not that either).

This team legitimately looks completely different now than it did even in December, and that’s a pretty incredible two-and-a-half-month turnaround. In fact, since the start of December the Flames are 28-13-2. The early part of that is where the PDO thing comes in, and that includes a stretch in which they lost six of seven. But look at how well they’ve controlled shot quality since the new year:

That’s a pretty impressive swing, and while a lot of it has to do with Johnny Gaudreau breaking out of his dreary early-season slump (Gaudreau has 41 points in his last 45 games, and 14 in his last 10), you also have to say Brian Elliott is turning back into that goalie people outside the Blues’ front office thought he was.

Elliott is .925 since the start of 2017, and .935(!!!) since February. That’s gonna win you a lot of games. And hey, all of a sudden the Flames are second in their division.

Am I becoming a Glen Gulutzan believer? That’s weird.

(Bruce Boudreau still would have been a better hire.)

(Not ranked this week: Raising ticket prices.

Hey look man, you’re the Maple Leafs, you have a bright future ahead of you, you’re already able to print money because you know everyone in Toronto will pay whatever you want for seats.

So when you decide to raise ticket prices, as teams often do when they know their next season is probably gonna be a good one, that’s expected. But don’t lie to your fans.  

Ticket brokers are, of course, morally gross businesses and no one likes them. The fact that you can see a concert sell out on TicketMaster within seconds of on-sales, but then find those tickets on the same damn site for a 200 percent mark-up literally three minutes later is disgusting. Some vulture swooped in and bought 300 tickets, oh well.

The problem with the Maple Leafs’ stated plan — which, I’m gonna shock you here, is not the reason they raised ticket prices — probably does little to deter these bottom-feeders, who are only one step above professional autograph hounds. They now will only be able to buy 250 tickets and mark them up 200 percent. Sad!

Sports tickets are expensive due to scarcity and demand, not because ticket brokers mark them up after the fact. This really isn’t hard. No one is fooled by this.)

Ryan Lambert is a Puck Daddy columnist. His email is here and his Twitter is here.

(All statistics via Corsica unless otherwise noted.)