Wild's Matt Boldy is blossoming into a bona fide NHL superstar
This week, we look at several players making the most of their opportunities, a bright idea from John Tortorella, the slow shootout move, and more
Welcome to 10 Insights and Observations. Every week, I’ll use this space to highlight teams, players, storylines and general musings around the NHL.
This week, we look at several players making the most of their opportunities, the slow shootout move, a bright idea from John Tortorella, and more
Boldy contract looking better by the day
Players often need opportunities to take steps forward in their careers, and Matt Boldy is making good on his.
Kirill Kaprizov got hurt on March 8. He is the heart and soul of their offense and one of the best wingers in the league. That is a significant loss, to say the least. Well, Boldy saw to it that it wouldn’t be an issue.
In the 10 games Kaprizov has missed, Boldy has 11 goals, 15 points and is playing more than a minute more per game since prior to the injury. He has two hat tricks in a six-game span, and they are the proverbial "goal scorer's goals."
What stands out is how calm he is with the puck in prime scoring areas — he is aware of the time and space available to him and takes it. Lots of players, young ones in particular, rush chances and miss accordingly. In Boldy’s first full season, he’s two goals away from 30. We have talked about him before, but he’s 6-foot-2, 200-plus pounds, just 21 and has a great shot.
Next season, his seven-year, $49-million contract begins. It’s going to take him through the prime of his career. He won’t even be 130 games into the league when it starts and he’s already establishing himself as a prime-time scorer. This contract could be a steal for years to come.
Tortorella's fresh perspective
Loved this idea from John Tortorella:
John Tortorella will not be behind the bench tonight for PHI @ OTT. Brad Shaw will run the bench.
Tortorella decided to watch from the press box with Danny Briere to 1) get the perspective of watching from up top and 2) give Shaw the chance to coach the bench.
— Giana Han (@giana_jade) March 30, 2023
He is not the first coach to do it and he won’t be the last, but it would be nice if it wasn’t frowned upon. Getting a bird's eye view has value, especially for coaches. On the bench you are in the weeds of the game and everything is moving a mile a minute. It is fast-paced and you are focused on your matchups and keeping a pulse on your team. Up top? Not so much. The game is much slower, you can see the entire ice well and better understand the time and space.
We often hear of young players getting sent to the press box to get that perspective on the game — take a step back and view the game from up top. Why not coaches, too?
The Flyers have nothing to play for so it won’t get much attention, but there are going to be a number of teams over the final weeks that have clinched a playoff spot and have nothing to play for. Coaches benefit from taking a measured look from the top, detached from the emotions on the bench. The players benefit from hearing a different voice and shaking things up to keep the approach fresh. Plus it gives assistant coaches opportunities to develop. There are a lot of wins. These 82-game seasons are long, making this a bit of a breath of fresh air.
In support of the slow shootout move
The slow shootout move really is a sight to behold.
i love this so much and i love how much other people hate it even more pic.twitter.com/XeYHd4G6vS
— Liam McHugh (@liam_mchugh) March 30, 2023
You can go get a drink of water before he finally makes a move and shoots the puck. This season, Evgeny Kuznetsov is five-of-six in the shootout, and only Frederik Gaudreau has more overall shootout goals than him (though multiple others have also potted five). It works, and he’s not the only player to do it.
Patrick Kane in particular has also gone to the “slow shootout” approach and scored a number of times. You could put a shot clock on shooters but now not only are we making them play a shootout but we are telling them how to shoot, too? Spin-o-rama's were already banned and that perhaps played a role in this approach becoming more prominent as players had to adjust.
If we’re going to force players to participate in shootouts we might as well let them be creative. Some rules are understandable, such as needing to move forward at all times. But beyond that we should let them shoot as they see fit. If he wasn’t scoring he wouldn’t do it and it wouldn’t be a story. But he is so now it’s a topic of discussion.
Parise providing full value for Islanders
When the Minnesota Wild bought out Zach Parise, the logic was fairly clear. He had a $7.54 million cap hit and was performing well below that figure, and buying out the final four seasons of his contract allowed the Wild to open up both some extra cap space and a roster spot.
In his last season with the Wild he put up seven goals and 18 points in 45 games during the COVID bubble season. It was the worst goal per game rate of his career and the third straight year his points per game production went down. He also played just under 14 minutes per game.
Parise ended up signing with the Islanders in the summer of 2021 on a one-year, $750,000 deal with incentives that could bump his salary to $1.5 million, and he responded with 15 goals and 35 points in 82 games. He signed the exact same contract last summer and at 38, the value is there.
The Islanders are in the thick of the playoff race and he’s averaging over 16 minutes per game this season and leads the team in goals this month while the team has battled injuries.
Lots of stars struggle to age gracefully because the tools that made them stars deteriorate and they fail to adjust their games. Parise, though, has always been a player who never cheated the game and always grinded. And it’s not like he has completely lost his skill, either. There are some nice goals in here — a mix of odd-man rushes, crashing the net and a few shots from distance.
Playing mainly with JG Pageau, their numbers together are very “Islanders” as they are below water in shot share, ahead in expected goals and actual goals. Keeping things to the outside as much as possible but giving up shots defensively, while creating enough offense on the other side to produce.
All those miles catching up with Suter
Ryan Suter was the other player the Wild bought out back in the summer of 2021. His buyout was more surprising at the time considering he was still playing such a big role for the Wild, averaging 22:11 per game in his final season in Minnesota. He ended up signing a a four-year, $14.6-million contract with the Dallas Stars, which, unlike Parise, showed he was still held in reasonably high regard.
In his first season in Dallas, Suter averaged over 23 and a half minutes per game, which was second among all Stars players. This season, he’s still technically second but his minutes are down to 20:14. It’s his lowest time on ice per game since the 2006-07 season, his third year in the league, and the 38-year-old is producing at his lowest rate since his second season in the league. Suter's underlying numbers are all technically holding up well, as he's just ahead in shot share, expected goals and actual goals.
But he’s finally starting to show some wear and tear for all the heavy minutes he has played over the years. He has played under 20 minutes in 10 of his last 12 games. Miro Heiskanen is the expected horse on the team averaging a career high 25:37 per game. Then, minutes are divided between Esa Lindell, Jani Hakanpää, Colin Miller and Nils Lundkvist depending on the situation. Suter is 38 and has two years left on his contract to go.
Kapanen making most of fresh start
Kasperi Kapanen has had a rollercoaster of a career. It’s hard to believe he’s still just 26.
The son of a very good NHLer in Sami Kapanen, he had the pedigree and speed to burn, getting drafted 22nd overall by the Penguins in 2014. In 2015, he was a major piece in the trade that saw Pittsburgh get Phil Kessel from the Toronto Maple Leafs. At the 2016 world juniors, he scored the golden goal in overtime:
In 2017, he got his first taste of NHL playoff hockey and scored an overtime winner. When he played his first full NHL season in 2017-18, he had 20 goals and 44 points — both of which are career highs. Since then, the numbers have progressively gotten worse, save for the COVID-shortened season when he legitimately produced like a top six forward.
But he slowly fell out of favor and was healthy scratched for long stretches this season as he struggled to find a role and have any sort of consistency. He was widely available to acquire but with another year on his contract at $3.2 million, the Penguins couldn’t swing a deal. It happened quickly, but Kapanen was suddenly fighting for his NHL career and eventually was placed on waivers where he was claimed by the Blues.
Well, so far he is making his case with seven goals and 12 points in just 16 games, playing over 16 and a half minutes per night. He is shooting over 19 percent so he’s hot, but for someone who had seven goals in 43 games with Pittsburgh before the claim, this is a much-needed confidence boost.
The talent is clearly there — he can skate, shoot and has good size. What has plagued him is often mental mistakes and not understanding how to work with teammates to achieve success. In Toronto, he would often skate himself into the corner instead of making a play or getting on the inside. This is a much better shift with the Blues where he makes a smart pass around the wall, follows the puck and gets it back, makes a nice play to keep it in and executes a perfect give-and-go before scoring. That’s the growth in his game he needs to show consistently.
Vegas surviving without Stone
On Jan. 12, Mark Stone left a game against the Florida Panthers roughly 11 minutes into the first period. A few weeks later, he had back surgery and was ruled out indefinitely, although expected to make a full recovery and hopefully return this season. At the time, Stone had 17 goals and 38 points in 42 games, and the Golden Knights had a record of 28-13-2 through the first half of the regular season.
Injuries derailed them last season, would it happen again?
Well, since Stone got hurt, Vegas is top 10 in the league in points percentage and have a plus-13 goal differential. They have officially clinched a playoff spot, which will give Jack Eichel his first taste of the postseason. In Stone’s absence, Eichel has led the team in both goals (12) and total points (26). They have been scoring more by committee — at least nine regulars are over 0.5 points per game — plus they added Ivan Barbashev, who has been productive with 11 points in 15 games since they traded for him. Adin Hill has stepped up with a .924 save percentage and Logan Thompson has been good when healthy, too.
It hasn’t been all good, though. Their special teams on both ends have dipped. The power play has been unfathomably bad, clicking at 13.2 percent, third worst in that time. When Stone played, it clicked at 25.6 percent, which was seventh in the league. That is a massive dropoff. The penalty kill hasn’t been as steep, dropping from 78.6 percent (16th) to 74.6 percent (27th).
Stone can do a bit of everything and his absence is felt on both ends. His usual running mate, Chandler Stephenson, has just two goals and 16 points in 31 games since the injury. But Vegas has survived. They are back in the playoffs, and have found some new depth along the way.
Jarnkrok finding his groove in Toronto
Forwards can sometimes get hindered by being so good defensively. It keeps them down the lineup in checking roles and if they are versatile and able to bounce between center and wing, they typically stay in the bottom six and move around to fill holes instead of moving up the lineup to get more scoring opportunities.
Calle Jarnkrok is a prime example. In the final eight games of the season, he needs two goals to score 20 for the first time in his career. This is his ninth full season in the league. When a player can go down the ice, square up a defender and rip shots by both him and the goalie in one swing, you would expect he would have some goal totals to his name:
To be fair, he did produce at this rate in the COVID-shortened season. The next season he got claimed by the Kraken, who were simply a bad team, then got traded to Calgary where he was deployed as a third line center, which was not a good fit.
He has always scored more as a winger and has been exclusively a winger this season in Toronto. Starting primarily on the third line, Jarnkrok moved up to the “second” line with John Tavares and Mitch Marner and built some confidence. Now he’s up with Auston Matthews who is setting him up for goals.
If nothing else, Jarnkrok has a great shot and should use it more — his 1.45 shots per game output is below his career average. But now he has elite players setting him up for those shots and he’s cashing in in what should go down as a career season.
Giroux has been a perfect vet in Ottawa
When Claude Giroux signed in Ottawa through the age of 37, it was a homecoming for an aging star. The Flyers had some lean years towards the end of his time there and ultimately traded him to Florida, who won the Presidents' Trophy and went all-in at the deadline. For Giroux’s part, he had 23 points in 18 regular season games followed by eight points in 10 playoff games, though the Panthers as a whole had a disappointing playoffs.
While Ottawa hasn’t had the team success they hoped for — injuries to Josh Norris and their goalies really impacted that — Giroux has been a force. His 29 goals are the second most of his career (he does have the second highest shooting percentage of his career for what it’s worth). This is his first time putting up more than 70 points since the 2018-2019 season. He looks reinvigorated playing with Brady Tkachuk and Tim Stutzle and has a collection of highlight reel plays.
Stutzle has taken the next step in his development. Tkachuk is having a career season. There is something to be said for having a veteran who can still play helping to bring your young players along. It wasn’t too long ago that Zdeno Chara was paired with a young Charlie McAvoy, for example.
Brent Burns: Renaissance man
In the summer, the Carolina Hurricanes acquired a 37-year-old Brent Burns and Lane Pederson for Eetu Mäkiniemi, Steven Lorentz and a conditional third-round in the 2023 draft. With three years remaining on his contract, the Hurricanes had the Sharks retain just over $2.7 million of his annual $8-million cap hit, putting him at a $5.28 million cap hit. He has returned full value in his first season with the 'Canes.
Burns leads all of their defensemen in scoring and is going to end up being third on their entire team in production because Andrei Svechnikov got hurt, otherwise he would have finished a still very good fourth on one of the best teams in the league. For the first time since the 2014-2015 season, he’s playing under 24 minutes per game (23:10).
On a struggling San Jose squad he was asked, and tried, to do too much. On Carolina, he is surrounded by a very good, deep and structured team. Playing primarily with Jaccob Slavin, he has the best possession and expected goals numbers of his career at 5v5. Slavin is an elite defender and that allows Burns to roam free.
He pinches on the wall here in a tie game against the Rangers, it isn’t successful, and the Hurricanes have numbers back to support. Slavin plays the rush perfectly, blocking the middle lane and forcing the puck out wide, which ends the play.
A few shifts later he makes a beautiful fake then rips a pass for a relative tap-in to give them a late lead.
In the final minute, he closed the game. The value here has been exceptional. He has fit in well and still offers high-level offense.