Rick Nash's legacy, handicapping the Calder race, more in our roundtable
Every Wednesday, a trio of SI.com staffers sits down for a discussion of the hockey world's hot button issues. This week, Brian Cazeneuve, Sarah Kwak and Al Muir talk about the the value of Rick Nash—the subject of a feature story in this week's issue of Sports Illustrated magazine—and his regular-season success, the impact of Kevin Shattenkirk's injury on the Blues, and the suddenly crowded field of contenders for the Calder Trophy.
• The stellar play of Rick Nash has been one of the best stories of the year, but is a strong regular season enough to restore his reputation? Or does he, like Penguins netminder Marc-Andre Fleury, need to follow it up with an exceptional playoff performance?
As good as the Blues’ defense has been almost across the board this season, the team took a big hit when Shattenkirk went down against Washington. He’s second to Mark Giordano in scoring by defensemen and he has been the quarterback of the Blues’ power play, which ranks second in the league. That will put an extra burden on Alex Pietrangelo, who is also having an excellent season. But frankly, Shattenkirk’s two-way game has had him in the Norris discussion for a while now and nobody else can fill those shoes, especially for 23 minutes a night. The Blues will slide Chris Butler into the lineup for a while and this may finally force them to give Petteri Lindbohm a closer look, too. St. Louis has grabbed at least a point in a franchise record 12 straight games and been getting great goaltending lately from Brian Elliott, which I think makes it less likely that Doug Armstrong would push the panic button with a trade unless Shattenkirk’s condition worsens or the GM feels the trade would help the club anyway. Somebody is going to make a move for Toronto's Cody Franson, but with a backline that also includes Jay Bouwmeester, Carl Gunnarsson, Barret Jackman and underrated Ian Cole, the Blues can afford to wait it out.
I'd say the blood pressure readings are a little more elevated in St. Louis than you guys think. Look what happened to Boston when Zdeno Chara went down. Granted, they were thinner on the blueline and had other injury issues as well, but their extended struggles show how tough it is to replace the cornerstone of a team's defense. Shattenkirk has taken his game to a new level this season, especially on that power play where his puck handling and playmaking skills rank him among the best quarterbacks in the league. Those plays now will be run through Pietrangelo (who has been less than excellent in my opinion), with a new point man (Alex Steen?). That's nowhere near as imposing and it could be a heavy hit on a team that relies on the power play for nearly 27% of its offense. And I think it'll be Cole who gets the heavier duty instead of Butler. Despite countless chances Butler has never really shown himself to be anything but a tweener, so that's hardly encouraging.
I'm not saying the Blues fall off the map, but this is going to hit them harder than you guys think.
• With several intriguing candidates emerging from the pack, the Calder Trophy race might be a lot closer than it appeared a month ago. How do you handicap it going down the stretch?
I still like Filip Forsberg for the award, with all due respect to Aaron Ekblad and Johnny Gaudreau. I like what I’ve seen from Michael Hutchinson and Petr Mrazek this season. Both goalies have made the most of their chances to step into voids and perform especially well. But the Predators have made a huge leap this season, thanks to many factors (new coach and philosophy; great play, as expected, from Pekka Rinne and Shea Weber), but the team wouldn’t be where it is without Forsberg.
I'll give a tip of the cap here to Dallas's John Klingberg. He got off to a late start, but the award voters have always been influenced by "what have you done for me lately?" If he finishes strong, anything is possible. He's coming off a 13-point January that earned him Rookie of the Month honors and, like Ekblad, he's been the most reliable defender on his team on most nights. His poise under pressure and ability to consistently get the puck to the net is remarkable for a 22-year-old. All that said, I see him fourth right now behind Forsberg, Ekblad and Gaudreau, but that order will be fluid down the stretch.