Can one player really make a difference?
Of course, football has those high-priced quarterbacks bettors rely upon, and there’s the pitchers that dominate baseball’s betting action.
However, can a regular skater (not a goaltender) make such a significant difference that he can alter a handicapper’s thinking when it comes to hockey?
While the NHL takes a two-week break for the Sochi Olympics, we took some time to find real difference-makers with key players teams need to put on the ice to win on a consistent basis.
Patrick Kane, RW, Chicago: One of the NHL’s most durable players over his career, Kane has missed just 11 games in his career – and it shows on the Blackhawks’ ledger.
Kane, who ranks second on the team and shares ninth in the league in goals (27, including six game-winners), missed just one game this season (due to a family death), when the Hawks were shutout by Phoenix.
In season’s past, Chicago is no better than a .500 team when Kane is absent, so you better check on his availability. If he’s gone, so will be your money if you play the Hawks in this situation.
Sure, some may note Kane isn’t physical in the corners throwing checks, but some finesse skaters are needed to score goals. The only time I need him to be physical is when hailing a taxi in Buffalo.
Francois Beauchemin, D, Anaheim: Because he is hidden behind so many other talented teammates, Beauchemin is not a name that quickly comes to mind.
Usually players with more goal-scoring ability gain notice, yet the numbers don’t lie in regards to the Anaheim defenseman, who has lighted the lamp just once all season.
Not that one player can make a major difference, but we are looking for an edge, and his +26 rating ranks third in the NHL – not bad for a “nobody.”
In the 10 games missed by Beauchemin around Thanksgiving, the Ducks (an UNDER side) went 6-2-2 toward the OVER.
The only other time Anaheim has such a lengthy streak of high-scoring games came in early January, when Ducks F Dustin Penner was asked to take a seat due to a lack of productivity. His teammates responded.
Thus, if Anaheim needs to tweak the salary cap or make one last trade in a push for the Cup, here are two players who could receive new addresses.
Zdeno Chara, D, Boston: Here is one that had me upset: an opportunity to play Boston at pick’em against a much-less-physical Blues roster only to find out Bruins management allowed their All-Star defenseman to leave early for Sochi so he could be the Slovakia flag bearer at the opening ceremonies.
Chara, the B’s’ captain, knew he would have to leave early to do it. He talked to teammates. He talked to his coach and his general manager, who talked to the owner.
Eventually the Bruins came back with a question: Was it important to him?
“Of course,” he told them. “It’s a huge honor.”
With the team’s blessing, Boston (sans Chara) falls in overtime in St. Louis, 3-2. By the way, The Bruins are 20-2-0 in games in which he has a point. At least his country’s colors are red, white and blue, too.
Talking Wild Cards
Entering the Sochi break, the Eastern Conference finds Toronto and Detroit holding the final two playoff berths, but three other teams (Columbus, Ottawa and Washington) are just a single point back, while two others (Carolina and New Jersey) are a mere three back.
In other words, any playoff combination is possible. It’s a touch more clear-cut in the West.
Minnesota easily has the seventh bid by a full five points. As for the final berth, Dallas currently holds the ROW (Regular or Overtime Wins) tiebreaker over Phoenix at 64 points, followed by slumping Vancouver (63), Winnipeg (60) and Nashville (60).
Remember, because of ROW teams could be tied, but owning more victories is no longer an automatic to reach postseason play.
Contact Nick at [email protected].