Besides the obvious – that all were NHL defensemen – Bobby Orr, Denis Potvin, Paul Coffey, Al MacInnis and Brian Leetch have a few things in common. All won the Norris Trophy. All were end-of-season all-stars. All have a Stanley Cup on their resume. All five are also in the Hall of Fame. But there also happens to be a rare statistical accomplishment that links the quintet of all-time great defenders: they’re the only blueliners in NHL history who have recorded 100-point campaigns.
Now, we’re not bringing this up as some sort of obscure fact of the day. There’s more to it than that. You see, when Washington Capitals defenseman John Carlson stepped out on the ice against the Ottawa Senators Tuesday night, he had recorded 52 points in 43 games. When he left the ice having posted two assists in the Capitals’ 6-1 blasting of the Senators, his stat line read 54 points in 44 outings. And that’s important why? Well, do some quick math and it turns out that Carlson, who currently leads all NHL defensemen in scoring by nine points, finds himself back on pace to reach the 100-point plateau.
Of course, talk of Carlson’s scoring pace is well-trod ground around these parts. We’ve dissected Carlson’s production, written about his potential to win the Norris Trophy and spoken to his teammates about the way he’s performed this season. But Carlson scoring at the clip he was earlier in the season, back when a few big games made it appear as though he was about to challenge the all-time scoring record for blueliners, was one thing. That we’re now past the midway point of the campaign and he finds himself once again in line to hit the century mark is another. And given we’re in the back half of the season, it’s about time we start wondering if Carlson has a legitimate shot at the mark.
That said, forced to put money down on it today, we’d likely bet against it. And hey, that’s not because we don’t want to see Carlson become the first defenseman since Leetch’s 102-point season in 1991-92 to put up a three-digit point total. Rather, it’s the reality that he’s only barely maintaining his 100-point pace and these things tend to taper off as we get deeper into the season.
Even if Carlson fails to reach 100 points, though, there are still some marks he’ll be chasing down, ones that, while not as monumental, are every bit as impressive. To wit, if he reaches 84 points, it’ll be the single-highest scoring season by a defenseman in the post-lockout era. If Carlson reaches 90 points, he’ll be the first defenseman to hit that plateau since the 1993-94 campaign when Ray Bourque led all blueliners with 91 points. And a 95-point finish would give Carlson the fourth-highest single-season point total by a defender in the past three decades. All of those are remarkable in their own right.
But Carlson’s point total isn’t the only on-pace number worth noting as we embark on the second half of the NHL campaign. Here are seven other on-pace totals worth keeping an eye on the rest of the way:
David Pastrnak, Boston Bruins – On Pace For: 60 goals
There was a time where 60-goal seasons weren’t that uncommon. Between 1980-81 and 1995-96, there were 29 instances of a player scoring 60 or more goals in a single campaign. Not frequent enough to call it an easy milestone to reach, but not infrequent enough that it seemed so unfathomable that a player would reach the mark in any given year. Now, though? Now a 60-goal season has become hockey’s version of a lunar eclipse. It happens, but it’s rare enough that it’s special when you see it.
And it just so happens we may see one this season. Though he’s only just on pace to reach the plateau, David Pastrnak’s 32 goals through 44 games puts him at an even 60-goal clip. Only Steven Stamkos (2011-12) and Alex Ovechkin (2007-08) have managed the feat in the post-lockout era. Helping Pastrnak, no doubt, has been his power play performance. He’s on pace to score 28 power play goals, the most in a single season since Mario Lemieux’s 31 in 1995-96.
Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers – On Pace For: 126 points
OK, so, let’s get this part out of the way: technically, if McDavid is able to maintain his current scoring pace, it won’t even be the highest scoring season in the past two campaigns. That honor would still belong to Nikita Kucherov, who set the post-lockout era record with a 128-point campaign in 2018-19. But does anyone for a second doubt McDavid’s ability to not only maintain this pace but increase it before season’s end? Anyone? At all?
There is not another single offensive talent who is quite as dynamic as McDavid and he has potential to have a multi-point game on any given night. As it stands, McDavid is already well on his way to capturing his third Art Ross Trophy in four seasons and he’ll be a virtual shoo-in to be named a Hart Trophy finalist whether the Oilers make the post-season or not.
Even if McDavid falls short of surpassing Kucherov and “only” finishes with 126 points, it will be the second-highest scoring season in the post-lockout era.
Cale Makar, Colorado Avalanche – On Pace For: 66 points
The Calder Trophy is basically a one-horse race at this point, and that’s even after you take into consideration that Makar has missed eight games this season. Right now, Makar – who, for the unaware, is a defenseman – is three points off the rookie scoring lead, two points clear of the next-highest scoring freshman blueliner and finds himself on pace for 19 goals and 66 points. That is significant for a few reasons.
First, it would make Makar only the 10th rookie defenseman in NHL history to eclipse the 60-point plateau. Second, it would make him one of only 13 defenders to score more than 15 goals in their rookie season. And most importantly, it would tie Makar for the fourth-most points by a rookie defenseman in NHL history. Only Leetch, Phil Housley, Gary Suter and Larry Murphy had higher totals in their first season.
If it wasn’t for those missed games, the Calder race wouldn’t even be a conversation. Heck, it might not even be one right now.
Zach Werenski, Columbus Blue Jackets – On Pace For: 30 goals
Werenski has been white hot in recent weeks. Matter of fact, there might not be another rearguard in the NHL who has had a better eight days than Werenski. Consider: on Dec. 31, Werenski celebrated the last day of the decade with a hat trick against the Florida Panthers, followed that up with a two-goal game two games later against the San Jose Sharks and then punctuated one heck of a run with another two-goal effort Tuesday against the Anaheim Ducks. That’s eight goals in eight days.
With that in mind, maybe pointing out Werenski’s 30-goal pace is a bit misleading. After all, prior to this week, he had seven tallies in 32 games. That works out to an 18-goal pace. Not quite the same thing. But, hey, his on-pace number is his on-pace number, and Werenski’s recent flurry of lamp lighting stands to put him in rare company. Only nine defensemen in NHL history have scored 30 goals in a single season, and only one in the post-lockout era (Mike Green, 2008-09).
Connor Hellebuyck, Winnipeg Jets – On Pace For: 2,100 shots against
The trickle-down effect of the Jets’ patchwork defense, which itself is the result of off-season departures and the unexpected absence of Dustin Byfuglien, is that Hellebuyck has had to be a workhorse for Winnipeg. At a time when goaltenders are being given more rest and second-stringers often take on more responsibility, the opposite has been true for the Jets, who have trotted Hellebuyck out to start 34 of their 43 games, and he’s appeared in another two outings along the way.
It’d be one thing, too, if Hellebuyck was appearing in those games behind an insulating defense that made his life easy. That hasn’t been the case, however. The Jets netminder has seen more rubber than any other keeper – a whopping 1,107 shots – and has turned aside 1,018 pucks heading into Wednesday’s action. As such, Hellebuyck stands to face upwards of 2,100 shots, which has only happened to an NHL netminder 60 times in league history. If he picks up the pace (or plays in more games), he could also post the 26th 2,000-save season in NHL history. The last to do so was Frederik Andersen in 2017-18.
David Perron, St. Louis Blues – On Pace For: 13 game-winning goals
The advent of 3-on-3 overtime has changed the frequency with which some players have accumulated game-winning goals in recent years, but that makes David Perron’s current game-winning goal pace no less impressive. A remarkable seven times this season, it has been Perron who has fired the Blues into the lead for good. The breakdown is as such: two of Perron’s winners have come on the power play and five have come at even strength. In addition, three have been regulation winners, the other four have been in the extra frame.
Now, maintaining a game-winning goal pace is a bit different from keeping up a scoring pace. Sometimes the game winners are racked up by nothing more than chance. If he scores to put the Blues ahead by three and the opposition score two goals to close the gap, Perron earns the game winner. That said, his consistent overtime contributions give him a chance if St. Louis continues to need the fourth stanza to solve matters.
If Perron can score 13 GWGs, he’ll be one of a dozen players in NHL history to reach that mark. If he somehow hits 14, he’ll match a mark shared by only five other NHLers.
Detroit Red Wings – On Pace For: 47 points
Late in Wednesday’s meeting with the Montreal Canadiens, the NHL basement-dwelling Red Wings authored a late come-from-behind victory on the strength of goals by Frans Nielsen and Filip Zadina. And it’s because of that win that Detroit’s on-pace total had a four-point swing. If they had lost to the Canadiens, the Red Wings would be on pace for 43 points by season’s end, and that would have made the already grim outlook on the remainder of this season just a tiny bit more bleak.
Granted, it’s not as if the win over Montreal offered any real glimmer of hope, even if Zadina scoring the winner was something of a bright spot in an otherwise forgettable season. In fact, even after escaping the contest against the Canadiens with two points, the Red Wings now find themselves on pace for 47 points. To put that into context, it would be the worst single-season point total for any team in the post-lockout era, a point total one fewer than that of the 2016-17 Colorado Avalanche.
But wait! It gets worse. If the Red Wings only maintain their current pace and finish with no more than 47 points, it will mark the single-lowest point total by any team since the turn of the millennium. The last team to finish with a lower point total – and one of only 40 teams with a single-season point total of 47 or less – was the 1999-00 Atlanta Thrashers.
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