This condensed NHL season is going to create heavy debate on the award front.
For example, Marc-Andre Fleury is in Vezina Trophy contention. How do you measure what he’s done in the West Division compared to Andrei Vasilevskiy in the Central? It’s a crapshoot. Honestly, as detailed in this space before, Fleury is the Vezina front-runner and deserves this time in the spotlight.
The same can be said for any other award up for grabs. Trying to figure out the Most Valuable Player in an NHL season where teams play each other eight times is not ideal. Sure, Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl are 1-2 in points, and Draisaitl being the reigning Hart Trophy winner last season made sense. The Oilers were going to be a playoff team, and Draisaitl was the best player.
Can we honestly say McDavid and Draisaitl have been the best players? In the North Division, yes. But how do you account for the overall body of work they’d do in an 82-game season? You can’t. It’s near impossible.
This brings us to Mark Stone.
The captain of the Vegas Golden Knights had a goal and an assist on Monday, giving him a league-best 16 points in March, in the Golden Knights’ 2-1 victory against the San Jose Sharks. Stone extended his personal point streak to eight games and has five multi-point games in that stretch.
The Golden Knights played their first game after a six-game, nine-night road trip and came out successfully at 4-2-0, and though there were times it didn’t look pretty, Vegas rode the momentum via its captain to a win on Monday.
“When you come back from road trips, we had a long flight, time change, the hour ahead, we were a little flat coming out for the first 10 [minutes].” Stone said. “We got our legs under us. … Once we got our feet underneath us, we had a couple mental breakdowns, but overall, we started to push and make the game easier for us.”
No disrespect to our friends up north who cover the likes of McDavid and Draisaitl on a day-to-day basis. For as much Edmonton is lacking in playoff success, they’re getting fun hockey each night with those two.
That’s the kind of territory the Golden Knights are entering with Stone. Every night is a new highlight.
“He’s one of those special players,” said coach Pete DeBoer.
Stone’s 33 points lead all West Division players; only Los Angeles captain Anze Kopitar can lay claim to the 30-point mark in the division. Only Auston Matthews (seven) has more game-winning goals than Stone, who scored his sixth 1:02 into the third period Monday.
“It’s a rare characteristic and if you’ve got it, it’s a great thing to have on your team,” DeBoer said. “He has the ability to recognize moments and the most important moments in games, and he wants the puck on his stick in those times.”
Sure, the NHL needs goals and scoring to thrive. But a highlight reel of Stone taking away pucks like a thief in the night is just as enticing.
Stone has been in the Selke Trophy conversation the past two seasons, and it’s likely a third is on the way with a legit chance of winning it. Stone’s 28 takeaways trail only Draisaitl for most in the NHL, but his 3.72 takeaways per 60 are tops in the NHL among players playing at least 400 minutes.
It’s not even just at 5-on-5 Stone does his damage. On the penalty kill, with Stone on the ice, Vegas has had seven shots while only allowing five. There’s no reason a team should be shooting 58.3 percent on the penalty kill with a player on it, yet somehow it’s in the lexicon.
If there was ever a time for Jere Lehtinen to have company as the last winger to win the Selke, it might be this year with Stone.
But forget the Selke. Stone deserves to be in the Hart Trophy conversation, especially if the Golden Knights continue this pace they’re on.
Vegas is second in points percentage, trailing only the Carolina Hurricanes with a game in hand. In fact, they have games in hand on the top three teams in the Central that are top-four in the league (Carolina, Florida, Tampa Bay). If you’re a fan of the Presidents Trophy, the Golden Knights are in the running.
It’s one thing to have a really good player on the best team. Think of the Nashville Predators in 2018; won the Presidents Trophy with a lot of really good players, a stout defense, and great goaltending.
But here are the Golden Knights, once a team comprised of misfits led by likely the ultimate misfit. Hockey historians will look back at the trade with Ottawa in February 2019 and realize it might be the biggest heist in NHL history. The NHL player (Oscar Lindberg) isn’t in the league anymore, while the prospect (Erik Brannstrom) can’t find consistency in the lineup.
Stone just played his 108th game with the Golden Knights on Monday; those two points put him nearly at a point per game with Vegas in just over two years. The culture he’s creating is a rarity in Vegas right now.
He wanted to come here to win a Stanley Cup. Plenty of hockey left, but things look promising.
“That’s why he’s our captain,” DeBoer said.