Makar-Toews: the best couple in the NHL (Chronique de François Gagnon)

DENVER — At 23, in just his third season in the NHL, Cale Makar confirmed his place among the league’s top defensemen that year.

His 28 goals put him first in the league among defenders. His 86 points put him in second place, 10 points behind Roman Josi, who had a stellar season with the Predators in Nashville.

Fourth pick in the 2017 draft — Nico Hischier was first overall from the Devils, Nolan Patrick second from the Flyers, and Miro Heiskanen third from the Stars — Cale Makar became the first NHL defenseman to score at least 25 goals and rack up 55 assists in the regular season since Al MacInnis 1990-91.

In the playoffs, Makar’s stellar performances have garnered so much attention that he’s no longer considered just one of the best defensemen in the NHL, but one of the best players on the circuit.

Not less!

But there is more. But there are better things.

After eclipsing Roman Josi in the first round of the playoffs with a historic performance of three goals and 10 points in the Avalanche win over the Preds, Makar was dubbed the best defenseman since Bobby Orr’s glory years, who not only considers the best defender of all time, but possibly the best player, period.

is it too much Is it too fast? Time will tell.

But Makar’s offensive stats open the door to that kind of comparison, premature and maybe a bit overblown.

With 12 goals and 53 points from 50 career playoff games, Makar is averaging 1.06 points per game.

Bobby Orr is the only defender in history — with at least 40 games played — to have beaten him, averaging 1.24 accumulated points per game. Brian Leetch ranks third with an average production of 1.02 per game.

After 15 playoff games this season, Cale Makar has five games in which he has three or more points. To give an idea of ​​the magnitude of this stat, Makar shares second place in history – among defenders – with Denis Potvin, who accomplished the feat in 1981. Paul Coffey leads by six three-point games or more in 1985 spring playoffs with the Edmonton Oilers.

Another eloquent highlight: Makar’s five points (one goal) in the fourth and final game of the Western Finals, which the Avalanche won at the expense of the Edmonton Oilers, represents an NHL record in part of a deciding game.

Duel between Hedman and Makar

In the first lap, Cale Makar edged out Roman Josi, one of his two rivals in the race for the Norris Trophy, awarded to last season’s best defender.

In the grand finale, Makar now meets his second rival in the Norris race: Victor Hedman.

Well! The duel between the two defenders will not affect the results of the Norris Trophy race, which Makar could add to the Calder Trophy he received at the end of his first season with the Avalanche. The votes have already been counted and the results will be announced on June 21st in Tampa.

But this duel could allow Makar to overtake what many consider to be the best defenseman in the NHL right now.

On Wednesday, in the first game of the final, the young defender also won the first round of this duel between himself and veteran Hedman.

It’s true that the hulking defender amassed an assist while Makar was ruled out of the Avalanche in the 4-3 overtime win. But as we closely observed the work of the two defenders, we noticed far more poor plays, turnovers, missed passes and somewhat weak positioning in the defending zone on the part of Hedman than on the part of whoever is about to surpass it.

Hedman was caught out of position on Andre Burakovsky’s game-winning goal after Lightning’s star defender missed a breakout and young teammate Mikhail Sergachev lost the puck in Lightning’s breakout as well.

Makar also fished. He allowed himself to be hypnotized by Nikita Kucherov, who used magic to prepare the second goal of Ondrej Palat’s “Bolts”.

“I was lazy on this game as I never came back to protect the slot. I lacked concentration and that shouldn’t happen again,” admitted the young full-back, who, with 10, 12, 15 seasons in the NHL, shows the maturity of a veteran.

Makar also saw all nine shots, which he either saved (six) or missed (three). That won’t stop him from shooting as much as he can in the second game of the finals on Saturday.

“You have to give credit to the Lightning. They play very well defensively. It will be necessary to take the means so that the pucks are not blocked in the first row, but at the same time it is sometimes cheaper to spread the puck than to shoot. We will take the means to be more effective,” Makar assured.

Best duo on the race track

Is Cale Makar better than Victor Hedman yet? Which novel Josi? Is he really the closest thing to the famous Bobby Orr at the age of 23?

The answers vary depending on the degree of mutual partiality.

What is undeniable, however, is that Makar and his exceptional work partner make up the NHL’s best defensive duo.

At least in my eyes.

Lurking in the shadow of his young teammate, Devon Toews is a real quiet force. He perfectly complements his partner who doesn’t understand why all the attack is focused on him when his toews deserve so much attention.

“Devon is one of the best defenders in the league. In my eyes anyway. And his name should be mentioned a lot more in the race for singles titles,” Makar replied when I asked him to tell me about his teammate on Tuesday, during the big media day.

“He’s good in all facets of the game. We really form a duo that complement each other perfectly.” He’s one of the big people responsible for our success this season and since the start of the playoffs. »

Acquired by the New York Islanders in October 2020 in exchange for two second-round picks — one in 2021 and the other being selected in Montreal in July — Toews thrived in Colorado.

Less productive offensively than his teammate — 13 goals, 57 points in 66 games for Toews, 28 goals, 86 points in 77 games for Makar — Devon Toews has a +2 differential. Together, Toews and Makar post a difference of +100. While it’s true that plus and minus don’t always indicate the truth and only the truth, but better +100 than -100, let’s say…

At 28, this fourth-round pick (108e selection) in 2014 makes the islanders look bad who let him go because he had to cut their payroll and also make room for Zdeno Chara.

And Devon Toews is not the least bit offended at evolving in the shadow of Makar.

“It helps a lot playing with Cale and to be honest I like this situation where I have less attention than he does,” admitted Toews.

Reunited instantly, Makar and Toews quickly developed a bond that, combined with their respective talents, allowed them to form one of the best duos in the NHL. Maybe the best.

“It’s not like I’m the only one supporting the attack while Devon stays behind. We both like to charge into the offensive zone. orchestrate attacks. take pictures. We quickly learned to anticipate each other’s intentions well, in order not to give up our main task, which is to defend our territory,” said Cale Makar.

Avalanche head coach Jared Bednar assures his defensemen are always given the green light to support offense. A privilege that extends to all backs and not just the members of the first duo. “It’s clear that Cale and Devon benefit more than a Jack Johnson. But they all have a right to rush and it’s up to attackers to be vigilant and see when it’s time for one of them to take over defensively.

In the first game on Wednesday, Cale Makar made 33 appearances with a total of 28:50 minutes. He was by far the most used player on both teams.

Toews had the same number of appearances but spent three fewer minutes on the ice. Its 25 min 36 s usage time is still superior to all Lightning player usages.

In 15 games since the start of the playoffs, Makar has had 12 games of 25 minutes or more. Toes: 10.

Cale Makar has played over 28 minutes in eight games; four of 29 minutes and one of more than 30 minutes. Devon Toews played three 28+ minutes, two 29+ and one 30+.

To say they’re still on the rink is hardly an exaggeration.

Landing in front of reporters on Friday morning after avalanche training, Devon Toews and Cale Makar showed a little hesitation when I asked them to reveal the best quality of their work partner and a flaw, if there was one to highlight.

“On or off the ice rink? Because if it wasn’t on the ice I wouldn’t know where to start,” Toews said, laughing.

“What impresses me the most about Cale is how he always shows the same determination in everything he does on the ice, be it in practice or in a game. He’s fully committed every day,” added the defender, who plays on the left side of this duo.

With a solemnity reminiscent of Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews, Cale Makar also underscored his teammate’s commitment. “I could show many qualities but continuity in commitment and in the way we play is essential for success. When we hop on the ice, I know I’ll benefit from my partner’s full commitment.

And the vulnerability(s)?

“I’m going to embarrass myself a little,” Devon Toews concluded, quickly exiting the interview table…

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