DENVER – At 23, in his third season in the NHL, Cale Makar is confirmed as one of the best defenders in the league this year.
His 28 goals brought him first place 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 selection in the 2017 draft – Nico Hischier was drafted first overall by the Devils, Nolan Patrick second by the Flyers and Miro Heiskanen third by the Stars – Cale Makar became the first NHL defender to score at least 25 goals and join 55 assists on regular season by Al MacInnis in 1990-91.
In the playoffs, Makar garnered so much attention with his outstanding performances that he is no longer considered just one of the NHL’s best defenders, but one of the best players on the circuit.
But there is more. But it gets better.
Having eclipsed Roman Josi in the first round of the playoffs with a historic three-goal, 10-point production in the Preds’ Avalanche sweep, Makar has been described as the best defender since Bobby Orr’s heyday who is not only regarded as the best defender of all time, but perhaps the best player, period.
It’s too much? Is it too fast? Time will tell.
But Makar’s offensive stats open the door to that kind of confrontation, however premature and perhaps a little exaggerated it may be.
With 12 goals and 53 points after 50 career playoff games, Makar averages 1.06 points per game.
Bobby Orr is the only defender in history – minimum 40 games played – to beat him with an average of 1.24 points collected per game. Brian Leetch is in third place with an average production of 1.02 per game.
After 15 playoff games this season, Cale Makar already boasts five games in which he has three or more points. To give an idea of the size of this statistic, Makar shares second place in history – among defenders – with Denis Potvin who accomplished the feat in 1981. Paul Coffey leads with six or more three-point games in 1985 spring playoffs with the Edmonton Oilers.
Another eloquent highlight: the five points (one goal) scored by Makar in the fourth and final game of the Western Final won by the Avalanche at the expense of the Edmonton Oilers represent an NHL record in the part of a decisive match.
Duel Hedman vs Makar
In the first round Cale Makar eclipsed Roman Josi, one of his two rivals in the race for the Norris Trophy awarded to the best defender of last season.
Now in the grand finale, Makar meets his second rival in Norris’ race: Victor Hedman.
Good! The duel between the two defenders will have no impact on the results of the Norris Trophy race that Makar could add to the Calder Trophy received at the end of his first season with Avalanche. The votes have already been counted and the results will be announced in Tampa on June 21.
But this duel could allow Makar to overcome what is considered by many to be the best defender in the NHL right now.
During the first match of the final on Wednesday, the young defender also won the first round of this duel between himself and veteran Hedman.
It is true that the giant defender picked up an assist while Makar was left out in the 4-3 win snatched by Avalanche in extra time. But looking closely at the work of the two defenders, we noticed a lot more bad plays, turnovers, missed passes and slightly weaker positioning in the defensive zone by Hedman than by the one who is about to overcome it.
Hedman was caught out of position by Andre Burakovsky’s winning goal after the Lightning main defender missed a breakout and young teammate Mikhail Sergachev also lost the puck in the Lightning breakout.
Makar also fished. He let himself be hypnotized by Nikita Kucherov who worked magic to prepare the second “Bolts” goal scored by Ondrej Palat.
“I was lazy on this game because I never came back to protect the slot. I lacked focus and it shouldn’t happen again, “admitted the young full-back who shows the maturity of a veteran with 10, 12, 15 seasons in the NHL.
Makar also saw all nine shots he made blocked on the defensive (six) or missed (three). This will not stop him from shooting as much as possible on Saturday in the second match of the final.
“You have to give credit to the lightning bolt. They play very well on the defense. It will be necessary to take the means so that the discs are not stuck in the forefront, but at the same time it is sometimes more favorable to distribute the disc than to shoot. We will take the means to be more effective “, assured Makar.
Best duo on the circuit
Is Cale Makar already better than Victor Hedman? Which Roman Josi? Is he really already, at 23, the closest thing to the illustrious Bobby Orr?
Responses will fluctuate according to the level of mutual partisanship.
What is undeniable, however, is that Makar and his extraordinary workmate make up the best defensive duo in the NHL.
At least in my eyes.
Lurking in the shadow of his young teammate, Devon Toews is a true silent force. He perfectly complements his mate who doesn’t understand why all the attack is focused on him when his Toews deserved so much attention.
“Devon is one of the best defenders in the League. However he is in my eyes. And his name should be mentioned much more often in the individual praise race, ”Makar replied when I asked him on Tuesday, during the big media day, to tell me about his teammate.
“He’s good at all facets of the game. We really form a duo that compliments each other perfectly. He’s one of the great people responsible for our success in the season and since the start of the playoffs.”
Acquired by the New York Islanders in October 2020 in exchange for two round two picks – one in 2021 and the other to be selected in July in Montreal – Toews has flourished 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 register a +100 differential. If it is true that the pluses and minuses do not always indicate the truth and only the truth, it is better to be +100 than -100 let’s say …
At 28, this choice of the fourth round (108And selection) in 2014 puts the islanders in a bad light, who let him go because he had to reduce their payroll and also to make room for Zdeno Chara.
And Devon Toews isn’t offended at all to evolve in Makar’s shadow.
“It helps a lot to play with Cale and to be honest, I like this situation where I have less attention than him,” admitted Toews.
Immediately reunited, Makar and Toews quickly developed a bond which, combined with their respective talents, allowed them to compose one of the best duos in the NHL. Perhaps the best.
“It’s not like I’m the only one supporting the attack while Devon stays behind. We both like to charge in the offensive zone. Orchestrate the attacks. Take shots. We quickly learned to anticipate each other’s intentions well to avoid abandoning our primary role, which is to defend our territory, ”said Cale Makar.
Avalanche manager Jared Bednar ensures that his defenders always have the green light to support the attack. A privilege that extends to all full backs and not just to the members of the first duo. “It is clear that Cale and Devon benefit more than a Jack Johnson. But they all have the right to run and it is up to the forwards to be vigilant and see when it is time for one of them to take the lead on the defensive.
In the first game on Wednesday, Cale Makar made 33 appearances for a total of 28 minutes and 50 seconds of use. He was by far the most used player of both teams.
Toews had the same number of appearances, but spent three minutes less on the ice. Its 25 min 36 s of use are however superior to all uses of Lightnting readers.
In 15 games since the start of the playoffs, Makar has played 12 games of 25 minutes or more. Fingers: 10.
Cale Makar has played in eight 28+ minute games; four of 29 minutes and one of more than 30 minutes. Devon Toews played three minutes of 28+, two of 29+ and one of 30+.
To say I’m still on track is no exaggeration.
Landing in front of reporters on Friday morning after the Avalanche rehearsal, Devon Toews and Cale Makar showed some hesitation when I asked them to reveal the best quality of their workmate and a fault, if there was any.
“On the runway or out? Because if it’s off the ice, I don’t know where to start, ”Toews said with a laugh.
“What strikes me most about Cale is how he always shows the same determination in everything he does on the ice, both in training and in the game. He works hard every day,” added the defender who plays to the left of this duo.
With a seriousness reminiscent of that of Jonathan Toews, the captain of the Chicago Blackhawks, Cale Makar also highlighted the commitment of his teammate. I could show off many qualities, but consistency in my commitment and in the way I play is essential for success. When we jump on the ice, I know that I will benefit from my partner’s total commitment.
And the defects?
“I’ll be embarrassed a little,” concluded Devon Toews, quickly leaving the interview table …