Rockets Timberwolves preview

Rockets vs. Timberwolves series preview

The NBA playoffs are finally here. After a tumultuous regular season defined by injuries and shake-ups, we are bringing you some playoff previews before the first round begins.

An eight seed has upset a one seed in the first round only five times in the history of the NBA. The Timberwolves are hoping to make it six after breaking their 14-year playoff drought. The Rockets, however, are looking to continue their winning ways as they have their eyes on a title.

Here is a summary of the first round series between the No. 1 seed and the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference.

Regular Season Summary

Houston Rockets

The Rockets finished the 2017-18 season with the best record in the league, at 65-17.

Their offense was nothing short of prolific as they made their way to clinching the West’s top seed. Houston was first in 3-pointers (both attempted and made), second in points and second in free throws made per game, despite their jump shooting ways.

James Harden, the probable NBA MVP, played out of his mind this season. He collected 30.4 points, 5.4 rebounds and 8.8 assists per game. Not to mention he owns all of these stats despite missing 10 regular season games due to knee soreness. The assists are especially surprising because of the addition of Chris Paul, who is one of the premiere passers in the NBA.

Paul and Harden proved any doubters that this combination could not work laughably wrong. Worried that two ball-dominate guards could not operate in the same system, NBA pundits thought the experiment would go horribly wrong, as neither would be able to get enough shots to be productive.

Rockets Timberwolves preview

Harden and Paul congratulate each other mid game. (Photo by Troy Taormina/USA TODAY Sports)

Paul got his, however. He averaged 18.6 points, 7.9 assists and 5.4 rebounds per game, all while missing 24 games due to a multitude of injuries. The third piece of this puzzle, Clint Capela, averaged a double-double. Eric Gordon, Gerald Green and Trevor Ariza also averaged over 10 points per game in support of the Rockets’ big three.

Houston’s defense was no slouch either. The Rockets rank sixth in defensive rating, with a fifth place finish in steals. They also were in the top half of the league in blocks, opponents’ points off turnovers and opponents’ second chance points.

Being the No. 1 with the best record in the NBA does not lend itself to having many exploitable weaknesses. The most glaring issue, though, is Houston’s reluctancy to share the ball.

The Rockets are 26th in assists, which is decidedly bad. Obviously, it has not hurt them too much, as most every player on the floor can score at will. But the playoffs will test a team’s weaknesses in a way the regular season cannot. Not to get ahead of ourselves, but Houston’s main hurdle between them and a trip to the NBA Finals is Golden State, a team that shares the ball more than any other in the league.

Overall, coach Mike D’Antoni’s group has overachieved and then some. The main pieces are all healthy at the right time, and the stage is set for the Rockets to shake the woes that follow them into every NBA playoffs.

Minnesota Timberwolves

Minnesota, as previously stated, has broken their 14-year long drought, landing the last spot in the Western Conference playoffs. They had to do so by winning an instant classic, win-or-go-home overtime game against the Denver Nuggets. It is only fitting that in a playoff race as wild as the West’s was this year that the last game of the season would decide the eighth seed.

But the Timberwolves’ season was pretty wild before that last game.

Sitting as high as the fourth seed at the All-Star break, the wheels seemingly came off of Minnesota’s wagon as the rest of the Western Conference gained steam. As they started losing, the rest of the West had no problem racking up their wins and climbing up the standings.

The biggest harbinger of the Timberwolves’ disappointing second half was the loss of Jimmy Butler to a meniscus tear. Butler, at the time of his injury, was averaging the most minutes of any player in the entire league. He ended the season with an average of 36.7 minutes per game.

The problem for Minnesota was that with those minutes, came production. Butler scored 22.2 points per game on the season, almost six points above his career average. He was also the team leader on the defensive side of the court. As a result, the Timberwolves suffered on both ends of the floor when he was not playing.

Karl-Anthony Towns continued to be the brightest spot on the roster. He averaged a double-double at 21.3 points and 12.3 rebounds per game. Towns continues to get better defensively, although that is not really saying much as of now. He also posted an impressive 54.5 field goal percentage while shooting 42.1 percent from three.

Rockets Timberwolves preview

Jeff Teague shoots over James Harden. (Photo by Andy Clayton-King/Associated Press)

Jamal Crawford and Taj Gibson contributed well, despite their age, and were continuously counted on as huge pieces of the team. The rest of the roster, though, did not impress. Gorgui Dieng and Andrew Wiggins’ numbers were down from their career averages, and Jeff Teague was good while he was healthy, but was forced to take a backseat to Butler and Towns.

Finishing seventh in offensive rebounds per game and second in free throw percentage, the Timberwolves proved tough, even when overmatched by more complete teams. They also did not turn the ball over much, at just 12.5 times per game, which was also second-best in the league.

The defense was lackluster at best in Minneapolis. The team’s defensive rating landed them in the bottom 10 at 23rd overall. Cycling through the defensive statistics and seeing where the team finished in each paints a picture of an inconsistent defense. This is exceptionally rare for a team coached by Tom Thibodeau.

More pressing than any other issue that plagued the team throughout the season, though, was the awful bench play.

Minnesota finished dead last in minutes, points, rebounds, blocks, offensive efficiency and defensive efficiency. They also were in the bottom six in assists, steals and offensive rebounds. This is incredibly bad. The Timberwolves’ starters played more than any other group in the NBA, and it is easy to see why.

Even so, the drought is over, and the Wolves have been playing playoff-type basketball for the entire month of April. They may be tired, but they are ready to give Minnesota fans something to cheer about.

Breakdown and Prediction


Jimmy Butler will have his hands full guarding James Harden, but he may be one of the only defenders in the league who can do so efficiently. Clearly, no one is taking Harden out of a game completely, but he faces one of his toughest matchups here in the first round. This will be the biggest thing to watch as the series progresses.

Houston’s main goal should be to stop Karl-Anthony Towns from putting up the points. It would be a smart bet to take that the Wolves will run their offense through him, playing an inside-out game. Clint Capela will not be able to match his production, with Harden and Chris Paul taking the bulk of the shots. Defending Towns will be their only option in the paint.

Paul versus Jeff Teague is interesting, as both have different preferred scoring methods. Paul favors the mid-range game, while Teague likes to slash to the hoop. The points here should be a wash, but the edge still goes to Paul because of his incredible passing ability.

Wing play favors Houston heavily. Almost everyone on the roster can shoot from distance, and Trevor Ariza, Eric Gordon, Gerald Green, Joe Johnson and more will be waiting to pull up. The bench matchup is also a no-brainer. Considering that the Timberwolves have far and away the least productive bench in the NBA, all Houston’s players have to do is show up for the game and they already have the Timberwolves’ bench beaten.


The Houston Rockets are a buzz saw, and the Timberwolves, regardless of how great their story is, are on the conveyor belt headed towards it.

Rockets Timberwolves preview

Butler may be one of Harden’s biggest playoff challenges. (Photo by Andy Clayton-King/Associated Press)

Even if they were not one of the best NBA offenses ever, or slacked on the defensive end of the floor, the Timberwolves are an incomplete team. Thibodeau has always ridden his starters harder than any other coach in the league, but it is a different story when he has no choice but to.

Towns, Butler and the momentum that Minnesota has going into this series will be enough to carry them to one victory. The Rockets, however, seem like an unstoppable force, and it is going to take more than five players to beat them.

In the end, the Wolves’ drought is over, and that is something to celebrate. This team is probably trending upwards, too, if they can pull in some free agents. But the Rockets have their eyes on the prize, and this one should be over shortly.

Rockets in five


Featured image by Troy Taormina/USA TODAY Sports

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Why Kyrie Irving’s message to the Cavs makes sense

Just when you thought the NBA offseason was done, Kyrie Irving shocked the basketball world. As you might have heard, this past Friday, Irving requested a trade from the Cavs, in hopes to find a bigger role. Apparently, Irving would like to play in a situation where he is more of the guy, and not just LeBron James’ sidekick.

Kyrie is tired of playing Robin to LeBron James’ Batman, and has voiced that Minnesota, New York, Miami or San Antonio would be his preferred destinations.

So why does leaving a team coming off three straight Finals appearances make sense? Well, when you play with LeBron, and are on pace to be one of the best scoring point guards this game has ever seen, leaving is actually the most intelligent option.


Of course, everyone is so quick to say that LeBron is a problem everywhere he goes, and that he is the reason for Kyrie wanting out. If going to seven straight Finals is an issue, then please sign me up.

The relationship between James and Irving is not the problem (

LeBron’s past is what influenced Kyrie to take his talents elsewhere, not his relationship with James. James set a precedent back in 2010 when he originally left the Cavs to play for the Miami Heat. After four straight Finals appearances, he then showed again just how powerful the best players in the world can be by going back home to Cleveland.

These past few years, Kyrie has realized a few things. Number one, the Cavs didn’t get any better and showed no signs of doing anything to defeat the Warriors. Number two, the Cavs ownership has built the team under “win now” circumstances, which has destroyed the Cavaliers future. Instead of holding onto Andrew Wiggins, they demanded they get Kevin Love. After winning the championship, the Cavs gave horrible contracts to Tristan Thompson and JR Smith.

Quite frankly, LeBron has already delivered on his promise, which was to bring a championship to Cleveland. James continues to pride himself on never losing leverage, which is why he is yet to commit long term to the Cavaliers. This is not about the relationship between LeBron and Kyrie, but instead, about players looking ahead and realizing what the future will reveal.

How Cleveland’s antics forced Kyrie into this situation

Barring injury, the Warriors will again be NBA champions. You really think a 33-year-old James will want stick around in Cleveland after back-to-back Finals losses? Especially in a city that no free agent wants to even take a look at? Say what you want, but there is absolutely no chance LeBron stays with a team of veterans, and an ownership who refused to make moves to help defeat Golden State. In my mind, James will end up with the Lakers or Sixers, two young talented teams who James can lead into the playoffs.

Knowing LeBron’s past decisions and the fact that Cleveland is not a draw for top free agents, why in the world would Kyrie want to continue to play for the Cavs? If LeBron leaves, he would be stuck with a team of veterans with bad contracts.

Some people might wonder why Irving wouldn’t just play this season out and get one more swing at the Warriors. Irving, who has two seasons left until he can opt out of his deal, realizes how hard it is to get traded when you only have one season left on your contract. Just ask Paul George.

Teams either need a long term commitment, or pray that they can sell the player on their future plans. With two years left, Irving is already drawing interest from over a dozen teams. Speaking of George, the Cavaliers’ talks with him and Jimmy Butler are what most likely sparked Irving’s decision to want to play elsewhere.

The final straw

The final straw for Kyrie was when he found out that he was mentioned in trade talks for Jimmy Butler and Paul George. Why would he want to stay with a franchise that tried to trade him this summer? Do the Cavs actually think either of those players gives them a better chance than Kyrie, who has outplayed Steph over the past two Finals?

All this madness explains exactly why Kyrie Irving would want out of Cleveland. The team didn’t get any better, LeBron will most likely leave after this year and they even tried to trade him. Yes, the same 25-year-old who made one of the biggest shots in NBA Finals history.

Now that the Kyrie era in Cleveland appears over, let’s take a look at just how good this kid is.


Possibly the greatest NBA Finals shot (

Only three guards, before their age 25 season have scored more than Irving: Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant and Stephon Marbury, who Irving has already passed in win shares. Yes, Kyrie ranks fourth all time in scoring, for guards, before their age 25 season. He is on pace to be the best scoring point guard ever, and is extremely efficient.

For three out of his first five seasons, Irving averaged at least 21 points/5 assists/3 rebounds on 45 percent shooting or better. The only point guards with more seasons of those numbers are Jerry West, Steph Curry and Magic Johnson.

It’s scary because we probably haven’t even seen the best version of this guy.

His postseason numbers are what really sets him apart. At only 25, Kyrie already has two postseasons of averaging at least 25 points /4 assists on 46 percent shooting from the field, and 87 percent from the line. No other point guard has done this more than once, and the only other player to accomplish this more than Irving was Larry Bird, who did it four times during his Hall of Fame career.

Is his playoff success just during the early rounds? Of course not. While only playing in two Finals, Irving already has three games with at least 30 points/3 assists /3 rebounds on 55 percent shooting or better, which is most ever by a point guard.




Kyrie is also the only player in NBA Finals history to score at least 40 points on 70 percent shooting or better.

Like his decision or not, Kyrie Irving is going to go down as the best scoring point guard of all time. With already one ring on his hand, Irving has put himself in the conversation for best point guard ever. While eclipsing Magic will be hard, Irving could easily solidify himself as number two.

Where will Irving end up? (

When all is set and done, Irving, barring injury, could easily put up more points than any other true point guard. With one championship already, he will go down ahead of Steve Nash and John Stockton, two players who were unable to win a title.

All he is chasing is Isiah Thomas, not the one who is the worst defender in the league, but the Pistons’ star who won two titles, and Steph Curry, who Irving can dominate.

If Irving can win at least one MVP, and get back to being a champion, watch out.

Maybe the Cavaliers should have thought about how good he is, rather than shopping him around for players who wouldn’t help get them by Golden State. Maybe they should have focused more on the future, but then again, there is a reason why the 2016-17 NBA championship was their first in franchise history.


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NBA Finals reaction: LeBron proved he is the GOAT


The Golden State Warriors are the 2016-17 NBA Champions, and LeBron James has solidified himself as the greatest basketball player of all time.



Before everyone freaks out, can we just take a moment and relish at the fact that LeBron averaged a triple double in the NBA Finals. A TRIPLE DOUBLE. Not just a Russell Westbrook 42% shooting triple double, but a stat line of 33.6/12/10 on 56.4% shooting type of triple double. Of course, this was the first time in the history of the league that someone has been able to average a triple double in the Finals. This was not the first time Lebron dominated the Warriors. In last year’s Finals, James led both teams in points, rebounds, assists, blocks and steals. In case you are wondering what LeBron did in the entire 2016-17 playoffs, it was only 32.8/9.1/7.8 on 56.5% shooting. That’s it though.

LeBron James with one of the best NBA seasons in his 14th year. (

Russell Westbrook will most likely win the 2016-17 NBA MVP, but LeBron James may have put up the best season of all time. In the history of the league, only three players have averaged 25/8/8 on 50% shooting or better: Oscar Robertson, during his age 24 season, did this in a league where the was no three point shot. Michael Jordan, at age 25, shot 53.8% but a lousy 27.6% from deep. LeBron James, at age 32, in his 14th year, was able to shoot 54.8% from the field and over 36% from deep. To be considered the GOAT, one must be consistently excellent, and, of course, a winner.  Keep in mind that MJ, who is considered the GOAT, had only won three titles by age 32, the same amount LeBron currently has. LeBron, who lead the league in minutes, is not showing any signs of slowing down anytime soon. Speaking of the great Michael Jordan, it is time to educate the old heads who actually think Jordan is a better basketball player than the King from Akron.



I understand that Michael is 6-0 in the Finals, but did we forget that he was unable to reach the Finals in his other nine years? This includes being eliminated three times in the first round. Yes, when Jordan was 22, he was swept by the Boston Celtics in the first round. Lebron at 22? Just carrying Drew Gooden, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Larry Hughes and Eric Snow into the NBA Finals.

Through his first 14 years, Lebron has reached the Finals eight times, including seven in a row. For someone to be considered the GOAT, they would of course need to perform well in the playoffs. In his 12 playoff years, James has lead all members in scoring five times, assists on four separate occasions, and even lead in rebounds during the 2011-12 playoffs. Jordan has never lead all members in rebounds or assists during the playoffs. It must have been nice to have Hall of Famer Dennis Rodman do all of the dirty work. Playing alongside Hall of Famer Scottie Pippen must have been cool too.

Jordan fans are lucky this matchup never existed. (sports

When looking at career numbers, LeBron will surpass Jordan in all of them, besides steals. With already more rebounds and assists than Michael, LeBron also has a better field goal percentage, as well as a better 3-point than His Airness. As far as playoff stats, LeBron is now ahead of Jordan in all five major categories (Points, Rebounds, Blocks, Assists, Steals).

Most would say that Jordan is a better scorer, but if it was all about scoring, than Kareem Abdul-Jabbar would be more relevant in the argument for greatest of all time. On top of that, Jordan averaged three more points than LeBron, but did this on three more shots a game. To give your team the best chance in basketball, you must be able to score, pass to others, and rebound the ball so that your team gains possession. Anyone with a basic knowledge of basketball can tell you that. So how many times have these two had seasons averaging at least 25 points, 6 rebounds and 6 assists per game? LeBron has done this 13 times, while Jordan was only able to accomplish this three times.


As far as value goes, it is hard to argue that there is another athlete on this planet that is more valuable than LeBron James. The year before joining the Heat, LeBron led Cleveland to a 61-win season. As soon as he took his talents to South Beach, the Cavs turned into a 19-win team. In LeBron’s last season with Miami, he led them to 54 wins and a Finals appearance. When he left, the Heat managed to only win 37 games. When Jordan decided to pursue baseball, the Bulls, without Air Jordan, won 55 games and made it into the Eastern Conference semifinals.

Another thing to mention is the fact that LeBron is a freight train at 6’9” and can guard any position at any time. Michael Jordan, at 6’6’’, could not do this. LeBron is also clearly the better athlete due to his size, strength and speed over Jordan.

The numbers do not lie. King James is a more efficient shooter, both field goal and 3-point, than Jordan. LeBron is a better passer, playmaker and rebounder than Jordan. His physical gifts also make him a more versatile defender. If he shot more, he would be a better scorer than Jordan, but he is too busy making other players around him better.

With all the stats to prove, the only thing that Jordan fans can say is “6-0 in the Finals.” Keep in mind that in the six finals appearances, Jordan faced only 9 Hall of Famers. At this point in LeBron’s career, he has faced 26 and counting. On worse teams and against better competition, LeBron has managed to become the best basketball player to step foot on this Earth, and he is not done. With three rings, and coming off his best season, there is no telling what the future will hold for “The Chosen One”.

Finals: How was the competition?

Jordan vs. Hall of Famers in the Finals  

Magic Johnson, James Worthy

Clyde Drexler

Charles Barkley

Gary Payton

Karl Malone(2x), John Stockton (2x)


Lebron vs. Hall of Famers in the Finals*

*all on pace to be Hall of Famers

Tim Duncan(3x), Tony Parker (3x), Manu Ginobli (3x), Kawhi Leonard (2x)

Dirk Nowitski, Jason Kidd

Kevin Durant(2x), James Harden, Russell Westbrook

Stephen Curry(3x), Klay Thompson(3x), Draymond Green (3x)


Let me just start out by saying I am happy for Kevin Durant. His incredible averages of 35.2/8.4/5.4 on 58.8% from the field made the Finals MVP selection a no brainer. I am not even mad at him for joining a 73-win team. Personally, I am a fan of player mobility and anytime you have a chance for a better job in life, you should take it. I am mad at the fact that he joined the team that, a year before, he blew a 3-1 lead to in the Western Conference Finals. For kids watching, KD set a horrible precedent. KD is telling the youth that it is fine to just join up with someone that you cannot beat. Bird would never join the Lakers. Challenges are what makes competition great. Kevin Durant is a winner, but will forever be a cupcake.

KD in cupcake form. (

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Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine Square Off Again

Nobody knew quite what to expect when the Winnipeg Jets and the Toronto Maple Leafs met for the first time this season. It was the first time that the number one and two over draft picks Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine faced each other on NHL ice.

If you recall, it was only seven days into the young 2016-17 NHL season. It was only Toronto’s third game, and Winnipeg’s fourth.

It took place only seven days after Auston Matthews’ stunning four-goal debut game and as a result the NHL had fallen head over heals for Matthews. Laine had yet to impress in the rookie scoring race.

But it was Laine who stole the show that night, back on Oct. 19 in Winnipeg. While Matthews was left off the scoreboard, Laine tallied three goals including the overtime winner.

Though the NHL is rife with rookie talent this year, Matthews and Laine stand out as among the league’s most elite goal scorers. They stood out when they were drafted consecutively first and second overall and they continue to stand out today.


The Winnipeg Jets weren’t exactly in hot shape when they faced the Leafs back in October. They had gone 1-2-0 in their first three games with a 3.75 goals against average. Nor was much really expected of the team this season.

One could comfortably say that the Jets are in a transitional stage at the moment. Not quite in full rebuild mode but not ready to compete for the cup either. Sitting fifth in the Central Division with 61 points, it’s unlikely they’ll even grab a playoff spot.

Though they are only four points from a wild card position, they lack the games in hand that many of their Central Division competitors hold.


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Auston Matthews Patrik Lane

Photo credit: Jonathan Kozub, NHLI via Getty Images

Still, Patrik Laine shines on.

In four fewer games than Matthews, the Finnish rookie has tallied three more points and a better plus/minus rating than the young American.

Though he shoots far less than Matthews, Laine has managed to find the back of the net just as much and with far fewer shots on goal.

He has played remarkably consistent but let us not forget the explosiveness of Laine’s game. He has amassed an incredible three hat tricks this year, making him the first Jets’ rookie to do so since Teemu Selanne managed five in his rookie season.


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As with the Jets, very little was expected of the Toronto Maple Leafs entering the 2016-17 season. They were 1-0-1 when they met the Jets back in October and destined for mediocrity. But then some strange happened. The Atlantic Division began to cave in on itself.

Though the Leafs are in the middle of a major rebuild, they find themselves competing for a playoff spot in the mess that is the Atlantic Division. Seven teams are within 10 points of first place and the Leafs are within only five.

While it remains unlikely that they will leave the Boston Bruins, Ottawa Senators, Montreal Canadiens (or even the Florida Panthers for that matter) in their dust, the Toronto Maple Leafs may very well make the playoffs.

It is well within reason to believe that that the Toronto Maple Leafs will make the playoffs for the first time four years.


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Auston Matthews Patrik Lane

Photo credit: Adre Ringuette, NHLI via Getty Images

And that’s in large part due to the outstanding play of Auston Matthews.

Matthews wasted no time showing the league what he was made of with his four goal debut. Only seven players in NHL history had managed a hat trick in their first game while Matthews went ahead and did one better.

With over 200 shots on goal this season it should come as no surprise that he has already eclipsed the 20 goal plateau. Matthews has 28 goals and 49 points on the season which makes him first among Leafs players in both categories.

Matthews is a big part of the reason why Toronto is even competing for a playoff spot this year.


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The game takes place tonight, in Toronto, at 7:30 p.m. EST.

Winnipeg is 14-15-2 on the road so far this season and sport a 7-6-1 record against Atlantic Division foes. Meanwhile, Toronto is 13-9-4 at home this season have gone 3-5-3 against Central Division competitors this campaign.

Winnipeg won 5-4 in overtime back on Oct. 19 and it would be fair to assume another high scoring affair is in order this time around.

Aside from Matthews and Laine, plenty of young-talent will be on display as well. Toronto’s William Nylander, Connor Brown and Nikita Zaisev will suit up along with Winnipeg’s Josh Morrissey. Expect a fast-paced, high-scoring, two-way game with lots of shots on goal.

It remains unclear whether or not Toronto’s Mitch Marner will suit up. He is dealing with an undisclosed injury which has kept him out of two-contests so far.


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Rookies, Rookie, Calder Trophy, NHL, Hockey, Goals, Assists, Points, Mitch Marner, Auston Matthews, Patrik Laine, Matt Murray, William Nylander, Sebastian Aho, Zach Werenski, Matthew Tkachuk, Artturi Lehkonen, Anthony Mantha, Jimmy Vesey, Toronto Maple Leafs, Winnipeg Jets, Montreal Canadiens, Pittsburgh Penguins, New York Rangers, Columbus Blue Jackets, Detroit Red Wings, Mike Babcock, London Knights, Harvard

Top Five Rookies Not Named Laine or Matthews

Hockey fans have been spoiled rotten for rookies this year. The NHL hasn’t seen a season so flush with young talent in years. There can be only one Rookie of the Year; only one Calder Trophy winner.

When it comes to Calder consideration, Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine have dominated the conversation. Now there’s nothing inherently wrong with that, but we should not forget the rest of the 2016-17 rookie class.

Matthews and Laine are two of the League’s most exciting, dynamic, and talented young rookies, but they are not the only ones.


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Rookies, Rookie, Calder Trophy, NHL, Hockey, Goals, Assists, Points, Mitch Marner, Auston Matthews, Patrik Laine, Matt Murray, William Nylander, Sebastian Aho, Zach Werenski, Matthew Tkachuk, Artturi Lehkonen, Anthony Mantha, Jimmy Vesey, Toronto Maple Leafs, Winnipeg Jets, Montreal Canadiens, Pittsburgh Penguins, New York Rangers, Columbus Blue Jackets, Detroit Red Wings, Mike Babcock, London Knights, Harvard

Photo credit: Justin K. Aller, Getty Images.

Drafted in the third round (83rd overall) in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, Matt Murray helped lead the Pittsburgh Penguins to their fourth Stanley Cup championship last season and he’s out to do the same this time around.

Murray failed to meet the league’s threshold for games played last year and is therefore still considered a rookie. He now finds himself in a position to win back-to-back Stanley Cups as the Penguins appear poised to make another run at the Cup.

If Murray manages to win back-to-back Stanley Cups and wrestle the Calder away from Matthews and Laine, he would be the first goaltender to accomplish the feat since Montreal’s Ken Dryden did it back in 1973.

Though he began the year on injured reserve, Murray has effectively taken Marc-Andre Fleury’s job as Pittsburgh’s new number one net minder. Look for Murray to backstop the Penguins for years to come.


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Rookies, Rookie, Calder Trophy, NHL, Hockey, Goals, Assists, Points, Mitch Marner, Auston Matthews, Patrik Laine, Matt Murray, William Nylander, Sebastian Aho, Zach Werenski, Matthew Tkachuk, Artturi Lehkonen, Anthony Mantha, Jimmy Vesey, Toronto Maple Leafs, Winnipeg Jets, Montreal Canadiens, Pittsburgh Penguins, New York Rangers, Columbus Blue Jackets, Detroit Red Wings, Mike Babcock, London Knights, Harvard

Photo credit: Tom Szczerbowski, USA Today Sports.

Mitch Marner was drafted fourth overall by the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft. Though the headlines have largely been dominated by his teammate Auston Matthews, the Leafs’ success thus far has been in part due to the outstanding play of Marner.

Last year Marner won the Memorial Cup with the London Knights of the OHL. He racked up an incredible 116 regular season points as well as another 44 playoff points on his way to winning one of hockey’s hardest trophies.

His 45 points puts him above all rookies for first in the league.

He leads the Leafs in assists (31) and though he lacks the size and scoring touch of Matthews, he is a consummate playmaker. In addition, Marner has been praised by head coach Mike Babcock for his unparalleled work ethic.

He will remain a fixture of the Maple Leafs for years to come.


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Rookies, Rookie, Calder Trophy, NHL, Hockey, Goals, Assists, Points, Mitch Marner, Auston Matthews, Patrik Laine, Matt Murray, William Nylander, Sebastian Aho, Zach Werenski, Matthew Tkachuk, Artturi Lehkonen, Anthony Mantha, Jimmy Vesey, Toronto Maple Leafs, Winnipeg Jets, Montreal Canadiens, Pittsburgh Penguins, New York Rangers, Columbus Blue Jackets, Detroit Red Wings, Mike Babcock, London Knights, Harvard

Photo credit: John E. Sokolowski, USA Today Sports.

Did someone mention the Toronto Maple Leafs? The Leafs are among the league’s youngest teams. Accordingly, they are flush with rookie talent.

Drafted eighth overall in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft, William Nylander finally managed to secure himself a spot with the big club. He played 22 games with the Leafs last season, accumulating six goals and seven assists over that span.

Through 50 games Nylander has amassed a respectable 14 goals and 21 assists for 35 points on the season. He is fourth in points among rookies and is bound to break the 50-point mark. He may even accumulate over 60 points through the course of the 2016-17 season.

His nifty three-goal game against the Boston Bruins over the weekend makes him the second Leafs rookie to score a hat trick this season.

Between Matthews, Marner, and Nylander, the Leafs have a bright future in front of them.


51 16 15 31 -2 10 126
Rookies, Rookie, Calder Trophy, NHL, Hockey, Goals, Assists, Points, Mitch Marner, Auston Matthews, Patrik Laine, Matt Murray, William Nylander, Sebastian Aho, Zach Werenski, Matthew Tkachuk, Artturi Lehkonen, Anthony Mantha, Jimmy Vesey, Toronto Maple Leafs, Winnipeg Jets, Montreal Canadiens, Pittsburgh Penguins, New York Rangers, Columbus Blue Jackets, Detroit Red Wings, Mike Babcock, London Knights, Harvard

Photo credit: James Guillory, USA Today Sports.

Yesterday Sebastian Aho was named the NHL’s First Star of the Week, and deservedly so.

Drafted in the second round (35th overall) in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft by the Carolina Hurricanes, Aho has been quietly making a name for himself. Aho, a native of Rauma, Finland, accumulated 45 regular season points in as many games with Karpat of SM-liiga last season; including 15 points in 14 playoff games.

So far this season, Aho has managed to put together 31 points in 51 games with the Hurricanes; including a hat trick in the Canes’ 5-1 win over the Philadelphia Flyers on January 31. The 19-year-old Finn has found considerable success playing alongside Jordan Staal and Elias Lindholm.

At just 19 years of age, Aho is one of the youngest players to ever crack the Hurricanes’ lineup. Given the fact that his greatest asset is his speed, Teemu Selanne might want to trademark ‘The Finnish Flash’ before the nickname is usurped.


51 8 23 31 13 12 121
Rookies, Rookie, Calder Trophy, NHL, Hockey, Goals, Assists, Points, Mitch Marner, Auston Matthews, Patrik Laine, Matt Murray, William Nylander, Sebastian Aho, Zach Werenski, Matthew Tkachuk, Artturi Lehkonen, Anthony Mantha, Jimmy Vesey, Toronto Maple Leafs, Winnipeg Jets, Montreal Canadiens, Pittsburgh Penguins, New York Rangers, Columbus Blue Jackets, Detroit Red Wings, Mike Babcock, London Knights, Harvard

Photo credit: Kyle Robertson, Dispatch

The Columbus Blue Jackets have been one of the league’s most unpredictable successes. A large part of that success has been due to the excellent play of rookie blue liner Zach Werenski.

Drafted eighth overall in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft by the Columbus Blue Jackets, Werenski was simply electric to start the season. He has been rumored to be among the Calder candidates, having earned the NHL’s Rookie of the Month nod back in November.

Playing on the first defensive pairing alongside Seth Jones, Werenski averages a little over 21 minutes a game; including time on the power play. He has accumulated 31 points in 51 games, 17 of which have come on the man advantage.

What’s more is Werenski’s ability to hit the net. He’s gotten 121 shots on goal thus far and is set to become an offensive threat on Columbus’ back end for years to come.



Matthew Tkachuk

Tkachuk has managed to carve out a space for himself on the struggling Calgary Flames. The sixth overall pick in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft, and son of NHL great Keith Tkachuk, has tallied 33 points so far this season, good for fifth best among rookies. Tkachuk won the Memorial Cup last year alongside Toronto’s Mitch Marner.

Artturi Lehkonen

Drafted in the second round (55th overall) in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft by Montreal, Artturi Lehkonen has been solid for the Canadiens this year. Although the Habs could use a little more scoring depth, Lehkonen has shown himself to be one of the League’s most responsible two-way rookies. He regularly sees time on the penalty kill and has managed a respectable 16 points on the season.

Anthony Mantha

Mantha’s NHL career got off to a rough start after he broke his right tibia shortly before the 2014-15 season kicked off. Drafted 20th overall by the Detroit Red Wings in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft, Mantha struggled to find his place on the team. This season has been good to Mantha, as he has managed 26 points in only 37 games. If Mantha can stay healthy, he will have a bright future in the NHL.

Jimmy Vesey

He was making waves before he ever stepped foot on NHL ice. Drafted in the third round (66th overall) by the Nashville Predators in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, Jimmy Vesey opted to finish off his college career playing for Harvard. As a result, he allowed his entry level contract to expire with the Predators, who in return, traded his rights to the Buffalo Sabres shortly before Vesey’s contract was nullified.

Though Buffalo made a valiant effort to resign the Harvard graduate, it was to no avail. When Vesey hit the open market it was the New York Rangers who had won him over. Playing with the likes of Rick Nash and company, Vesey has accumulated 12 goals and eight assists on the season. Without a doubt, he will be a big part of the Rangers organization moving forward.

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Brent Burns, Alexander Ovechkin, Connor McDavid, Patrick Kane, San Jose Sharks, Minnesota Wild, NHL, Hockey, Goals, Assists, Points, Forward, Defenseman, Shots on Goal

Brent Burns is a Beautiful Beast

Brent Burns, Alexander Ovechkin, Connor McDavid, Patrick Kane, San Jose Sharks, Minnesota Wild, NHL, Hockey, Goals, Assists, Points, Forward, Defenseman, Shots on Goal

Photo credit: Mark Humphrey, American Press.

Brent Burns is both a beauty and a beast.

Drafted in the first round (20th overall) by the Minnesota Wild, Burns was traded to the San Jose Sharks in 2011. The hulking blue liner has spent 12 seasons in the NHL, played in 837 games, and accumulated 462 points in that span.

Still, it appears that the Brent Burns show has just begun.

Though the 6’ 5”, 200 lb blue liner has been all the rage around Norris Trophy water cooler conversations this year, Burns has not always been the elite defenseman he is today.

In fact, it wasn’t until he was drafted by the Minnesota Wild that Burns began to play defense. If it weren’t for Jacques Lemaire – Minnesota’s Head Coach at the time – Burns may never had adapted his game for the blue line. But he did. Earning himself a spot on the Wild’s blue line.

Arm chair General Managers have long known of Burns’ value. Fantasy hockey league’s (like that of Yahoo or ESPN) have in the past listed him as both a defenseman and a forward; providing invaluable mobility to make-believe rosters across this great land.

More recently, though, especially since being traded to San Jose, Burns had made the blue line his permanent position. He is no longer available as a forward in fantasy leagues but that has hardly affected his offensive output.

Having finished last season’s 2015/16 campaign with an incredible 27 goals, 48 assists, and 75 points, Burns came in third on the ballet for Norris Trophy votes.

This year, however, is different.

He is among one of the best in his position, accumulating more 5 on 5 points than any other defenseman in the league this year. He also leads the position in goals and is currently on pace to eclipse his point total from last year. With 15 goals, 24 assists, and 39 points Burns boasts a league leading 160 shots on goal.

I repeat, a LEAGUE leading 160 shots on goal. A stat line all the more impressive when you realize that he has accomplished all of this from the blue line.

To put it in perspective, Burns has more shots on goal than some of the league’s most elite shooters; including the likes of Alexander Ovechkin (151), Patrick Kane (138), and Connor McDavid (123).

But Brent Burns is oh so much more than your typical hockey player.

His personality is larger than life.

With a beard bigger than father time’s and fewer teeth and a four-year old, Burns has what many would call a magnetic personality.

He is a self-proclaimed animal lover, he and his Lake Elmo home (nicknamed the Burns Zoo) was even a subject of CBC’s “Inside Hockey.”

Active on twitter, @Burzie88 never disappoints.




His most recent exploits has the toothless wonder team up with Subway to scare the sh*t out of customers and fans.



On the ice, Brent Burns is a force to be reckoned with. Off the ice he is just a big teddy bear.

Brent Burns is both a beauty and a beast.

Shea Weber, P.K. Subban, Michel Therrien, Montreal Canadiens, Nashville Predators, Hockey, NHL, Goals, Points, Assists, +/-, Andrei MArkov, Andrew Shaw, Alex Galchenyuk, David Dersharnais, Canadian, Denfense, Defenseman, Offense

Montreal in Nashville

The hockey world was stunned when Montreal Canadiens’ General Manager Marc Bergevin pulled the trigger this offseason and traded away fan favorite defenseman P.K. Subban for Shea Weber.

Subban was one day away from his no-trade clause kicking in and all signs pointed towards him playing out the rest of his days as a Hab. That was not the case. In a one-for-one trade, Montreal sent P.K. Subban to Tennessee and got the longtime Nashville Predator captain Shea Weber in return.

In Case You’re Not Familiar

Both of these guys play defense, are right handed, and are Canadian born.

P.K. Subban is a fast-talking, slick-dressing character. Off the ice, he is known for his charitable nature, most notably his $10 million donation to Montreal Children’s Hospital. His on-ice play is characterized by his offensive ability, fast hands, skating, and pretty stick handling. He is a young gun and rising star.

Conversely, Shea Weber is soft spoken. His leadership derives primarily from his lead-by-example style and stoic confidence. His on-ice play is characterized by his defensive prowess, big-body play, and blistering slap shot. He has solidified his spot as one of the best defensemen in the league and is a veteran NHLer.

Where Are They Now?

Well, quite frankly, both players have posted solid numbers for their respective teams.

Shea Weber

GP G A P +/-
37 9 12 21 16
Shea Weber, P.K. Subban, Michel Therrien, Montreal Canadiens, Nashville Predators, Hockey, NHL, Goals, Points, Assists, +/-, Andrei MArkov, Andrew Shaw, Alex Galchenyuk, David Dersharnais, Canadian, Denfense, Defenseman, Offense

Photo credit: Jean-Yves Ahern, USA Today Sports

Though there was a lot of hesitation by Montreal fans, Shea Weber silenced the doubters almost immediately. When the Canadiens started the season 9-0-1, there was not a lot of bad press surrounding Shea Weber. The fans had quieted down, analysts were lauding it as the trade of the year, and the general sentiment in Montreal was that Weber was fitting in just fine. In fact, Weber potted four goals and six assists through those first 10 games.

In addition, Weber is also logging an average of over 26 minutes of ice time per game; highest among Montreal skaters.

“He’s got a huge impact,” Coach Michel Therrien said.





P.K. Subban

GP G A P +/-
29 7 10 17 -11


Shea Weber, P.K. Subban, Michel Therrien, Montreal Canadiens, Nashville Predators, Hockey, NHL, Goals, Points, Assists, +/-, Andrei MArkov, Andrew Shaw, Alex Galchenyuk, David Dersharnais, Canadian, Denfense, Defenseman, Offense

Photo credit: Peter Power, Canadian Press.

When news broke about the trade, Montreal media would have had you believing that the city was burning to the ground. They acted like the sky was falling and all hell had broken loose. P.K. Subban was truly a hero in Montreal and to see him go was heart-wrenching for the fans.

While nobody in Nashville was ready to say goodbye to their longtime captain, Subban was welcomed with open arms. His fast skating and puck-moving ability would no doubt add great value to the Nashville Predators, who attack the offensive zone with speed and appreciate offensive defensemen.

Unfortunately for Subban, his numbers have not been as good as Shea Webers. To make matters worse, Subban was recently relegated to the injured reserve list and will not be eligible to play when the Nashville Predators host the Montreal Canadiens this Tuesday, January 3. Subban is sidelined with an upper-body injury related to a herniated disk in his back, which may or may not require surgery.

So Who Won?

It’s hard to say who won out in this trade. Subban undoubtedly fits with the style of play that the Nashville Predators prefer to push. He is fast on the ice, smart with his stick, and can move the puck like nobody’s business. He is a compliment to the Nashville blue line to say the least. His numbers are solid and the Nashville Predators are on the rise, starting to put some wins together, and move up in the standings. Nashville’s comparatively slow start to the season leaves a little room for argument though.

While the Predators were struggling to get things going, Shea Weber and the Montreal Canadiens wasted no time in racking up the wins. They rocketed to the top of the standings and have remained there ever since. Through Carey Price’s absence at the beginning of the season, to the team’s injury related issues (Alex Galchenyuk, Andrew Shaw, David Desharnais, and Andrei Markov are all suffering from injuries at the moment), Weber has remained rock solid.

The Game

There will most likely be a short video tribute to the all-star, Olympic gold-winning, long-time former captain Shea Weber before the game on Tuesday. The former Predator spent the entirety of his career in Nashville before being dealt this offseason. Weber played a large role in the development of hockey in the region.

Though P.K. Subban will be in attendance, he will not suit up. He is suffering from an upper body injury and will be sidelined until he is evaluated by team doctors in two to three weeks.

The Nashville Predators will host the Montreal Canadiens Tuesday, January 3, at Bridgestone Arena. The puck will drop at 8:00 p.m. Eastern Standard Time.


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Assist, Auston Matthews, Calder Trophy, Columbus Blue Jackets, Goals, Hockey, Matt Murray, NHL, NHL Awards, Patrik Laine, Pittsburgh Penguins, Points, Rookie of the Month, Rookie of the Year, Sports, Toronto Maple Leafs, Wins, Zach Werenski

Three Reasons Auston Matthews Won’t Win the Calder

The highly anticipated rookie campaign of American phenom Auston Matthews is now in full swing. The Toronto Maple Leafs’ star center racked up an incredible 46 points in 36 games with the Zurich SC last year and his entry into the NHL has been nothing less than stellar.

Photo credit: Adre Ringuette, NHLI via Getty Images

Photo credit: Adre Ringuette, NHLI via Getty Images

When he finally made it to the big show, Matthews converted all non-believers by setting a record and netting not one, not two, not three, but four goals in his NHL debut.

Yes, it was only one game. Yes, it was the very first game. But the clinic he put on that night rocketed him into first place in Calder contention. He was by far the front runner for Rookie of the Year even before his debut. That performance really solidified his chances, until we got to see what the rest of 2016-17’s rookie class had to offer. There are three other players that stand in the way of Matthews winning the Calder.

Three BIG Reasons why Auston Matthews won’t win the Calder Trophy 

  1. Zach Werenski

GP G A Pts PIM +/-
32 6 15 21 8 7


Photo credit: Kyle Robertson, Dispatch

Photo credit: Kyle Robertson, Dispatch

Columbus’ first round (eighth overall) pick of the 2015 NHL Draft is quickly becoming a Calder consideration. The NHL’s November Rookie of the Month has amassed an impressive 21 points in 30 games with the Columbus Blue Jackets this year. 11 of those points came on the power play, as Werenski has seemingly found his place on Columbus’ first power play unit.

Frankly, the guy is a beast.

It’s his first year in the league and not only is he producing points, he is also carrying a huge load for a team surging in the highly competitive Metropolitan Division. Werenski is averaging 22 minutes a game, on the first line, playing alongside Seth Jones – acquired last year from the Nashville Predators in a blockbuster trade for Ryan Johansen.

Zach Werenski is one big reason why the Blue Jackets have turned it around this year. Given his performance both offensively and defensively, Werenski deserves Calder consideration.


  1. Matt Murray

18 13 2.14 0.928 2

To be eligible for the [Calder Trophy] award, a player cannot have played more than 25 games in any single preceding season nor in six or more games in each of any two preceding seasons in any major professional league. Beginning in 1990-91, to be eligible for this award a player must not have attained his twenty-sixth birthday by September 15th of the season in which he is eligible.

-NHL Rulebook



Photo credit: Justin K. Aller, Getty Images

In 1971, Ken Dryden appeared in six regular season games for the Montreal Canadiens. Then amazingly he made 20 playoff appearances, backstopping Jean Beliveau and the Habs to their 17th Stanley Cup championship.


In 1973, Dryden would again take Montreal to the finals, winning them their 18th in franchise history. It was with two Stanley Cup championships under his belt that he won the Calder Trophy that year.

Matt Murray has a very similar opportunity in front of him. Having played less than 25 regular season games last year (he only played 21), Murray is still eligible to be nominated for the Calder Trophy.

Why shouldn’t Murray be considered? He has affectively taken the top spot in Pittsburgh. Outside of Thursday’s game against Columbus, his performance so far this year has been rock solid. It only adds fuel to the fire that the Pittsburgh Penguins are looking to trade their former number one Marc-Andre Fleury.


  1. Patrik Laine

GP G A Pts PIM +/-
36 19 11 30 12 6

Photo credit: Jonathan Kozub, NHLI via Getty Images

Drafted second overall in this year’s NHL Draft, Patrik Laine doesn’t get what all the fuss is about when it comes to Auston Matthews. Auston Matthews who?

With more goals, assists, and overall points than Matthews, Laine has been showing the league what he’s made of without wasting a second. Alongside the talented Nikolaj Ehlers and Mark Scheifele – both of whom are having breakout seasons of their own – Patrik Laine has become one of the league’s elite wingers.

Tied for second in the league in goals, Laine is not afraid to shoot the puck. Though the Winnipeg Jets are failing to put up the wins, Laine has not failed to put up points. Laine has managed two hat-tricks already in this young season. It’s no four goal debut, but it’s pretty close for sure.

If Laine keeps pace, he may very well finish the year as the highest scoring rookie of the 2016 class. For that, he ought to be considered for the Calder Trophy this year.

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