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Sheng Peng: Mark Stone Has A Chance To Buck The Trend And Win A Selke For The Wingers

**This article was written by Sheng Peng of FearTheFin.com. Sheng covered the Golden Knights in 2017-18 and a portion of 2018-19 before moving to San Jose to cover the Sharks. You can read all of Sheng’s work here.**

By Sheng Peng

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It’s supposed to be the award for best defensive forward.

But left winger Nick Foligno knows he’s never going to win the Selke Trophy.

Foligno quipped, “I switch to center and maybe have a chance at it.”

That’ll help. Since 2008-09, just four wingers have finished in the top-six in Selke voting: Ryan Callahan was fourth in 2012, Marian Hossa was fifth in 2014, Max Pacioretty was sixth in 2015, and Mark Stone was sixth in 2017. Stone is also a finalist this year, the first winger to be so honored since Jay Pandolfo in 2007.

(This is ignoring David Backes, listed as a right winger, who finished second in 2012, and Henrik Zetterberg, listed as a left winger, who finished second in 2008. Both took over 1,000 faceoffs in their respective Selke finalist campaigns.)

The last winger to win the Selke was Jere Lehtinen in 2003.

What’s supposed to be a recognition for best defensive forward has become a centers-only club.

Hockey Hall of Fame journalist Michael Farber has voted on the Selke since “the time that Bob Gainey was winning it.” He offered, “Maybe if Mark Stone wins, that’ll restore a little bit of balance.”

***

Gainey, a left winger, won the inaugural Selke Trophy in 1978. Then he took the next three.

In fact, wingers like Gainey, Craig Ramsay, and Dirk Graham accounted for six of the first 14 Selke winners.

Farber pointed to three key reasons.

First, Gainey was a singular player.

“Anatoly Tarasov called Bob Gainey the perfect hockey player. He didn’t make mistakes,” Farber recalled.

Tarasov knew a special player when he saw one. He’s credited with establishing the Soviet Union as a dominant international hockey power in the 1950s.

Second, Gainey played in a different era. A defense-first forward stood out in an era where Marcel Dionne could score 135 points and finish 29 points behind Wayne Gretzky in the scoring race. This is exactly what happened in 1980-81, the last time Gainey won the Selke.

Farber noted: “The game, look at the ’80s, wasn’t what we have now. Quite often, there’d be a three-on-two one way, three-on-two the other way. Teams traded chances.

“So the emphasis on defensive hockey and the role of the centerman wasn’t the same that it is now.

“It’s much tighter. If you do give up odd-man rushes now, you make your coach apoplectic.”

Finally, Gainey played in an era when forwards, wingers included, were often used as “shadows.” That means a defensive player was assigned to follow the opposition’s top scorer all around the ice.

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Can You Win With $8+ Million Players?

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There are plenty of differences between the Golden Knights and the two Stanley Cup participants? However, there’s one you may not have thought about, and one TSN’s Pierre LeBrun thinks is significant.

Neither the Blues nor the Bruins have a player making more than $8 million per year.

The St. Louis Blues highest paid players, Vladimir Tarsenko and Ryan O’Reilly earn $7.5 million annually. Center David Krejci is the Boston Bruins wealthiest player making $7.2 million per season. Needless to say, the team that hoists the Stanley Cup will do so without one of the league’s highest-paid players.

LeBrun brought up a running conversation among hockey execs on Vancouver radio during the conference finals.

The four teams we have left in the playoffs do not have a single player making more than $8 million. Is there something there, or is just a one off? No one has a double digit player. The money is spread out… Is that they way to go? Is that the way you find depth? -Pierre LeBrun, TSN

An $8 million player makes up for roughly 11% of a team’s salary cap. Golden Knights winger Mark Stone will begin collecting his dough next season when his 8-year/$76 million deal kicks in. That will make Stone the 12th highest paid player in the NHL. His $9.5 million yearly payout will be the third most for a winger, which could move to fourth once Mitch Marner inks a deal. Stone’s cap hit next season will be 11.63% of the team’s available cap.

The theory was debunked by the last two Stanley Cup champions. Alex Ovechkin’s $9.53 million didn’t hurt the Washington Capitals Stanley Cup run. Nor did the salaries of Sidney Crosby ($8.7 million) and Evgeni Malkin ($9.5 million) affect the Pittsburgh Penguins from 2015-2017. In total, they are the only three players in NHL history to raise a Stanley Cup making an average of $8 million per season. While it’s a practical theory, it’s hard to argue against retaining and signing elite NHL players.

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Mark Stone/Jonathan Marchessault Combo Dominating In Slovakia

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This morning in Slovakia, Mark Stone scored a hat trick for Team Canada at the IIHF World Championships. He has five goals in five games and his linemate, Jonathan Marchessault, has put up two goals and four assists of his own. Simply put, the Golden Knights duo has been shredding defenses for Team Canada.

Their success together has led to a pretty obvious question, should that pair be a part of a line when they get back to Vegas?

Any time I consider the possibility of a new line combination the first thing I do is check how they’ve done while playing together. In the case of Marchessault and Stone, it’s been almost all on line changes when one gets stuck out on the ice with the other. In the regular season and playoffs combined, that happened for a total of 20:15 at 5-on-5.

In those 20 minutes, the Golden Knights scored twice and generated 12 shots on goal. They also created 10 scoring chances with five coming in high danger areas. Pretty darn good for a pair that doesn’t actually play together.

So, if it were to happen, who would play in between them?

Well, that could go one of two ways, either with Paul Stastny or William Karlsson. Here’s how I’d project it with each player in between Marchessault and Stone.

Marchessault-Karlsson-Stone
Pacioretty-Stastny-Smith
Gusev-Haula-Tuch
Nosek/Carpenter-Eakin-Reaves/Carrier

Marchessault-Stastny-Stone
Gusev-Karlsson-Smith
Pacioretty-Haula-Tuch
Nosek/Carpenter-Eakin-Reaves/Carrier

Both options look pretty good, but the third line on that second option is downright scary. The idea of replacing Marchessault with Gusev makes a lot of sense as they play a similar style of game. Also, Gusev’s defensive deficiencies (which we aren’t even sure if they are real yet), would be covered up by Karlsson and Smith. Of course, this is assuming Haula does indeed take a center spot, which may not happen.

Either way, the options are going to be there for Gerard Gallant when the Golden Knights return to Vegas for training camp in September. It will be interesting to see how much tinkering he does with his new glut of highly skilled forwards.

The Golden Knights have seven preseason games. You’d have to think Stone and Marchessault find their way on a line together in one of them, it’ll be up to them to make it as successful here as it’s been in Slovakia.

“He’s A Man That Just Oozes Character”

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First it was Kawhi Leonard nailing an improbable buzzer-beater, then Mark Stone scored a power-play game-winner with 1.8 seconds left to beat Slovakia. Needless to say, it was a pretty good 24 hours for Canadian sports. (And, not a bad birthday for #61.)

That line had been pretty quiet. They really had been. The power play had clicked through the early going of this tournament with Stone and Marchessault. -Darren Dreger, TSN

TSN reporter Darren Dreger is in Slovakia for the IIHF World Championship tournament and got a chance to speak intimately with Stone about an array of topics, including Game 7, Canadian pride, and leadership.

We had high expectations for us. As an organization, we want to be deemed as one of the best teams in the league and we felt like we had one of the best teams in the league. We’re going to move on and get better from this. There’s no doubt in my mind that we’re going to be a competitive team going forward for a long time in Vegas. -Mark Stone

Dreger points out that Team Canada has an awful lot of critics and Stone’s veteran, star power presence has helped keep an untested Canadian men’s hockey team focused.

He’s a man that just oozes character, and on top of that he’s a gifted hockey player. The character he brought over and into this lineup was vastly needed given the inexperience of Team Canada. Add to that they lose John Tavares and things could’ve gone sideways… He most definitely, Mark Stone is the primary leader. -Dreger

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Locker Room Clean-Out Day Highlights

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In the final media availability of the season nearly every Golden Knights player spoke to the media. We also had extended press conferences with The Creator, George McPhee, and Gerard Gallant.

Of course, there will probably be 50 stories on this site based off many of the comments on this day, but we wanted to share some of the highlights from the day.

(If you would like to listen to every second of the nearly 2 hours and 15 minutes of locker room interviews that we participated in, go here or to our podcast feed.)

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San Jose Searching For Answers To Stop Stone And Co.

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Through four games of the series, the San Jose Sharks have iced 14 different forwards, seven different defensemen, and two goalies. Only four of those 23 players have yet to be on the ice for a goal by Mark Stone, Max Pacioretty, or Paul Stasnty.

The Sharks have tried multiple forward lines, they’ve rotated defense pairings, they’ve tried checking lines, skill lines, speed lines, superstar defense pairings, and defense-first pairings. Nothing has worked.

It’s great, we always know they are going to be in the right spots. You just want to get the puck in their hands and they make the plays and score. -Shea Theodore

The Golden Knights line of Mark Stone, Max Pacioretty, and Paul Stastny have scored 12 goals, tallied 28 total points, and they’ve done it on just 34 shots.

With every series now having four games finished, Stone leads the league in playoff goals, Stastny leads in playoff assists (tied with Pacioretty), and Pacioretty (tied with Stone) leads in playoff points.

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The player who has spent the most time on the ice against the Golden Knights dominant line has been Erik Karlsson. Despite being one of the best defensemen in the entire NHL, Karlsson has not been able to handle the pressure of Stastny, Stone, and Pacioretty. He’s been on the ice for 11 of their 12 goals.

Overall, Karlsson has been out there for 13 of the Golden Knights 18 goals in the series, the same number as goalie Martin Jones.

They are a special group. I hope (they continue this), I want them to, but you know what, lines are going to get hot as we go along here. Let’s hope we can get a couple of lines going too. -Nate Schmidt

The Sharks have another chance to try and crack the code tonight, and they’ll likely try something new once again, but if you ask Mark Stone, no matter what the Sharks do, that line believes it’s just a matter of keeping it simple.

I mean, we have a good team. At the end of the day we just have to play our style hockey. We have to put pressure on their defensemen. When you put pressure on anybody, it makes the game harder. -Stone

As far as the defensemen, they have a simple plan too.

It’s called watching offense from the D. You sit back, watch, and enjoy the show. -Schmidt

One more dominant effort from the line of non-Misfits, and the Golden Knights will have ridden them right into the second round.

Golden Knights Were Bargain Hunters At Deadline

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The Golden Knights were in a peculiar spot at the trade deadline this season. They were the reigning Western Conference Champions who believe they upgraded the team in the offseason, they were also firmly entrenched in a playoff position and had as good a shot as anybody in the West to make another run. However, they were mired in the worst slump in franchise history, the magic of the inaugural season appeared to have worn off, they still viewed themselves as a new franchise without a bevy of prospects in the system, and they struck out mightily at the deadline a year ago.

That led to speculation ranging all the way from trying to make the blockbuster, to sitting still and doing nothing, to even selling and focusing on the future like they were supposed to be doing last year. The fact of the matter was, all options were truly on the table for George McPhee, and he had to choose the right one.

In the end, we know how the story goes, they made the biggest splash at the deadline not only acquiring Mark Stone but signing him to a mega-extension keeping him here through 2027.

However, behind the scenes, it looked a bit different.

A lot of people were talking about us ‘big game hunting’ all week and we really weren’t. –George McPhee on Two Man Advantage Podcast

McPhee says he didn’t think the Golden Knights were going to do anything. Then things changed on deadline day, he saw we he thought was a bargain and he went for it.

We had talked to (Ottawa) five days before that and it seemed like it was a lot and we just weren’t going to participate in it, and then a couple of teams dropped out and we got a call and we were back in and we pursued it. -McPhee on Two Man Advantage Podcast

Obviously, McPhee and his staff had ideas of what they would like to do, but as few as 12 hours before the deadline, he wasn’t sure any of it was actually going to come to fruition.

We were trying to find a player that might make sense but when we listed the players Mark Stone was Plan A, if it made sense in terms of price and contract, and we thought if we don’t get Plan A we probably don’t do anything because this is when mistakes are made, at the trade deadline and on July 1st. This was Plan A and it actually worked out. -McPhee on Two Man Advantage Podcast

As the deadline approached though, Plan A ended up not being the only bargain that may have cropped up.

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The Stone Age Impacts Golden Knights Defense

**Southern Nevada Sports Hall of Famer, Steve Carp’s twice-weekly column publishes every Wednesday and Sunday during the Golden Knights season.** 

VANCOUVER, British Columbia — When the Golden Knights acquired Mark Stone at the NHL trade deadline back on Feb. 25, it was assumed the offense would perk up as Stone had 28 goals in the bank from his time in Ottawa.

But who knew the defense would be the unit that has come alive?

Collectively, the Vegas blue line corps is playing some of its best hockey of the year. And while it may be a coincidence that it has come since Stone’s arrival, the changes Gerard Gallant made a few weeks ago, moving Deryk Engelland with Nate Schmidt, playing Shea Theodore with Brayden McNabb and giving Jon Merrill a regular spot in the lineup, seemed to have worked.

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The defense accounted for both goals in Wednesday’s 2-1 win over Calgary at T-Mobile Arena. More important, the Knights have allowed just nine goals in the six games Stone has worn the steel grey No. 61.

Obviously, Marc-Andre Fleury’s play in the crease has been a big part of that. But don’t discount the job his D-men are doing in front of him.

The Knights are winning more battles in their own end. They’re more active in using their sticks to take away the cross-ice pass. They are making smarter decisions in breaking out of their own end. They are pinching in the other team’s end more judiciously and not getting caught in as many odd-man rushes the other way. They continue to block shots at a high rate. They seem to be communicating better.

All of that was again on display Saturday here in Vancouver at Rogers Arena against a Canucks team which Vegas handled a week ago, 3-0, and 6-2 Saturday for their sixth straight win. The Knights scored a franchise-record five first-period goals and there was no looking ahead to tonight’s big game at the Scotiabank Saddledome and the rematch with the Flames.

And as many predicted, Stone finally scored as a Golden Knight as he opened the scoring 1:32 into Saturday’s contest.

Gallant said you never know what’s going to happen when you change your lineup. But these moves appear to have worked so far.

It was just shaking things up. When you’re losing, you’re not happy. So we made a few changes with the D and so far it’s worked. I like the way they’ve been playing. -Gallant

You ask the defensemen what’s turned things around, you get different answers.

I think change can be good sometimes. You get a little stagnant with the way you play. I just think that it’s about trending. If you continue to play well, you want to make sure you keep doing those things that help you win. Colin Miller and Jon Merrill have been playing fantastic for us. When you have that kind of depth on your team, that’s important. -Schmidt

Theodore said the defensemen are reacting better to the puck and making the right play more consistently.

I think we’re just quick to pucks and we’re not giving them as much time and space in the corners. Usually when you give teams with good skill players time down low they’re going to make plays. I think our centers have been coming in and killing those plays and that’s been big for us. -Theodore

Engelland said it has been a collective mindset that has seen the team’s defensive uptick.

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MARK STONE (F) SIGNS 8-YEAR $9.5M AAV CONTRACT EXTENSION

Mark Stone’s Impact Goes Beyond The Scoresheet

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It’s no secret the acquisition of Mark Stone has made a positive impact on the Golden Knights. They are a perfect 4-0-0 since the trade, have utterly dominated consecutive division opponents, and quite simply they look a lot closer to a Cup contending team than they have all year.

All of it is with Stone barely finding the scoresheet. He has just a single point in four games and it came on a power play assist to William Karlsson.

Stone’s impact goes much deeper than how much he’s scoring and it even goes deeper than even how often his linemates get on the board. What Stone’s acquisition has done has stabilized the Golden Knights top six, while in the process taking some major match-up responsibility off the hands of William Karlsson, Jonathan Marchessault, and Reilly Smith. It’s also put Alex Tuch in a role that allows him to focus more on creating scoring chances for a line that desperately needed help doing so.

It reminds me a lot of Schmidty’s situation when we missed him. I think it put people in places that they weren’t comfortable in. It’s important to have a role on your team and feel comfortable and confident in that role. I think Stoner coming in and kind of giving us that balance through our lineup. It’s not one player that makes a huge difference but it’s one player that kind of puts everyone in a position to succeed and in a role they are comfortable in. -Max Pacioretty

Stone has played a total of 64:39 at even strength for the Golden Knights. Territorially he’s been terrific posting a Corsi For of 58.9%. He’s been on the ice for 40 shots on goal for while just 22 against. The Golden Knights have created 31 goal scoring chances including 16 high danger, which is good for about a chance every other shift, and most importantly he’s been on the ice for three goals while still has not seen one in the Golden Knights net.

But more importantly than all of those great numbers is the competition he has faced. In the four games he’s played, the forwards he’s shared the ice with most have been Elias Pettersson, Rickard Rakell, Alexander Radulov (and Tyler Seguin), and Riley Sheahan. Aside from Florida, he’s faced the best forward on the opposing team every night.

I’d say he’s playing pretty much where we are going to play him. He may play a few more minutes later on, or a few less, I don’t know, but everything’s gone good so far. -Gallant

The Florida game, the one he didn’t match-up most with the opposition’s top forwards, might be the most telling too. Aleksander Barkov was on the ice for all five goals the Panthers scored. When Barkov was on the ice with Stone, not only did Florida not score, but they attempted just one shot, and it was blocked.

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