The great ones lead the scouting report. Cale Makar makes you rip the stupid thing up and start over from scratch.
“I remember having (coach) meetings (where they asked), ‘How do we defend this guy? If he goes down to here, where do we go?’” Rick Tocchet, the former Avs assistant coach and Turner Sports hockey analyst, said recently when asked about Makar, a generational defenseman. “You almost have to reinvent your system, right?
“Sometimes for Makar, he does stuff that a lot of defensemen have never done in the past, (such as) where he ends up (on a play). So it kind of screws up your system … (that’s) what MVP guys do: They put a wrinkle in your system.”
It’s not an “if” anymore. It’s a “when,” like the first snow on Beaver Creek or Dick Monfort genuflecting to season ticket holders after he’s robbed them blind. Cale Makar and the Hart Memorial Trophy, presented annually to the NHL’s Most Valuable Player, are destined to be together.
In just 178 regular-season games, the 23-year-old Albertan has gobbled up NHL awards the way Pac-Man gobbles pellets — wrangling the Calder Trophy as a rookie in ’19-20; then the Norris (a franchise first) and Conn Smythe trophies in ’21-22.
When Wayne Gretzky likens you to the great Bobby Orr on national television, there’s nowhere to go but up, kid. And no place to hide.
“With the fact that Cale can play 28 minutes a game and does what he does on the ice. I think it’s inevitable at (some) point that he does eventually win an MVP,” Turner Sports analyst Paul “Biz Nasty” Bissonnette said of No. 8, who’ll lead the opening salvo of Colorado’s Stanley Cup title defense on Wednesday at Ball Arena.
“What I love about the league now is you just have all those top guys — the (Auston) Matthews, the (Leon) Draisaitl and (Connor) McDavid, they’re all pushing each other. They’re all type-A guys that just want to be the best player on the ice every single night. And they drive each other … you see more of these types of video-game-(like) players coming up, where all they do is eat, breathe and sleep hockey.
“So I would definitely say that Makar will have an MVP in the next five seasons. Whether it’s this year, I don’t know.”
The great ones blow up plays. Makar blows minds.
“Gretzky last year … I think Gretz had Cale Makar as his MVP, just for the impact he’s made night-in, night-out, with the amount of ice (he has) to carry,” Bissonnette continued. “If he stays healthy this year, and we see what we saw in the second half of (last) season, and in the postseason, he’s definitely going to raise (the Hart). It’s hard to deny.”
And harder to win, especially if you play along the blue line. Only two defensemen since 1972 — a 50-year span — have snatched the Hart Trophy: The Blues’ Chris Pronger in 2000 and the aforementioned Orr after the ’71-’72 season.
The 6-foot-6 Pronger was a beast 22 years back: 62 points and a league-best plus-52 plus/minus rating while averaging more than 30 minutes of ice time per night.
While you gotta love the big lug for plastering Justin Bieber’s face all over the boards in a celebrity game five years ago, Pronger’s best overall season, in which he averaged 0.79 points per game, pales offensively to the bar Makar keeps raising every winter.
The Avs defenseman averaged 1.12 points per game last season. He’s rolling at a 1.01 clip over the first three seasons of his career. Cripes, for a so-called (makes air quotes with fingers) offensive-minded defender, even Makar’s plus/minus last season — plus-48 — was creeping into Pronger territory.
“So that’s why I think (hockey pundits) are all bullish on Makar,” Tocchet said.
“Because every time you talk to a coach or another team, it’s like, ‘With Makar, like, what do you do here? What do you do there?’ So he could definitely challenge for the MVP award.”
Great ones respect history. Makar’s on the cusp of making it. Again.