Patrick Maroon, LW – Edmonton
Riding next to Connor McDavid on the Oilers’ top line, Maroon is in a plum spot to rack up points and continue to prove himself as a gritty presence.
While 2017-18 hasn’t started the way Edmonton might have imagined, widely-considered an offensively-explosive Cup contender now sporting the third-worst scoring average (2.47 goals per-game) in the league, Maroon has gained much from his time in northern Alberta.
After a late 2015-16 deal with Anaheim, he found his offensive groove with eight goals and six assists in the campaign’s final 16 games. With 27 goals and 15 assists and an impressive 189 hits last year, and a respectable five goals and seven assists in 19 games this year, have helped establish the former Duck as a coveted power forward.
While it’s a natural on the top line, Maroon’s 4.3 CF% rel following 5.0 and 5.2 marks the previous two campaigns, underscores his importance.
Edmonton has doled out a ton of money lately, most notably for McDavid and Leon Draisaitl resulting in a top-heavy salary structure.
Maroon’s expiring three-year $2 M AAV deal fits well in the lower portion of the Oiler payroll. We shall see if the scoring simpatico between McDavid, Maroon and Draisaitl (should he stay on the top line) continues as the season progresses, or if Edmonton’s disappointing start erodes their production.
If they think he’s easily replaceable, the Oilers’ could low-ball Maroon and leave him seeking perhaps larger offers elsewhere. If not, or if McDavid wishes him to stay, Edmonton will probably find a way to re-sign him.
Ian Cole, D – Pittsburgh
I’m not sure if getting hit in the face with the puck improves or hampers one’s bargaining power.
In the case of the Pens’ blocked shots and hits specialist who emerged from a part-time role with St. Louis to an increasingly-important component on Pittsburgh’s blue line over the past few years, it surely contributes to his tough reputation.
Leading Penguins defensemen in hits and blocks last year. Cole took on the same role in a changed, and thus far challenged, Pittsburgh rearguard crew and lost three teeth blocking a Roman Josi slap shot with his mouth in early October.
He was back on the ice three games later and has continued as a solid force in the champs’ quest to earn back-to-back-to-back titles.
His 3.3 CF% rel is a welcome site as Pittsburgh has struggled to keep the puck out of the net in 2017-18. Their 3.43 goals-against per-game stands fourth-worst in the NHL, not far from the likes of Arizona and Buffalo.
While they are far better known for their offense, having finished in the middle of the pack at 2.79 goals-against per-game last year, that’s certainly not where the Penguins want to be.
Still, the soon 29-year-old Cole has persevered and led. His 2016-17 offensive production (five goals and 21 assists) has yet to surface amid the squad’s slow start, but he tops them in blocks (33) despite missing three contests.
As his $2.1 M AAV deal expires this offseason, it will be interesting to see if another team makes Cole a larger offer as a two-time (possibly three-time) Cup champ who can bring experience and grit to a developing squad, or if his success is considered largely a product of playing with a great club.
Considering their frequent problems with injuries and uneven play on defense, there’s a good chance Pittsburgh brings him back at a reasonable raise.
Follow me on Twitter @KWcrosscheck