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Sunday hockey notes

John Tavares has been good since signing his huge deal with the Maple Leafs, but he may not be the great that Toronto was expecting

Entering Saturday night, John Tavares had 376 points in 383 games with his hometown Maple Leafs.Nick Wass/Associated Press

Maple Leafs captain John Tavares entered Saturday night’s game against the Predators with a career scoring line of 434-563–997, right there on the blue-painted doorstep of becoming the 98th NHLer to reach 1,000 points.

The Leafs figured three or four playoff rounds would be an annual springtime occurrence in Toronto after they filched away the former Islanders centerpiece as a unrestricted free agent in July 2018. The hype and hope have yet to come true.

Tavares’s price: seven years, $11 million per. Like many UFA hires, it turned out to be a steep overpayment when weighed against return — solid, consistent, but not spectacular. Tavares has not been that difference-maker/bonding agent envisioned by then-general manager Kyle Dubas upon taking over the Blue and White corner office. The core strength of the Leafs to evolve over the course of Tavares’s run in Toronto has been, no surprise, their prime draftees, namely first-round picks Morgan Rielly (2012), William Nylander (2014), Mitch Marner (2015), Auston Matthews (2016), and more recently, Matthew Knies (a second-rounder in 2021).

Would all of that talent have emerged and coalesced had Tavares not been brought in to be resident rainmaker? No telling, of course. But we do know that the $11 million annual cap hit devoted to Tavares greatly restricted how Dubas (now the Fenway Sports Group’s fixer of all things in Pittsburgh) could manage Toronto’s roster parts and payroll. For his part, Tavares has delivered with the same metronomic offensive consistency he showed on Long Island, where fans remain, shall we say, peeved that he walked, and did so without having offered himself up weeks before at the trade deadline.

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The franchise’s biggest asset, age 27, departed Uniondale for zippo in return, following a season the Islanders again missed the playoffs. The double gut punch. Up until George Santos, Tavares was the Island’s long-standing MVP (Most Vilified Person).

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Tavares collected 621 points in 669 games (.928 average) in his days with the Islanders. Entering Saturday night, he had 376 points in 383 games (.982) with his hometown Leafs. Since Tavares entered the league, his 997 points ranked fifth, behind only Sidney Crosby (1,132), Patrick Kane (1,095), Alex Ovechkin (1,080), and Steven Stamkos (1,036). Those four other names can be found etched on the Stanley Cup.

Once he reaches the 1,000-point plateau, Tavares will be the 32nd in that esteemed group, similar to Patrice Bergeron, never to have posted a 100-point season. Bergeron pinned up his career high (79) in 2018-19. Tavares put up his best (88) that same season, his first in Toronto.

“I’m not there yet, so it’s hard to really say,” Tavares, 33, said last weekend, with the Bruins in Toronto, when asked to reflect on what 1,000 points means to him. “But no doubt, I think anyone [who’s done it], coming into the league, growing up and watching players and guys that accomplished that milestone obviously [were] really significant, really impressive. So I’m just trying to keep my head down, going to work and playing well, and let that happen when it happens. But no doubt, I think it’s a special milestone.”

Tavares was selected first overall in the 2009 draft, leaving Tampa Bay to pick up the giant bucket of loose change that was Victor Hedman, now in possession of a Norris Trophy, a Conn Smythe Trophy, and his name twice etched into the Cup.

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It was the 6-foot-7-inch Hedman who went on to become the biggest difference-maker in that draft, perhaps with a case also to be made for Ryan O’Reilly (No. 33, Colorado). Without O’Reilly, the Blues don’t win the Cup in 2019. Too soon?

Taveres is strong around the net, and not shy about getting there. His adherence and commitment to defensive play have been the missing elements to keep him at sub-superstar status. Bergeron, though not as offensively prolific (.804 points per game), based his game on defense and faceoff efficiency. The 1,040 points just piled up along the way.

Had Tavares brought Bergeron’s kind of glue to Toronto, and poured it into the Matthews-Marner-Nylander-Knies-Rielly mix, the Leafs today would have a far firmer, stubborn, and perhaps winning culture than when he arrived. Dubas also never found a franchise goalie nor figured out how to build a stout backline around Rielly needed to forge an effective Cup run.

For $11 million a year, the Leafs got every bit the solid, productive, predictable performer that Tavares had been on Long Island. They thought they were getting more, and thus far have paid the price for it: a lone playoff series victory and a payroll that has left new GM Brad Treliving as the guy still trying to make it all work.

Brad Marchand puts the Bruins on his back
WATCH: The Bs have been up and down, but their captain has scored the last five goals over the last three games. Reporter Conor Ryan forecasts the season ahead.
CENTURY CLUB?

Defensemen go

on the offensive

Let’s not take for granted the boffo point production we are seeing from dazzling young defensemen Quinn Hughes (Canucks) and Cale Makar (Avalanche), who are on pace to shatter the 100-point ceiling.

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Their numbers to start the weekend: Hughes (9-27–36) and Makar (7-27–34). Makar, ex- of UMass, had played in three fewer games. They’re both tracking to finish in the range of 110-120 points.

Last season, Erik Karlsson (25–76–101), then with the Sharks, became the first blue liner since Brian Leetch with the Rangers (1991-92) to reach 100. Only four others ever got there: Bobby Orr (6), Paul Coffey (5), Al MacInnis (1), and Denis Potvin (1).

Orr did it first, posting 120 in the Stanley Cup-winning season of 1969-70. That puck he slammed by Glenn Hall, the so-called “Flying Bobby” goal to clinch the Cup, left No. 4 with 42 goals and 140 points for the entire campaign.

For the record: Never have two defensemen reached 100 points in the same season.

If you were fed up and exited the building during the Dead Puck Era, it’s OK to return to an NHL arena near you. Most nights, there’s a good chance you’ll be entertained.

The Bruins, by the way, will get their first look at Hughes this season when the resurgent Canucks visit on Feb. 8, the front end of a seven-game homestand. Makar, who turned pro in 2019 after two years with the Minutemen, will be here with the Avalanche on Jan. 18.

Cale Makar, who played for UMass in college, is on track to record 110-120 points.Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press
ETC.

Hughes brothers

share the ice

Tuesday night in Vancouver, all three Hughes brothers — Quinn Hughes with the Canucks, and Jack and Luke Hughes with the Devils — suited up in the same game for the first time in their NHL careers. They finished a collective 2-4–6.

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Quinn (0-2–2) and Jack (1-2–3) had faced one another in NHL play. Luke (1-0–1) was the newcomer, having joined the Devils backline corps last spring after two years at Michigan. All three were first-round picks.

The Hugheses thus became the ninth family in league history to have at least three brothers suited up in the same game, making them this season’s winners of the unofficial, coveted, and highly suspect Stastny, Stastny, and Stastny Trophy. Other than the Quinns and Stastnys (Peter, Anton, and Marian), whose names appeared together in a league-high 251 game sheets, the families also to ice at least three brothers in the same game:

▪ Plager (Barclay, Bill, Bob), 135 games

▪ Sutter (Brent, Brian, Darryl, Duane, Rich, Ron), 95 games*

▪ Staal (Eric, Jared, Jordan, Marc), 19 games**

▪ Cook (Bill, Bud, Bun), eight games

▪ Boucher (Billy, Bobby, Buck, Frank), nine games***

▪ Bentley (Doug, Max, Reg), eight games

▪ Broten (Neal, Aaron, Paul), two games

* — No more than four Sutters ever played in the same game. The total of 95 represents games in which at least three played.

** — No more than three Staals ever played in the same game.

*** — No more than three Bouchers ever played in the same game.

Goaltending is a big job

The NHL staged 13 games last Saturday, including Boston at Toronto, which pitted 6-4 Linus Ullmark in the Bruins net vs. 6-3 Joe Woll for the Leafs.

There is no height requirement, or restriction, related to being an NHL goalie. But the growing reality, shall we say, is that it’s no country for short men. If your growth rings maxed out at 6 feet or you’re standing tippy-toe to get to 72 inches, then learning to master the knuckleball could be a better path to big-time pro sports.

Consider: Of the 26 goalies who started on Saturday, a field that ranged from 6-1 Igor Shesterkin (Ranger) to a trio of 6-6ers, including Jake Oettinger (Stars), Anthony Stolarz (Panthers), and Jacob Markstrom (Flames), 18 measured a minimum 6-3. All that, keep in mind, before propping up on their big-boy skates.

Shesterkin and seven others, all 6-2, comprised the short list of short fellas.

“They got little baby legs,” Randy Newman once said, though not necessarily with height-challenged puck stoppers on his mind, “and they stand so low, you got to pick ‘em up just to say hello.”

In the desert, Coyotes are hot

Hold on, it looks like there’s legit signs of life in that dinky-rink operation in the Arizona desert.

The Coyotes, here at the Garden for Saturday’s matinee, last Monday welcomed the Capitals into their itsy-bitsy Mullet Arena (5,000 seats) and pinned a 6-0 defeat on Ovechkin & Sons.

The win, their fifth in a row with Connor Ingram in net, meant the Coyotes clicked off consecutive wins against the last five Cup champions, the Golden Knights (2-0), Lightning (3-1), Avalanche (4-3), Blues (4-1), and Capitals.

Prior to puck drop on Saturday, the Coyotes stood 13-10-2 and owned the No. 1 wild-card spot in the Western Conference, along with a plus-11 goal differential, tied for ninth in the league. Yes, those Arizona Coyotes, with one trip to the playoffs since the spring of 2012.

Ingram, backup last season to Karel Vejmelka, has emerged as the No. 1, recording a blistering .968 save percentage in that five-game Cup champion beatdown. Once a Tampa Bay draft pick (No. 88 in 2016) out of WHL Kamloops, he ultimately made his NHL debut with Nashville, and was plucked off waivers a year ago in October by the Desert Dogs.

A back end reconfigured by GM Bill Armstrong has been a huge help. Sean Durzi, acquired in trade over the summer from the Kings, has been a minutes monster on defense. Ditto for Matt Dumba, ex- of the Wild, who couldn’t find a rich, long-term suitor in the July UFA market and signed on for a year at $3.9 million. In those five wins, the Coyotes on average yielded five goals and a tick under 31 shots per game.

Now, if they only could build a rink big enough to hold an adult skate.

Sports are in their blood

Abigayle Poitras, younger sister of Bruins rookie Matt Poitras, has signed on as a blue liner with Merrimack College for next season.

“Part of her thinking,” said Matt, “was that I would be nearby, whether that’s Boston or Providence, right? It’ll be great having her around.”

Meanwhile, older brother Adam Poitras, a standout lacrosse player at Loyola Maryland, is headed to Las Vegas after tidying up graduate courses in the spring. He was chosen second overall by the Las Vegas Desert Dogs in the National Lacrosse League’s draft.

“He’s been thinking about med school options, too,” said Matt, “but he wants to give lacrosse a try.”

Matt shared his brother’s love for lacrosse, particularly the indoor game, but opted to give it up 5-6 years ago to focus on hockey.

“Great sport, lacrosse, and I miss it,” he said. “But two sports can be tough on the body.”

Bruins rookie Matt Poitras comes from a family of athletes.Tanner Pearson for the Boston Globe

Loose pucks

Can’t let a mention of the Stastnys go (“Allez Nords!”) without a reminder that the Bruins will be back in Quebec City on Oct. 3 for a preseason matchup with the Kings, whose team president and ex-QMJHL star, Luc Robitaille, was among the lead voices in organizing it. The game will be played in the state-of-the-art Videotron Centre and not the hallowed Colisee, where the Stastnys electrified the old barn upon arriving from their middle-of-the-night escape from Czechoslovakia at the start of the 1980s . . . Bruins defenseman Brandon Carlo on defending John Tavares: “Great player. Very good around the net front, and also has great vision to enable the guys around him to put the puck in the back of the net with tap-ins, always a challenging player to play against. Growing up, he was obviously on my radar to watch, you take a lot of pride to be able to play against guys like that during your time in the league. I try to approach it as a fun opportunity, a good challenge for myself, and [the Leafs] have plenty of those guys that create a good challenge for you.” . . . One-third of the way through the season and ironman Phil Kessel remains an unsigned UFA, despite continuing buzz that he is about to sign on somewhere. Detroit was high on the Kessel rumor list until Patrick Kane signed with the Red Wings . . . Alex Ovechkin began the weekend with five goals, a pace that would land the Big Russian Machine short of 20 goals this season. His career low for a full season: 32. Now 38 and approaching 1,400 games, No. 8′s game is looking as gray as his salty beard. He opened the season needing 73 goals to pass Wayne Gretzky’s all-time mark of 894 . . . The NHL has decided to send its draft gathering out with a bang, and will hold its giant hockey hoedown one last time in June (28-29) at the Las Vegas Sphere, the mesmerizing entertainment center brought to life by MSG’s James Dolan. Post-2024, the draft will continue each year, but with personnel of each of the Original 32 clubs headquartered in their individual control hubs. Technology makes it all possible, ergo, the human factor of vulcanized communion will be gone for good . . . In the spirit of the Bruins’ 100-year celebration, how about a night on Causeway Street this season that takes us all back a century, when the action in the building (then the Boston Arena) was first and foremost about hockey. Just for one night, kill the music and the flashing lights and the constant in-arena cacophony that leaves patrons headed home with mass-onset tinnitus. Dim the lights at intermission, leave the organ music to Ron Poster, and let the crowd of some 18,000 to talk amongst themselves. Sure, crazy, but it worked OK for decades before noise and action became instruments of in-arena addiction.


Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at kevin.dupont@globe.com.