Simmons: Malkin is under-appreciated

Evgeni Malkin of the Pittsburgh Penguins skates prior to the game against the Florida Panthers on...

Evgeni Malkin of the Pittsburgh Penguins skates prior to the game against the Florida Panthers on January 13, 2012 at the BankAtlantic Center in Sunrise, Florida. (Joel Auerbach/Getty Images/AFP)

STEVE SIMMONS, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:26 PM ET

The spotlight glares brightly on Sidney Crosbyís latest visit to a specialist while teammate Evgeni Malkin soldiers on with so little notice.

Crosbyís lack of play has been the single most discussed matter of this National Hockey League season. But at the same time, itís remarkable how little praise has come Malkinís way as he has, with such force, become hockeyís scoring leader.

It isnít just that Malkin leads the NHL in scoring. Itís how he leads. Having missed a chunk of games himself, Malkin is scoring at 1.37 points per game, which towers over the highest scorers in the game and puts him, along with Claude Giroux of Philadelphia, as the only NHL players scoring at better than a 100-point pace to this stage of the regular season.

For whatever reason, Malkin, drafted behind Alexander Ovechkin in 2004, has never gotten similar notice, even though he has won a scoring title already and a Conn Smythe Trophy. Should he continue, this would be his second scoring title, the other coming in a year in which he out-scored Crosby in both the regular season and the playoffs.

One more note for the under-appreciated Malkin: He already has two 100-point seasons in his career. Thatís the same number as the Sedin brothers. Combined.

THIS AND THAT

From the department of how far Ovechkin has fallen, consider this. Ovechkin trails Detroitís Val Filppula in league scoring by two points, which is significant because in each of the past five seasons, Ovechkin had more assists alone than the improving Filppula had points ... I got the impression that Joffrey Lupul, in the midst of a career year, would rather spend the weekend on the beach in California than be selected for the NHL all-star game in Ottawa. But he was selected and now heís an assistant captain, which is an awfully nice reward for a player doing things heís never done before ... Remember the old story about players having their best seasons when their contract is up? Guess nobody told Nikolai Kulemin about that ... Money distorts how we evaluate players today but at $4.6 million a year should Luke Schenn be three times the player that Carl Gunnarsson is at $1.4 million? To be honest, Gunnarsson is the more dependable defenceman at this stage ... When could we ask this question before without an obvious answer? And the best player on the Montreal Canadiens, not playing goal, happens to be? Not Jean Beliveau. Not Guy Lafleur. Not Rocket Richard. Thomas Plekanec?

HEAR AND THERE

Has agent Scott Boras misplayed his hand with Prince Fielder? Itís almost February and thereís only one serious bidder, the Washington Nationals, which is odd on its own. Why more teams, like the Blue Jays, arenít interested in Fielder is a point Iím having trouble comprehending. Never mind his home run hitting: Fielder has a career OPS of .929 and heís four years younger than Albert Pujols, assuming Pujolsí age is accurate ... For the record, Iím considering changing my name to Fausto Carmona ... For all the angst about the Blue Jays not improving over the winter, consider this: With Sergio Santos closing for the Jays and Darren Oliver as the setup man (especially against lefties) the two combined to strike out 139 batters in 114 innings last season. That should, at least, correct the Jays glaring weaknesses of blown saves from a year ago ... The worry about DeMar DeRozan. Heís not even scoring the garbage points that offensive players usually end up with when playing for terrible teams. At this stage of his career, heís not even Lamond Murray ... Mention the word Ďhashtagí to anyone over the age of 40 and they donít think Twitter, they think itís something they smoked in the 70s.

SCENE AND HEARD

The pending free agency of Zach Parise takes on all kinds of new dimensions with the news that the New Jersey Devils are out of money and have to go to the NHL to help meet their payroll demands in the second half of the season ... Does this make the NBA better or worse? The signatures franchises, Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics, are a combined 2-10 on the road this season ... As terrible as the Raptors are, there is no certainty they will end up with a lottery pick come June. There are seven teams in the NBA playing below .400 basketball ... In a one-year vacuum, Jay Feasterís deal for Mike Cammalleri makes all kinds of sense. Really, if making the playoffs is the goal and it appears to be nothing more than that, then all the Flames have to do is beat out Phoenix, Colorado, Minnesota and Dallas for the final spot. And thatís doable ... The one hockey word that cures insomnia for hockey fans: Escrow ... The worst part about NHL All-Star Weekend: The game ... The Edmonton Eskimos have signed linebacker Derek Domino. Wonder if his theme song is Layla ... My new get rich quick scheme: Bet against whichever NFL teams Iím picking. Iím going with New England and New York to advance to the Super Bowl. Invest at your leisure.

AND ANOTHER THING

Hands up, both of you, who figured the Ottawa Senators and Vancouver Canucks would be tied in the NHL standings in January ... And theyíre the same people who figured that Sundayís NFC title game would have neither Drew Brees nor Aaron Rodgers playing quarterback ... Words that should never really go together: AHL and Classic ... Alexei Ponikarovsky scored 102 goals in his last five seasons as a Leaf and was a plus-player every season. Since leaving Toronto for Pittsburgh, Los Angeles, Carolina and New Jersey, Ponikarovsky is scoring at less than a 10-goal pace ... Is it just me, or are you disappointed in Drew Doughtyís progress in Los Angeles? Heís nowhere near the best in the league and he should be ... Remember how Brad Richards was supposed to wake Marion Gaborik up? Well, Gaborik is having a terrific season with 25 goals but he has barely played at all with Richards ... What an iconic week. Muhammad Ali turned 70 and Jack Nicklaus turned 72 ... And a Happy birthday to Ray Rice (25), Mike Bossy (55), Serge Savard (66), Greg Oden (24, honest he is that young), and Tully Blanchard (58) ... And hey, whatever became of Don (The Magnificent) Muraco?

INTERPRETING MILOS

The best way to judge the greats of the tennis world is to put in perspective their performance in Grand Slam events. The Slams are the tournament everyone shows up for, and almost always they render playing rankings meaningless.

All of this brings us to the young Canadian Milos Raonic, who was eliminated by Lleyton Hewitt in the third round of the Australian Open. Hewitt was once a great player. Raonic may become a great player one day. But right now there needs to be some separation between Canadian expectations that are too high, and what might, in fact, be realistic.

Having Raonic to follow is something different: We havenít had a legitimate male singles player before. But what we donít know and canít know is whether he is capable of being a breakthrough player. Next up on the Grand Slam schedule is the French Open, which is not his kind of surface. Wimbledon or the U.S. Open should be much friendlier for Raonic. Then, weíll find out just how far he has progressed in his second real season on the tour.

OF AVERAGE GOALTENDING

How much of a factor will goaltending be in determining who qualifies for the final playoff spots in the Eastern Conference? Probably not as much as you think.

The Maple Leafs are clearly in a race with the Florida Panthers and the New Jersey Devils for the final two playoff spots in the East. The odds are, two of those three teams will make the post-season and maybe, though I doubt it, Winnipeg will be there as well. The question is: Which two will make it? The Leafs have Jonas Gustavsson out-playing James Reimer these days, which isnít what management expected, but has worked out just fine. The over-achieving Panthers got through the first half riding Jose Theodore in goal, but the injured and now slumping Panthers, donít win games on goaltending. Itís the same in New Jersey, where Martin Brodeur isnít Martin Brodeur anymore. Heís just another guy whoíll one day be in the Hall of Fame. Whether he can get the Devils to the playoffs, along with Johan Hedberg, remains to be seen.

My bet: Look for the Leafs and Devils in the playoffs and the Panthers and Jets out. Thatís today. Ask me next week and the story could very well change.

THE KADRI WATCH

As usual, this being hockey frantic Toronto, the expectations of Nazem Kadri are a little out of whack. If you go back to the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, Kadriís modest development with the Maple Leafs mirrors or betters so many of the players selected around him in the draft.

The forward picked just before him, Brayden Schenn, has yet to make his mark in his first season in Philadelphia. The forward chosen directly after him, Scott Glennie, has yet to play an NHL game. The next three forwards selected ó Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson, Zack Kassian and Peter Holland ó are all works in progress, some of whom donít seem to be progressing at all.

Kadri, meanwhile, has taken significant steps this season in reading the offensive play in the NHL. It doesnít necessarily translate statistically. While it may not be happening quickly enough for Kadri or Leaf fans there is reason to be patient here. Kadri is still something worth waiting for.

steve.simmons@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/simmonssteve


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