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Is Cale Makar on the path to becoming an all-time great?

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It's What's Up, What's Down: yet another effort in sports journalism to deliver information through a simple and easily understandable medium. Here we look at the players, teams and things building toward something and the players, teams, and things accomplishing squat.

It's a special time to be a hockey fan.

Watching Alexander Ovechkin chase down Wayne Gretzky's all-time goals record over the next handful of seasons figures to produce one of, if not the, single-most rewarding moment for this generation of hockey fans.

Long after that box is checked, Connor McDavid should carry the torch for the next decade, leading us into a discussion about his place among the very best players to ever player the game.

While that's going down, it doesn't seem farfetched to believe that Cale Makar will be involved in a similar debate — at least from a positional standpoint.

After two pandemic-shortened seasons and the beginning of this current campaign, Makar is just 117 games into his career. What he's accomplished in what amounts to basically one-and-a-half seasons at the NHL level, however, has him on a path to become one of the most productive players ever at the position.

Cale Makar is well on his way to greatness. (Photo via Gety)
Cale Makar is well on his way to greatness. (Photo via Gety)

His current 0.974 points per game ranks him (comfortably) fifth all-time among defensemen, trailing only Bobby Orr, Paul Coffey, Denis Potvin and Ray Bourque.

Orr is lightyears ahead at 1.39 points per game in his brilliant but injury-shortened career. But aside from No. 4, Makar could realistically catch and hover above Coffey (1.087), Potvin (0.992), and Bourque (0.980) if he continues on his upward trajectory as he builds toward his prime seasons.

With nine goals and 20 points in 16 games this season, Makar has produced 1.25 points per game, which, if sustained, would be the highest mark by a blueliner in over a quarter century.

The expectation likely should be that Makar's production corrects to some degree, at least in speaking to this season. But it's important to note that Makar is far from fully formed as a 23-year-old only just learning the nuance of the position.

Raw skill and instinct, and the friendly environment of a system that some of the greatest players in the world work out of, have helped bring Makar to this point, where he is the best player at his position, at least according to teammate Nathan MacKinnon.

When in reality he's only beginning to grow into his role.

Avalanche coach Jared Bednar outlined a few of those progressions in Makar's game, saying Wednesday that one major development is that he's now letting the game come to him. Seeing this clearer grasp on nuance and his own capabilities, Bednar has become more comfortable giving more and more minutes to the ultra talent, including some on the penalty kill.

According to Bednar, the reason for the usage uptick is simple: Makar can maintain his brilliant standard for longer.

You'll take 25 minutes of unadulterated Makar over 20, wouldn't you?

His increased role, which should only continue to round out, should help us resist the urge to assume that Makar's production can't increase, let alone stay level.

Asked if 30 goals is in the defenseman's future, Bednar said, with not a moment's hesitancy:

"Yes."

The reason is another development in Makar's game has been resisting the urge to defer, and letting the puck go when he steps into scoring areas.

Only eight defensemen in the history of the league have scored 30 goals in a season. The last time it happened was 2008-09 when Mike Green, maybe the outlier of the bunch, did it for the Washington Capitals. Others include that small collection of Orr, Coffey, Potvin and Bourque.

Needing 21 goals the rest of the way, one goal every third game will see Makar reach that milestone. If he does it, it won't be the first time he puts his name in that exclusive company.

Up: Kadri leads Avs through important stretch

The media room in Toronto will always be busting at the seams when Nazem Kadri comes back to town, but there was far less discourse about his exit from the Maple Leafs this time for one important reason, which is that Kadri is having one of the single-best seasons league-wide through the quarter pole.

On the topic of production, Kadri ranks fourth in the NHL behind the three Hart Trophy front runners — McDavid, Ovechkin and Leon Draisaitl — in points per game with an even one-and-a-half. His seven goals and 20 assists have him tied for fourth in league scoring while spotting games to virtually every other player as the Avalanche continue to catch up in terms of outings contested.

Kadri's production has been the driving force behind a 7-1 run without captain Nathan MacKinnon in the lineup. It was the sort of success that allowed the superstar centre to take all the time he needed to recover from his injury.

There probably was no reason for concern over the Avalanche after a bumpy start, but contributions at key moments in the season can mean an incredible amount.

Colorado is still on the outside looking in, but Kadri has helped keep the team in a good spot.

Up: Cold lips and donations

The permanently-confident Auston Matthews seemed slightly less comfortable in his skin on Wednesday morning — only because less of it was being covered by facial hair.

Matthews looked like a completely different person — and certainly a much younger one — when he somewhat-sheepishly stepped into the media room fresh after shaving the moustache that has become his trademark over the last few seasons.

But the ribbing and the fact that he didn't quite feel himself existed as only temporary drawbacks to the far bigger picture, which was the fact that the shaver was brought out for a tremendous cause.

Matthews raised well over $134,000 with the help of Movember for men's health initiatives.

As his old teammate Kadri pointed out, it was "one of the most expensive muzzys ever."

Indeed.

Down: Conduct

It was a busy week for the NHL's disciplinary committee, which doled out three separate sanctions — one for a slew-foot, one for a bite, and the other for abuse of an official.

Perhaps it doesn't matter that much, but Rod Brind'Amour receiving a $25,000 fine — or only slightly less in strict dollar value — when compared to an incident in which one player (Brendan Lemieux) bit another (Brady Tkachuk) twice — once on each hand(!) — seems a little outlandish.

At least that incident provided an HoF gif.

Also, Brad Marchand being suspended for something P.K. Subban has done multiple times this season, while injuring other players on at least two occasions, seems a little strange.

He was right to call that into question.

And, as always, you're right to continue calling the NHL office into question.

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