To quote The Princess Bride, “To the pain,” may be how Aleksander Barkov feels after last Saturday’s night duel in Philadelphia.
Aleksander Barkov is an absolutely sensational player, arguably top 5 and without question in the top 10 forwards in the NHL.
However, Barkov seems to be inconsistent lately, with moments of vintage Barkov and other moments where he seems as irresponsible defensively as the rest of his team. At times, Barkov simply appears ‘exhausted.’
While Barkov certainly was productive in the 3rd period of the Philly game where he managed two assists in the last five minutes of play, he still looked gassed each time we caught a look at him during his very brief stints on the bench.
Is Barkov out of shape? Of course not. The great players (Ovechkin, Crosby, etc.) play a thought out and skilled number of minutes. So who is to blame for Barkov looking like it’s game 75 only 38 games into the seasons?
Of course, the blame lies at the feet of none other than Bob Boughner. Barkov is averaging an insane 23:07 TOI a game. That is almost superhuman 1:10 higher than any other forward in the league and only trails nine defensemen for the most time on ice for any player in the NHL.
Along with that, he’s 11th in the NHL for the number of shifts for all skaters! Barkov has been put on the ice for nearly 1050 shifts in 38 games. He is 8th in the league for shifts (again, for any skater, not just forwards) per game with 28.4.
Is the Barkov monopoly of the ice good for the Panthers, or for Barkov himself? Is Boughner abusing Barkov so badly that Barkov will be dead by game 60? Is Boughner’s goal to make sure that Barkov has to retire at age 27?
While we can all understand the concept of wanting your best player on the ice as much as possible (within reason), Barkov needs to be put in a situation where he can be productive and at his best.
Boughner continues to double (and even triple) shift Barkov purposely limiting others’ playing time while stunting the development and growth of potential future stars/role players such as Henrik Borgstrom and Jayce Hawryluk whose successes the Panthers will need to ever get to the next level.
In the recent game against the Blackhawks, for example, the Panthers won 6-3 with a full team effort, highlighted by two Jayce Hawryluk goals, yet Jayce only played 7:46.
Barkov logged 22:23, which is way too excessive in a game where the Panthers are winning comfortably, and only a complete collapse could cost them the game (although, yes, the Panthers have done that too this year).
Henrik Borgstrom is another player who could be taking up some of Barkov’s excess ice time. While Borgstrom is averaging 14:33 of ice time per game, he only managed to play 12:57 in the Philadelphia game last Saturday while Barkov played an INSANE 26:01 of ice time.
After scoring two goals, Hawryluk was rewarded with a whopping six minutes of ice team, last on the team by over two minutes.
Boughner seems to be coaching each night for his job, not for the long-term good of the team. The Panthers must have more balance across the ice to succeed long-term, and the only way that’ll happen is for players like Borgstrom and Hawryluk to eat some of Barkov’s heavy minutes.
Heck, even Mike Hoffman can pitch in too. He logged under 15 minutes against Philly and he only happens to be the team’s leading goal scorer!
Boughner’s system is destined to fail despite the fun but unrepeatable late run of last season. He must step up and do something that has been the team’s biggest disappointment this year – coach the team.
If he doesn’t fix the ice balance – both in ice time and two-way hockey – the most likely outcome is that we’ll see Barkov panting on the ice with about 15 games when the Panthers, if they right the ship, need him the most.