Could Cale Makar be underestimated in the Stanley Cup Playoffs?

Is Conn Smythe winner Cale Makar somehow being slept on as Colorado's secret weapon in the post-season?
Winnipeg Jets v Colorado Avalanche - Game Four
Winnipeg Jets v Colorado Avalanche - Game Four / Matthew Stockman/GettyImages

The Colorado Avalanche have a stacked roster, this isn't news to hockey fans. Still, against all logic it feels as though All-Star defenseman Cale Makar is a bit of an afterthought when compared to some of his own teammates in the post-season. This doesn't make a whole lot of sense from an empirical point-of-view, but allow me to make a case as to why it might be happening.

First and foremost, Makar was over-shadowed by Nathan MacKinnon's historically great season. MacKinnon not only broke Joe Sakic's franchise record for points in a season, he blew past it. Nate bested Super Joe's career best 120 points by 20, for a total of 140. The new single-season franchise leader even topped Peter Stastny and Michel Goulet, who tallied freakish numbers in the 80's when the club still resided in Quebec.

MacKinnon seems well-positioned for his first Hart Trophy win. This is true even amidst some gargantuan seasons by the likes of Connor McDavid, Nikita Kucherov and Auston Matthews. MacKinnon's impact on overall team success was just greater this regular season. Nate's 5-on-5 play, and the unstoppable-force he was at home should seal the deal.

Makar, by comparison is nominated for the Norris again this season, the prize given to the league's best defenseman. But by most accounts, and even here at MHS, Makar is not expected to win it this year. The odds, and the general atmosphere around people who know puck, favor Vancouver's Quinn Hughes. Hughes did edge Cale out in production, narrowly, and spreading accolades around the NHL is a good thing.

However, the playoffs can bring even more out of the game's best players. Hughes, for instance, is a -3 all-time in the postseason, and through five games vs Nashville this year he is -1, while scoring no goals and assisting on 5. Meanwhile, Cale Makar is just humming along with 2 goals and 7 big helpers in the same span with a +3 rating.

Those are eye-popping numbers any player or fan would salivate over. But miraculously with nine huge playoff points through the first round, Cale is tied with two Avs teammates, MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen, while Artturi Lehkonen is behind by just one, and oh, big Val Nichushkin is tied for the NHL lead in goals at seven (with Edmonton's Zach Hyman). With all these impressive numbers and more this postseason, it actually becomes possible for Cale Makar's impact to be overlooked.

While I'm sure that no coaches will actively forget about #8 when they game-plan for the Avalanche, the narrative-hungry hype-machine that is the media might. If you asked where the storylines are on this team alone, Makar might rank third, fourth or even lower. Think I'm crazy? Consider these more flashy narratives.

There is MacKinnon’s aforementioned career-year. Georgiev's incredible opportunity at an all time redemption arc. Lehky and Chu Chu's tandem goal-streaks. Maybe Casey Mittlestadt has a case for biggest deadline payoff. Heck, you could even throw in Mikko's mini-drought finding the net, until he solved it in a big way in Game 5. All of these stories help cloud the bigger picture.

In my opinion, this only serves to aid the Avalanche in their quest for another Cup. Cale Makar is perhaps the greatest post-season x-factor any team possesses. Look at his pivotal goal in Game 4 as an example. Makar carried the puck from behind his own net coast-to-coast, skated through all of the Jets celebrated defense and scored unassisted. That gave Colorado a 3-1 lead in game and series, a blow from which Winnipeg never recovered. It was the moment I said to myself, the Avalanche are winning this round.

Makar has been here before, he has the 2022 Conn Smythe in his trophy room at home. In that magical run Cale amassed 29 points in just 20 contests, 8 goals and a whopping 21 assists. Other teams might have a comparable counter to MacKinnon on their roster. They might even be loaded with goal-scoring depth as the Avs are, but another guy like Makar does not exist.

Makar is the ultimate post-season game-breaker. He scored in his first ever league appearance in the playoffs against Calgary in 2019. He quarterbacks an absolutely lethal powerplay unit with vision and elite skating ability. The fact that he collected 90 points in what many consider to be down-year should be scary to anyone who matches up with Colorado the rest of the way.