TRAIKOS: Makar was unquestionably Postmedia’s Male Athlete of the Year

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However you want to measure it — whether it’s by goals, points or enough hardware to fill a trophy case twice over — what Cale Makar did last season was special.

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How special?

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Last season was a bit of a magical year in the NHL. In what was a return to normalcy, Auston Matthews scored 60 goals and won the Hart Trophy. Connor McDavid put up a whopping 123 points for an Edmonton Oilers team that finally reached the conference final.

Outside of hockey, Andrew Wiggins won an NBA title, Felix Auger Aliassime reached a top-10 ranking and was on the Davis Cup-winning team in tennis, while Alphonso Davies helped Canada qualify for soccer’s World Cup and scored the first-ever goal.

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Makar, who was named Postmedia’s Male Athlete of the Year, topped them all. 

Only 24 years old, the Colorado Avalanche defenceman not only won the Norris Trophy as the best at his position. But he also followed it up by winning the Stanley Cup, where Makar led his team in scoring and was named playoff MVP.

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It was a trifecta that only two others in the history of the NHL have accomplished. One is Bobby Orr, who won the Norris Trophy a record eight times. The other, Nicklas Lidstrom, has won it seven times.

That appears to be the path that Makar is on.

Wayne Gretzky said the Calgary native is the closest to Orr that “we’ve ever seen.” Paul Coffey, who was once called the next Orr, and others agreed. Some even started to ask whether you’d want Makar over Matthews or McDavid to start a team.

After all, Makar is the only one of the three with a Stanley Cup ring.

And to think, he just turned 24 years old in October. As good as he’s been, he’s barely played 200 regular-season games. There’s still reason to believe that there’s room to grow.

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“It’s hard to imagine him getting better,” said Colorado’s Nathan MacKinnon. “But if someone can it’s him.”

Every year, Makar keeps getting better and better. He was the rookie of the year with 50 points in 57 games in 2019-20. The next year, he averaged a point per game and was a finalist for the Norris Trophy. And then came last year’s historic season, where Makar had 28 goals and 86 points in 77 games — and followed it up with 29 points in 20 games. 

Even Roman Josi, who became the first defenceman in nearly 30 years to reach 96 points, was impressed.

“He had such an amazing year,” said Josi, who was the runner-up to Makar in the Norris Trophy voting. “You can’t even be mad about it, because he’s so good.”

Makar might not have changed how the position is played. But like Orr and Coffey, he’s sure made it more entertaining again. 

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“What’s always intrigued me about him is that he looks like one of those kids that knows he has talent,” said Coffey. “He has a great zest for the game — and he should. He gets burned like everybody else, but his good far outweighs the bad and he’s just so confident. I know the mentality.”

Few defencemen can skate like Makar. The ones that can don’t possess his stickhandling ability. Or his shot. Or his willingness to try things that others wouldn’t dare, like when he’s tightrope-walking the puck across the enemy blueline or stopping on a dime and breaking ankles for an OT winner against Chicago that was instantly hailed as the goal of the year.

“I think Makar is the best player in the league,” said Dallas goalie Jake Oettinger. “He’s the biggest offensive threat as a D. It all kind of runs through him. He’s kind of like a quarterback — he pretty much does everything, he’s got his hand in everything. I’m sure he’s heard it all.”

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Earlier this season, Makar became the fastest defenceman to record 200 points. Once again, he’s expected to be a Norris Trophy candidate. But he’s not on pace to put up 80 points or score anywhere close to 30 goals. 

“For me, it’s not about topping that,” Makar said of his play last season. “I go back to consistency. If you look at all the guys like (Victor) Hedman and Josi, they’re just so consistently defensively and offensively, and supporting their team year in and year out.”

What he’s describing is leadership. There are two ways of leading: through actions and through words. Makar has mastered the first kind. But even with all that he’s accomplished, he’s still learning to be more vocal and share his wisdom with the rest of his teammates.

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“For us, too, he’s getting more comfortable in the room and speaking his mind,” said MacKinnon. “He’s a quiet guy, naturally. Sometimes you have to bug him, like ‘Tell us what you think, Cale. Stop just sitting there. We want to hear your thoughts. You’re Cale Makar.’ But he’s just such a humble, nice person. But he’s a competitive guy. He does have a little swag to him quietly. But he could be good with a little confidence.”

“I wouldn’t say I’m shy. Reserved is the better word,” said Makar. “It’s definitely something that I know (head coach Jared Bednar’s) been on me about. I feel like I took a big step throughout last year.”

Judging by all that he accomplished, you could say it was a massive step.

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