Now that most of the NHL teams have reached the 20 game mark are there any patterns present that can be discerned? Can any teams be said to have won or lost the off season?
Go East Young Hockey Player
Except for the Chicago Blackhawks, not one other team from the western conference really belongs in the highly competitive east. Most of the other current western playoff position holders are mediocre at best and it is their mediocrity which is still keeping the bad western teams at the bottom of the conference in contention.
Winner Of The Big Trade 1
Nashville is finally starting to play like everyone said they would but Montreal is on top of the tougher eastern conference. Shea Weber is thriving playing for the Canadiens. Victory to Montreal.
Winner Of The Big Trade 2
Edmonton started out running away with the western conference with new defenseman Adam Larsson and then faded. But they still are finally in the playoffs where there should have been years ago with all the number one picks they owned. But then New Jersey caught fire with Taylor Hall finally adding some scoring punch to the excellent New Jersey defense until he got injured. Winner: Edmonton just barely but only because Hall is injured.
Too Many Mr. Brittles
Taylor Hall is injured again which made him expendable by Edmonton. His injury cripples New Jersey’s mediocre attack. Sidney Crosby started off the season with a concussion. Steve Stamkos is out long term again thwarting Tampa Bay General Manager Steve Yzerman’s hopes of putting the Lightning over the top and winning the Stanley Cup by signing all his top stars in the off season. Connor McDavid was injured last year and has a history of injuries in junior hockey. Fortunately for Edmonton he is still around. Jack Eichel is still injured for Buffalo. Too many key players are getting serious long term injuries. Is the game too rough or are these players not built for hockey?
Detroit Redwings and Vancouver Canucks
The Steve Yzerman – Nicklas Lidstrom era is coming to an end in Detroit with only Henrik Zetterberg remaining of the once star-studded lineup which would win the Redwings four more Stanley Cups. At one time Detroit went unbeaten for six games, proving they are still competitive but since then they have tumbled down the eastern conference standings. The problem is they have not had high draft picks for such a long time and have had no chance to build a new championship era around younger players. But they made the most of a glorious period. The same cannot be said of the Vancouver Canucks where the Sedin brother era is winding up. The Canucks went unbeaten in their first four games but then reality caught up with them. But whereas Detroit won four Stanley Cups, Vancouver won none. The best the Sedins could do in their prime was take the Canucks once to the Stanley Cup Final. Soon they will retire and join Pavel Bure and Trevor Linden as the all time best Canucks so far. Vancouver is still waiting for its first golden age.
Winners In The Off Season
1. Montreal Canadiens
General Manager Marc Bergevin looked for players who did not respond last year when goaltender Carey Price got injured and the team collapsed. He zeroed in on P K Subban and putting his own neck on the chopping block, traded Subban to Nashville for Shea Weber. The high risk trade made him look like a genius. Weber is thriving in Montreal which early in the season assumed the top spot in the tough eastern conference and has not relinquished it since.
2. Edmonton Oilers
For now at least Edmonton remains in a playoff position in part thanks to a mediocre western conference. They are finally showing something after years of number one draft picks. But two more of those number one picks, Taylor Hall and Nail Yakupov are gone, their careers wasted in Edmonton. The Oilers started out good but have tumbled back recently. Edmonton better hope that their best number one pick Connor McDavid is not a “Mr Brittle” or else they could continue to fall and again be on the outside looking in once again.
3. Columbus Blue Jackets
Coach John Tortorella is getting the Blue Jackets to play the way he wanted horrible Team USA to play in the World Cup, which they conspicuously failed to do. Columbus is playing good, competitive hockey and if they can keep it up for the rest of the year, they should make the playoffs. A big part of the reason is the play of goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky who showed he was back to par in the World Cup by keeping a bad Russian team competitive and the score respectable in a loss against Canada who fired 47 shots against him.
4. New Jersey Devils
They were always a good defensive team but then they added former number one pick Taylor Hall from Edmonton to give them a decent attack. New Jersey had one of the best records in the east but now Hall is hurt long term. Did they add enough elsewhere to hang on to their playoff spot while Hall is out?
Still The Teams To Beat
Other teams have improved but until otherwise proved, the Pittsburgh Penguins and Chicago Blackhawks are still the teams to beat in their conferences until someone eliminates them.
Did The Right Thing But It’s Not Enough
Toronto Maple Leafs, Winnipeg Jets
Winnipeg and Toronto both drafted the right players, Patrik Laine and Auston Matthews but both teams are still out of the playoffs. The high point for Winnipeg was a shut out of the Chicago Blackhawks on home ice but instead of taking off from that victory the Jets have tumbled out of the playoffs. They simply do not have enough talent. The Maple Leafs hired the right coach, then the right general manager, drafted Matthews and are still paying for the horrible ownership of the Ontario Teachers Pension Fund that ran the team into the ground.
Washington Capitals, Minnesota Wild, St. Louis Blues
The Capitals and Wild did nothing noteworthy in the off season to improve their talent level except the Wild hired ex-Washington coach Bruce Boudreau to be the new helmsman. St. Louis lost talent.
Except for getting T. J. Oshie, the Captials have not significantly improved their talent level for a long time and Alexander Ovechkin (as shown again during the recent World Cup) has never shown that he can take a team past mediocrity. They could not beat the Pittsburgh Penguins last year and probably not the Tampa Bay Lightning too. Do they think by doing nothing in the off season that they can beat them now? Worse still is that many other teams might have caught up to the Capitals. These include a returned New York Rangers, Montreal, Columbus, New Jersey, and maybe Ottawa and Boston. All things point to the usual playoff result. Maybe win a first round playoff series or not and if they do win, eliminated for sure in the second round.
Minnesota was a bad team that could not make the playoffs and then signed Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, patted themselves on the back that they could now make the playoffs and have not added any significant talent since. They can beat bad playoff teams like Colorado and Winnipeg but never a true contender like Chicago. Funnily enough, the same can be said of new coach Bruce Boudreau’s playoff record with Washington and Anaheim. The current weakness of the western conference makes them look better than they really are.
St. Louis made a breakthrough last year to reach the conference final but they lost talent in the off season. Like Minnesota, the mediocrity of the western conference is making them look better than they would be if they were located in the east.
For all three teams, the true test of how good they are is the playoffs and not the regular season. Over all three hangs the phrase: “Show me”.
Off Season Losers
1. New York Islanders
The Islanders finally won a playoff round after going ages without showing anything and were poised to join the top teams in the east as true contenders. Instead they lost significant talent during the off season and now are close to being the first team to be eliminated from playoff contention. Does management and ownership think that star player John Tavares can do it all by himself? There are deep problems with this team, not at the player level (see below).
2. Arizona Coyotes
The NHL fought tooth and nail to keep this team in Phoenix and out of Hamilton, Ontario, and after one decent playoff appearance, they have done nothing since. Phoenix is said to have the worst attendance year after year and the team’s failure to improve in the off season and their current horrible record, tied for the worst in the entire NHL is sure going to pack them in. When are they going to do something to show they really belong in the NHL?
Who Are They Kidding?
New York Islanders, Winnipeg Jets
The Islanders and Jets play in 15,000 seat arenas. That seating capacity was good enough up till the 1980s but now the median seating capacity for the NHL is approximately 18,500. The size of your arena and the revenue it can generate is part of your team. It enables your ownership and management to afford more star players. New York and Winnipeg are being hurt by the size of the arenas they play in. Both of them are not currently in a playoff position.
Back in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the Islanders used to be able to add top talent. First Dennis Potvin, then Bryan Trottier, and then Mike Bossy, plus a host of top secondary players like Butch Goring. Instead of adding talent to John Tavares, the Islanders now lose it.
Winnipeg built its current arena to be the home of the AHL Manitoba Moose, not a returned Winnipeg Jets. But Gary Bettman knew Winnipeg wanted the Jets back desperately and Dave Thomson and Mark Chipman were first class owners, so Bettman was willing to overlook the size of the new arena when the Atlanta Thrashers went under. I used to feud with the Manitoba Mythbusters pressure group over this issue. The Islanders and Jets only have two star players, John Tavares and Patrik Laine. If they cannot afford any more they can never ice a Stanley Cup winning team and might as well not be in league. When will the size of the arenas become an active issue with these two franchises?
Las Vegas Golden Knights will become the 31st NHL team. Let’s hope they get the support that the city’s fans promised and not become another Phoenix Coyotes. But that is at least better than …
Where’s The Owner?
Gary Bettman wants the Quebec Nordiques and the $500 million expansion fee back in the NHL. So does the NHL Board including Montreal Canadiens owner Geoff Molson. But the owner of bidder Quebecor, Pierre Karl Peladeau made inappropriate racial remarks about Molson after he lost owning the Montreal Canadiens to Molson Breweries, dooming any attempt to join the NHL Board long before a single shovel went in the ground to build the new Quebec City Videotron. (Forget the nonsense that the NHL turned down Quebec because of unbalanced conferences and a low Canadian dollar which they proclaim in public. This is the real reason the Quebecor bid was rejected.) So far Gary Bettman’s attempts to find a suitable Quebec City owner behind the scenes have not produced anything. Will something develop in the next quarter of the NHL’s season?