A HALF-DOZEN DELIBERATE DELIBERATIONS
1. Jim Rutherford’s fast-crumbling (0-4-2) Canucks means bossman J.R. has to be wondering whether cousin Bruce Boudreau can fix what’s looking like a team of skating quitters.
2. Buffalo is the new threat in the East. Not the least of reasons is that Craig Anderson delivers a goalkeeping lesson every time he’s between the pipes.
3. The unsung Bruin – Taylor Hall, of course – is suiting coach Jim Montgomery just fine and making the Gallery Gods forget Brad Marchand.
5. This minute, Sidney Crosby is a better captain than Connor McDavid and just about any C-Man in the league.
6. If I’m Rod Brind’Amour, I’m privately concerned about Antti Raanta as my backup for oft-injured Fred Andersen. A.R. cost them a playoff loss to the Rangers last spring.
IT’S NOT TOO EARLY TO PROJECT A CUP-WINNER
Of course, it’s still October and of course, we’ve only had appetizers to nibble on in the early schedule, but that doesn’t mean clues about the potential finalists don’t abound. The magnificent one, Sean McCaffrey, has taken on the challenge. Read on and enjoy:
It’s Colorado. Yeah, the Avs will do what the Penguins and Lightning have done before – run it back – and run it back with style.
Exhibit A: After several years of second-round exits, they now know how to win. Champ experience is the bottom line.
Exhibit B: Look at the Central Division. Joe Sakic’s outfit will breeze through the Central easier than they did last season.
Of course, there’ll be stiff competition. That’s what the derby is all about. With that in mind, I figure three clubs as the biggest threats to Colorado. One above all features breakneck speed mixed with a dazzling defense. Face it, the Rangers are most comparable to the Avalanche.
What’s blowing away every Blueshirts backer are a couple of surprises. The New Yorkers are winning faceoffs for a change, and their once anemic power play is now an automatic asset.
Coach Gallant’s Gang has a first-rate goalie and one of the better corps of starting defensemen in the league. We might even see Igor Shesterkin and his once former backup, Alexandar Georgiev, facing each other in the final round.
Exhibit C is Edmonton and the primary issue in Alberta’s second city is Jack Campbell’s goaltending, assuming that you can call it that.
The Oilers’ biggest test before the NHL’s penultimate round will be their Battle of Alberta rival, the Flames, who they knocked off in five games last spring. What’s to stop them in 2023?
Finally, there’s Tampa Bay.
Jon Cooper’s crew have won the last three Eastern Conference finals. While I like the Rangers to finally get the Tampa monkey off their back in 2023 – that’s also easier said than done.
Obviously, and just like any other Cup-winner from this era – the Bolts have been massacred by the salary cap since winning their two titles. Still, until the Bolts suffer a true fall from grace, they must be considered potential contenders.
TWO GOLDEN KNIGHTS FEEL RIGHT AT HOME IN SEATTLE
Our literary giant in Seattle, Glenn Dreyfuss, is a big fan of legendary southern author Thomas Wolfe. In this case, Glenn brings Wolfe’s classic, You Can’t Go Home Again, into play, with a hockey tilt. Go, Glenn, go:
Despite what Wolfe wrote, if you’re Shea Theodore and Keegan Kolesar, former Seattle Thunderbirds junior players, the novel is a bit more than a novelty.
Of the eight Canadian major junior teams based in the United States, only Seattle shares a metro area with an NHL franchise. Theodore, a defenseman, and Kolesar, a right winger, spent two seasons as teammates with the WHL T-Birds. Now reunited in Vegas, both scored in the 5-2 Golden Knights victory in Seattle on Oct. 15.
Kolesar’s favorite part of his return came after the game.
“It’s good to see my old billet family,” he said. “I haven’t seen them for six years. They’re awesome. They took care of me for many years (2013 to 2017).”
Kolesar roomed as a T-Bird with Alex True, briefly a Kraken last season. Kolesar said his billet family is very important to him, and the feeling is obviously mutual.
“They named their foster child after us, Keegan Alexander,” Kolesar said.
Were they rooting for Vegas or the Kraken?
“That’s pretty obvious on that one, right?” Kolesar said, laughing.
Theodore, a T-Bird from 2010 to 2015, has goals in all three visits to Climate Pledge Arena, his home away from home.
“There’s some buildings around the league that you know you come into and you feel more comfortable, ” Theodore said. “And yeah, I guess I just felt good this morning and it kind of led into the game.”
TORTORELLA’S WINNING EFFECT IN PHILLY
I told you so before the season even started. John Tortorella will take the endless put-downs of his Flyers and turn them into up-up wins. And so he has; so much so that Biggest Al Greenberg has pushed his way into a Torts analysis:
Tortorella has always had a way of getting the most from his players, at least in the early going.
Against all odds, the Flyers who finished 31st in the NHL last year in offense, started the season with three consecutive come from behind victories. They almost pulled off a fourth but fell short in a 4-3 defeat by Florida after again erasing a two-goal deficit. Then they topped Nashville 3-1.
This is very promising for a team not expected to go anywhere and starting the season with crushing injuries to the likes of Sean Couturier, Cam Atkinson, Ryan Ellis and Rasmus Ristolainen, among others. They’ve received strong goaltending from Carter Hart and Felix Sandstrom and good scoring from the top line of Scott Laughton, Kevin Hayes and Travis Konecny.
The problem per ‘Torts’ is that the scoring is not balanced.
“It’s got to be done by committee,” Tortorella said. “We need to get some goals from people. (The power play) has been really good in the first four games, scoring a power play goal each game. It keeps us in the game, but we need to get more offense out of other people right on through the lineup.”
THE TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS – GO FIGURE THEM. NOBODY CAN
Sheldon Keefe’s team continues to be an enigma-on-top-of-an-enigma. Our dauntless man in Old T.O., Rob Del Mundo, explains.
The Leafs’ 4-1 win over the Jets on Saturday night proves that the Queen City lads are most confusing to us all. Playing the role of Kris Kringle, Toronto came away with zero points in games versus both Montreal and Arizona in the first week of the year – a pair of regulation losses to opponents that occupied the bottom two spots of the NHL overall standings last season.
“The expectations are higher for our team in that regard,” coach Sheldon Keefe said the morning after the Leafs’ opening game against the Habs, in which they gave up the game-winner late in regulation.
“We want to show growth in that area,” Keefe said. Against Montreal, “we didn’t counter, we didn’t stress hard enough. We weren’t able to assert ourselves in the game, the way that we would like to. That’s what we need to do, no matter who we’re playing. We need to assert ourselves – we’re that calibre of a team.”
So, what happened after a pair of back-to-back wins against Ottawa and Washington? The Leafs failed to show up for the first two periods of their home game against the Coyotes, the team that is expected to ‘Tank for (Connor) Bedard’ in 2022-23. By the second intermission, the 18,000+ ticketholders paying for their exorbitantly priced seats were booing lustily in protest.
Meanwhile, the rival teams in the Atlantic Division will gleefully accept the windfall in what is expected to be a hotly contested race.
No team can afford to squander opportunities to take advantage of inferior adversaries, whether the games are played in October or April. To frame some perspective, the Leafs finished seven points behind the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Florida Panthers last season.
Yet, despite the goalie circus and the usual media mayhem, there remain reasons for optimism, and it starts with John Tavares’ leadership effort against Winnipeg. Hey, all the offensive weapons are there; we know that. Perhaps the jolting of the Jets is a portent of things to come for Keefe’s crew.
WHO SAID IT? “Somebody’s going to have to go into goal for us and, boys, I’m telling you that it’s me.” (ANSWER BELOW.)
CORRECTION ON PANTHERS
This from Al Greenberg who always strives to set the record straight.
I must humbly admit to an error in my piece about the Panthers’ cap situation. I said Bill Zito may have to find a way to trade off the dead cap space attributable to the Yandle and Darling buyouts. Can’t trade buyout cap hits under the rules. Cats have some temporary relief due to Ekblad LTIR. When Duclair comes back in December-January (per Zito) it will be a real head-scratcher as to how they will do it.
DUCKS WILL FLY HIGHER
Sports Business guru Evan Weiner offers an interesting forecast on a new Anaheim venture. Check it out.
At one time, Anaheim was a quiet town that featured orange groves and was best known for being part of a joke on the very popular radio show of its time, The Jack Benny Program during the 1930s and 1940s.
“Train leaving on Track 5 for Anaheim, Azusa and Cucamonga!” The joke brought Anaheim publicity. Eventually, Walt Disney and Paramount worked out a deal which saw an amusement park open in the city in 1955. Major League Baseball moved to town in 1966.
Based on the popularity of a movie, The Mighty Ducks, the Walt Disney Company got an NHL expansion franchise in the city’s new arena in 1993. The city’s arena is now 29 years old, which in the world of stadiums and arenas means it is a senior citizen. The arena will get a facelift and the building will also get new neighbors as it is no longer enough for sports owners just to sell a game. There needs to be an arena-village complete with an entertainment zone.
In Anaheim, Ducks ownership plans an entertainment district that will be called ocVibe. It will be spread over 100 acres of land by the arena, and the district will include a 5,700-seat concert hall, new housing, a 50,000-square-foot food hall, acres of public park space, dozens of restaurants and retail, two new resorts, and an office tower.
The price tag will be around $4 billion for the construction.
The entertainment district is not far from Disneyland, which means Disney might be fine with the district. Disney calls a lot of shots politically in Anaheim.
“Our ambition is for ocVibe to be the social and entertainment center of Orange County and Southern California,” said ocVibe CEO Bill Foltz.
The plan is to have the district open in time for the 2028 Los Angeles Olympics, which is a 25-mile trip from Anaheim.
WHY FLORIDIANS HATE EACH OTHER
I kid you not; the animosity between the Panthers and Bolts is as intense as any NHL rivalry, and it’s still climbing to white heat proportions. Viscount Al Greenberg, reports.
As if there was not enough animosity built over the years with their frequent regular season, pre-season and playoff matchups, the Panthers-Lightning rivalry was intensified by the arrival in Florida of a strip of sandpaper named Matthew Tkachuk.
“I hate Edmonton, but I hate Tampa more now,” was Tkachuk’s welcoming greeting to the Panthers’ cross state rivals. Never a great idea to intimidate the opposition.
Round 1 went to Tampa Bay with Friday’s nasty come from behind OT win in Sunrise. Ironically, Tkachuk was in the penalty box for rough stuff against Nikita Kucherov when Brayden Point scored the game-winner.
In discussing the win post-game, Steven Stamkos assessed the rivalry.
“There’s no doubt that there’s some hatred between the two teams from the last couple of years, which is great for hockey, great for our state and great to play in,” Stamkos said. “It’s competitive games against really good teams that have some elite players and elite goaltending. They’re fun to play in.”
Bolts coach Jon Cooper said his team recognizes the style of a guy like Tkachuk and didn’t get unnecessarily upset by his remarks.
“Tkachuk’s a really good player,” Cooper said. “He plays the game hard, he’s feisty, he’s not afraid of physical battles. He’s played in the Battle of Alberta and now he’s in the battle of Florida. It’s probably the same thing. Emotions are high and he’s probably going to fit right in.”
The combatants will have to wait until Dec. 10 for Round 2 in Tampa.
DON’T SELL THE DEVILS SHORT
Writing in The Hockey News Yearbook, the New Jersey Star-Ledger’s Steve Politi picked the Garden State stickhandlers to finish seventh in the Metropolitan Division, just above the Flyers.
“The question,” wrote Politi, “is when, not if, the next wave of rookies become regulars for the Devils.”
Without question, GM Tom Fitzgerald already has stocked his outfit with young, creative and gifted aces. And I can vouch for that, having watched them skate rings around the Islanders last Thursday night at UBS Arena. Then, they followed that with a home win on Saturday night, 2-1, over San Jose.
After a slow start, the Newark machine is moving into high gear. At Elmont last week, the Devils opened the first period with a 15-0 shots on goal lead after 15 minutes. The domination continued throughout and resulted in one of the easiest wins in franchise history.
Watching New Jersey in action, I was most impressed with the fluidity of their attack and the craftsmanship of Jack Hughes and Ondrej Palat, each of whom scored a goal. Coach Lindy Ruff has a collection of Kid Lightnings who dazzled the Isles with their footwork.
There admittedly were goaltending concerns in the pre-season, especially with starter Mackenzie Blackwood. While the Isles game still was close, Blackwood produced the save of the game which turned out to be the winner. If his game stands up through the marathon season, Ruff’s outfit will be a lot rougher to beat than the harsh critics may have believed.
I’M JUST SAYIN’
* Jordan Binnington is playing just the way coach Craig Berube had hoped and St. Louis looks like a second-place team in the Central.
* Speaking of which, how about Berube as the most unappreciated coach in the NHL. It’s all because of the Broad Street bully image.
* Since I like the guy, a lot, I’m beginning to worry about what’s going on with John Hynes’ Predators. They’d better wake up and realize they’re still no longer in Prague.
* And while I’m on the subject of old buddies, vay iss meer with Minnesota. Or is the working word oy-vey? Kirill Kaprizov can’t carry the Wild on his shoulders.
* The jury will be out on Johnny Gaudreau and the Blue Jackets until the New Year. Right now, the verdict in one word is: overrated.
* The more I watch Vancouver, the more I’m convinced that the Canucks debacle was not Travis Green’s fault.
DIDJA KNOW that – in 1945-46 – when ‘Sugar Jim’ Henry and Chuck (Bonnie Prince Charlie) Rayner were vying for the Rangers’ No. 1 job in the crease, they were not only best friends but also co-owned a fishing camp – Hockey Haven – in Kenora, Ont.
P.S. Rayner eventually beat out Henry for the gig and ‘Sugar Jim’ wound up in the minors, but only briefly. He eventually became a starter in Boston where he was a Bruins stalwart.
YAYS AND BOOS:
YAY TO JIM MONTGOMERY: So far, there are a ton of feel-good NHL stories early this season; but for my two shekels, one of the best is the resurrection of good guy Montgomery’s career in Boston.
ANSWER TO WHO SAID IT? Rangers coach-GM Lester Patrick to his Blueshirts after regular goalie Lorne Chabot was seriously injured in the 1928 Stanley Cup final against the Montreal Maroons. Patrick won the game and, eventually, his team won its first Stanley Cup.
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