The NHL Bubbles That Span City Blocks

The NHL unveiled the layout for their bubble for the restart of the 2019-20 season. I don’t know why they felt the need to show where they were going to be, but here we are. It’s the same question I had for when they told the general public where the players were going to stay.

Sure, people know where the NBA players are staying, but their bubble is actually a bubble. The NHL is basically having their own zone that they’ll call a bubble…which in Toronto is spanned across the damn city. It’s insane how little of a bubble this bubble actually is. There might be precautions, but the vast layout of this landscape is amazingly out of touch with the rest of the sporting world.

Courtesy NHL Media

In Toronto, one of the hotels is about two miles from the arena and the other hotel. Though they have access to BMO Field for dryland, unless there’s a series of tubes or tunnels; I don’t know how secure that is for those people in this situation. They can pimp out the diverse bars, movie theaters, tennis courts, and the like– but it’s insane to me that these hotels and stuff around right next to each other to give some kind of semblance of a bubble area.

Courtesy NHL Media

Edmonton is a little bit better of a control zone, as the NHL was able to fit it all on one map. That’s by design though, as Daryl Katz was all about creating a small city atmosphere when he envisioned this new arena for the Oilers. Little did he know about a pandemic…though he did work in pharmaceuticals and if you believe conspiracy theorists– maybe he did know. But, while the hotels and such are closer; still two city blocks between the hotels and all.

Forget the media whining about their access, the fact that these guys are so spread out across the cities is a bit head-scratching. Who knows how secure this will be with blocking outside influences from the players and keeping the players within this landscape before there’s some kind of breakaway. More over, I have to wonder what delusional person is going to be fanatical enough to try and break through the bubble to go viral– in the internet sense and maybe the health sense. Don’t say it won’t happen, but it’s Canada, it’s hockey, and those two can be a pridefully volatile mix.

About That Gretzky/McDavid Thing

GQ’s Sports department did a thing where they have a “One on One” segment where they usually have a current player from a certain league and an entertainer that roots for that team or grew up in the area. Recently, they bucked that trend and had Connor McDavid and Wayne Gretzky on there to talk about Edmonton, being a hockey phenom, and Gretzky reassuring McDavid that he’s going to win a Stanley Cup.

It was probably the most…cringe, but interesting thing I’ve seen in a bit, but far from an “epic conversation” that GQ would have you believe.

A couple things here. Thing the first– this is the Gretzky we kind of need. Sure, the Great One was currying favor to McDavid– especially reassuring McDavid he’s going to win a Cup in Edmonton and all of that– but he was actually very talkative. Gretzky was lively, he was more than the corporate figurehead that the NHL trots out in special events, and he showed some kind of personality. So much so, it made McDavid look much more milquetoast than usual.

Now, thing the second– McDavid looked like he did want to be there. Not in an uninterested way, but in a way that he was too nervous and not comfortable with the limelight (much less being there with Gretzky) and didn’t know what he was supposed to do in a situation like this when they’re talking about the greatness and the link between Edmonton and the two superstars. It came off as McDavid sitting there anxiously waiting for it to be over while Gretzky was trying to reassure him that he’ll get the Oilers to a way like they were in the ’80s.

The premise of this is solid, but it’s also the first time that they’ve seemingly done an old star and new star. The other were more athlete and musician with Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers talking with Justin Vernon, lead singer from the band Bon Iver; RJ Barrett of the New York Knicks and Spike Lee; and Dwayne Wade of the Miami Heat talking with Rick Ross. Those connections have more to do with the location of the team and a person growing up there. This kind of bucks that trend, which makes for…I don’t know what it made for.

If they did this format with Alex Ovechkin or Sidney Crosby and Gretzky, it would have maybe been little less awkward and more conversational…maybe. However, the cliche machines of today’s hockey players seem to kill any kind of starting point with this.

Also, I hate this kind of format with an off-screen moderator doling out a subject and almost forcing these two to try and relate. It just seemed so forced. Not only that, but of what I’ve seen— this is the only one where they needed questions or subject matters thrown at them from off camera. No wonder this was shorter by about 15 minutes compared to the other ones; it was all around too forced.

Should be so inclined and have nothing better to do….maybe give it a watch and make your own opinion. This just seemed like it was very unnatural when there’s so many other options that you could have presented to make the hockey connection be better than just trotting out Gretzky and the next “Great One” in Edmonton.

Things That Need To Happen: Mascot Royal Rumble

It’s NHL All-Star Weekend in St. Louis, which means that as a part of it– the NHL Mascot Showdown is going on at the FanFest. It’s an annual thing and something for the kids and mascot connoisseurs alike. But it’s also WWE Royal Rumble weekend…and the two seem to intersect all the time.

So…why not combine the two??

My partner-in-crime Jen Conway (aka NHL History Girl) is all for this kind of thing because…well, what’s better than doofy mascots duking it out in an over-the-top winner-takes-all kind of format?? Not much, I can say that. Plus, it’s something that’s a little bit far from the norm when it comes to these kinds of things…which is why the NHL won’t go for it.

Granted, there’s been times where the mascots have taken pratfalls and it came off as cute and endearing. Then, there’s times teams have try to pull this off and then got a little bit of heat from it due to the “violence” factor. Sadly, that last part in this world of knee-jerk reactions will be the reason we can’t have the mascots duel in a over-the-top rope show.

Yet, think about it– who would be the one who could come out on top?? Right off the hop, you have to think in wrestling terms– the bigger they are, the harder they are to get out. Right there– Carlton the Bear, IceBurgh, Stormy, Stinger, Victor E. Green, and Gritty would be the top picks due to their bulk. That said, leaner mascots could have an endurance factor like Howler, Stanley C. Panther, Blades, Bailey, and Tommy Hawk. Then there’s the intimidation factor of Hunter and Gnash just to be tenacious.

The downside would be the mascots will the gimmicks and things to hold onto since it’s no-holds barred. Sparky, Moose, and Slapshot have wings, antlers, and feathers respectively, so they’d have a lot more area to be latched onto and thrown over– though the Moose could use those to ram people with. Then there’s Al, who would be great due to the low center of gravity, but Al doesn’t actually exist in mascot form. And let’s not forget Harvey the Hound’s tongue, which Craig MacTavish defeated many years ago.

Objectively, Youppi! would probably be my pick. Youppi! has the size, is somewhat agile, and has been able to overcome the most dire of situations like the Loria family moving Youppi!’s actual team to DC– leaving the orange furball abandoned until the Canadiens picked him and the rest of the Expos legacy up off the ground.

There’s probably a thousand reasons I’m wrong, but we’ll never know until it actually happens. We’d be able to see who the jobber is, who’s getting a big push from the league, and we’d all question, “Who’s booking this shit??” when it all goes sideways at the end.

ITPST: October 24th, 2019

It’s the second edition of the gimmick that keeps on giving. Hey, we’re almost across the board with teams playing double-digits games– which means we’re getting closer to that sweet, sweet playoff push.

Keeping it in the East to start, the Buffalo Sabres’ hot start (8-1-1) have them at the top of the Atlantic Division. Right behind them are the Boston Bruins (6-1-2) and the Toronto Maple Leafs (5-4-2). Who can’t wait for another round of Bruins/Leafs in the first round?!? Yeah– I could wait for a good long while. In the Metro, the Caps (7-2-2) and John Carlson are on a big streak after a rough start, putting them atop the Metro. Carolina have a little bit of a stall after a torrid start (6-3-0), with the Penguins right after them (6-5-0). The Wild Card spots head to both Florida teams in the Lightning (5-3-1) and the Panthers (4-2-3).

Therefore it’ll be the Sabres vs. the Panthers, the Bruins take on the Leafs, the Caps will take on the Lightning, with the Hurricanes and Penguins going at it to round it out.

Out West, the Colorado Avalanche (7-1-1) are ripping it up and are atop the division, with the Predators (5-3-1) and Blues (4-2-3) rounding out the tough Central Division. Getting rid of Milan Lucic has helped the Edmonton Oilers (7-2-1) put themselves ahead in the Pacific, as the Golden Knights (7-4-0) and Canucks (6-3-0) round out the top three. The Wild Card spots will be headed to Anaheim (6-4-0) and the rejuvenated Coyotes (5-2-1).

And as we see it– the Avalanche will duel with the Coyotes in the relocation bowl, with the Blues and Predators being the other match-up, as the Oilers will take on the Ducks and the Golden Knights battle the Canucks.

Quickly Thrown Together 2019-20 NHL Preview

You’ve seen the best– now it’s time for the rest. Let’s go:

THIRD TIME FOR FIRST TIME??: There’s 11 teams who haven’t won a Stanley Cup yet: Arizona, Buffalo, Columbus, Florida, Ottawa, Minnesota, Nashville, San Jose, Vancouver, Vegas, Winnipeg. Of those 11, you’d have to say that maybe four have a chance in Nashville, San Jose, Vegas, and Winnipeg; but the window is closing if it’s not already shut. Of course, they said that about the Caps two years back and they lifted the Stanley Cup.

HUNT FOR 50: Will Alex Ovechkin hit the 50-goal mark for the ninth time?? Odds are pretty good given he has four of the last five 50-goal season, including last year. And let’s be completely honest– Wayne Gretzky’s goal-record is out of reach for Ovechkin. Even as a Caps fan, it’s not something I think is attainable. However, tying the mark for most 50-goal campaigns in a career with Gretzky and Mike Bossy?? Much more than attainable.

YOUNG GUNS ON THE HUDSON: You could argue that with Jack Hughes and Kaapo Kakko; the Devils and Rangers could be the best rivalry coming back– akin to Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby pumping new life in to a Caps-Pens rivalry that was fading into obscurity. Two young talents, ready to take over the New York Market in a big way, which the media there will undoubtedly eat up, overanalyze, and do their best to be like Toronto sports media figures.

McPLAYOFFS: Depending on what you believe, there’s frustration with Connor McDavid and the Oilers not making it to the playoffs but once in his tenure there. It’s a tough pill to swallow when you have one of the best players in the league not being on the biggest stage for the biggest trophy every year. Will that help with Mike Smith and James Neal coming from Calgary while Milan Lucic went south on the QE2?? The Neal part may help a little, but I’m not a believer in the defense and goaltending for Edmonton one bit.

RETOOLING EARLIER DYNASTIES: Both the Los Angeles Kings and Chicago Blackhawks had less than desirable finishes, with both teams looking to retool heading into this season. With both playing in divisions that may be tougher than they look, it might be an uphill battle. I wouldn’t put too much money down on either of them making it too far if they do make the playoffs.

WORTH THE WAIT??: A lot of restricted free agents waiting until the 11th hour to sign, but is it something that their teams will be happy about or upset about should they not perform to the contract they were dealt?? Let’s be honest, I’m shocked Patrik Laine didn’t burn the bridges in the locker room already with what he said and it’s probably awkward as hell right now. The Mitch Marner deal looks like an overpayment when you look at other RFAs signing for a bit less than retail, but in the market space. That said, regardless of the price– Marner and Laine will be on the hot seat regardless of what their contracts were since they’re on teams that are supposed to be contenders.

SUNBELT RISING??: We all know what the Tampa Bay Lightning are– but do we really know what the Arizona Coyotes and Florida Panthers are outside of their team financials?? I would venture to guess that both teams are on the upswing, with Arizona getting Phil Kessel, Nick Schmaltz being healthy, and the possibility for solid defense. All the while, the Panthers have their goalie in Sergei Bobrovsky, young guns primed to really break out and put teams on notice, all while maybe trying to snatch a wild card spot away from others in the strong Atlantic Division.

Better Know An Affiliate: Edmonton Oilers

AHL: Bakersfield Condors (42-21-3-2, 1st in Pacific, lost in second round)
TEAM LINEAGE: The Condors sprung through the ashes of the Oklahoma City Barons during the AHL exodus to the west coast. Prior to that, it was an odd time for the Oilers prospects, as they hit up stops with the Springfield Falcons, Iowa Stars, Hamilton Bulldogs, Edmonton and Toronto Roadrunners, and then back with Hamilton. Though they had the IHL’s Kansas City Blades for a season, they had a strong hold on the Maritimes in Canada with the Cape Breton Oilers, Nova Scotia Oilers, and Moncton Alpines from 1982 until 1996.
FREQUENT FLYER CANDIDATES: There’s some flux on the wings, which would leave things open of Kailer Yamamoto and Tyler Benson. Yamamoto is a work in progress and his season last year wasn’t the greatest– which gives Benson an edge, as he was just under a point-per-game player last season with 66 points in 68 games. Caleb Jones could be the best shot on the blue line to be a shuttle player, while centerman Cooper Marody put up 64 points in 58 games with the Condors in his rookie season.

ECHL: Wichita Thunder (29-31-9-3, 5th in Mountain, Did Not Qualify for Playoffs)
TEAM LINEAGE: The Thunder got the Oilers affiliation after the Oilers left the Norfolk Admirals, the team that was the former ECHL Condors that the Oilers bought and moved to Virginia to make room for the AHL. The Stockton Thunder was prior to all three of those teams, with the Oilers also making stops with the Greenville Grrrowl, Columbus Cottonmouths, Tallahassee Tiger Sharks, New Orleans Brass, and the Winston-Salem/Wheeling Thunderbirds/Nailers. The IHL was the secondary affiliate for the Oilers from 1979 until 1991 with stops with the Dayton Gems, Milwaukee Admirals, Muskegon Lumberjacks, and Phoenix Roadrunners.
NOTABLE GRADUATES: There hasn’t been many graduates from the Thunder…in fact, none that I can see that spent significant time in Wichita. However, former NHLers like Dana Tyrell and Theo Peckham have played in Wichita looking to get another shot at the big time; which didn’t appear to happen in either case.

The Curious Case of Calgary’s Off-season

After a season that saw them win the Western Conference in the regular season (then subsequently get bounced in five games of the first round), you could maybe see the Calgary Flames starting the building block of a sound reboot of their team. Then the off-season came…and things got really….odd.

Mike Smith goes away, which is fine because he isn’t young anymore, wasn’t as dynamic as he was years ago, and his save percentage– which was always pretty solid despite his inflated GAA– was the worst of his career at .898 for the season. David Rittich was a welcome surprise, but even though he’s the presumed starter; the depth behind him isn’t as promising as some made it out to be. Jon Gillies hasn’t progressed as well as many thought he would, while Tyler Parsons is a surprise in net, but still is a few years away from being considered. Add this to Rittich going to arbitration after his 27-win season last year– there could be some instability there for the Flames.

And what better to help that instability than…..Cam Talbot?! Talbot, or as I’ll call him– younger Mike Smith, was signed to a Missouri (show-me) contract for a year…which may mean that the 32-year-old could be looking at being the starter only because his experience trumps Rittich and Bill Peters seems to hate success. Talbot had two good seasons as a starter after his first shaky season in Edmonton, but soon crashed to Earth when the Oilers became the Oilers again and were terrible. While might be a good back-up or even platoon option– beyond that; it could be just a younger Mike Smith. Yet, a hunger to be better might be a good thing if Talbot can actually follow through.

Then comes the coup-de-gras, which happens to also involve a former Oiler (like Talbot), but one that’s much more of a liability than Talbot could be.

The Calgary Flames traded FOR….FOR Milan Lucic, sending James Neal to Edmonton and inexplicably making it the worst deal in recent history– even more than the Erat/Forsberg deal years back.

To be honest– Neal didn’t light up the world for the Flames last year with seven goals and 19 points in 2018-19 after a 25-goal campaign in Vegas a season prior. Could have been the first year jitters, could have been– as Neal subtly eluded to– the fact people couldn’t get him the puck. With four more years left at $5.75M, the Flames thought it was time to move on from him after one season because who cares about waiting it out– one season means he’ll be like that the next four years.

Enter the Oilers who had an issue with one of their high-priced players who wasn’t performing in the first couple years of his deal and has a no-move clause– so the Flames bail them out and take on that contract (four years) and the declining stat line of Milan Lucic….and somehow thought this was a good idea. Lucic has gotten steadily worse since 2015 with a combined 16 goals in the last two seasons for a guy who is capable of 20-goals in a season because he has five of those previously. Yet, the speed, the skill, the overall landscape of the game has changed and it seemed that Lucic couldn’t keep up in Edmonton– so how does anyone think it’ll get better down the QE2 in Calgary?? Especially since he’ll be in the bottom-six making $5.25M in the remaining years.

It’s a good thing that people are leaking details of the new arena project that’s going to happen to replace the archaic Saddledome, mostly because people in Calgary need something to talk them off the edge. There’s promise with this team– so long as Johnny Gaudreau can come out of his playoff hiding, Sean Monahan can continue to improve his game, while Sam Bennett hopes to build off of being the only Flames forward to really show up to the series against Colorado.

And who knows– maybe Lucic can find some kind of scoring touch without the pressure of being the winger-du-jour for Connor McDavid and Talbot could find his magic that helped him get fourth-place in Vezina voting a few years back…but with the Flames luck in recent years; it might take a lot of doing and hunger for that to become a reality.

Tippett Becomes Eighth Coach in Past Decade for Oilers

For the life of me, I don’t know what Dave Tippett is doing. The former Arizona Coyotes’ head coach is now the current Edmonton Oilers head coach, leaving the adviser role he had with the new Seattle Your-Name-Heres and moving into a spot that could be one of the hottest seats in the NHL.

There has to be some respect for him to take on the challenge rather than laying back easy and waiting for the Seattle team to talk. And let’s be honest, with the way teams are with coaches in the recent past– he still could be the first coach of the Seattle team. Yet, you have to think that he got that itch again and the wait would be too much for him– so Edmonton it is.

There’s no doubt to have Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl in the line-up, it’s give the team a fighter’s chance at making the playoffs. However, the biggest deal is…well, everyone outside of those two is the big worry. That albatross of the Milan Lucic contract looms heavy, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is constantly in the rumor mill, the defense and goaltending is suspect at best– so there’s work to be done.

Granted, the whispers of the possibility that Mike Smith is going to Edmonton to follow his buddy Tippett doesn’t bode well long-term for the Oilers; but it hasn’t been stable in net since Bill Ranford left. The defense has plenty of potential, but there comes a time where potential is overdone and disappointment/anger/hatred comes into play– if it’s not already there in Edmonton.

For me, this almost seems like an older version of Peter Chiarelli and Todd McLellan from a few years back for Edmonton. I know the whole problem with the Oilers before was the old-boys club being in charge and the thought with Chiarelli and McLellan was they ditched that moniker. Now, with Craig MacTavish finally gone and Paul Coffey being let go it; could be a real new start for Ken Holland, Tippett, and crew– but Kevin Lowe is still hanging around– so who knows.

It’s a pivotal time for the Oilers. You have to think the time is ticking to get Connor McDavid to be happy with where he’s at. Hell, his name is already being murmured when it comes to being moved if things don’t get better soon. His no-move clause starts in 2022-23, so there’s three seasons to get it right or else he may want his way out of Edmonton. The question is whether or not Tippett is the guy to spark the team around McDavid and Draisaitl or if it’ll be the third coach for the Oilers to have two great assets, but can’t get to the playoffs due to the team around them.

The Best NHL is the First Two Weeks of Chaos

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We’re two weeks into the season, which next to the playoff run– could be the best part of the season. The wacky bullshit that goes on in the first month or so of the season is the best. Crazy stats, firewagon scores, improbable heroes– it’s the best time of the year to get overly emotional– rightly or wrongly– about what your team really is. There’s no lack of craziness this year, either.

First, let’s start with Keith Kinkaid, who is the really champions of goaltending right now. He’s 4-0-0 with two shutouts and has the New Jersey Devils at a still undefeated record….through four games. He’s making the most of his chances with the Devils, as he is building off his 26-win season from last year and really showing that Cory Schneider may have heavy competition and could even be expendable when he gets healthy again. While he may not lead the goalie stats for much longer, the story he’s creating for himself is one that the Devils faithful need to build off of last year’s turnaround with Taylor Hall at the front and center.

Staying in the East, the Ottawa Senators are above .500 after their purge this off-season and it’s confusing the hell out of me. Granted, I’m sure that’ll take a plunge with Brady Tkachuk’s injury; but still…this is a team who wasn’t expected to win three games in this month (maybe, I didn’t read previews) much less be at seven points after six games. Craig Anderson has already seen the most shots in the league (tied with Devan Dubnyk) through six games at 199, which probably won’t let up any time soon as the time goes on and teams wear down the already inexperienced defense. However, the return from Erik Karlsson was great, as Chris Tierney leads the team in points and Dylan DeMelo is leading the all-important plus/minus stat. Young guns like Tkachuk, Thomas Chabot, and Maxime LaJoie have grabbed the brass ring for the greater roles on the team, while Craig Anderson is playing great in October, as Craig Anderson is wont to do, as he has 42 wins in October over his career (currently second-best, but that’ll change once he gets through the months). Maybe the Sens can fool us all…..but maybe not.

Out West, Connor McDavid is good. In fact, if he can keep up the pace he has in factoring in every goal the Oilers have this season; he’ll have anywhere from 198 to 247 points this year based on the Oilers’ goal output over the last five years. This could happen, McDavid is that good and is able to make the best plays out there for his team– but it shows that maybe the Oilers need some support for their superstar. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Leon Draisaitl are pulling their weight, but it could be a very uphill climb for the Oilers if they keep packing things on McDavid’s shoulders. Granted, they have McDavid for seven more years after this one…but do you want to wear him out in year four of his career like this??

The one constant is the Arizona Coyotes. As the sun will set in the West, the Coyotes will have one of the most promising outlooks, but stumble out of the gates. They’ve scored four goals in five games and have been shutout three times this season. That’s not great, boss. Sure, they’re only giving up 2.2 goals a game, but that doesn’t help when you’re putting up 0.6 a game. It doesn’t help that Alex Galchenyuk is sidelined, but they have their goalie for the first month of the season, as Antti Raanta was solid when he came back from injury last year, but he couldn’t dig the Coyotes out of the doldrums at that point. It is a young team, sure– Clayton Keller and Dylan Strome will need time to work things out…but man, it’s hard to watch for a team that’s already been beaten down for as long as they have. You’d hope for some good for once.

This is just the scratching of the surface– you got the hot takes of Auston Matthews’ torrid pace, I think Sebastian Aho (and the rest of the Carolina Hurricanes) are getting slept on in the league, and even as a Caps fan– I’m tired of watching them play on NBCSN all the time.

This is just two weeks in. Let’s hope for more chaos as the season round out the first month of action.

2018-19 Season Preview….Kind Of: Western Conference Edition

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Half-assed part 2, let’s go.

The Central Division is an interesting one. For the longest time, it was the Chicago Blackhawks’ playground, but now– it’s almost kind of wide open. The Winnipeg Jets have seemingly found their formula with Blake Wheeler, Patrik Laine, Mark Scheifele, and friends. Their march to the Western Conference finals could have been the coming out party they need. So long as Connor Hellebuyck can keep the good time rolling– maybe this is now a division that belongs to North of the Border for a couple of season.

For the Blackhawks– we’re in the downturn of the dynasty. Despite of Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane being there and being in their prime ages– the fact their goaltending in Corey Crawford isn’t always healthy and the depth is suspect at best; the former Dynasty could be in the start of their stagnation moving ahead.

Hard to forget about the Nashville Predators, who are in all-in mode this year as much as they have been. This is pivotal year for the team, especially when they look at what to do with impending UFA Pekka Rinne and how they’ll juggle his time with Juuse Saros’ time in net. Aside from that, they have a defensive corp that one of, if not the tops in the league; their offense is full of top tier talent, and overall– this is a team that’s ready to go and make another big push for the Conference final again this year.

The rest of the division is suspect at best, starting the with Minnesota Wild– who seem to be more of the same. Bruce Boudreau could be on a short leash with new GM Paul Fenton, and with the team in place– I don’t know if that leash could get shorter. Sure, Devan Dubnyk is back, but he can only do so much. The offense is really hit and miss, the star players being in the line-up is hit and miss, and there’s plenty of question marks in the State of Hockey.

Add the St. Louis Blues to that mix, only because of Jake Allen. There’s no Carter Hutton to bail him out anymore and he’ll have to actually show he’s a top goalie in this league. He’ll have a lot of tools in front of him with Vlad Tarasenko, Ryan O’Reilly, Jaden Schwartz with Alex Pieterangelo and Colton Parayko on his defense…there’s no reason why Allen shouldn’t be successful in spite of himself and his own short-comings.

I don’t know what to think of the Colorado Avalanche and Dallas Stars. The Stars could be a little easier to explain and deal with, as Ben Bishop– if he’s healthy all season– could help them steal a few games here and there. The offense is steady with Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn up there, the defense however, is the question. Stephen Johns is out to start the season, which means Marc Methot and John Klingberg are going to have to shoulder a lot of the load– which could lead to easy burn out. The Avalanche now have Philipp Grubauer as the potential replacement for Semyon Varlamov when he should get injured or have his stats drop off, the team was able to rally around Matt Duchene getting traded, and might have an underrated defense against the rest of the league. The offense is one line, which means they’ll need to find some kind of secondary scoring to actually be across the board successful and get back to the playoffs once again.


Will anyone discount the Vegas Golden Knights this year?? Most likely, yes. The whole “Bet you can’t do it again” crowd will be out, but with the additions of Max Pacioretty and Paul Stastny; the depth of offense is much better. While there will be doubters of M-A Fleury’s heroics and William Karlsson’s scoring prowess, the Knights are making sure they aren’t just a one-hit wonder.

Their toughest challenge will probably come from the San Jose Sharks, who have their best shot at getting into the Stanley Cup Finals with the addition of Erik Karlsson. The former Ottawa defenseman bolsters a blue line with Brent Burns and Marc-Edouard Vlasic, while Joe Thornton is back on the ice and probably much quicker without his beard anymore. Martin Jones has seen his win number decline over the past three seasons, but with an upgrade in front of him, you can bet he’ll have another 30+ win season.

With a healthy Jonathan Quick, the LA Kings were a solid team despite getting bounced in the first round again. Anze Kopitar was far and away the best player and may need to be so again to get the Kings back to the playoffs and maybe advance past the first match-up. That 70s Line will have to be a little be more prominent, though to be honest– losing Jeff Carter most of the season didn’t help things as much.

The Anaheim Ducks are going to have to get all they can out of their depth if they want to make the playoffs again. While John Gibson hasn’t been the best at keeping pucks out, the offense didn’t give him much to work with, as they had to lowest goals-for total of any playoff team last season. With Corey Perry out to start the season, as well; old man Getzlaf will have to rally the troops and hope they don’t get run over.

Of the Canadian teams in this division, the one with the most hope could be from Alberta. Whether it’s the Flames or the Oilers is yet to be seen. The Oilers need to figure out which team was the mirage– was it the team who made the playoffs in 2017 or the team that really stunk up the joint last season. Aside from Connor McDavid, there wasn’t much to write home about. However, the hard-on people have for Ty Rattie with McDavid is almost insane levels of silly– it’s almost a Sedins or Crosby situation with how people are infatuated with his play.

The Flames are an odd duck. They have the talent up front to get into the playoffs with Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, and to a lesser extend Sam Bennett. However, with Bill Peters now at the helm, who knows what can happen. If they’re going to sink to a Carolina level, then it’ll happen quick, but the additions of James Neal and Elias Lindholm up front could bring more attention, while Noah Hanifin could help Mark Giordano on the blue line. If only Mike Smith can get back to some kind of non-sieve form, then they could surprise people.

Not a surprise is the Vancouver Canucks, who really….I don’t know. They have some top-end young talent in Brock Boeser, Bo Horvat, and others, but the real key is waiting for offensive defenseman Quinn Hughes to come from Michigan to Vancouver. If the rebuild is going to happen– it will be around Boeser and Hughes, maybe even Thatcher Demko when he gets the go-ahead to be the Canucks starter. It’s a waiting game for this team.

That leaves us with Arizona. The trade for Alex Galchenyuk is going to help them a whole lot, it’s a matter of managing injuries. Antti Raanta going down early last year hurt and it seems like there’s not much for goalie depth just yet for the Coyotes who could come in and stop the bleeding. Michael Grabner will add speed and a forechecking threat, Clayton Keller continues to grow, and Mario Kempe could surprise people if given the chance. The Coyotes may even push for a wild card…if they can stay healthy.