2018-19 Preview….Kind Of: Eastern Conference Edition

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Okay– time to shake the dust off this thing and get into some NHL previewing. We’ve got 31 teams in four divisions, so the only way to do this right is to do it as half-assed as ever. If you’ve been following me for the last 17 years of writing– you know it’s the only way to go.

First, the Metropolitan Division; the division with the worst name, but boasting the last three Stanley Cup Champions. The Washington Capitals kept the band together, save for Philipp Grubauer. Other than that– the big concern here is the short off-season (which has been seen with the lack of Devante Smith-Pelly), but the hunger to keep the winning going could fuel this team. Alex Ovechkin is back in the best shape of his life part 2, while the rest of the team– despite a subpar preseason– will be looking to keep the good vibes going into this season.

It won’t be easy– the Penguins will want to get some revenge on the Caps since they won the Cup and rekindled a bit of the rivalry. With a longer time to rest, you can bet Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Phil Kessel will be ready– but will Matt Murray be durable or not?? The Columbus Blue Jackets will want revenge on the Caps, but their house is a mess with both Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky really not having a great off-season and signalling their tenure in C-bus may be soon over.

The New York/New Jersey area is full of “The hell??” vibes, especially with the Rangers retooling rather than rebuilding, the Islanders losing John Tavares, but gaining Lou Lamoriello, and the Devils being the best team out of the three since they made the playoffs last year. The Rangers will go as far as Henrik Lundqvist takes them, the Devils will have to rely heavily on Taylor Hall to keep his MVP form, while the Islanders will be…something. They at least have Barry Trotz and a whole slew of….oh, right they sent a lot of their prospects back to Bridgeport. Oh boy.

That leaves Philadelphia and Carolina. The biggest thing for the Flyers this offseason was the introduction of Gritty the Mascot. While James van Riemsdyk is back, that’s not really getting the juices flowing when you don’t know who will end up as your goalie by the Thanksgiving break. The Hurricanes have a revamped everything– new owner, GM, coaches…it’s a new team….minus the same Scott Darling, the same lack of depth scoring, the lack of stable defense. Maybe Dougie Hamilton can change that, but maybe not. A near-perfect preseason gives them some momentum…as much as you can with preseason results.


When you think of the Atlantic Division, you think of two tire-fires and a team who is planning the parade route thanks to a single signing of a local player. First, the Maple Leafs, who have already been given the Stanley Cup by their fans and some pundits due to the John Tavares signing….totally forgetting their defense is suspect at best and Freddy Andersen can only do so much with that suspect defense in front of him. But– it’s Toronto, so hype is always around.

The other Canadian teams in the division are just plain garbage. Ottawa is just bad news all around thanks to the Erik Karlsson deal– which sealed the summer of drama for the team– on top of Eugene Melnyk not getting out of his own way. Montreal, however, traded their captain and a young forward while also naming a guy who has been more injured than not during his Canadiens tenure the captain of the team. Wonder if Carey Price is regretting signing long-term or if he’s just getting his money and not caring about the outcome.

Looking around, the Buffalo Sabres are poised for either a break out year or another disappointing season looking towards the lottery. Rasmus Dahlin aside, the attitude of Jack Eichel seems to be about winning now, Carter Hutton could be a breakout start in a starters role, the the Sabres could just decided to say the hell with it and go balls to the wall in order to win. That or they’ll have to deal with a lot of injuries and then get frustrated and fold up into a shell again.

While Tampa Bay didn’t lose too many big names, the loss of Steve Yzerman could very well hurt in the long-run. Though, Julien BriseBois has been under Yzerman’s learning tree, the moves that Yzerman were able to get may just be the respect factor of the man who is revered in the hockey world. Yet, a team that was one win away from the Cup Final shouldn’t have to do much more than they did, especially in a weak division.

People sleep on Boston a little too much, especially when you think they have Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand on their offensive side. Tuukka Rask is due for a bounce-back year, though the defense will rely heavily on Charlie McAvoy, especially with Torey Krug out for the start of the season. It will be scoring by committee after the first line in Boston, but Bruce Cassidy seems like he can holster all the firepower he can in order to get this team back to the playoffs.

Florida and Detroit are also in this division. The Panthers keep getting closer and closer then further away, while the Red Wings could be in the midst of a long playoff drought in their new building. Of the two, MAYBE the Panthers could come close to being in the Wild Card discussion, but it’s a very long-shot at that.

Pacioretty Dealt in Middle of Night to the Knights

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Marc Bergevin either traded Max Pacioretty in the middle of the night to avoid the onslaught of opinion pieces that are going to come out when people start to wake up or he did it because he wanted people to talk about that to overshadow the Laval Rocket coach calling out prospects for not standing up for their teammates. Late Sunday/early Monday, the Habs traded Pacioretty to the Vegas Golden Knights for Tomas Tatar, Nick Suzuki, and a draft pick.

A lot of the contention comes from Pacioretty not wanting to negotiate a contract extension during the season, while Bergevin shuffled his feet for some reason to get his captain under a new contract. Pacioretty said he wanted to stay in Montreal, but it seemed the feeling wasn’t mutual. Injuries hassled Pacioretty last year– which was a down year all around for the Habs, but you can’t discount his four 30+ goals in the previous four season and hitting that mark five times during his ten seasons in Montreal.

For his return, Tatar provides the ability to be a consistent 20-goal scorer, though he was moved from Detroit to Vegas last season and was a scratch during much of the playoffs for the Golden Knights on their miraculous run to the Cup Final. Suzuki is a highly-touted prospect, who has put up 87 goals and 196 points in the last two seasons in the OHL– which means he’ll have people put too much pressure on him to succeed immediately with the Canadiens franchise; which leads for ultimate let-down in the end.

If Suzuki doesn’t come up as a big part of the Habs rebuild and Pacioretty becomes a bigger star in Vegas, it’ll just add to the shot-sheet of Bergevin’s demise as a GM. While he’s trying to get a fresh start with his team– he hasn’t gotten much a return on investment for what he’s already given away. You can bet that the people will be even more up in arms if Carey Price were to get traded from the Habs, which will take a lot of doing because Price holds a no-move clause now in his $10.5M deal for the next eight seasons. With already trading their old core of youth in PK Subban, Alex Galchenyuk, and Lars Eller; the Habs faithful are split between if this is ultimately good or bad….though the outside looking in seems to be the it’s not the best thing in the world for the Canadiens unless their return on investment gets them back to Cup contender quick.

For George McPhee, he continues to build up the Golden Knights– adding another solid center for their line-up. On top of picking up Paul Statsny and extending Jonathan Marchessault, the Golden Knights are going to stay complacent after their amazing first season. William Karlsson is probably the only one they wanted to get re-signed to an extension that they haven’t, but with his core of players going forward– they seem pretty damn solid for their second season.

While this is a deal for a 5 PM Friday news dump, it’ll create plenty to talk about in the hockey world as we lead up to the opening of training camp and the opening of new hope for a season. Though the return in the short-term wasn’t the best for the Habs, it could pay off for the long-term. However, there’s not a guarantee that Bergevin will be around to see the fruits of his labor. The fans haven’t been too impressed with what Bergevin has done, but Geoff Molson still sees something in him. While a lot of the prospects haven’t turned out; Molson still sees some kind of progress in what Bergevin’s  doing or else he wouldn’t be there. And if Suzuki doesn’t turn out and Pacioretty gets a bump by moving out of Montreal– it could be the last straw…if it isn’t something else first to get Bergevin out of there.

REPORT: ECHL Tabs St. John’s as Latest Market

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According to David Salter, the former Director of Communications for the St. John’s IceCaps of the AHL, there’s going to be an ECHL team coming to St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador in the near future. Salter said that a source from outside the area was the one who told him that it will be happening. Salter also stated that the franchise will be affiliated with the Montreal Canadiens, while trying to use the IceCaps name.

Of course, this brings up a host of other questions. With the Canadiens going to this new St. John’s team, who would the Brampton Beast turn to in order to be an affiliate?? There are two options– one of which being the Toronto Maple Leafs– who have the Marlies feet away from their doorstep, why not have their ECHL team there rather than in Orlando?? Of course, Orlando runs a nice little ship there and the Leafs may like that a little better. The other option is the Ottawa Senators, who moved their AHL team to Belleville, which is two hours west of Brampton. Currently, the Senators are without an ECHL affiliate and it would make sense to keep the teams in Ontario if you’re going to go that route.

Another question is what to do with travel. Even with the Northeast expansion, St. John’s would be 1,200 miles away from their nearest rival in Portland, which is something I wrote about a month ago when this idea first started to get legs. According to Salter, Dean MacDonald is in fact the man who will own the team, so you can bet that he or his group will have to find a way to off-set costs for teams to travel there. It would most likey follow the Alaska Aces method of having three-game weekend sets up there and then they tour around the Northeast and what-have-you.

While nothing has been set in stone, the fact that sources outside of the local area are reporting it should give it plenty of legs to make it happen. The domino effect could be something that could become very interesting down the line, especially for teams who are already involved with ECHL franchises and the possibility for flipping affiliations.

Selling Out For the Celebration

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Photo via @CanadiensMTL

With the NHL 100 game behind us and the uniforms really looking more like the next 100 years for the NHL (in the terms of aesthetics), it makes me wonder if there’s more that could have been done for the game and celebration.

It was an odd outdoor game situation– the alumni game was a split-squad for the Senators, the game itself was surrounded by things Senators owner Eugene Melnyk said in regards to moving the team, and there wasn’t too much hype for it until a couple days before the game (at least in my eyes).

Yet, through throwing out stuff on Twitter— mostly in jest– I do wonder if there’s something that really could have made this NHL 100 situation a much more memorable experience. There’s only so much you can do with the players themselves because of their game schedule, practicing in the elements, and the health of the players in general. However, I think there’s something that could have been done a little better.

First, rather than a musical act (all due respect to Bryan Adams), they should have done a little musical play of that first season. Have actors out there in the older gear going around the rink as they would during the intermission segments in the real arena. It would be a great nod to the actual first season of the NHL, remembering the heritage of the game, as well as showing off those sweet duds of the 1917 era.

Second, they should have had more events surrounding the “Top 100” players in NHL history. The NHL made a whole to-do about this list and yet doesn’t seem like many of those players were able to come out. Sure, the modern guys were actually in-season, but you have to think there were more guys from the earlier eras available to do things for this weekend’s celebrations.

Sidebar: It seems really odd they would present the “Best Moment in the NHL History” thing during the game-play on the ice. Sure, they wanted to trot out either Mario Lemieux or Bobby Orr; but the players are already freezing out there and you have them standing around as this thing is going on?? A little silly when you could have done it during an intermission.

Third– recreate the first games. Again, either actors or beer-league players doing the first games of Canadiens vs. Senators and Wanderers vs. Arenas in one of the outdoor rinks Ottawa has around the area. Give them as much older gear as safely possible and just have a little fun with it. I’m sure those participating would have soaked it all in for a chance to “re-write” history and just to be apart of the celebration. One of the biggest things is that the NHL wants to be inclusive– so why not pull out all the stops to actually bring people into these big events when they happen??

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Finally– the uniforms on ice. Like I said, it’s like they had a look of “Turning Ahead the Clock” like the MLB did in the mid-90s. For a game like this, you’d think that the NHL and Adidas would have really brought the Heritage idea back to this game like they tried to do with the Winter Classic. Whether that’s just a Winter Classic gimmick or not, I don’t know– but for a game of this magnitude, something should have been a little more throwback. They could have done like the 75th Anniversary season with the look (even down to the referees), but they went another route which– hey, their call.

I will give a tip of the hat to the NHL for doing what they’ve done to celebrate their 100 years, but in my head there’s a lot more that could have been done, especially with this game and the weekend around it. Whether it’s logistics of insurance or schedules or whatever– it didn’t happen. But at the end of the day, they did all they could in order to make this a thing that would leave a lasting memory for players and fans. Whether it did or not, only time will tell.

How Not to Panic When Panicking

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The one thing that got me starting loathing that Eric Francis has a writing job with the Calgary Sun, even though he was a morning zoo DJ, was at the end of October of 2005, he had already declared the Flames’ playoff hopes dead. Remember, this is the season removed (since 2004-05 didn’t happen) from their amazing Stanley Cup run. However, since they started the first month of the new season 4-7-2, it was already over months before the playoffs actually began.

The Flames finished 46-25-10 and won the Northwest Division.

Eric Francis is a dumbass. Don’t be like Eric Francis.

Yet, in the “what have you done for me lately”/”hot take” world of sports journalism we live in, everyone is ready to kill their team off after the first month of the season. Sure, some of the people are panicking in jest, but there are far too many who are serious in their assessment.

There’s a highly unlikely chance that a team like the Edmonton Oilers are going to be sitting in the cellar all season, especially with the firepower they have in their line-up and Connor McDavid still healthy. Teams like the Capitals, Ducks, and Sharks are not going to be the middling teams they have been to start this season. The Coyotes…..well, on paper, they seem like a better team than they should be– but the game isn’t played on paper and maybe Antti Raanta isn’t the savior people thought he was going to be.

My point is that only one team has hit the ten game mark (the Rangers) and even then, you shouldn’t start to really worry until about 25 games into the season. With the lack of pre-season play like the World Cup of Hockey last year, players didn’t come into the season with “high-level” competitive play under their belt. It might take some guys more time to heat up and really show their true worth.

Conversely, the teams that are hot to start the season aren’t necessarily going to be that way through the entire season. The Golden Knights may start to look like an expansion team come December, injuries could rack up for the Devils (or any team for that matter) come next month, and other teams could regress to the mean sooner rather than later.

So take a deep breath people. New players in new places need time to gel. New contracts need time to have their ink dry. Older players need time to get warmed up and rolling. It’s a matter of time where the true teams will come out firing and actually succeed, lest the management who made these teams who were supposed to be good this season be fired.