October 14 2011 07:03PM
After a summer of sloth, our review of some of the recent events of note from around the league returns Nationwide. In this iteration of the round-up, the Flames snap out of it, the Oilers sleep through another night in St. Paul, and the Jets get a reality check in the Windy City.
They aren't the worst team ever, huh? Following two sad efforts to open the year, Calgary had a smooth ride last night against a very thin Habs outfit, with the newly assembled trio of Bourque, Hagman and Stajan leading the way. I'm OK with that group, or more accurately I'm OK with them at least until Backlund and Morrison are ready to roll. Matt Stajan has plenty of flaws as a player, but given acceptable wingers he's more or less capable against bottom sixers, and last night's effort fit the profile.
Speaking of Calgary's best prospect, Elliotte Freidman mentioned Backlund as potential bait to obtain Kyle Turris. Thankfully, Kent's already been on the case this morning to debunk that silliness. Turris is like any number of other highly drafted players in that the perception of his potential often outruns the reality for several seasons simply based on how high he was picked. Benoit Pouliot, anyone? In any case, Feaster would be nuts to ever countenance that sort of swap, and in fairness, I can't imagine him doing so.
So, in an even game, the Oilers managed one whole shot on goal during last night's third period versus the Wild. A Wild team that got outshot about 2-1 in their previous game. By Ottawa. Yikes. Transitive property stuff and past history in Minnesota noted, if anyone was under the impression that the Oil are going anywhere but the last 3-4 spots in the conference this year, disabuse yourself of it forthwith.
Of course, matters won't be aided if Ales Hemsky has been lost to another shoulder injury, but that prospect should have been factored into any expectations starting the year. Hemsky's obviously a solid player, so it's unfortunate from a competitive standpoint that he might be broken, but with the likely outcome of this season being what it is, it's probably time for him to be moved. The bad news for the Oilers is that his value has to be diminished at the moment, so Edmonton's best case would be to let him heal so that he's mostly healthy at the deadline.
Better, but not good enough. I can't imagine anyone sensible not expecting last night's result in Chicago, and the one item that stood out for me was that Claude Noel finally saw Mark Scheifele exposed for what he is. That is, not remotely ready for the NHL's deep waters. Joel Quennville has made his bones using Dave Bolland against the toughs while setting guys like Toews, Kane and Hossa loose versus the weak, and he didn't waver from that approach last night.
Scheifele faced a line centered by Toews or Kane about 70% of the time last night. In other words, he's definitely amongst the weak. As a result, his line was under siege over the first two periods, and Scheifele finished with a -7 Corsi in about 9 minutes at EV before spectating in the third.
I don't doubt the young man has skill, but it's a quantum leap to go from the NHL to a road game facing one of the favourites for the Cup, and he's not equipped with the skills required to bridge that chasm, or at least not yet. The pickle for the Jets is that they're so thin up front that Scheifele might still seem like a better option than whatever they have in the system, but succumbing to that temptation for the entire season is just asking for trouble.
Ryan Kesler's a pretty valuable guy, apparently. Who knew, right? As the Selke winner has been cooling his heels, not to mention his other parts, the Dys have looked pedestrian to open the year. Last night's affair in Detroit didn't exactly break the mold, as Vancouver were badly out-chanced in a 2-0 loss. The Canucks gave up 19 scoring chances at EV last night in the second period alone. That's a game's worth and then some, with the Sedins getting smacked about in particular. I don't doubt that Vancouver will finish the year in first, but I'm really just trying to savour the moment ;-)
P.S. I'd have mentioned the Leafs in this space, but they've been on vacation all week. Their turn will come, believe me.
As with their finals opponents, the champs seem off their feed to start the year. Other than their trouncing of Tampa, the Bruins have been outplayed at EV through the first week, including a limp performance in Carolina the other night. I'm not surprised that the Bruins don't appear to be playing that well, since I never thought they were any hell other than Tim Thomas, but what I will be interested in is if they can maintain last year's 102.4 PDO. I know it's early days, but absent that sort of performance repeating itself, I'd bet the Bruins have a small slide this season.
There are several teams that pundits have declared as likely contenders for last overall, but having watched the Senators a few times, my sense is that race might be unwinnable for any of the league's other teams. I think I've hit upon the reason, in fact:
|S. DA COSTA|
Those 11 gents were the forwards dressed by Ottawa last night, and barring a sudden injection of ability to about 7 or 8 of them, that might be as bad a group of forwards to start a season as we've seen post-lockout, give or take the pre-Tavares Islanders. I'll make my prediction right now that Craig Anderson will have to post a .925 SV% or better just to get them out of last overall. I like Anderson, by the way, but unless Ottawa can schedule another 70-odd games against the Wild, that forward group is virtually unsupportable. Almost makes you wonder when Spezza will get his release, doesn't it?
Matt Hulsizer isn't quite there yet, but it appears that he might be an owner in the NHL after all. The Chicago businessman and former darling of the desert is closing in on taking control of the rudderless Blues. St. Louis has been on the hunt for an owner for over a year, so Hulsizer's assumption of the team might give them a chance for some stability. They have a decent roster as well, which makes me think that Hulsizer will likely consider himself lucky to be shot of the Coyotes when the dust settles.
The Stars' bankruptcy proceedings are continuing at the pace one might expect when the courts are involved, but Tom Galiardi or whoever takes that team on might be having some concerns about the recent attendance. The presence of the Rangers in the ALCS is undoubtedly a factor in Dallas' meagre crowds, but the 6300 announced for Monday's affair against the Coyotes should give any team pause, irrespective of the competition in the local marketplace.
It's important to keep in mind that the numbers that NHL teams release as attendance figures are for tickets distributed, not turnstile counts. That suggests that Dallas might only have sold 6000 season tickets or thereabouts, presuming that the Coyotes' game would have had a very minimal walkup crowd. That's not good in a league where gate receipts play such a large part of team revenues, and even accepting that Dallas has been a model southern market, they certainly aren't immune from struggling in a shaky economy. No matter who might assume control of the club, job one will be getting patrons back in the building.
Today's topic du jour seemed to be the aftermath of the Asham-Beagle scrap, as Asham acted the fool on his way to the box with Beagle leaking profusely at centre ice. Asham's offered the standard "I'm not that sort of guy" in the wake of events, which is nice and all, but the overwhelming majority of fights, one sided or not, don't seem to have that type of display after the punching is done, so the fact that others can restrain themselves as a matter of routine suggests how much malarkey the "he was just jacked up" crowd was spewing last night.
Beyond that BS, I'm not convinced that worrying about the WWE stuff is addressing the right issue. Tyler Dellow's article from earlier in the month that demonstrated how infrequently fighting occurred during meaningful parts of the game really should have received more attention. There's enough of a connection between blowouts and increased fighting that it should be obvious by now that fisticuffs aren't serving any worthwhile purpose at all.
Fighting at the NHL level is a sideshow, staged by professional fighters in the main, and its primary appeal is bloodlust, nothing more or less. I wouldn't miss fighting if disappeared, as it seems a useless anachronism, but for the advocates out there, it's pretty clearly past time to quit reaching for phony justifications about how fighting can turn a game and admit that the main purpose is just to see two guys whale on each other. If you're going to live in the past, at least be honest about why you choose to do so.
That's all for this week.