October 24 2011 01:15AM
Another week has passed in the season, and with that, it's time for another review of matters around the league. In this installment, the Canucks make the first significant move of the year, two first rounders appear on divergent paths, and the Leafs face life without Optimus Reim.
Vancouver has been so-so thus far, as a missing body of note and maybe a bit of a hangover from last spring have left them looking like a very average team throught the first two weeks of the season. Ryan Kesler's return, although not laden with success in the inital outing versus the Rangers, likely portends better things down the line, since there aren't many teams that wouldn't improve with by adding that sort of fellow. They could use a bit of what Mason Raymond provides as well, but his return is still out there a ways.
Mike Gillis isn't one to wait for things to just settle out, though. He cast aside two dead weights for a potentially useful player last night, as the Canucks acquired David Booth from the Panthers. The 26 year old wasn't getting much traction in Florida, with no goals thus far, and there have been hints that he wasn't really one of Tallon's favourites.
It's also fair to suspect that the Panthers were quite willing to unload a long-term deal for reasons not entirely related to events on the ice, irrespective of the pleadings of Panther ownership. Samuelsson and Sturm are UFA after this season, while Booth had this year plus three more on his deal, which does make me believe that dispensing with that committment and flushing Steve Reinprecht drove matters as much as the work of any particular player.
My take is that the Canucks have made a decent gamble. Brian Skrudland, in his airborne chat with our esteemed leader this past June (scroll to the end), advised Kent that Booth had fully recovered from the concussion he suffered two seasons ago. If that's so, a change of scenery that will include riding shotgun with Kesler should lead to Booth scoring a goal or two.
That arrangement might also might permit the Canucks to pair Malhotra and Higgins on a hard minutes line that would have a good chance of holding its own against good players. Employing those two against top-six comp would leave the Canucks in the enviable position of continuing to send the Sedins out versus third liners, but with two lines behind them that could do the heavy lifting. NIce problem to have, I guess.
At the other end of the spectrum, the Flames played decently enough yesterday, but Pekka Rinne's good work and their own prolifigacy in the Predator end left Calgary frustrated and scoreless, just like most of my trips to the Palamino Club. Ah, shouldn't have typed that in my outside voice. At any rate, the listless start for the Flames has Rene Bourque's name in circulation, as rumours abound that he's been asked about by teams.
I get why teams would ask, since he's been pretty good for most of his time as a Flame, but he might be the one asset that the club would consider trading in the near term with any market value. Guys like Sarich or Hagman or Stajan would likely need a pick going along in the bargain before a team would take them on, so RB could be the guy heading out. He's struggling to keep his head above water even with some pretty cushy ZS percentages, and there's a chance that absent a strong 2-way C like Langkow to partner Bourque, this is as good as it gets. If that's the case, there's no harm in checking the market.
Edmonton's going along pretty decently to start the year, albeit by playing some pretty low-event hockey 5v5. Still, it's been a while since the Oilers were on the good side of shot differential numbers, and given the flimsy appearance of the defence starting the year, that's all to the good.
There's been quite a bit of attention to Edmonton's fresh faces through the first couple of weeks, with the Nuge at the center of much of that good press. Whether he should stay in the NHL this year is more a matter of how the team chooses to run their franchise than if he's good enough to stick around, in my view, because he does appear to be in the team's top group of forwards on merit so far. One thing I did notice as I perused the underlying numbers, however, is that something might be getting lost in the wash.
Amid all the compliments that everyone has been paying to the Oiler youth, those youngsters are getting a nice boost due to the choices Tom Renney has made regarding their ice time. While the kids have been getting the juicy bits, Shawn Horcoff, Ryan Jones and Ryan Smyth have gotten the lousy end of the stick, and they've been good at surviving the onslaught.
As we've seen with Alain Vigneault's utilization of the Sedins, if a coach has a line he can throw in front of the other team's heavyweights, he can use his other skill players in really advantageous situations. In other words, the kids are going to be good, but they're absolutely getting a leg up from the boss. That doesn't mean the young gents are bad at hockey, because they've been making good use of their situation to this point, but simply that some old pros have done a bit of dirty work to smooth the path.
The club called time on Mark Scheifele's NHL season this afternoon, sending their top pick back to junior. As Gabe has pointed out this evening, the numbers were unkind to Scheifele, even as Claude Noel gave him every conceivable advantage, which really left the club nothing to do but send him on his way.
One thing that struck me as I watched the club last week was that they were starting to generate shots, but pucks weren't going in, especially for several of their best players. Heading into Saturday night's 5-3 win over Carolina, Kane, Ladd and Wheeler had roughly 60 shots on net with one goal to show for their efforts. Kane and Ladd did tally last night, and those three have been shooting at a good pace, which does make me think that if they can continue pounding rubber on net, the goals should come soon enough.
Last night's win in Montreal was tempered by the loss of James Reimer. It doesn't sound like Toronto will have to use Gustavsson for more than a few games as the starter based on Mirtle's report, and from what I've seen of the Monster, that's nothing but good news.
He and the Flames' Henrik Karlsson do seem to share a predilection for staying back in the blue paint more than they should and dropping to the butterfly a bit too quickly. It makes me wonder if the two of them, being of roughly equal stature, are learning that the habits they had in Sweden might not work in the NHL. Being big and covering the bottom of the net is nice and all, but NHL forwards can pick a top corner on occasion.
Oh, and I know most sensible Leaf fans have factored this in, but Phil Kessel isn't going to shoot 32% for the year. He really needs a center that can play, because after a nice start, his advanced numbers are starting to take a slide, and David Steckel isn't that guy. The good news from the injury ward is that Tim Connolly might be back in the next couple of weeks if he doesn't have any setbacks, and he'll be an improvement from Steckel or Bozak when he joins the roster.
Columbus, fresh off a summer where they opened the wallet in the hopes of making the playoffs, is snorkeling in a major way. Injuries, mediocre goaltending and James Wisniewski's suspension have left them in the ditch. Aaron Portzline lays out the dire situation on ice, as the Jackets face a difficult schedule this week that might leave their season done before Hallowe'en.
It's no hell in the stands, either, as the Blue Jackets are drawing just over 11,000 a night. That's down roughly 2,000 a night from last year, and absent a run starting ASAP, it might be friends and family in the building by January. A casino deal that diverts revenue to cover the costs of the building might keep them afloat in theory, but no NHL team can stand that sort of attendance in the long run. The team might lose 25 million this year, and that's real money, even for rich dudes.
Dallas isn't drawing flies either, with the worst attendance numbers in the league, but at least they're winning games. Like last season, however, the Stars are on the wrong side of the shot clock, and that caught up with them in a big way in the second half of last year. Maybe they'll continue to get .944 goaltending 5v5 all season, but as much as I might think of Kari Lehtonen, I wouldn't bet on that occurring.
(I know he's been appropriated by the evil-doers, but I'll be damned if I'm going to show him in a Habs jersey.)
Exhibit A in that regard are the defending champs. The B's are 3-5 on the merits, and when they get average goaltending, as they have to this juncture of the season, the results aren't there. Stunning, I know. That slump might meet its end this week, as Boston plays the Habs. Montreal and Phoenix swapped a few spare parts on Sunday morning, but I can't really see where the Canadiens get much better than a team that finishes in 8th or 9th, and that's presuming Andrei Markov can come back and stay healthy.
An honest look at that roster, especially at forward, leads me to think that the faithful in Montreal might have finally to face what fans in places like Edmonton and Toronto have confronted since the lockout, a tear down and lengthy rebuilding process. I'd suspect that Jacques Martin gets the boot before they start trading away their few solid players, but that team's ceiling is really low under ideal circumstances. As someone who's cheered for that team precisely once in my lifetime, I can't I'm broken up over that prospect, but I do wonder how a notoriously twitchy fan base would deal with an open scuttling of a season.
That's all for this week. If there's anything that you've seen of interest, feel free to link to it in comments.