It’s justified and it’s annoying: Every time a hockey analyst, fan, or fan weighs in on something that’s happened in the NHL so far, it comes with the qualifier that “it’s early.” “It’s a small sample.” “It may not mean anything, but…”
And of course, these things can No means anything. But in early November, we suddenly noticed that teams already out of a playoff spot rarely find their way back. One, two, maybe three teams can start poorly and climb their way to the playoffs, but some clear separation of the good from the bad teams has happened by then, so I don’t think it’s unreasonable to walk away after each team has played about five games and say, “Do we have any clues about the direction of certain teams (or players) this season?” ?”
Because the answer is yes. We have some leads. And some of the first that have caught my attention are…
Could Connor Bedard go to the Sharks?
Contrary to the beliefs of Sam McKee, the producer of Real Kyper and Bourne, I’m pretty sure the NHL drafts are not and have not been rigged. (I can’t believe the league has believed its brightest stars are best placed in Pittsburgh and Edmonton over the years.) So I don’t think it’s predetermined that Connor Bedard will go into the desert and save the Arizona Coyotes, who will no doubt end up somewhere in the entire league that’s in the top 30the and 32North Dakota.
But I’m intrigued by the idea that it ends up somewhere else with warm weather, in San Jose. The Sharks are 0-5-0 to start the year, and looking at their group of forwards, it’s hard to imagine that they’re suddenly going to bounce back and hit .500 (which would still miss the playoffs by a good distance). Suddenly, their division has become very good: the Kings were a playoff team, Calgary and Edmonton have Cup aspirations, the Knights are off to a strong start, and it just doesn’t seem like San Jose’s year. Are they the last bad guys? Probably not. But they may be closer than most thought before their season got off to a quiet start in Prague.
If nothing else, the Buffalo Sabers are a handful
They’re only 2-1-0, and they’re on a tough West Coast swing here where they’re probably going to lose a game or two, but they just look like a team that’s a challenge to play against, which is a huge compliment. . They have great bodies, you saw Tage Thompson’s great goal, and maybe Ilya Lyubushkin’s last big hit, they have some young talent and they work hard. I don’t necessarily see a playoff team in the harsh Atlantic, but I do see a future with some real opportunity. As shocking as this is to say, they have become really fun to watch.
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Bruce Boudreau, the first coach on the bench?
Like many people, I love Bruce Boudreau. I think his teams love him too, mostly. But the way the Canucks have lost early, with blown leads and talk about being “mentally weak” and player-only meetings, and he doesn’t have a contract that runs until next season, and… wow.
The Canucks are good enough to get a two-goal lead on teams regularly, that’s good. They will probably be a team that ends up somewhere in the range of 10 teams out of 15the and 24the the whole league. But if the winning part of the season doesn’t happen soon, Boudreau may not see the Canucks’ games 15-24 of the season.
Some teams that have inspired “oh damn, that’s an extremely good team” thoughts, and why:
Some of those teams: Hurricanes, Flames, Rangers and Golden Knights. And what do they have in common? Good defenders.
With almost every team facing the salary cap to the point of having to accept some roster flaws, several teams have prioritized keeping good forwards and, in some cases, being goalies. But it’s the teams that have built solid D-corps that seem to have such an advantage at the moment, and the groups mentioned here fit that bill. Vegas hasn’t latched on to all of their forwards, but boy, is that still a really good defensive group (and wouldn’t you know it, the goalie looks good as a result).
Related: Early concerns for the Leafs, Lightning and Oilers
Each of these teams that have slowly walked out of the gate entered the year they really liked their respective groups, while they were mildly concerned about their defensive ability. It’s weird to say about Lightning, but without Ryan McDonagh and Jan Rutta, you’re suddenly seeing a lot of Cal Foote, Haydn Fleury and Philippe Myers. The Leafs have lost Jake Muzzin, are without Timothy Liljegren and are getting questionable performances from inside defenders. The Oilers have talent in their D-corps, but they don’t excel on the real defensive side, and even though their season has only just begun, the defensive capabilities of these teams are certainly noteworthy.
How much will Pasta cost the Bruins?
David Pastrnak looks like a salary storm for the Boston Bruins. He has all the elements of a big ticket. He is young, barely 26 years old. He is an outstanding UFA. He scored 40 in his sleep last year despite missing 10 games, and he already has a Rocket Richard trophy. He has been grossly underpaid for years, as was Nathan MacKinnon, earning just $6.6 million against the cap. He’s been hanging like crazy so far and has eight points from four games, the cap is rumored to be going up, so yeah…it’s not going to be cheap. Nathan MacKinnon got $12.6 million a year, though Pastrnak won’t get that to begin with. But you’re crazy if you think he’s costing less than $10 million a season, and I bet he’s way over that.
Good Stealth Player of the Season: Gustav Forsling
Though they’ve only played three games, Florida’s Forsling is currently a second behind Victor Hedman’s average TOI per game, at 25:29, which leaves him sixth in the NHL in that stat. With MacKenzie Weegar out (and a pretty average D-corps overall), Forsling has been elevated to a bigger role and looks like an effective player in those minutes (he’s an excellent neutral zone defender). This from a guy who got picked up by exemption, and he’s only going to make $2.66 million this year and next. All I know is that Florida better hope it holds up this well: Aaron Ekblad came into LTIR today, so don’t expect Forsling’s minutes to drop any time soon.
Why do the Flyers do this?
Tanking is the worst, and every team should always be trying to win, full stop. But the Flyers start 3-0-0, boy, I’m not sure this is the best for their future. But you don’t sign John Tortorella to have a peaceful trip to the bottom of the league, so they clearly want to win. Props to them for getting things going in the right direction.
And finally, speaking of the basement…
Do the Habs have too many good players to finish bottom again?
I’m still hoping the Habs get some lottery balls and a shot at Connor Bedard, but looking at this team, it’s hard to miss that they have a number of guys who can make plays and throw the puck into the net. No, they don’t have a D-corps to speak of, but with their front group, it doesn’t feel like you’re looking at a team like Arizona or the Sharks or even the aforementioned Flyers. Between Cole Caufield and Nick Suzuki, Kirby Dach and Mike Hoffman, Brendan Gallagher, Jonathanb Drouin, Josh Anderson, even Sean Monahan and Evgenii Dadonov, they have guys who can make plays. If they’re not going to be good this year, they can at least be fun to watch.
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