Random NHL Thoughts for Late-February 2013.

Nearly three years after salary cap constraints forced Chicago Blackhawks management to gut their Stanley Cup championship roster, the ‘Hawks are back in serious Cup contention.

They’ve set a record for the longest season-opening streak of regulation wins in NHL history. Patrick Kane had discovered some maturity and regained his scoring touch. Marian Hossa has recovered from last season’s playoff-ending concussion.

Their goaltending tandem of Corey Crawford and Ray Emery has been outstanding, and the rest of their best players (Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith, Patrick Sharp, Brent Seabrook) are playing very well.

It’s not even half-way through this shortened season, but the Blackhawks have recovered the swagger which made them champions in 2010.

 

OK, I admit it, I didn’t expect the Montreal Canadiens would be perched atop the Eastern Conference twenty games into this season.

I did expect improvement over last season debacle, but felt they would be contending for one of the lower seeds in the East. It’s still early, and they could end up sliding down the standings and battling for one of the final berths by season’s end.

Still, to be playing this well at this point in the season is significant improvement. Credit belongs to new GM Marc Bergevin and head coach Michel Therrien for changing what had become a losing atmosphere in Montreal.

I was against the Habs bringing Therrien back, recalling his first tenure when he was an excitable bench boss who often favored veterans over younger players.

This time, however, he’s been a cool customer behind the Habs bench, unafraid to give his youngsters playing time over veterans if they deserve it.

 

Hands up, everyone who though the Anaheim Ducks would be second overall in the Western Conference nearing the midway point of this season.

As with the Canadiens, I expected the Ducks to be better this season, but not to be riding so high in the standings.

A big reason for that is coach Bruce Boudreau. It’s no coincidence the Ducks, floundering in the opening two months of last season, were among the better teams in the second half after hiring Boudreau.

Another reason is improved goaltending, thanks largely to 30-year-old NHL rookie Viktor Fasth. He’s forcing starter Jonas Hiller, who recently returned from injury, to step up his play.

With strong coaching and goaltending, the Ducks should be a serious playoff contender this season.

 

The decline in Alexander Ovechkin’s performance has dampened his once-intense rivalry with Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby, but there’s another player who can challenge Crosby for the mantle of “NHL’s Best Player”.

I give you Steven Stamkos of the Tampa Bay Lightning, winner of two Richard trophies as the NHL’s best goalscorer.

Stamkos is currently jockeying with Crosby in the race for the Art Race as the league’s leading point-getter, as well as battling with John Tavares of the NY Islanders and Crosby’s teammates James Neal for the goalscoring lead.

Sadly, Stamkos doesn’t get nearly as much attention from NHL marketers as he deserves. Maybe it’s because Stamkos isn’t as bubbly a personality as Ovechkin, or plays for a Sun Belt team,

Whatever the reason, it’s time for the league to wake up and start building some hype between Crosby and Stamkos.

 

Hard to believe it’s been nearly a decade since the Colorado Avalanche and Dallas Stars were perennial Stanley Cup contenders.

Both clubs have been rebuilding for several years, but still have a long way to go to regain the heights of their glory years.

The decline in their attendance mirrors that of their on-ice fortunes. Last season, both teams were in the bottom third in attendance. The Avs are still mired there, while the Stars have shown some improvement by moving into the middle of the pack.

Gone, too, are the days when ownership of those respective clubs could competitively bid for the best available free agent talent to stock their roster. Today’s salary cap, along with a change of ownership for the Stars and a change in spending habits by the Avs, means the era when those two teams regularly spent big bucks on free agent talent is long gone.

 

If the Buffalo Sabres fail to make the playoffs, I expect GM Darcy Regier will be following recently fired head coach Lindy Ruff out the door.

Like Ruff, Regier’s been in the job for far too long with little to show for it in recent years. He’s the one responsible for building that roster, and deserves more of the blame for the Sabres mediocrity than Ruff.

Speaking of Ruff, I don’t expect him to be unemployed for long, He’s got a lot of respect around the league, and I daresay he’ll likely land another NHL coaching gig before next season.

6 Comments

  1. I wish the Avs would take notice from Montreal, where younger players are given a chance in favor of ineffective players (i.e. Kobasew and Zanon)

    • Oh, and Stastny too. He’s been given too long of a leash. I’d love to see him benched for a few games. If only there were a young, quality, two-way center with recent success ready to jump right into the fold to replace him…

  2. Don’t forget the Leafs as a team that’s improved with young players being given a chance. The Habs and their management deserve a ton of credit but the Leafs are taking slow, steady baby steps to the next level. Of course the team in the east that merits the most praise would be the Senators – they are the only Canadian senators that are achievers. The others are a pathetic group of slugs.

  3. It has been tough to be an Avs fan since the lockout before this last one, but never the less – we diehard fans will always be here!
    If I were the god of the hockey gods – which I am barely the god of successfully tied shoelaces – Stan (or his little brat son) Kroenke would not own the team. A real owner who knows hockey would. Lacroix (and his little brat son) would have been axed ages ago. They have lost the plot ages ago. When and if they ever do at this point, I hope they get fired the way a pack of wolves rip at their prey. A great coach and all the rest would then naturally follow suit.
    It is not just a coincidence that the Avalanche have been slipping since they lost legendary goalie, Roy and coughed out Foppa before his injuries finally spat him out to us for the last time. The wrong people have been running the Organization ever since Stan the billionaire took over.
    Yet, you’ll still see me in section 104 from night to night.

  4. Chicago lost to Phoenix last year in the 1st round and Vancouver the year before also in the 1st round, the year before that they won the Cup largely on the depth of their 3rd and 4th lines. the year before they won the Cup they also had a very deep team but were beaten in the Conference Finals by an aging Detroit team, the common thread that’s emerged from all of their playoff losses isn’t that the other teams were more talented or skilled but more disciplined with a coach who stuck to a conservative style instead of the wide open trading chances offense that the Blackhawks prefer, in short when Chicago lost they were outcoached. this year Chicago has been able to dictate a wide open game but that tends to disappear in the playoffs when penalties are harder to come by and defense & a hot goalie carry the day. Quennenville is infamous for his ranting and raving behind the bench but while he’s focussing on something that he can’t change the other coach is busy thinking about what’s next and always one step ahead. if Chicago should win it won’t be because of their coach it’ll be despite him. i don’t see their regular season tactics of keeping a winger high for a low percentage long bomb breakaway pass working too well in the playoffs where such a play can easily backfire and allow outnumbered possessions in their own zone (much higher percentage play) to result in goals by more disciplined teams.

  5. by the way the 79/80 Flyers hold the record for longest undefeated streak (35 Games), the longest winning streak belongs to the 92/93 Penguins (17 games), the 29/30 Bruins & 75/76 Flyers hold the record for home winning streak (20 games), and the 05/06 Red Wings hold the longest away winning streak (11 games). all these great teams have one thing in common, despite their record setting success during the regular season none of them won the Cup the year they set their respective records. what this tells us is that regular season means nothing when it comes to the playoffs, in fact the President’s Trophy winners (best regular season record in the league) have gone on to win the Cup only 5 times in the last 20 years.