2014-15 Day One Preview

It’s finally the day we’ve been counting down to for the past 5 months. No, not Christmas. It’s October 8th, 2014. The first day of the 2014-15 NHL Regular Season. There are four games featured tonight, and there are some to be some intense and wild ones. The Toronto Maple Leafs host the Montreal Canadiens at 7:00PM EST, a long time rivalry in which the teams seem to begin each and every season against each other. The Philadelphia Flyers will fly to Boston for a 7:30PM EST matinee. The Boston Bruins are the defending President’s Trophy winners and will look to keep their form. The Calgary Flames will play host to the new-look Vancouver Canucks at 10:00PM EST. Remember last year’s game which had 158PIM within the first two seconds of the game? Yea. Also at 10:00PM EST, The defending Stanley Cup champions will raise the banner in front of who else but the San Jose Sharks, the team they erased a 3-0 deficit against last Spring.

Montreal Canadiens at Toronto Maple Leafs

(Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports)

Long-time rivals since the league was created, it is well-known that the Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens hate each other. In fact, this past summer, Josh Gorges declined a trade to Toronto for the fact that he hates them too much. In last year’s season series, Montreal took three games out of five. No matter how good or bad each team is, it’s always a physical, intense and close game. This season, it looks like Montreal may have the upper hand in the standings. As for tonight, I expect the same result. Toronto lost much of its depth this offseason and now feature a much younger and quicker team, with Orr and McLaren gone, and Komarov back in. Montreal has possibly the best goaltender in the world in Carey Price, and also 2012-13 Norris Trophy winner, PK Subban. I see Van Riemsdyk and Josh Leivo scoring for Toronto. While Pacioretty, Gallagher, and Eller will tally for the Habs.

Prediction: Montreal Wins 3-2.

Philadelphia Flyers at Boston Bruins

Kevin Marshall

These are two teams who often pride themselves on their physical style. Don’t expect anything different tonight. Boston is no doubt the favourite for this game, backstopped by last year’s Vezina Trophy winner, Tuukka Rask. The Bruins won all three contests between the teams in 2013-14. Philadelphia is led by Claude Giroux, who will need to take the team on his back if they expect another playoff position this year. I expect this game to go as expected, mainly because Boston has one of the deepest teams in the league, while Philadelphia features a team with a very young bottom two lines. On defence, there are paying way too much for a rather average lineup. Steve Mason is their backstop, and he had an up year last year. Unfortuanetly for them, Boston is far better and will prevail in their first game of 2014-15. Voracek will score for the Flyers, while Lucic, Krug, and Reilly (twice) will put up goals for Boston.
Prediction: Boston wins 4-1

Vancouver Canucks at Calgary Flames

It’s no secret these west coast teams hate each other after just two seconds of a game last year. While Hartley lined up his three enforcers at the opening face-off, Torterella responded by putting Bieksa as his centre. There were 158 PIM in those two seconds and Torts was suspended 15 days for trying to go into the Flames dressing room. Both teams have new looks this season however, with Ryan Miller and Jonas Hiller backstopping the Canucks and Flames, respectively. While Vancouver’s changes turned them into a possible playoff team, Calgary is still expected to be a bottom feeder in the tough Western Conference. Vancouver got rid of Kesler and added Bonino and Vrbata. Calgary got Diaz, Raymond, and Setoguchi, while they also drafted Sam Bennett 4th overall, and made the team. Calgary is too young and straight up bad to score of Miller, who will prove himself again. For Vancouver, Bonino, Edler, and Hansen will score.

Prediction: Vancouver wins 3-0

San Jose Sharks at Los Angeles Kings

(Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports)

Probably the best game of the first day of the 2014-15 season sees defending Stanley Cup champs host the confused Sharks. No doubt, every players has round one fresh in their mind for tonight. In case you forgot somehow, San Jose took a commanding 3-0 series lead and were looking like Cup favourites until they imploded and lost the series 4-3, while LA went on to hoist the Cup. The Sharks come into this season with a very young bottom two lines, possibly featuring an all rookie line. While there have been rumours Joe Thornton may centre the fourth line. Even their starter is up in the air. Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, its the exact same team, minus Willie Mitchell. There’s no doubt most will favourite L.A. to win this game, but I could see the determined San Jose Sharks pull off an upset. The Sharks seem to start every year well, it’ll be no different in 2014-15. Nieto, Pavelski, and Wingels will score for the Sharks, while for the Kings, it’ll be Lewis and Toffoli on pace for 82 goals after one game.

Prediction: San Jose wins 3-2.

It’s guaranteed to be a great night when hockey is on, but tonight is extra special. Gather around, grab some good friends and good food and enjoy the great game on ice. And remember, it’s only the first night of the next 172, of nights of hockey. Good luck to all!

 

Why Brendan Shanahan is a great choice to run the Maple Leafs

The Toronto Maple Leafs may still be the biggest name in the NHL but they have also been one of the league’s biggest enigmas at the same time. They have only made the playoffs once since the 2004-05 lockout, with that coming last year, and looked like a strong contender for the playoffs this year before fading badly down the stretch. Now they have a new sheriff in town to run the organization and it’s NHL director of player safety Brendan Shanahan, as first reported by the Toronto Star. I think this is a strong hire and here’s why.

Sure, you could slight this hire as Shanahan enters a high-profile job with no front office experience, but also one should not count out the experience he has gained while serving as the Director of Player Safety. He joined that job essentially right out of playing and he has shown the ability to tackle a big position while learning quickly and serving as a progressive decision-maker with the league. Sure you could say what you want about his rulings, but at least with his ground-breaking video descriptions of each decision, you at least knew where the decision was coming from, as Puck Duddy’s Greg Wyshynski points out. Plus, he has shown he can handle the spotlight which will be key up in Toronto.

It is not going to be an overnight rebuilding job for the Leafs even as they made the playoffs last year. Regression was expected for the club, and thus realized to the dismay of the people that do not believe in numbers, particularly as they struggled to control the puck. Throw in some bad contracts and Shanahan will have a fair amount of work awaiting him this offseason. One would expect the focus to be on building a team that will focus much more on puck possession as compared to these recent editions.

As to whether general manager Dave Norris or coach Randy Carlyle will return next season is still up in the air, but one can count on Shanahan to surround himself with smart and talented folks as he did in the league office. It will not be an easy job but I have the confidence in Shanahan that he can be the guy to turn Toronto around.

Falling Leafs & Blackhawks Down?

Falling Leafs

At the beginning of the season, the Toronto Maple Leafs were rolling along. The Buds had things going their way and looking to make some noise in the Eastern Conference playoff race. However, things have changed drastically for the Leafs as they’ve lost eight in a row heading into Tuesday night’s game against Calgary.

There has been a lot of blame to go around from James Reimer, (ask his wife about that one) to captain and defenseman Dion Phaneuf, to coach Randy Carlyle (who former boxing champion and Leafs fan Riddick Bowewants to knock out after a loss to Philadelphia.) Even double-shifted offensive star Phil Kessel is not immune to being criticized (although he’s accounted for one-third of the offense for Toronto.)

So what’s wrong in Toronto? How did they go from a playoff threat to a bubble team? Toronto is two points back in the wild card standings as of Tuesday night.

One of the main culprits has been Reimer, as he’s been disastrous in relief of Jonathan Bernier. (Bernier did return in a loss to St. Louis and dropped a game against the Flyers.) However, Reimer shouldn’t take all of the heat as his agent Ray Petkau pointed out the defense didn’t exactly do the embattled netminder any favors. Bernier is clearly the number one, but Reimer isn’t exactly awful. Plus, Randy Carlyle’s system allows for more shots and it was only a matter of time before the goalies were going to lose the form that got Toronto into any position to contend.

There are other things to blame for the collapse. The Leafs power play couldn’t help make up for the bad play of the even strength unit. The Buds power play only worked at a 14-percent efficiency rating in March, which is down almost eight points from the rest of the season. Toronto has lived dangerously by trying to outscore its opponents, but it is defense that rules this time of the year.

Another problem is that Carlyle has a short bench and doesn’t really use his fourth line. The fourth line of Colton Orr, Frazer McLaren and others only gets over five minutes a game, but they are more than capable of getting about 10 minutes of time. Five minutes may not seem like a lot for a single game, but those minutes add up over the course of the season.

After the last loss to Detroit, Toronto has only a less than seven-percent chance to make the postseason. The main question will be do Carlyle, General Manager Dave Nonis and people like Phaneuf get a chance to right the wrong or is there going to be a massive overhaul. I’m leading towards Carlyle and possibly Nonis getting the axe in the offseason. The Leafs haven’t won the Cup since 1967, and the fans and the media are clamoring for a title.

Blackhawks Down?

The Chicago Blackhawks were my favorite to win the Stanley Cup at the beginning of the season. However, the champs have taken a few hits over the last few weeks. The St. Louis Blues loaded up and took first in Central Division thanks to getting Ryan Miller at the trade deadline.

The main problem has been the injuries that Chicago has taken in the last couple of weeks. It started when Patrick Kane suffered a leg injury against St. Louis on March 20. The Hawks are missing Kane on the power play.

However, it went from bad to worse as Blackhawks’ captain Jonathan Toews was injured after absorbing a hard hit from Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik. Toews is day-to-day according to Coach Joel Quenville. (Toews was holding his left arm when he was taken off the ice.)

Some are wondering if Chicago’s chance to repeat is going up in smoke. The Blackhawks need to fix some thingsif they want to contend. Their normally solid defense has been shaky as of late, plus Corey Crawford has not been as good as he was during last year’s Stanley Cup run. The Hawks are going to need players like Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa to step up the offensive production before Toews and Kane get healthy.

It’s that time of the week where look at the spectacular, the stupid and the silly with First star, Worst star and Who blew up the Death Star?

First star

Jonathan Quick makes what could be the save of the year against the Winnipeg Jets with this move called the scorpion kick.

 

Worst star

 

James Neal of the Penguins cross-checks the head of Detroit’s Luke Glendening.

Who blew up the Death Star?

Dear Jeopardy contest, Magic Johnson didn’t play in the NHL. Hand in your man card.

Sincerely,

Men of North America

George Parros’ Injury Shows Costs of the Designated Enforcer Outweighs Benefits

If the NHL‘s opening game between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens demonstrated anything, it was that designated enforcers – hockey players of marginal ability who excel only in their ability to fight others of the same description – don’t serve a purpose and come with a terrible cost.

A little over 12 minutes into the game, Toronto forward Colton Orr landed a heavy hit on Montreal star Max Pacioretty. It wasn’t a dirty hit; Orr glided in rather than taking a run and the play went unpenalized, but Pacioretty left the game for a time before returning.

More importantly, the idea of Orr injuring Pacioretty is inherently repugnant, not just because injuries are repellent in their own right but also because of the two players involved. Colton Orr has played 422 NHL games and has 24 career points; Pacioretty matched that total in assists alone during a lockout shortened 2012-13 season. Pacioretty is a star, while Orr is only able to hang on to an NHL roster spot because he fights.

The hit was more remarkable because of who Montreal had dressed for the game: George Parros. Like Orr, Parros is a modest scorer – 35 points in 452 career games – with more than 1,000 penalty minutes on his NHL career. He was brought in over the summer specifically to play the role of bodyguard for a Montreal team loaded with undersized skill players.

Parros and Orr have a history. They have fought multiple times in the past, and two years ago it was a fight with Parros in January 2011 that jeopardized Orr’s career.

Orr missed the last 36 games of the 2010-11 season with a concussion, and after six consecutive years in the majors spent most of 2011-12 in the minor leagues. He didn’t re-establish himself as an NHL’er until last season.

Despite the history with Parros, Orr didn’t hesitate to hit Pacioretty. Perhaps it was because his NHL career hinges on his ability to be a physical player. Maybe it was because Orr had already faced Parros in a fight since the injury. Either way, the presence of Parros did nothing to deter Orr from playing physically against Montreal’s best players.

Parros, naturally, couldn’t allow the hit on Pacioretty to go unchallenged. So he went after Orr and after a relatively uneventful fight, Parros took Orr down in a reasonably convincing win.

Orr was undeterred. Early in the third period, he was part of a 2-on-1 with teammate Carter Ashton, with the latter carrying the puck. Orr went hard to the net. In defense of his goaltender another Montreal star, P.K. Subban, grabbed Orr from behind and started wrestling him away from the crease. Predictably, Parros skated over to help Subban out; just as predictably, it ended with Orr and Parros fighting again. Impossible to foresee was the horrifying result of that bout.

How serious is George Parros’ injury? At this point, that’s an unknown. Parros was taken directly to the hospital, and the Canadiens confirmed to TSN’s John Lu that Parros did suffer a concussion, but the full ramifications will only be revealed in time.

In the aftermath, though, the real question that needs to be asked is whether the benefits of having players like Orr and Parros in the league outweighs the costs.

The typical argument made in favor of pure fighters is that they help protect star players and prevent injuries because they represent such a physical threat; a player going after Pacioretty knows he’ll have to face Parros later on.

Games like this highlight the problems with that theory. Few players know the cost of tussling with Parros better than Orr did, but at the same time his hopes for continued NHL employment require him to do things like finish checks. So that’s what he did. Then, even after taking the worst of a fight with Parros earlier in the game, and with Parros on the ice, Orr again made the choice to put physical play ahead of his own well-being. 

Games like this also show the occasionally terrible cost of icing players like Orr and Parros. On the league’s opening night, with a wide open contest between two of the NHL’s most high-profile clubs, the focus should have been on the excellent hockey being played. Instead, it’s overshadowed by concern for a player facing an extremely serious injury.

Given the questionable benefits and the all too tangible consequences, why does the NHL continue to tolerate players at the end of the roster whose sole purpose is to fight? It doesn’t make sense.