Blue is the colour of Toronto
The first installment of ‘real’ hockey; hockey that matters. It’s happening and gets started Tuesday night as Vegas hosts Seattle, where-and-when the Knights unveil their Stanley Cup banner, Pittsburgh entertains Chicago where Crosby and new-Crosby face each other, and Nashville is at Tampa in the first entry into the Who Really Got Fleeced in that Tanner Jeannot Swap series of matchups.
The following night, Oct. 11th, Ottawa opens its regular-season schedule in Carolina against the Eastern Conference favourite Hurricanes. (Canada’s other six teams face off against each other the same night).
There’s a lot to chew on here before we get rolling with Puck Drop No. 1, including some baseball. That’s just the kind of week it’s been and will be.
HARPING ON SLOW START IS OFF THE MARK
Just can’t get my fill of this one.
This cautionary tale is getting relayed by pundits so often this pre-season it’s become cliched. And it goes something like this: “The Ottawa Senators, in years past, have had their season killed by a slow start. Guarding against a slow start is key to any success.”
Granted, and agreed.
But here’s why this cliché no longer applies: “Ottawa is a much, much better hockey team.”
“In years past?”
Yes. For sure. The team stunk “in years past.”
The team doesn’t stink any more.
A slow start didn’t hinder the club in previous seasons, the team did. It just wasn’t very good. In fact, slow starts were just expected and part of the ultimate package.
The Senators might get dropped in that Carolina opener, but that’s as far as ‘slow start’ goes in 2023-24.
It’s a common colour among Toronto sports teams and we’re starting to understand why.
Hell, if ‘morose’ was a colour, the baseball and hockey teams would be sporting it.
A few years back I’d written a piece explaining why the city of Boston was ‘now’ the city of champions. The Bruins were Cup winners; Celtics were rolling; Tom Brady was doing what Tom Brady was doing, etc. No-lose was the city’s motto.
Well, it’s been a long time between significant wins down the 401. Joe Carter has left the building; Dave Keon is a fading memory and Kawhi Leonard is load-managing elsewhere. Toronto is huddling in far-away memories.
With apologies to Canadian Football League fans, of which there are veritable dozens in Hogtown, this is a hockey-first, baseball-second, Raptors-third city. So the Argos might be rolling again but try telling that to Johnny on the street.
And onto those Blue Jays . . .
Ugh as in ugly.
The Blue Jay exit in 2022 was quick and merciful. The Blue Jay exit in 2023 was telling. Organizationally telling.
Manager John Schneider is not an ass-kicker. The Blue Jays need an ass-kicker at this point. They also need a manager that, quite frankly, doesn’t get out-managed consistently.
Maybe Earl Weaver’s got a son kicking around somewhere?
And maybe Kirk Gibson’s got one too? Anything will do to replace the human Lazy Boy known as Vladdy. The Toronto slugger is fun and games and Gatorade showers which is all well-and-good if you’re slamming 40+ homeruns year after year and playing heads-up ball. That’s not happening.
And stating the obvious, Guerrero needs to get in shape. This is not fat-shaming. The guy’s a professional athlete and as such gets paid well to be a professional athlete and perform and train like a professional athlete. That’s not happening either.
I have no problem having Bo Bichette as one of the faces of the franchise but if the other ‘leader,’ you know the one who gets picked off 2nd base at an absolutely inexcusable time, is Guerrero, we got problems.
JOSH NORRIS. OUCH
Shoulders are tricky.
I strained both at different times a number of years ago and still have to be aware when working the shoulder press. One slight torque, twerk or twinge the wrong way and it’s six months on the shelf.
Ottawa star Josh Norris has a tricky shoulder and plays a crash-and-bang sport (of which I do not). As my-pal-and-yours Elliotte Friedman suggested to the Senators – take as loooooong as it takes to make sure that the 24-year-old American is 100 per cent. Surgery was a distant eight months ago, but shoulders have loooooong memories.
JUST BEFORE WE HAIL PIERRE AS ‘GENIUS’ . . .
Ottawa GM Pierre Dorion?
Let’s put it this way – he’s done superb work putting all the pieces together in moulding a strong team. But let’s look at it another way – he’s done a less-than-stellar job picking first-rounders.
Both Lassi Thomson (1st round pick, 19th overall, 2019) and Jacob Bernard-Docker (1st round pic, 26th overall, 2018) being put on waivers this week is not intelligent, first-round work at the draft table.
You might want to add Brock Boucher (1st round pick, 10th overall, 2021) to the mix as well, although it might be a bit soon to call it a day at this juncture. (Boucher’s best hope for growth is that he has a tremendous head coach guiding him in Belleville in former 67 David Bell).
But there’s always two sides to every story, right?
For all the stumbles, Dorion hit it out of the park in the year in between all that fumbling (without getting picked off base . . .) in 2020 with Jake Sanderson and Tim Stutzle, the two best players to come out of that draft.
. . . AND HOW ABOUT THOSE EASTERN CANADIAN CLUBS AT THE DRAFT?
Dorion isn’t alone in the selective home-run department.
Both Toronto and Montreal have plucked some gems in the past few summers.
The Leafs have Matthew Knies (2nd round pick, 57th overall, 2021), Topi Niemela (3rd round pick, 64th overall, 2020), Easton Cowan (1st round pick, 28th overall, 2023) and plucky Fraser Minten (2nd round pick, 38th overall, 2022) knocking down doors.
The Habs pack is, of course, led by Juraj Slafkovsky (1st overall pick, 2022) and NCAA standout Lane Hutson (2nd round pick, 62nd overall, 2022), steady David Reinbacher (1st round pick, fifth overall, 2023) as well as rugged Logan Mailloux (1st round pick, 31st overall, 2021).
Photo: Courtesy USA Today