Canadian Clubs Lead the Way with Calgary Surprise
Photo courtesy of NHLI via Getty Images
How ya doin’ out there Canada?
Well, we’re about to hit elongated home stretch and the run to the NHL trade deadline (3 pm ET, Feb. 25) so let’s take a gander at who’s done what so far and what is likely to come.
Here are Canada’s teams; alphabetical order of course.
CALGARY FLAMES: Easily Canada’s biggest pleasant surprise.
The Flames are not only a legitimate challenger for a Pacific Division title, they’re a legit look at finishing first in the Western Conference and – at this point – trail only Tampa for the overall NHL lead in points.
Who really, honestly saw this coming?
Not this corner.
That cliché that your best players have to be your best players in order to win rings true here.
Mark Giordano is having a Norris Trophy year; Johnny Gaudreau has taken his game to another elite level and linemates Sean Monahan and Elias Lindholm are right there by his side.
Netminding – always troubled waters since the departure of Miikka Kiprusoff many moons ago – seems to have found a gate-keeper in Dave Rittich and his 19-4-4 record.
The Flames also boast the league’s top hybrid tough-guy in Matthew Tkachuk (. . . More on his brother momentarily Ottawa fan).
EDMONTON OILERS: Ouch.
And more ouch.
The Oilers organization is a lot like Bart Simpson: When will they ever learn? Back to the classroom chalkboard with “I promise to be better, I promise to be better . . .”
You’ve probably heard this one a few times this year – how can a team with the best player on the planet be this discombobulated?
Former NHL all-star and now TV analyst Jeremy Roenick summed it up nicely (well, not so nicely if you’re an Oilers’ follower): “I’m boggled that this is a professional hockey league team,” he said on NBC. “The Edmonton Oilers are so bad. They can’t put two passes together.”
“Their feet and their hands go so much faster than their brains,” he continued. “They have no idea what they’re doing out there and it shows so much . . . This team might have, from 18 players, the lowest hockey IQ that I’ve ever seen in a long time. It’s embarrassing.”
MONTREAL CANADIENS: I absolutely love watching this team play.
The Habs are smallish (big surprise there) but feisty and fast and supremely (Diana Ross?) creative.
Max Domi’s been a revelation and that trade with Arizona (for Alex Galchenyuk) is looking like one of the biggest rip-offs, so far, in years.
Montreal is a lusty 28-18-5 and currently holds down fourth spot in the Eastern Conference.
Domi’s a major reason, Jeff Petry’s got 35 (freakin’) points, forgotten Tomas Tatar’s fit in well and Carey Price is back to being Carey Price.
Not likely this team’s going to challenge for the Cup, but its headed in the correct direction.
OTTAWA SENATORS: As former Arizona Cardinals coach, the late Dennis Green, shouted in frustration a decade ago: “They are who we thought they were!”
‘Frustration’ doesn’t begin to tell the story of the Senators, and yes, they are who we thought they would be, but maybe worse.
The Senators had already surrendered their first-round pick this summer in the Matt Duchene deal to Colorado. Now they’re doing their best to insure the Avs have a really great shot at landing it in the lottery.
Ottawa sits dead last.
Pending UFAs, a noxious arena deal, Montgomery Burns as the owner, the cab ride from hell . . . we could go on, but this is a family show.
Bright spots are scant, but Thomas Chabot’s been tremendous as have Mark Stone and Duchene (two of the potential UFAs) and Brady Tkachuk. Even Bobby Ryan has shown a little life. After all, mom said ‘if you can’t say something nice about someone’ . . . so there you be.
TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS: Senator fans are going to love (sarcasm, folks) March when the high-octane Leafs invade the CTC twice with their legion of faithful in tow.
Toronto (30-17-2, 3rd in the East) has its own issues though.
The club has its own slew of upcoming free agents to deal with, which makes this season a big one in Hogtown.
Second in the East in goals scored, there’s unquestionably no problem generating a quality attack. Again though, it’s the other side of the ice that needs work. GM Kyle Dubas has some necessary tooling to do prior to the deadline (Toronto has plenty of cap space at least for this season).
Also concerning? The potential for a first-round showdown with Kryptonite Boston.
VANCOUVER CANUCKS: Another team (see above: Montreal) that’s a whole heckuva a lot of fun to watch.
This might be a pretty rapid rebuild if Brock Boeser, Bo Horvat and uber-rookie Elias Pettersson continue to meld and mold.
The ‘Nucks have clearly found their netminder as Jacob Markstrom’s been strong and steady (19-13-0-5, 2.84 GAA, .908 save percentage).
Currently tied with Colorado and Dallas for the final playoff rung out West, Vancouver is playing with house money.
WINNIPEG JETS: I feel shame.
I have yet to see the Jets in action so far this season. That after relishing their run in the post-season last spring.
Apparently I’m missing out.
Winnipeg hasn’t taken a step back and is second (behind Calgary) in the West.
This team is exceedingly deep, big and mobile.
Not surprisingly, Blake Wheeler is leading the way (61 pts. 48 games) while former Barrie Colt Mark Scheifele has bagged 25 goals including five game-winners.
If early indicators are correct, Patrik Laine is in line for the Cy Young with his 25-9 mark. (goals-assists . . . chuckles).
The Jets also boast something that fellow Canadian Toronto desperately needs – Dustin Byfuglien and Tyler Myers. Two mammoth hard-to-play-against blue-chip blueliners.
Senators week ahead:
Friday, Feb. 1: Ottawa at Pittsburgh (7 pm)
Saturday, Feb. 2: Detroit at Ottawa (7 pm)