• By: Dave Gross

Early returns favouring most Canadian NHL teams

You couldn’t request and receive a better out-of-the-gate scenario for the majority of National Hockey League teams based here in Canada.

As the league approaches the 20-game mark, let’s have a look at what’s been going right and what’s been going wrong for Canada’s seven clubs.


The Flames might like to squeak under the radar this season as they head towards a likely playoff spot. Much was expected last spring, but the gritty Alberta boys scored a flat tire in the playoffs.

Calgary soared to the top of the Western Conference table only to have upstart Colorado outskate and out-score the overwhelming favourites.

This season?

Nice start, but nothing that blows your socks off.

The goaltending – always contentious in Calgary – has been good.

Not surprisingly to fans in these parts (um, Ottawa . . .) the team has been led by a Tkachuk.

Older brother Matthew (um, Brady . . .) is a media darling and plays the kind of style rodeo fans love.

There’s deep depth out west so it’s anyone’s guess where Calgary is headed long-term.

So far?

Doing just enough.


The Oilers figuring things out is akin to Waiting for Godot (Google is a marvelous tool).

Looks like – early – Godot has arrived.

If there’s an MVP on the Oilers you might nod your head at Connor McDavid, and you wouldn’t be wrong.

Keep in mind though that the young phenom has plenty of support, especially from winger/centre Leon Draisaitl who through 18 games has 30(!) points, and 14 goals.

Edmonton pundits are squealing about Draisaitl being the best player in hockey. They’re not wrong early on.

But my MVP goes to the tandem of new coach Dave Tippett and GM Kenny Holland. There is a swagger here now and you can thank these two veterans. They’ve made all the right moves.


The best news out of Montreal is the unearthing of a pulse on Jonathan Drouin.

His seven goals tie for the team lead (with Brendan Gallagher).

Two-and-a-half years back, Drouin was traded to Montreal from Tampa and the previous two seasons with the Canadiens have been dotted with excitement then disappointment. Drouin was, on occasion, a media/fan whipping boy.

He admitted that being a local product, skating for the vaunted Canadiens carried a large measure of pressure.

A reflection of how far Drouin has come this year is the Habs’ coaching staff moving him up to the No. 1 line with Phillip Danault and Brendan Gallagher.

Montreal just missed out on the post-season last springtime. They’ll be right there in the mix again in 2020.

(Most intriguing stat: Max Domi has zero penalty minutes through 17 games. Zippo.)


Don’t succumb to clenched fists and sweaty palms Johnny Senator Fan (and you know who you are), this grade will keep rising if the team no-one-shows-up-to-see maintains its play of the last week-plus.

Two wins in a row is nothing to shriek about for many organizations, but you gotta start somewhere and Ottawa is showing definite signs of improvement in late fall.

As coach D.J. Smith promised (frankly, almost every coach promises this), Ottawa always works as hard as possible, and usually more than the opposition. (How many times have you heard: “We’re gonna outwork the opposition!” See, clichés do come true now and again . . .).

As the season progresses it will be interesting to monitor the respect-factor other teams have for the Senators. Expected to be doormats, Ottawa has proven time and again to be absolutely no fun to face.

Smith has implemented an in-your-face approach and his skaters seem to love it.

According the Hockeyfights.com, the Senators lead the NHL in fighting majors with seven. Don’t expect that standing to change much with Brady Tkachuk, Mark Borowiecki and Scott Sabourin taking regular shifts.

Tkachuk, J-G Pageau and Nick Paul have been Ottawa’s best. (Nick freakin’ Paul?!)


What a Sloppy Joe, eh?

This grade is more about expectations not seeing fulfillment than anything else.

Yes the Buds just wrapped up a three-game win streak but is anyone buying a lengthy playoff run with this group (rhetorical).

Two weeks ago this space dismantled the Maple Leafs, from top to bottom. There just seems to be this enormous disconnect between management, coaching and the players.

Morgan Rielly’s about the only guy here I’d be prepared to go to war with. Uber-talent Auston Matthews needs to lose the Snidely Whiplash ‘stache (once Movember moves on) and start playing like the stallion he could/should be.

GM Kyle Dubas is beyond stubborn in his approach to building this club – he sides with speed, skill and non-aggression over muscle and assertion. It hasn’t worked in back-to-back losses to the Bruins in the playoffs. We’re not saying bring back Tie Domi but throw us a bone here Kyle.


A quick and productive start has fans on the coast thinking playoffs.

October witnessed a brilliant six-wins-in-seven-games streak. November has been less starlit as the Canucks are now in the throes of a four-game losing string.

Vancouver’s lone win this month came at the hands of San Jose, but doesn’t everyone beat up on San Jose these days?

Still, there is optimism.

A June deal that fetched J.T. Miller was initially poo-pooed. Miller has been a standout.

Rookie blueliner Quinn Hughes might be slight but he’s dynamite (poetry). Hughes – all 160 lbs. of him – should anchor the Canucks’ power play for the next decade.

And of course there is sophomore Elias Pettersson who’s one of the very few skaters this corner would pay good money to see.


Following a less then Jet-ish October where the Winnipeggers hovered around .500, Manitoba’s favourite hockey team appears to be back on the track that made it one of the league’s very best the past two seasons and is 4-1 in November.

Injuries didn’t help matters last month. Add in the controversy surrounding Dustin Byfuglien – where that one’s going, no one knows – and Winnipeg did a good job keeping its head above water.

How far this team can go with an almost complete overhaul of its blueline is another resounding question.

Winnipeg would seem to have the horses up front. On the back-end questions loom large.

Losing Tyler Myers, Jacob Trouba and underrated Ben Chiarot (as well as Byfuglien) from the Top-6 is huge.

Thankfully for the Jets, netminder Connor Hellebuyck has shone with a .933 save percentage. Backup Laurent Brossoit, so good last season, has struggled.

The week ahead for the Senators:

Monday, Nov. 11: Ottawa at Carolina (7 pm)

Wednesday, Nov. 13: Ottawa at New Jersey (7 pm)

Friday, Nov. 15: Philadelphia at Ottawa (7:30 pm)

Saturday, Nov. 16: Ottawa at Buffalo (7 pm)

Senators – Image 1 – Senators – Courtesy NHLI via Getty Images