It’s here, it’s finally here
Never let a good idea get untold . . . again?
Well, it’s a damn good idea.
With that in mind, after discovering Sportsnet’s National Hockey League regular season primer sitting on my laptop earlier this morning, my interest and ability to pilfer were fully engaged.
In essence, the crew at Rogers tossed out a large number of talking points to its experts to gather a consensus on who’s expected to do what and how well (or not) this upcoming season.
I’ve collected a few of the more relevant ones to this market, while adding in a few of my own.
Hockey gets rolling tonight (Tuesday) with three games. The Canadian clubs all open up Wednesday.
ATLANTIC DIVISION REGULAR SEASON CHAMPS
Of the 20 experts fielding this one on Sportsnet, 19 picked Toronto. Not surprising considering the lay of the land: Boston’s a shadow, Tampa’s aging and has lost key depth, while the up-and-comers – Ottawa, Buffalo and Detroit – are still up-and-coming.
The Maple Leafs win this one hands-down.
EASTERN CONFERENCE CHAMPS
Twelve out of 19 – not sure what happened to the other ‘expert’ (pee break?) – are pointing at Carolina; three are going Toronto; while New Jersey, Pittsburgh, the New York Rangers and Tampa land one tick each.
What with Boston and Tampa due for a tumble, and the fact this corner just does-not-like-anything-about-Carolina-at-all (rational thinking), the door has finally opened wide enough for Toronto this season to take the crown.
Out West, Edmonton leads the voting with 13 of 19 selections.
STANLEY CUP CHAMPS
Half the pickees are going heavy on Edmonton this season (10 of 20). Five believe Carolina is set to hoist. Colorado gets spotted a couple of votes; Dallas as well; LA with one.
It’s Toronto this year folks. I might be one of the few among you to actually remember 1967 (vaguely), but it’s time to move on.
HART AND ART ROSS WINNER(S)
Going out on a limb here. Hint: plays with Edmonton (not Cody Ceci).
COACH OF THE YEAR
If you’ve read much on here the past couple of years, you’re well aware of the admiration and respect for Elliotte Friedman (hockey-insider extraordinaire). Elliotte’s choice is D.J. Smith.
I’m with Elliotte’s right-hand man Jeff Marek on this one though, Don Granato. Buffalo makes the playoffs this year and likely steals a round.
ROOKIE OF THE YEAR
Remember when Sid rolled into Pittsburgh? Mario? Remember how bad those teams were? Remember how they excelled anyway?
Welcome to Connor Bedard’s world.
DEFENCEMAN OF THE YEAR
As per the coaching category – I’m really liking the Sabres here.
Remember Ottawa coming within a Gary Bettman toenail clipping of grabbing first overall in 2018?
That would have been Rasmus Dahlin . . . our choice for D-man of the year.
OTTAWA SENATORS – KEYS TO SUCCESS OR FAILURE:
The afore-mentioned D.J. Smith might indeed be a coach-of-the-year candidate, Elliotte, but he’s got to hoist himself off the hot seat first. The former OHL tough guy (any OHL referencing is entirely appropriate here, or anywhere. Ditto for tough guy referencing) has enjoyed a veritable free pass through four straight seasons of failure. The roster isn’t what it once was (Godawful) and D.J.’s got to follow the curve upwards. Anything less than a winning record by Christmas and Elliotte’s prediction gets guzzled.
Thought to be a strong point just weeks ago, the centre position is now one of Ottawa’s most troubling. The rush to sign Shane Pinto is now just that.
It’s a given that young Mr. Stutzle’s on his way to 40 goals, minimum. Brady Tkachuk is right alongside. Liking Dominik Kubalik as an add to the offence but not so sure about Vlad Tarasenko. Watch for a rebound season from Drake Batherson.
How good can Sanderson be?
Pretty damn good. Jake Sanderson possesses Scott Niedermayer-like quickness . . . in decision-making and feet. If Sanderson’s launch continues to rise, he’ll be in the Norris Trophy discussion soon.
Love-and-hate . . . and defence
Sanderson’s terrific but the depth is a concern. Given that Ottawa just finished waiving (goodbye) to Jacob Bernard-Docker and Lassi Thomson, then waived (hello) and welcomed them back, tells us that blueline depth is questionable. Any significant injuries to top-end guys like Sanderson, Zub, Chabot or Chychrun would be discomforting.
Tinkering on the move
By most accounts, Ottawa’s a playoff-bubble team. Does GM Pierre Dorion have the wherewithal to add appropriately/wisely at the deadline? Is Dorion still here by the trade deadline?
Best netminding since . . .
For the Senators, since Craig Anderson. Face it, the absolute miss in letting Filip Gustavsson fly to Minnesota in a poor trade forced Dorion’s hand in signing Joonas Korpisalo. A good signing though and it gives the Senators a capable duo.
DATES, DATES AND DATES
Here are a few intriguing days and nights of interest in the season ahead.
Oct. 24 and Jan. 13:
The two days in the calendar when all 32 NHL teams are in action.
Ottawa, Toronto, Detroit and will travel to Sweden for a slate of four games. The Senators play Detroit and Minnesota but not Toronto.
NHL All-Star weekend in Toronto.
NHL trade deadline day.
The NHL post-season begins.
. . . And for Ottawa?
Alex Ovechkin’s chase of Wayne Gretzky’s goal-scoring mark continues, in Ottawa.
Oct. 21 and Oct. 24:
Back-to-back games for Ottawa at home against their fellow Atlantic Division up-and-comers Detroit, then Buffalo.
Ottawa visits Erik Karlsson and the Pittsburgh Penguins. “The day is nigh.” Part 37.
Nov. 8: Ottawa’s first trip to Toronto to face the zillions of members in Maple Leaf Nation.
Nov. 16 and 18: The Senators are in Stockholm to play Detroit then Minnesota.
Nov. 7: Matthew (Florida) and Brady (Ottawa) face off at Canadian Tire Centre. “No fighting allowed!” – signed, Mom.
Dec. 7: Toronto’s first trip to Ottawa to meet up with the zillions of members in Maple Leaf Nation.
Nov. 14-21: The Senators first foray to the West with stops in St. Louis, Dallas, Vegas, Arizona and Colorado.
Dec. 23: Erik Karlsson and the Pittsburgh Penguins travel to Ottawa. “The day is nigh.” Part 38.
Jan. 2-9: The new year gets started with a western roadie: Vancouver, Seattle, Edmonton then Calgary.
Jan. 18: Montreal’s first visit to Ottawa. Habs Nation in full voice.
Feb. 17: Connor Bedard gets his first sighting of the Ottawa Senators in Chicago.
March 1: Arizona’s in Ottawa. Plenty of tickets still remain.
April 15 and 16: The Senators wrap up the regular season with a back-to-back in New York against the Rangers then Boston.
Photo: Courtesy TSN