• By: Dave Gross

Montreal and Toronto: opposites on ice

It really is a tale of two cities. And while I’m certainly no Charles Dickens, I’ll spin this story out as best as I can.

We’ll leave your Ottawa Senators out of this one, people. They’ve been microscoped (new word eh?) to death from this corner. Better yet, we circle to Ottawa’s two largest rivals and Canada’s two most passionate fan bases. Montreal and Toronto, where high hope collides with pragmatic disheartenment.

Not exactly what we’d predicted coming out of the gate roughly three weeks ago.

Montreal was supposed to resemble an American Hockey League team . . . a poor American Hockey League team . . . with a few decent prospects. Who’d want to buy a ticket to the Bell Centre to see this?

Well, after further review – I’ll take a couple at ice level please. The Habs won’t be winning the Stanley Cup any time soon, they are however winning over a tonne of new fans. Unlike last season, the Canadiens sport personality and youthful energy and zip and style.

Montreal’s always been a fun town, now it’s just funner (another new one?).

Like Ottawa, Montreal is rich with young talent. Unlike Ottawa, Montreal and its followers didn’t see this coming, and coming so soon. Nick Suzuki, Cole Caufield? Yep, we knew about them. Kaiden Guhle, Jordan Harris? Didn’t have a clue.

The Habs have also unveiled a new folk hero in the guy known as Wi-Fi: Arber Xhekaj. The big, 21-year-old gives Montreal something it hasn’t had in years – a fearsome force on the blueline. The OHL graduate (Kitchener, Hamilton) is taking on all comers.

First-overall pick Juraj Slafkovsky has been spotty but you can see the immense skill and size is there. The zest is definitely there too.

Coach Marty St. Louis says there’s a change in attitude. Mistakes will be made, but: “When it’s gone bad and you’re down, well, how do you start? It’s how you build. You build throughout a game, and you build throughout a season, and there’s nothing you can do about what just happened that was bad. You have half a period, half a game left, and that’s what we focus on. I think the group has been really good at that.”

Now to Toronto (do we really need to do this?).

Glum doesn’t even begin to tell the story. It’s obvious that Kyle Dubas has built a team whose window for a Cup chase has closed. Slammed shut.

Blame the coach if you like. I won’t. Dubas has supplied Sheldon Keefe with a couple of legitimate stars surrounded by perimeter players. Is this anything new to report?

Dubas’ track record at the draft has been brutal. Given how he’s had to trade away a number of first-round selections to make up for earlier contractual and trading mistakes, you can see why.

Leaf fans aren’t so much panicky anymore rather than, well, resigned.

Montreal then Toronto. Fun, then not-so-much fun.

THOUGHT, SEEN AND HEARD: I don’t think there’s much for the Senator faithful to be terribly worried about during this recent slide. It’s clear Ottawa needs defensive help but that’s nothing we haven’t known for months and months. Given where they were last season, the Senators have experienced clear growth in many areas. One day at a time, folks . . . Regarding restricted free agent Alex Formenton. TSN’s Darren Dreger had this Tuesday night: “Some believe a trade is more likely and I suppose Europe, long-term, could be an option as well." Formenton has to be signed by Dec. 1 to be eligible to play in the NHL this season . . . Interesting piece from Sportico – a business-based web site – this week regarding team valuations. Toronto is listed as having the highest value at $2.12 US billion. Ottawa is ranked 27th (valued at $665 US million), but as Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman points out – Ottawa’s low rating is due to the franchise’s instability in light of the ongoing downtown arena puzzle, a sale, as well as pending lawsuits involving ownership . . . The average value for a NHL franchise is $1.01 US billion . . . Sportico also reported the Senators have hired Galatioto Sports Partner, a New York firm, to explore a sale of the organization. The NHL has been steadfast in its stance that the Senators remain in Ottawa under future ownership . . . While there will certainly be local interests at the front of the line, reports indicate the net for suitors will also draw in bidders from the US . . . Buffalo’s Tage Thompson, he of the six-point night this past week, has solid roots. His dad Brent played 121 games in the NHL in the early 1990s.


Thursday, Nov. 3: Vegas at Ottawa (7 pm)

Saturday, Nov. 5: Philadelphia at Ottawa (7 pm)

Tuesday, Nov. 8: Vancouver at Ottawa (7 pm)


Photo: Courtesy CP