NHL sagas we’re waiting to see unfold
ABOVE: Early indications are that Juraj Slafkovsky was a good pick.
Canadians love a good story almost as much as they love their hockey. So, pairing the two together makes sense, no?
In each of our seven centres – Calgary, Edmonton, Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Vancouver and Winnipeg (just in case you forgot who’s who . . . and in alphabetical order, so no one gets in a huff) – there are a number of intriguing potential potboilers.
Here’s just a few.
CALGARY – Does this dynamic duo equal – you know – that dynamic duo?
And you thought Pierre Dorion fried a few fish this past summer? Make room at the stove for Brad Treliving.
The Flames bled from the top when Johnny Gaudreau bolted for Columbus and Matthew Tkachuk shipped off to Florida. Treliving, not one to have sand kicked in his face, replaced his top two with, not just two, but three star skaters in Jonathan Huberdeau, Nazem Kadri, and MacKenzie Weegar.
Weegar’s the real find here, an underrated offensive talent with grit and gumption.
Calgary’s sporting a fresh look this season and it looks splashy.
Honorable mention – Is this the year Darryl Sutter breaks out in a big, cheesy grin during a media conference?
EDMONTON – Soup’s on, who’s eating?
The ‘soup’ of course is Jack Campbell and Edmonton is counting on the former Maple Leaf to provide enough to allow Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl to spin their magic without worrying who’s stopping (or not stopping) pucks at the other end.
Having watched the majority of Toronto’s games last season, the brilliance-emanating-from-this-corner suggests Campbell is a capable stopper but not a star one.
And you know what? That could be enough.
Honorable mention – Former London Knight Evan Bouchard blossomed last year, and the 22-year-old defenceman could hop past that 43-point plateau from 2021-22.
MONTREAL – They didn’t botch yet another early first-round pick, correct?
We draw you (kicking and screaming for some) back to the summer of 2018 and with Montreal’s 3rd-overall selection, we are proud to announce: Jesper Kotkaniemi from Assat Pori. One selection later, the Ottawa Senators are proud to announce . . . well, you know the rest.
Imagine the Habs with Brady Tkachuk in the lineup every night. Different trajectory to be sure.
This past summer Montreal surprised, but didn’t shock like in 2018, by grabbing Juraj Slafkovsky at No. 1, skipping by Kingston’s Shane Wright who was the consensus top pick.
Early indications are that the pick was a good one. Slafkovsky sports size, excessive skill, smarts and is already defensively responsible.
Honorable mention – Eligible for the 2023 draft, super-talent Connor Bedard could end up in Montreal come next summer.
OTTAWA – When baby steps become titanic strides?
OK, let’s not get ahead of the game here people. Ottawa will be better but how much better, given the warm roster injections, is the question.
That’s why the most significant addition is 34-year-old Claude Giroux. Giroux still has much to give on the ice but it’s off the ice where he can have the greatest impact.
The native of Hearst, Ont. has seen his share of losing – loads of losing – in Philly. He was also around to see his share of winning. That includes the Flyers’ run to the Stanley Cup final in 2010.
Ottawa remains quite young and having Giroux on board gives the Senators a much-needed dose of perspective.
Honorable mention – It’s just the tip of the iceberg, however, didn’t Jake Sanderson look just dandy against Toronto in the pre-season? He has big-league hockey sense already at the age of 20.
TORONTO – Is this the year? C’mon, this has got to be the year, right? I mean, really, come on already . . .
To be blunt, the Maple Leafs dropped the ball when naming Kyle Dubas as GM (replacing the exiting Lou Lamoriello) in 2018 instead of Mark Hunter. Reportedly Hunter was the strong voice advocating for the selection of Mitchell Marner 4th-overall in 2015 (Hunter was co-assistant GM at the time alongside Dubas).
Dubas hasn’t done much to improve the product here. Did he wait too long to bolster the goaltending situation this off-season? Sure looks like it at this point. Add in that the Leafs have not drafted well in years, and this would appear to be a team heading for a decline.
The defence looks as thin and porous as Ottawa’s. That won’t be a big surge in help or confidence for the patchwork crew of Matt Murray and Ilya Samsonov.
Too harsh? Maybe.
Honorable mention – He can’t really play at the NHL level much anymore, but Wayne Simmonds sure can fight, which’ll be great when Ottawa re-signs Brian McGrattan.
VANCOUVER CANUCKS – A good team, not a great team?
As NHL.com points out, the Canucks were a lusty 32-15-10 under Bruce Boudreau after taking over from Travis Green. What does a full season under Bruce hold then?
Vancouver holds a few aces in roving D-man Quinn Hughes, Elias Pettersson and the re-signed J.T. Miller. They’ve also plugged holes in the attack in signing Ilya Mikheyev (also an outstanding penalty killer) and Andrei Kuzmenko.
Still, in a loaded Western Conference it’s tough to see the Canucks making a huge splash. They’ll be good, likely not great.
Honorable mention – Rules: The late, great film critic Roger Ebert once opined that any movie featuring M. Emmett Walsh couldn’t be all bad. In hockey, the rule is – any team featuring Curtis Lazar is worth rooting for. Go Canucks.
WINNIPEG JETS – Has the window closed?
Rick Bowness checks in and is recognized as being one of the more popular bench bosses in the NHL. Whether that translates to success for a team that missed the playoffs last season is arguable.
Change was necessary so Bowness holds the reins now and job No. 1 will be getting a charge into what seemingly has become a stale roster. Plenty of gossip surrounding ‘who wants out of the ‘Peg’ during this off-season doesn’t help matters.
Honorable mention – Just a few years back, the Jets were Canada’s best hope for a Stanley Cup. Not anymore. That target presently belongs to the Oilers and Flames.