Dorion’s firing . . . and spinning the wheel on Senators, Habs and Leafs
Collectively they should be recognized as the Holy Trinity of hockey around these parts. Three entities that swallow the large majority of fan support in the Eastern Ontario region.
So in no particular order, here we have Montreal, Toronto and Ottawa, and if you’re a hockey follower in the region, chances are (. . . not the restaurant) more than likely your heart bends and bleeds for one or the other.
With that long and winding road of an introduction set in place, let’s get on to the matter at hand: the start of the season.
What’s troubling, and what’s not?
Here’s the up-to-date analysis.
If bad karma was a slot machine, Ottawa would be pulling triple-anchors through its first eight games.
And it’s obviously not simply due to what’s happening/happened on the ice. The Senators off-ice hits just keep on rolling too.
Wednesday afternoon the team announced the long-anticipated firing of GM Pierre Dorion. Long-anticipated due to a number of issues that had presented themselves in the past few months. The capper being – of course – the enormous baffle job involving the trade of Evgenii Dadonov where the former Senators’ no-trade clause was not revealed to the Vegas Golden Knights.
Earlier on Wednesday, the NHL announced it was taking away one of Ottawa’s first-round picks in the next three seasons as punishment.
(More on the firing tomorrow).
Other bad news: The Shane Pinto contract stall; the Shane Pinto gambling stunner and subsequent 41-game suspension; the Josh Norris on-again, off-again shoulder situation; the ‘Fire D.J.’ chants.
On the ice pales alongside.
The team’s defensive inconsistencies are still around, a couple of injuries, and Dominik Kubalik’s logy start are troublesome, but really? If they’re the biggest issues, you’re doing OK through the first eight games (nine tomorrow night as LA visits).
Brady just bein’ Brady, to start.
The youngest Tkachuk has pushed himself to the top of the heap when talking about NHL power forwards.
(I could pick on Montreal for the umpteenth time on here for selecting a somewhat serviceable Jesperi Kotkaniemi over the balls-to-the-walls Tkachuk in that 2018 entry draft . . . but that would just be mean-spirited. So I won’t mention it at all).
The best comparison for Tkachuk might be Ryan Getzlaf in his prime. The former Duck was a superb leader and combined timely snarl with talent. Tkachuk still needs to rein in the aggression. He doesn’t necessarily need to look at every game as being The Royal Rumble, however he’ll likely absorb that slight change through time.
Norris’s return, and a shocking one at that; the goaltending, particularly from the under-appreciated Anton Forsberg; Ridley Greig’s jump; the smarts of Claude Giroux; Jake Sanderson’s game. Period.
Some might claim the release of Dorion was also a highlight of some sort.
While this falls into the department of not-much-you-can-do-about-it, that loss of second-line centre Kirby Dach stings. Montreal is still trying to figure out the right fit with Dach out for the year. Looks like former Ottawa 67 Sean Monahan is the guy for now.
The Habs get a lot of rope in the ‘What’s troubling?’ category. Expectations of a playoff spot are foolish, this season.
Growth is the expectation though and for the most part we’re seeing it. Juraj Slafkovsky is a slight exception. The second-year, first-overall selection, remains without a goal through nine games.
Slafkovsky doesn’t turn 20 until the end of the season so let’s toss him a little rope here as well.
Sometimes it takes bigger bodied skaters more time to get with the pro flow (see: Quinton Byfield, don’t-see: Logan Brown).
Martin St. Louis, Kaiden Guhle, goaltending, Cole Caufield, Mike Matheson and Nick Suzuki.
Montreal’s hot start (nine games/12 pts.) is a result of everything clicking. Tops-of-the-charts though has to be the netminding. Jake Allen (3-0-1, .930 save percentage) and Sam Montembeault (2-1-1, .905 save percentage) have been exceptional.
The Habs are comparatively where the Senators were two years ago – loads of promise and loads of quality youth. This especially holds water on the blueline as the dynamic Lane Hutson sits in the wings and first-round rock David Reinbacher and up-and-comer Logan Mailloux will arrive shortly.
Hutson, the highest scoring freshman d-man in Hockey East history, skates at Boston University this season with Macklin Celebrini – the consensus No. 1 pick next summer.
Coach St. Louis remains an organizational, player, fan and media darling. Well-earned too.
TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS
Toronto’s defence remains as soft as a Santa Monica sunset. And quite honestly – while the barking from hockey’s TV analysts continues: “They gotta fix that!!” – what can you do?
I mean, would you trade a William Nylander right now for a Noah Hanifan? Sure, Hanifan’s the type of guy Toronto needs, but no way you’re even thinking about giving up Nylander.
The Leafs might want to set their sights on a Chris Tanev instead. Even at that, the blueline needs more bulk and skill.
Meantime, Planet Matthews-Marner-Tavares-Nylander has not proven to be a welcoming landing spot for prized free agent signees Max Domi or Tyler Bertuzzi. It’s like they’re perched on the Island of Misfit Toys . . . Bertuzzi and Domi look lost.
And wrapping things up – the Leafs continue to do Leafian things like letting their inconsistencies get the better of them. Great efforts followed by poor ones? Not a good tonic.
Toronto’s best playoff performer (choke on your jokes people) is now Toronto’s best regular-season performer. No longer a perimeter skater, the Calgary native has gained muscle and fearlessness which match nicely with his always-there skill.
On to Joseph Woll.
Time to turn the starter mantle over to Woll (1.89 GAA, .942 save percentage)? Getting pretty close. When Woll was a youngster, he played alongside Jake Oettinger with the US development squad and words is there was little to separate the two. Oettinger’s clearly arrived and maybe Woll’s on his heels, finally, at the age of 25.
And now on to John Tavares.
Leaf deniers relished dumping on the Tavares signing in 2018 and were rubbing their hands together at the idea that the contract ($11 million US per) would be ludicrously bad by the time it ended.
Well yeah, while 11-mill is a lot of change, you can’t deem this a ‘bad’ contract by any means. Tavares remains a point-per-game guy but as important, he leads the league in faceoff wins by percentage and his d-zone coverage and 200-foot game is tops.
That contract BTW? Just a year-and-a-half left in it.
OTTAWA SENATORS WEEK AHEAD:
Thursday, Nov. 2: LA at Ottawa (7 pm)
Saturday, Nov. 4: Tampa at Ottawa (7 pm)
Wednesday, Nov. 8: Ottawa at Toronto (7 pm)
Photo: Courtesy Sportsnet