Who’s Your Dance Partner, Edmonton, Vancouver or Winnipeg?
No need to haul out your best Clarence Darrow suit-and-tie to walk away from the lectern as a winner in this debate: Which Canadian territory holds superiority over the other – the NHL’s West or the NHL’s East?
It’s as obvious as an Alberta slaughterhouse.
Carrying the league’s hottest team in Edmonton, perhaps the league’s most complete team in Vancouver and the circuit’s best defensive club in Winnipeg, the northern section of the National Hockey League is a west-is-best-fest. Hell, even the up-and-down Calgary Flames can easily make a case for being a stronger entry than anything the East has been able to cobble together.
And all of that for this, for this: Of the three no-debate powerhouses west of T’ranna, which holds the edge and the advantage a few months from now when the post-season begins?
Arguments can be made for all three candidates, so let’s roll (alphabetically, just so no one gets in a tizzy).
EDMONTON OILERS: This is the only one in our Top-3 that has evident, much-discussed issues – defence and goaltending. But it’s also the only one that boasts the best player in the game going on for, what, six or seven years?
Well-documented, the Oilers’ meek start made playoffs a non-entity in November . . . but this latest win streak has turned ‘non-entity’ into ‘Stanley Cup contender.’
Edmonton’s turned a losing culture into a can’t-lose culture in quick, slick fashion.
Depth has also been an issue the past few years. Adding Corey Perry’s savvy to go with pluggers like Warren Foegele and Ryan McLeod (both could breach the 20-goal plateau) helps in a big way.
And a guy who used to be considered what you might call an A-level plugger while in Toronto has morphed into one of the NHL’s best overall forwards in Zach Hyman.
It would be hard to find another netminder with a bigger turnaround than Stuart Skinner who now dons a smart 2.44 goals-against average and .910 save percentage. That while high-profile signee Jack Campbell has turned into Jimmy Hoffa.
But under full evaluation, and with the adage of ‘goaltending and defence wins you championships’ ringing in our heads, Edmonton would seem to be the least beast in the Big-3. Then again, otherworldly Connor McDavid evens out the odds, right?
VANCOUVER CANUCKS: The most complete squad in our mini debate.
Vancouver has it all – scoring, flash, defence, newly-found size, stellar goaltending, the absolute right coach and the Norris Trophy leading candidate.
Add to the mix that the Canucks also have an emotional fireball of a leader in J.T. Miller and this team won’t be sleeping any time soon. (Miller’s kind of a somewhat-poor-guy’s Nathan MacKinnon).
As much as the add of Perry by Edmonton should mean to the Oil’s getting-gritty-for-the-playoffs, Vancouver took care of business on that end by out-bidding Toronto for giant Nikita Zadorov. With Z, Ian Cole and Tyler Myers, Vancouver’s ready for the muscle test.
The ‘flash’ and star-power in B.C. is also heavy as Miller, best-D-man aspirant Quinn Hughes, Elias Pettersson and goalie Thatcher Demko lead the way.
Unnoticed at the time by many, the addition of former Red Wing 2nd-rounder Filip Hronek at last season’s trade deadline has been a steal. Expect management leaders Jim Rutherford and Patrik Allvin to try and duplicate come this season’s deadline. One thing about Vancouver, they are definitely hunting for even more surplus help before Friday, March 8th.
The Canucks also boast an edge in coaching. Rick Tocchet’s tapped deep into Miller’s potential and, quite frankly, the entire roster plays responsibly and with extreme pace.
Given all that, wouldn’t you put Van at the top here?
WINNIPEG JETS: And speaking on coaches, why has there been so little push to include Rick Bowness in the discussion for the Jack Adams Award? There’s a saying that in hockey, you can’t teach guys how to score but you sure can teach them how to keep the other team off the board.
Then, Bowness is right there with Tocchet.
Granted – Bowness hosts one of the best in goal in Connor Hellebuyck (2.20 GAA, .924 save percentage). The ‘Other Connor’ though is greatly aided by a Bowness system that’s tighter than Lionel Barrymore’s Mr. Potter.
And as we’re quick to hand out year-end awards prior to the NHL even reaching the three-quarter mark, we’d like to nominate Kevin Chevaldayoff for the Jim Gregory GM of the Year Award. Chevy went all Bonnie and Clyde on LA in getting rid of Pierre-Luc Dubois in straight-out robbery for Gabriel Vilardi, Alex Iafallo, Rasmus Kupari and a 2nd-round pick in the 2024 draft.
Winnipeg’s boss also re-signed mainstays Hellebuyck and Mark Scheifele to largesse deals in the summer.
But to the matter at hand, we like Winnipeg’s overall look and feel. This is a team that’s deep, obviously defensively sound and plays a hard, disciplined game.
FINAL CALL: This is difficult . . . and given you’re talking to the guy who predicted at the beginning of the season a Stanley Cup for the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2024, feel free to turn the page or scroll on past and read something more astute.
But . . . give me the Canucks . . . and sorry for the hex there Vancouver.
OTTAWA SENATORS WEEK AHEAD:
NHL All-Star break/bye week
PHOTO: Courtesy AP