Last week was all Canadian, so this week I’ll sort through some of the U.S. teams who are making some noise one way or another (and of course I’ll get to the Oilers as I always do), and I’ll start in Vegas where I’m waiving the white flag and saying that the Golden Knights are for real and are going to make the playoffs….how’s that for a hot take?
It’s not because I feel this team is THAT good, I don’t feel like this team is that good. I’m guessing next season it all comes crashing down for them. But it’s becoming clear to me that this season they’re now buying their own BS. And I said this when I did my picks on Saturday, when that starts to happen with these teams who are having season’s which are unattainable, you can simply throw the analytics on them out the window. Because they start playing so confidently that they’re difficult to beat! If a guy fucks up, who cares!? They feel like they’ll get a bounce to make up for it. Guys aren’t ever gripping their sticks, they’re buying everything the coaches are preaching, it just all starts coming together. I don’t believe Marc-Andre Fleury returning this week is going to have much of an impact on the team one way or another, because this team just simply has a belief now that it’s going to bounce their way. I like analytics, but I’m more of a believer in psychology. Once teams have this kind of psychological advantage that the Golden Knights have, it just doesn’t seem to let up.
Perhaps the exact opposite of the Golden Knights are the Carolina Hurricanes. Coming into the season, I was sky high on the Canes. Most people were, they were the darling of the pre-season prognostications. And it just hasn’t happened for them. You can do everything right as an organization, but if you don’t have a few guys a team can rally around then it’s tough to win consistently. Jacob Slavin, real nice young D-man, same with Noah Hanifin, but neither of these guys can carry a team just yet. Scott Darling was a smart pickup, but mentally it’s just a big difference when the pressure is on to be the number one guy for a team. In Chicago, even in the 2015 playoffs when he filled in for Corey Crawford, he really didn’t have much pressure on him. Up front, they lack any kind of big offensive threats. A lot of real good forwards, but none of them are stars. Ron Francis is easily the most underrated GM in the league right now, but he’s going to have to get after it on the trade front and turn some of that ridiculous depth into a few big time players.
How is it that the Hurricanes are unequivocally staying in Raleigh?! In markets like Miami and Phoenix, I get it. They’re among the biggest TV markets in the United States, and you pray that someday both of those organizations get their shit together and they can put not only winners on the ice, but entertaining winners on the ice. That would be huge for the league. But Gary Bettman comes out this week and declares that the Hurricanes won’t be leaving Raleigh?!? I just do not get it in the slightest. And I’m not intending to shit on the fans who showed up for their playoff runs in 02, 06 and 09 at all. Those were great crowds, but the reality is that those crowds only show up for the playoffs. Most nights it’s bleak crowds, and with the team struggling yet again I just don’t know how long the league can justify this to the NHLPA. The Hurricanes in Quebec would make a lot of money, even at their worst. Now I do believe that the league is going to put a team in Quebec City, because I don’t believe Quebec City would have green lit their arena without some sort of guarantee that they’ll receive a franchise within a certain time frame. Remember, Winnipeg rumours first started up in 2004, and they didn’t get a team until 2011. So it could be a while yet, but I really believe they’ll be getting one eventually.
Meanwhile, it’s a guarantee a team is going to Seattle. I laugh at the fact that the league tries to claim that it’s no guarantee. They have to say that, I get it, but oh hell yes it’s a guarantee. The league wants Seattle more than Seattle wants the league! The 20-21 season is when the Key Arena will be ready? Then that’s when the Seattle Emeralds (credit goes to Walter McLaughlin for that one with his piece on potential Seattle team nicknames which you can read here: https://thehockeywriters.com/10-names-new-seattle-nhl-franchise ) will enter the NHL. I’m guessing it’ll be tougher for them to win out of the gate like the Golden Knights have. Second time around, GM’s will be planning for the 2020 expansion draft beginning this off-season, and you won’t see nearly as many teams unprepared as were for that one. The only question left for the league is what to do with Houston? I don’t see how the league can turn Houston down. I mean, they can, but we all know Bettman. No chance they’ll look the other way! Is it as easy as moving the Coyotes there? Or will they continue to force feed hockey to the people of Phoenix while moving a team like the Islanders to Houston?
Getting back to the on ice stuff, and I spoke earlier about the Hurricanes having disappointed this season. If they have disappointed, then I’m not sure what you’d say the Buffalo Sabres have done. I mean, they haven’t disappointed me, I thought Jason Botterill did an awful job this past off-season and didn’t see them going anywhere. Didn’t like their draft despite Casey Mittelstadt looking good, Jack Eichel really seems like a total jack ass (pardon the pun), they’ve got nothing that great on the blueline after Rasmus Ristolainen, and while they’re going to have a lot of cap space this off-season, who wants to go there? Even if Jack Eichel is playing to his potential nobody is going to want to play with that kid. It is what Edmonton would have been had they not won McDavid. Scary. And it’s a damn shame too because Buffalo is one of the few good American markets. When they’re good, their fans are out in full force and that building is tough to play in.
Does anyone SERIOUSLY buy the St.Louis Blues? A 6-1 win Saturday afternoon in Detroit, then a win last night at home against the aforementioned Sabres, and they’re the top team in the West with 44 points (tied with Tampa for first overall but the Lightning have a couple games in hand), but it is the exact same feel with them that I had last season with Columbus and Minnesota. Everything looks good, but you just know that they aren’t going anywhere this season. Brayden Schenn, great story, but he’s not a number one centre. He’s having a “Shawn Horcoff” type run where he’s a good two way centre who is thriving because of who his wingers are. Horcoff had Ales Hemsky, and those of you who aren’t Oilers fans might forget just how great Hemsky was. Schenn has Vladdy Tarasenko, and all of you know just how great Tarasenko is. It’s a team without a hole on the roster, but I don’t like any of their high end guys to take them anywhere, they have a lot of good but nothing great. Jake Allen, he’s fine. I don’t think he’s an elite goaltender. Alex Pietrangelo, I’ve always been a big fan. But he’s not an elite D-man. Tarasenko, one of the best wingers in hockey. But teams built around wingers never win. Mike Yeo? He’s just a middle of the road coach despite what the media will currently tell you that he all of a sudden has become Scotty Bowman 2.0. So while it’s cute that they’re battle for top spot in the Central…and the West…and the league, I’d be really surprised if they went passed the 2nd round of the playoffs barring acquiring a John Tavares or someone else elite like that. I’ll take Nashville, I’d still take Chicago, and I would maybe even take Winnipeg over them in a playoff series.
And from the top of the West, to damn near the bottom of the West as the clock ticks down on the Edmonton Oilers season. They played great this weekend, but the Toronto games are why you can’t walk away from playing teams like Buffalo and Philly without even a point, nor an effort. Four times this season this hockey club very clearly had the attitude of “this will be a layup”, and those were games against Detroit, Philly, Buffalo and Arizona. They lost three of them, and only by a massive fluke did they get two points from the Coyotes. Look, at worse I still think they’re going to be in the midst of the race before this season is done. The only question for me is how seriously they’ll be in the race. Four points out at the trade deadline? As much as that may look ok, that’s not really that serious. Hell, that would only be making up four points from now until the end of February! It’s just such a tough league to gain ground in. But I’ve said this lots lately and I’ll say it again, the one thing to hang your hat on as an Oilers fan is that they haven’t played much against the West, and especially against the Pacific division, and the Pacific division is awful. I know I just wrote about how the Golden Knights are making the playoffs, but if I’m in the Oilers room, I’m not buying into them. Now with Bo Horvat out in Vancouver, expect them to start coming back down to earth. The Ducks still won’t have Getzlaf or Kesler for a few more weeks, and once they’re back I’m still not sure how much of an impact they’ll have. The Kings are looking terrific, but the Oilers matchup great against them, and the same goes for the Sharks. So when you start adding up all the four point swing games they have, and when you look at their division record from last year, I still don’t think you can say they’re done. Don’t get me wrong, if I’m given 50/50 odds, I’m betting against them missing the playoffs. And this is the week which could finish them off. At Columbus, home to Nashville and at Minnesota. They aren’t good against any of these teams. Glass half full? The Preds will be on the second half of a back to back, and the Wild could very well start Alex Stalock on Saturday saving Dubnyk for a bigger game against the Blackhawks the next night in Chicago. Columbus? Well, I really believe that’s an L. Even if they play the way they did over the weekend, they just don’t matchup well at all with the Blue Jacekets, and the goaltending matchup in particular won’t be remotely close.
I’m going to add this part on because I don’t know if it’s worth a whole blog, but while I’m talking Oilers, one thing nobody wants to hear…but it’s really true, is that this team is so very well setup moving forward. And I know, if you’ve read my stuff just about every season I talk about how well setup the Oilers are, because they have been! It’s not my fault that management has pissed so many years of that away, but it still remains the case. No doubt, this will go down as the most disappointing season in Edmonton Oilers history should they miss the playoffs. But it’s not like the decade of darkness and in particular 2010-2016 where they were a laughing stock. The cap going up next season will allow Peter Chiarelli to keep all the key pieces in place. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is of course the main piece we are really speaking of when talking about keeping all the key pieces in place. He is looking like the high end centre we all knew he was, and I still firmly believe he’s not done growing as a player. He’s just now getting his offensive confidence back. Once it’s all the way there I believe he’ll go to yet another level. Darnell Nurse as I hit on in a blog last week is developing into a legitimate number one defenceman. It’s too early to call him that just yet, but he’s been playing like one for much of the season to date. With Jesse Puljujarvi it’s the same thing. All that potential and since he’s been called up you can just see his game and confidence growing at a rapid rate. He’s got Rick Nash type upside, so even hitting half of that is going to be huge for this club. Before the season began, these were three of the kids I wrote about being vital for this organization and all three look to be on the exact path the team needs them to be on. And it’s not just those three, the prospect pool is rich too. I don’t know if many of the kids have a ton of trade value just yet, but guys like Tyler Benson, Ostap Safin, and especially Kirill Maksimov are thriving, and I don’t need to tell anyone how badly this club is going to need help on the wings moving forward. Maksimov in particular, man that kid has a bullet of a shot. Whether you’re talking about his one timer or his wrist shot which has almost no back swing. That kid is a pure sniper, and should he make it, he’s going to live off McDavid feeds on the PP. Point being here, it’s so very far from a bleak situation, it’s just a very shitty and extremely disappointing season to this point. I don’t think it would stun anyone if they miss the playoffs this year, and then in the spring of 2019 they’re in the Stanley Cup final. It’s just a damn shame that we all have to go through this season after it looked so damn promising entering the year. This fan base sure doesn’t deserve it YET AGAIN.
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