Hockey pundits and fans talk all they want and make bold predictions but once the puck drops the NHL really reminds us of how futile our efforts really are. Carolina, Toronto, and Dallas are all unbeaten. Pittsburgh is winless. Someone once said that sports is the most successful and best reality show in the world. I'd have to agree. Here are some storylines to keep watching for the rest of the year (or just to save myself some embarrassment, the next week).
<img src="http://d.yimg.com/a/p/sp/getty/af/fullj.babfaa6716e9bc1feb693b2ab5619ce4/babfaa6716e9bc1feb693b2ab5619ce4-getty-103114207_abe015_leafs_wings.jpg"class="imageFloatLeftFramed">The Leafs are 2-0 but don't get used to that 1.000 winning percentage too soon because they face off against the winless Penguins next and you know Sidney Crosby won't be letting the former Cup champs slide to 0-3. To the Leafs' credit they've looked incredible so far. Their fans needed this hot start and so did Ron Wilson, who is temporarily off the hot seat but if the Leafs hit the links soon again this year then he won't be back coming back. The looked good in their season opener but remember that the Habs were without two of their top four with Andrei Markov and Roman Hamrlik both sidelined with injuries. With a healthy Phil Kessel and the addition of the shifty Kris Versteeg the Leafs are noticeably faster this year and caused all kinds of havoc on a disorganized Senators team. But if the Pens' breakouts continue to look like this then the Leafs may go 3-0.
I noted Brent Burns as the player to watch in Minnesota and even though they're still having a little trouble putting the puck in the net (only 4 goals in 2 games) in Burns' second game he played 30:57, over 23 minutes on even strength alone. That's Scott Niedermayer/Chris Pronger territory right there. Burns is averaging 28:25 per game, fourth in the league and also has 9 shots, good enough for 8th in the league. While his defensive play is still probably something to be desired if you haven't picked up Burns yet in your fantasy league now's a pretty good time to do so. At least for now all the stars are pointing in the right direction for Burns.
Speaking of good starts how about those Oilers? Taylor Hall didn't bulge the twine but he didn't have to. He was probably Edmonton's best player even though Jordan Eberle did steal the show which prompted some good ol' Canadian tongue in cheek humour from the rest of the dressing room. It's a small sample but judging from the Oiler's dressing room atmosphere but it really looks like they've got a team. One of the reasons the Blackhawks were so successful was partly because a lot of their young players matured together. The Oilers could be next with their Big Three (Eberle, Hall, Magnus Paajarvi). It's too early to speak of playoffs but this team is playing with confidence and sometimes the most dangerous teams in the NHL are the ones that no one ever takes seriously, like Colorado and Phoenix last year. Nikolai Khabibulin is no Ilya Bryzgalov but he does have a Cup ring (2004 with Tampa). Consistency may be the Oilers' biggest enemy this year, however. At least Oiler games won't be boring to watch anymore with one of the Big Three expected to score each game.
If the Flames keep playing like that, which I suspect they will, they're finishing last in the Northwest. They're slow and old and generally ineffective. That Dion Phaneuf trade looks terrible right now and I do agree with Mike Peca in that Jay Bouwmeester is really easy to play against. He wasn't in the spotlight in Florida because it was mostly on Olli Jokinen (who coincidentally is on the Flames. Again). He didn't want to play for a non-hockey market team but didn't step his game any when he was shipped to hockey-mad Calgary. Bouwmeester is a complimentary player who's earning franchise player money. That just won't work under the cap. Mark my words, Bouwmeester is going to be the next Wade Redden. Last night Eric Francis from the Calgary Sun was on CBC and noted the friction between Darryl and Brent Sutter. My guess is that by the end of the year Brent stays while Darryl gets the boot. It's not exactly Brent's fault he was little to work. Next in line for Calgary's GM position is probably going to be the architect of Tampa's Cup win over Calgary in 2004, Jay Feaster. You get the feeling Calgary's going to be swimming circles all season long.
<img src="http://d.yimg.com/a/p/sp/ap/e7/fullj.6ee4ff05d92c7d383433a7a4b7863c4a/4964e77c61e840e5a3dc94153a1c0003.jpg"class="imageFloatRightFramed">Joe Thornton was named San Jose's captain after training camp ended and I have to say he's the most logical choice. Dan Boyle is relatively new to San Jose and doesn't come with Rob Blake's pedigree and Patrick Marleau had his chance. Joe Pavelski will be wearing an 'A' soon enough but he's a couple seasons away from captain material. Don't make any mistake though, this isn't the same Joe Thornton that briefly captained the Bruins. But like Shea Weber with Nashville and previously Roberto Luongo with Vancouver, I wonder if handing Thornton the captaincy is a goodwill gesture ultimately geared towards coming to a long-term extension. The whole situation blew up in Atlanta's face with Ilya Kovalchuk (more on him later) when they made him captain but San Jose is a contender with plenty of options for Thornton to pass to.
Henrik Sedin was also the logical choice to be captain although I have to admit I had Ryan Kesler pegged as wearing the 'C'. Hank was management's choice all along because they felt Kesler's not quite ready yet. At least this time the logic behind this one seems sound, unlike when they made Luongo captain (not that he was a bad one but there's a reason why goalies can't/don't wear the 'C'). The assistants were hand-picked by Henrik himself and unsurprisingly includes brother Daniel, Kesler, and newcomer Manny Malhotra. It may have surprised some that Kevin Bieksa was named the fourth assistant over the steady Dan Hamhuis or high-scoring Christian Ehrhoff or Alex Edler, but I think this is Henrik's first leadership move. By giving Bieksa the 'A' Henrik's publicly (but quietly) challenging Bieksa to assume a leadership role and play better. There's still a chance that Bieksa will remain a Canuck beyond the trade deadline and this season but of course that will depend on how well Bieksa plays and so far it's only been so-so.
The NHL opened their season with games abroad, the fourth consecutive year they've done so. Minnesota and Carolina opened in Helsinki, Phoenix and Boston in Prague, and Columbus and San Jose in Stockholm. I think it's absolutely great that the NHL is playing meaningful games overseas, especially in Europe (forget anywhere else), although the selection of teams does leave my head scratching. If anyone had been watching those early games you might have noticed that most of the games, especially Columbus-San Jose, played to quiet and mostly empty arenas. If Gary Bettman wants to maximize these opportunities, which he should, his selection of the teams has to be better. San Jose and Columbus don't have any significant Swedes to speak of and that means less vested interest for Swedish fans. Instead, pick teams with enough significant local flavour to play games. Could you imagine how crazy a Detroit-Vancouver match-up would be in Stockholm? Why aren't national heroes Saku Koivu and Teemu Selanne playing in Helsinki when this may be their last swan song together? Why aren't Ales Hemsky or Patrik Elias in Prague? Why not bring Marian Hossa and Zdeno Chara to Bratislava? And KHL willing, why not have the Pens and Capitals face-off in Moscow? (My guess is that a Pens-Caps 2-game series in Moscow will just about trounce anything the KHL has to offer and president Alexander Medvedev doesn't want that). Europe's a hockey market. Let's showcase the best of the best.
Unlike Bob McKenzie, I didn't have a problem with the
Speaking of heavyweights as a dying breed, one of the reasons is because stars (some, at least) aren't afraid to drop the gloves anymore.
I'm not sure if anyone's kept track but I thought it was interesting that