Quarter Mile Quandaries
With a quarter of the new NHL season gone, fans and pundits are starting to develop a clearer picture of where all 30 teams are heading this year.
For some, things are far rosier than pre-season predictions may have suggested. For others, the image of Connor McDavid appears ever closer on the horizon.
At this pivotal point of the season, One Puck Short looks at eight of the biggest questions in the NHL today:
Oilers Testing the Market
A subject that’s already crossed the blog this week, Edmonton continue to shop winger Dave Perron in an attempt to stop the rot.
Jordan Eberle’s name has also begun to appeared more frequently, as respected journalists churn out a plethora of trade rumours; each with it’s own variant of either ‘everyone is available’ or ‘everyone except Taylor Hall is available’.
Columbus have emerged as a possible trade partner, with Artem Anisimov rumoured to be part of a deal for Perron, with St. Louis centre Patrick Berglund also mentioned – largely because Jori Lehtera’s play this season has made the Swede expendable.
Both Anisimov and Berglund could fill the gap Edmonton has down the middle, but more pressing needs remain along the blue line, and between the pipes.
Antti Niemi and Josh Harding, who Edmonton could have claimed off waivers for nothing(…), have both been linked with a move to Alberta, but stunningly there are suggestions D man Justin Schultz may be shipped out – removing Edmonton’s only genuine top 4 D man…
Short of acquiring Carey Price, Shea Weber and Sidney Crosby however, it’s hard to see any move lifting Edmonton off the bottom of the West. Which begs the question – why not look to draft McDavid, Eichel or Strome and then move Perron or Eberle for some help at the back?
How Do Columbus Proceed?
The Blue Jackets have seen their season crippled by injury (no pun intended).
With Nathan Horton’s career effectively finished due to ongoing back problems, there is at least one clear gap among the Jackets top 6.
If the previously mentioned deal with Edmonton came off, Columbus would gain a solid 20-30 goal scorer in Perron, with the Ohio franchise presumably riding out their own decreased depth at centre until Brandon Dubinsky returns from injury.
Whether that also entails taking this season on the chin and staying ‘bad’ in order to get a shot at Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel remains to be seen – but there in lies the real intrigue.
Columbus are currently 10 points adrift of a play-off spot, but are seeing some of there injured stars make progress.
On the other hand, staying ‘down’ and adding, say, Jack Eichel to be the second line pivot behind Ryan Johansen gives the Jackets a fearsome look moving forward.
Why Can’t Philadelphia Get It Together?
Steve Mason has ranged from good to outstanding, as he continues his resurgence in Pennsylvania, whilst two of the leagues top ten scorers are Flyers – Captain Claude Giroux and, surprisingly, Jakub Voracek.
But the club still finds themselves 5 points shy of a play-off spot in a wide open division.
Whilst the Flyers have an offence that can trade blows with almost anyone, ultimately problems along the blue line continue to dog the club – and with just $591K in cap space there is almost no wiggly room for GM Ron Hextall.
As a result Brayden Schenn and veteran Vincent Lecavalier have both been linked with Edmonton this week, but subtracting from their offence would be a major gamble for a club that undergoes more peaks and troughs than anyone.
Can Nashville Keep It Up?
That some people were so clear cut in their predictions that Nashville would miss the play-offs for a third straight season was surprising. The Preds missed the cut by just 3 points last year, without star netminder Pekka Rinne for most of the season.
With Rinne back in the saddle, and an improved offence to backup arguably the best defensive core in the league, Nashville is back in the top 8 again – and that really should not come as a surprise.
But to see them top the Central? Ok, that raises an eyebrow!
7-3-0 in their last 10, Nashville is tied for 1st in the Division with St Louis, and have a 6 point cushion on 9th placed Minnesota. Perhaps crucially, Rinne seems to have fully recovered from last seasons hip surgery.
If the giant Finn continues (and past seasons suggest he can), there’s every chance Nashville will extend their season in to the spring.
Can Fleury Catch Brodeur?
Fleury became the third youngest netminder in NHL history, behind Martin Brodeur and Terry Sawchuk, to win 300 games on Monday – when Pittsburgh topped the Bruins 3-2.
Almost inevitably it led to the question of whether he could ever catch the New Jersey great; but despite some wonderfully written pieces the simple answer is ‘no’.
Fleury will turn 30 on Friday, and playing for the regular season juggernaut that is Pittsburgh means there is a very good chance Fleury will surpass Chris Osgood’s 401 wins to break in to the all time top 10.
He may even catch Sawchuck (447 wins) and make the top 5 before his career is over; but the idea that he’ll get close to second placed Patrick Roy (551 wins) seems laughable – let alone Brodeur’s record.
The wear and tear on modern goaltenders, so heavily married to the butterfly style, means very few (if any) will match Brodeur’s longevity. Factor in the rarity of ‘quiet nights’ modern goalies see (compared to some of the 15 save efforts Brodeur was afforded by the Devils Hall of Fame blue liners) and it seems even more unlikely Fleury, or any other netminder, will catch Brodeur.
Does The All Star Game Still Work?
The All Star Game returns this season, with Columbus set to host the event.
Whilst many welcome the return of the skills contest, the game itself seems to barely resonate with most fans now. It’s an event in need of a serious shake up.
Numerous ideas have been suggested – from taking it outdoors to tweaking the format to make it a 4-on-4 show down or similar.
On that note, why not create a little friendly competition beyond the predictable East vs West or ‘Captains pick teams’ we’ve seen in previous years.
How about a 4-on-4 tournament, with teams set by Division?
Shorten the periods (10 minutes? 15?) and have a mini round robin tournament comprised of 12 man teams from each Division.
Who doesn’t want to see the Pacific Division go head-to-head with the Metropolitan Division? Or Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin ON A LINE TOGETHER!!!
Players set aside their differences for the All Star game anyway; so this would freshen things up, allows the NHL to get its desired one representative from all 30 teams and provides at least a little bit of competition.
If the league wants the All Star Game to stay, surely it’s an idea worth considering?
Maybe they could call it The Dany Heatley Cup…
Are the Islanders For Real?
Whilst many had the Islanders back in the post season this year, the consensus was that they’d be battling for a wild card spot.
Half a dozen off season additions helped turn a flakey roster in to one of the best sides in the East.
Currently on a 4 game winning streak, the Long Island outfit 9-1-0 in their last 10 and sit second in the Division.
Buoyed by drastically improved goaltending, a solid powerplay and a break out year by Brock Nelson; the Islanders last season at the Nassau Coliseum is shaping up to be a memorable one.
Can they sustain it? It’s hard not to feel their current pace will, at some point, dip – but the foundations are in place, there is competition for places and John Tavares is yet to catch fire offensively.
That’s a pretty good mix, and at this point it might be more of a surprise if the Isles didn’t make it.
Will The Flames Stay Hot?
In a season of surprises, seeing Calgary among the top teams in the West is perhaps the biggest.
Mark Giordano is an early front runner for the Norris, young guns Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan are helping guide a quietly effective offence and Jonas Hiller is providing indisputable proof of what an elite netminder can do to change a teams fortune.
It’s hard to see Calgary fending off some of the Western Conference’s big dogs over 82 games, but their early form has been a great demonstration of how this franchise has quietly resurrected itself.
Perhaps their toughest question now is, do they cash in on Giordano’s success? Or keep him around for the duration of this rebuilding project?
Posted on November 26, 2014, in Calgary Flames, Columbus Blue Jackets, Edmonton Oilers, Hockey, New York Islanders, NHL, Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins, Winnipeg Jets and tagged Artem Anisimov, Calgary Flames, Columbus Blue Jackets, Dave Perron, Edmonton Oilers, Hockey, Marc Andre Fleury, Martin Brodeur, Nashville Predators, New York Islanders, NHL, Philadelphia Flyers, Winnipeg Jets. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.