The NHL released the puck in its reduced season of 56 games on Wednesday, and one thing became clear: The next 115 nights – which will be packed with 863 games – will be doubles. The first night brought us a little bit of everything: raising a banner without fans, a very dramatic puck, a battle, overtime, a dizzying amount of ads and 37 combined goals.
Here are our main picking products:
1. The Montreal Canadiens must be a player in the Northern Division
Bringing the Toronto Maple Leafs – the team everyone predicts to run away with the division – to extra time, Habs made a statement. Don’t count Montreal. There are many things to like in the off-season of general manager Mark Bergevin. He added depth to every position, from goalkeeper (solid reserve Jake Allen) to defense (Joel Edmundson, and the arrival of top potential Alexander Romanov, who looked great playing 22:49 in his debut) to attack (Tyler Tofoli was a great free agent). but Josh Anderson was the first to get carried away with the fans with full effort, including two goals).
The schedule has obviously accelerated, especially with 20-year-old Jespery Kotkaniemi and 21
“We were the better team there,” Anderson said afterwards.
2. Things look different, but we will adapt
The NHL summer balloon has taught us that empty hockey arenas are turning well into a television product. The lack of fans never felt distracting; the network covering the seats on 100 levels definitely helps and the broadcasts mostly improve the ambient noise from the crowd. But a lot has changed since the summer. The NHL has calculated its losses from disrupting its normal schedule, and Commissioner Gary Batman said the league and its clubs will lose billions – not millions – even to host the 2021 season. (Revenue from gates generated directly and indirectly in the games is about 50% of the league’s revenue and currently only Coyotes, Panthers and Stars plan to have fans with limited capacity).
So the NHL becomes a little more aggressive in the pursuit of revenue. For the first time, the league is selling naming rights to its divisions. You won’t hear me call it MassMutual NHL East Division, but you will hear it in your shows. A lot. The league also allows teams to run ads on their helmets for the first time; however, they are so discreet that I haven’t noticed them (or I don’t mind). Ads in the arena though? Holy cow, I felt like an overload. The most notable were the advertisements circling the glass above the boards. In Tampa, these were small Adidas logos. In Edmonton, the words “Rodgers 5G” were printed over and over again around the glass. It was a lot. But perspective: It holds people back and entertains us.
3. It will be a long season in Chicago
A game against defending champions may not be the best barometer, but a 5-1 Wednesday on Wednesday felt just as brutal as it was inevitable for the Blackhawks. Chicago went from franchise legend Corey Crawford (the only player in the team’s history to win multiple Stanley Cups) to an unproven trio. Game 1 Chief Malcolm Subban had a few saves worthy of emphasis, but if that’s the best defensive effort you can escape, yes.
The blue line that ran throughout last season often left Subban high and dry. The Blackhawks had a hard time generating any pre-screening. Without Crawford, Brandon Saad, Alex Nylander, Kirby Dah and Jonathan Tows – without inspiring substitutes – it’s a problem. Finally, the Blackhawks acknowledged what was clear from their transactions: They are in the process of recovering.
“We don’t have enough top-down players to compete with the best teams,” Stam Bowman told me in October. “We have a lot of good players, we have a pretty good start to making a good team, but we still have ways to keep going and I accept that.”
Chicago is using this season as a chance to give replays to the young boys. While it’s delightful to have a plan, you have to feel for Patrick Kane and Duncan Keith, who are still doing their best at the high level, but just don’t have the supporting lineup around them to visualize another championship soon.
4. Lead to the violation
This has been a gradual trend in the NHL over the past five seasons, with average goals slowly running out (reaching 3.02 goals per game / per team last season) and the average goal saving rate declining (.910 in 2019-20). Only the first three games of the Eastern Conference brought us only 24 goals (an average of four goals per team). Several goalkeepers I spoke to during the season – especially in teams that haven’t played since March – said that a long period without playing situations would be a challenge and might take a little time to adjust. If you’re wondering how the lack of proper training camps and pre-season shows can manifest itself, expect some sloppy and wide-ranging games – at least to start the campaign.
5. It is not easy to be a favorite
I remember talking to Nathan McKinnon last season and he said that for the first time in his career in Colorado, Lavina felt that his team could actually win. The ante is rising this year, thanks to MacKinnon, who is constantly playing as MVP, and GM Joe Sakic is constantly inventing shrewd moves to make this team stronger. Colorado has opened as a favorite for the Stanley Cup in Las Vegas this season. But it was a slow start for Avs in their opener. They were too careless with the puck, which you can’t afford to do against the big, strong St. Louis Blues. I was looking forward to seeing the line of Gabriel Landeskog, Nazem Kadri and Brandon Saad, but they didn’t look good together and it wasn’t long before coach Jared Bednar started mixing his lines. Colorado’s dysfunction is usually difficult to generate much pressure. Recognize St. Louis as a strong team game. And yes, it’s just Game 1. But the bull’s eye is on Colorado now and you’ll get the best out of every team every night.
On Wednesday, Patrick made his first NHL game in 652 days. (And you thought 2020 was a long time!) Then he scored in the first period, in the power play (Philadelphia’s Achilles heel in the summer balloon). The number 2 choice of the project for 2019 missed the entire last season with a debilitating migraine disorder. It was a long storyline for Philly throughout the season; GM Chuck Fletcher said last January that Patrick was making progress and the Flyers were optimistic he could join the playoffs. Philly stocked up on in-depth centers last year to make up for it, but they’re in much better shape now, with Patrick playing the third line behind Sean Couturier and Kevin Hayes.
Meanwhile, Lindblom played for the first time since being diagnosed with cancer in December 2019. Lindblom, who had a breakthrough season at the time of his diagnosis, completed his last chemotherapy treatment in July.
“He’s a man, when you see him in the locker room, you want to get into a fight with him,” Hayes said. “He’s a warrior. He didn’t look out of place.”
Even sweeter: Flyers’ fifth goal, initially credited by Travis Ultimate, was awarded to Lindblom hours after the game.
The Flyers’ attack erupted for six goals – including three straight to close the third – to bring down rival Pittsburgh Penguins in their new instrument, showing why many hockey people expect the Flyers to fight this year. This game really messed up Philly’s depth. I am buying the advertisement for the Cup of this team.
7. Several young players to watch the rest of the season
Nils Hoglander, the breakthrough star of Kanux training camp, will be the latest Swedish mania in Vancouver. Without much competition behind him from the right wing, Hoglander can stay in the top 6 for a while. A goal in Hoglander’s first game means that his noise will increase rapidly in the Canadian media. Like Alexander Romanov, who, as mentioned earlier, will play a big role in Montreal, second only to Shea Weber in icy weather on Wednesday. The defender played with a lot of confidence and did you see this omission ??
This lauded perspective system that Flyers have built? This is fully realized now, as the first round of 2018 Joel Farabi shines with one goal and three assists. Farabi, 20, looks set to take a big step forward. And it would be good to see the Oilers’ Kailer Yamamoto get a full season after scoring 11 goals in 27 games last season (and one in the game against the Canucks on Wednesday). A look at Leon Draisaitl’s most powerful game and wing will only improve Yamamoto’s reserves.
Jordan Kiru was buzzing in the opening of the “blues” and could be a reliable option for scoring depth. He said he gained 10 kilograms this summer, but that did not appear to have disrupted his speed.
And I’m not sure how much rookie Cal Foot will play with Tampa Bay, but consider me intrigued. Coach John Cooper defended Foote’s minutes in his NHL debut against Chicago (he only came in 10:47) as he definitely showed some anxiety in the first game, but Foote promised. We’ll see if he gets back to the cab team as Lightning escapes hell.
The 23-year-old American skater had a chance to be the first player in NHL history to score in five open seasons in a row. The first four happened in Matthew’s first four NHL seasons. It didn’t happen to him on Wednesday against the Habs, although he hit the crossbar in the third. I still predict that Matthew will be chasing Alex Ovechkin for the goal-scoring crown this season; he will just have more to catch up.