For a significant chunk of this season, the Chicago Blackhawks’ path seemed to follow the dominant one blazed by the 2010 championship model rather than the desperately scrappy edition from last year. When the Hawks were really buzzing, it appeared that the Central Division crown was one big jump ball between three or maybe even four teams.
That’s simply not the case right now, though. As ESPN Chicago’s Jesse Rogers details, the Blackhawks might as well cue MAD TV’s “Lowered Expectations.”
The Hawks aren’t making any declarations but let’s face it, the goals have changed. Winning divisions, and even gaining home ice advantage, has been replaced by getting healthy and maintaining a playoff position without exerting every ounce of energy between now and the end of the regular season on April 7.
For all practical purposes the Hawks are entrenched as the No. 6 seed in the Western Conference. If that holds they are on a collision course with the Pacific Division winner, which will be the easiest draw for them — by far. In fact, the Hawks currently have two more points (79 to 77) than division-leading Dallas. Chicago won’t have home-ice advantage — that goes to the division winner no matter the point totals — but no hockey observer would count them out in a playoff series against the Stars, Phoenix Coyotes or San Jose Sharks. In fact, the Hawks would probably be the favorite in at least a couple of those matchups.
In a way, it’s an interesting parallel to the East where the sixth seed is honestly probably a better draw than a fourth or fifth because of the weaker division representatives. (Of course, the gulf in talent and competence between the Pacific and Southeast is jarring, but still, it’s rather intriguing.)
Having a relatively favorable first round opponent is great and all, but as Rogers points out, the Blackhawks’ ceiling would be significantly limited without Toews.
With that in mind, you can’t blame Chicago fans for being more nervous about his health updates than day-to-day rumblings in the standings.
An injury to Carey Price essentially meant the beginning of the end to the 2015-16 season for the Montreal Canadiens.
With their No. 1 goalie, their most valuable player, out of the lineup, the Canadiens tumbled down the standings and missed the playoffs. The fan base in Montreal would feel even more frustration in the summer as general manager Marc Bergevin suddenly sent fan-favorite and right-shooting defenseman P.K. Subban to the Nashville Predators for right-shooting defenseman Shea Weber in an absolute blockbuster deal.
Weber is four years older than Subban and under contract until 2026. Subban’s deal expires in 2022.
Subban feels closer to winning a Stanley Cup in Nashville than he did in Montreal. Weber isn’t going to try to be the next P.K. Subban in Montreal. And Bergevin, surely, has been feeling the heat for the controversial trade. Some in the media have called it the worst trade in franchise history. Subban is not only very talented on the ice, but he was popular away from it, too, in the city of Montreal.
Not only did the Habs lose Subban in the deal, but their analytics consultant, Matt Pfeffer, didn’t have his contract renewed because he reportedly disagreed with the trade. Pfeffer later confirmed he made a “passionate” case to keep Subban in Montreal.
The deal occurred on the same day the Edmonton Oilers traded star forward Taylor Hall to New Jersey for defenseman Adam Larsson. Yet, this Subban-Weber trade has provided material for the hockey world to debate and discuss just about every week for two months now. And you can bet that will happen when the season begins.
The Habs also signed forward Alexander Radulov to a one-year deal worth $5.75 million.
This is Radulov’s third stint in the NHL. He’s supremely talented and the Habs could use a player that can score goals. But he’s also been at the center of off-ice disciplinary issues, including a team-imposed suspension for reportedly violating curfew when he was in Nashville.
And getting back to Carey Price: He has been deemed to be 100 per cent healthy heading into the new season, after playing in only 12 games last season with a knee injury.
Lawson Crouse has joined a talented group of young forwards in Arizona, after the Coyotes acquired the 2015 first-round pick from the Florida Panthers on Thursday.
The Coyotes had to take on the contract of injured forward Dave Bolland, but in their minds, it was worth it to get a player like Crouse, who certainly brings size up front at six-foot-four-inches tall and 212 pounds. He had 23 goals and 62 points in 49 games this season with Kingston in the OHL.
“He’s a unique guy because usually when you add a guy with the type of size he has you usually give up a little bit in skating or you give up a little bit in skill,” said general manager John Chayka, as per the Coyotes website.
“He’s a guy that you add the size and he actually enhances that for your entire group. In our opinion, it was a guy that’s rare to find, difficult to obtain. Certainly, once they become established in the league, those players are locked up well into their 30s and then you end up trying to maybe overpay for a player that has these attributes that’s not in the prime of his career.”
Crouse, who turned 19 years old in June, now joins the likes of Max Domi, Dylan Strome and Anthony Duclair as part of Arizona’s group of up-and-coming young forwards. He has familiarity with all three from playing in the OHL or for Team Canada at the world juniors.
“He can fly. He’s fast and he hits and he scores goals. You kinda get the total package,” Strome told Sportsnet.
There’s been another possible development in the search for a team name for the Las Vegas NHL franchise.
The Las Vegas ‘Desert Knights’ could perhaps be a thing.
From the Las Vegas Review-Journal:
Last week domain names were registered that might be an indicator that the NHL team scheduled to begin play in 2017 could be called the Las Vegas Desert Knights.
Last week the domains lasvegasdesertknights.com, vegasdesertknights.com and desertknightshockey.com were privately registered to Moniker Privacy Services, which is the same company that procured the domain name to NHL.com.
DetroitHockey.net first reported the new domain name Thursday morning.
Foley said via text message he had no comment regarding the process when reached by the Review-Journal.
As the Las Vegas franchise continues to hire key members for its hockey operations department, there is growing intrigue when it comes to the search for a new name.
What will this new franchise be called?
The wait continues, and there has been a lot of space dedicated to speculating and discussing the possibilities.
It’s been reported that the expansion franchise could use one of at least three ‘Hawks’-orientated names. Owner Bill Foley also said this summer that Las Vegas can’t use a ‘Knights’ nickname is Canada, because London’s OHL franchise was also named the Knights.
Stay tuned . . .
Scott Luce has gone from the Florida Panthers to the Las Vegas expansion franchise.
The new NHL organization — still searching for a team name — announced Thursday that it has hired Luce as its new director of amateur scouting.
Luce spent the last 14 years in Florida, as a scout and as director of player personnel.
Luce was let go earlier in the offseason, as the Panthers underwent massive change within their front office, with the promotion of Dale Tallon to president of hockey operations and Tom Rowe to GM, and more attention to analytics.