(Every Monday, Sean McIndoe looks back at weekend play in the NHL and the league’s biggest storylines. You can follow him on Twitter.)
Opening faceoff: Hall of Fame weekend
The annual Hall of Fame weekend is one of the highlights of the season. We get the inductees being honoured before various games around the league, an alumni game, various fan events, and it all culminates with tonight’s induction ceremony in Toronto.
This year’s class – Eric Lindros, Rogie Vachon, Sergei Makarov and Pat Quinn – is an interesting one. The three players all had to endure a long wait before hearing their names called, including 31 years for Vachon. That just goes to show we never really know who’s going to be a Hall-of-Famer, even after a player’s career has long been over. If it can take three decades to figure out whether a goalie is headed to the Hall, arguing over active players seems downright futile.
And it probably is. But it’s also fun. So let’s do it right now, by celebrating Hall of Fame weekend with a question: Which of the games on this weekend’s schedule featured the most future Hall of Famers?
Obviously, certain teams are going to be the focus here. For example, the Penguins have two sure things in Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin plus a handful of other possibilities. But they played the Maple Leafs, and with all due respect to Brendan Shanahan’s rebuild, we should probably wait until mid-season to fast-track Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner’s inductions.
The Lightning are another stacked team, although they’re tougher to project given how young the core is. They faced the Sharks, who’ll at least have Joe Thornton and could see guys like Patrick Marleau and Brent Burns make a push, so that’s a good candidate.
A few other games that weren’t exactly considered marquee matchups could make a case. For example, the Bruins have one lock in Zdeno Chara and another that’s getting close in Patrice Bergeron, and they faced an Avalanche team that has Jarome Iginla and a bunch of young stars. And the Panthers/Islanders game featured Jaromir Jagr, Roberto Luongo and John Tavares, plus some young Florida stars.
Maybe we should be looking at the Canadiens. Shea Weber’s odds look good, and at this rate Carey Price may be inducted three or four times. But they faced the Red Wings on Saturday, who really only have Henrik Zetterberg as a strong candidate right now. Last night’s matchup between the Habs and Blackhawks would be a much stronger pick, but Price didn’t play in that game.
But the Blackhawks do seem like the team to focus on, with Marian Hossa all but in and Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Duncan Keith well on their way. And luckily for us, they had another matchup over the weekend that we can use. That came on Friday, when the Hawks faced the Capitals. Washington’s only sure thing right now is Alexander Ovechkin, but between Nicklas Backstrom, Braden Holtby and some of their younger pieces, they seem like a good bet to send a few players to the Hall someday.
So let’s go with that. We’ll pencil in Friday’s Chicago/Washington game as having the most Hall-of-Fame packed matchup on the weekend schedule.
Remember to check back in 31 years to find out whether we were right.
Road to the Cup
The five teams that look like they’re headed towards Stanley Cup favourite status.
5. Pittsburgh Penguins (10-3-2, +7 true goals differential*) – Weird fact: Sidney Crosby has only finished in the top five in goals scored once in his career, when he won the Rocket Richard back in 2010. With 10 goals through nine games, he looks like a good bet this season.
4. Washington Capitals (9-4-1, +3) – They went into Chicago and ended the Blackhawks’ seven-game win streak on Friday, then got blown out by the lowly Hurricanes on Saturday. Back-to-backs against rested opponents can take down the best.
3. New York Rangers (12-4-0, +29) – An interesting point raised here: The Rangers are the only NHL team that’s yet to have a fighting major.
2. Chicago Blackhawks (11-3-2, +15) – They continue to be all but perfect at home versus Canadian teams. Last night’s win over the Canadiens was impressive, even if it did come against Al Montoya.
1. Montreal Canadiens (13-2-1, +20) – Meanwhile, the unbeatable Carey Price continues to make history.
(*Goals scored minus goals allowed, without counting shootouts like the NHL does for some reason.)
The order has shifted around, but for the first time this season we’ve got a top five that features the same teams as last week. That tends to be fairly common later in the season, but it’s rare to have things settle in this early.
So what’s going on? A few things. As we pointed out last week, the schedule hasn’t had the top teams facing each other all that much this season. That started to change this week, with the Blackhawks facing the Caps and Habs, and we’ve got a Washington/Pittsburgh showdown to look forward to on Wednesday. Those kinds of matchups can produce some separation in the rankings, occasionally making room for a new team to sneak onto the top of the list.
But the main issue is that once you get past the top five, you run into a ton of question marks. Really, who’s the sixth-best team in the NHL right now?
If you’re looking at points earned in the standings, you get an awfully weird mix of teams in the next tier. We all thought the Sharks would be good, and they have been, although in an inconsistent way, so maybe you make the case that they should move up.
But beyond that, who do you trust out of that group? The Devils, with their eight wins and 19 points? The Senators, who’ve won nine of 15? The Bruins, who’ve snuck across the 20-point mark and actually passed the Caps for fifth overall? We’ve done the Oilers debate over the course of previous weeks, and with them slumping it’s hard to make the case that they should move up.
Then there’s the next tier down, where you get into the teams in the 11th to 20th overall range. That’s where you start to find some of the teams that we expected to see in the top five. The Lightning have generally been OK. The Blues are all over the map. The Predators and Stars are slowly clawing their way back. The Panthers have spent the entire month alternating wins and losses, and the Kings don’t even show up until you’ve scrolled for a while.
It’s worth remembering that, this early in the season, the gap between those tiers is often only a point or two, so there’s a danger in overreacting to who’s sitting eighth overall and who’s 23rd. It’s probably smarter to trust what we thought we knew about those teams heading into the season, rather than getting too caught up over the results of one or two games somewhere.
Or you could just grab the same five teams from last week and throw them back into the top of the power rankings this time around. That can work too. We’ll see if it still works this time next week.
Road to the lottery
The five teams that look like they’re headed towards watching Nolan Patrick highlights and clicking refresh on draft lottery simulations.
5. New York Islanders (5-7-3, -5) – They’ve won just one game in November, and only four teams in the league are sitting with fewer points.
4. Carolina Hurricanes (4-6-4, -8) – All those loser points are helping mask the fact that they’re the only team in the NHL that’s yet to reach the five-win mark.
3. Calgary Flames (5-10-1, -20) – They’ve been outscored 17-4 over the course of losing four straight, and are the only team in the league with 10 regulation losses.
2. Vancouver Canucks (6-9-1, -15) – You have to give them credit – the players aren’t quitting, as evidenced by yesterday’s comeback win against Dallas. The problem is that they’re just not very good.
1. Arizona Coyotes (5-9-0, -12) – Is it too early to wonder whether John Chayka will be able to get a first for Radim Vrbata at the trade deadline?
Unlike the top of our power rankings, we do see some churn at the bottom. The Predators and Avalanche have escaped, at least temporarily, and we welcome back the Flames as well as a first-time appearance by the Islanders.
It’s that last one that stands out, because the Islanders came into the season with high hopes after visiting the second round for the first time in 23 years. A trip back to the playoffs felt like the minimum expectations, and a trip deeper into the post-season didn’t seem out of the question. Instead, so far they’ve been a disaster.
Heading into tonight’s matchup with the Lightning, the Islanders have won just five of 15. They’re one of the worst possession teams in the league, and as we looked at last week, their PDO suggests that if anything they’ve been playing even worse than their results would indicate. They said goodbye to Kyle Okposo and Frans Neilsen in free agency and brought in Andrew Ladd, who has just three points on the year. Their goaltending hasn’t been very good, and one of them already seems to want out.
All of that has left both coach Jack Capuano and GM Garth Snow feeling the heat. And we haven’t even got to the never-ending complaints about the team’s Brooklyn arena and its ice quality, not to mention the ongoing rumours about John Tavares bolting when free agency arrives. All in all, it’s a miserable time to be an Islanders’ fan.
If you’re looking for optimism, you may find some in the schedule; the Islanders can at least say they’re losing to good teams. They’ve already dropped games against the Canadiens, the Sharks, and each of the Metro’s big three, not to mention a pair to the Lightning. When they’ve faced bad teams like the Leafs, Coyotes or Canucks, they’ve come away with two points. Then again, that doesn’t help much when you look at who the schedule is serving up over the rest of the month, with two more against the Penguins bookmarking the dreaded California road trip.
Sitting just one point up on the Hurricanes for dead last in the East, there’s little doubt that the Islanders need to turn things around quickly. The question is how they manage to do it, and whether they can pull it off without major changes somewhere in the organization.
Quick shifts: Ten more notable moments from around the league
• One more piece of bad news for the Islanders: they lost Dennis Seidenberg on Saturday to an apparent broken jaw after being hit by a puck.
• Seidenberg wasn’t the only player to take a puck to the face; Montreal’s Max Pacioretty went down hard after suffering the same fate last night in Chicago. He avoided major injury, and was able to get patched up in time to return.
• The Flames have terminated the contract of Nicklas Grossman. Presumably, he’s headed to Europe.
• Yesterday’s Canucks win featured the first NHL goal for rookie defenceman Troy Stetcher.
• Seth Griffith’s waiver-based tour of the Atlantic continued on Saturday when the Panthers claimed him from the Maple Leafs, weeks after Toronto had nabbed him from the Bruins.
• With their hopes of a Parliament Hill game dead, the Senators are now looking at the possibility of playing a game at the city’s downtown football field.
• The Jets had a solid weekend, picking up three of four points and welcoming Jacob Trouba back to the lineup. But Nikolaj Ehlers would probably like to forget about Friday’s OT own goal.
• Mitch Marner: Either adorable, or just really has to piddle.
• Blockbuster alert: We got our third trade of the season on Saturday, this one sending Petr Straka to the Devils for a conditional seventh-round pick. And they said trading was dead.
• Finally, best wishes to Hurricanes’ forward Bryan Bickell, who revealed that he’s been diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. In a statement, Bickell said that he’s hoping to resume his career.