It’s fair to say Brendan Shanahan has the most difficult job in hockey. If you need any more confirmation for that, take a look at this hit tonight on Johnny Boychuk of the Boston Bruins by Max Pacioretty of the Montreal Canadiens.
Western Conference domination is still alive and well in the NHL, but at least a couple of eastern teams are beginning to put a dent in it. For the second time this season, an eastern team has made an appearance in the top five of THN.com’s Power Rankings and there are three in the top 10. (Last week’s rankings in parentheses.)
1. SAN JOSE (3): Consecutive wins over Los Angeles, St. Louis, Anaheim and Toronto and a record of 9-1-0 in their past 10 have the Sharks on some kind of roll. After winning five in a row at home, the Sharks are in the midst of a four-game road trip with three of them against Eastern Conference opponents. Joe Thornton has been a beast with 4-15-19 totals in his past 17 games. Let’s just hope he never, ever has a four-goal game. Read more
The people and politicians of the Toronto suburb of Markham have spoken. And their message is they don’t want to assume an ounce of risk when it comes to building an NHL-sized arena in this town. And good on them for that. This corner has said from the start that if people here thought the deal for an arena was a bad one, they should reject it.
What happens now is a lot more confusing. Some are saying the deal, and any possibility of an NHL team that would come with it, is dead. Others think this is just the kind of kick-start this project needs.
This much we know. The city council in Markham rejected a financial framework which would have seen it lend $162.5 million to venture capitalist Graeme Roustan to build a rink. We also know now that it will be up to the private sector to raise all $325 million it will cost to build the rink. Does that mean the possibility of the rink is dead? Well, it all depends on perspective.
With the Thanksgiving weekend over and our American friends dealing with their turkey-induced lethargy, perhaps it’s a good time to tackle one of the enduring bits of conventional thinking in the NHL.
Detroit Red Wings GM Ken Holland has long contended that when it comes to making the playoffs, things are pretty much decided by the U.S. Thanksgiving weekend, which gives a new meaning to Black Friday if you’re on the outside looking in.
And if history is any indication, Holland is about three-quarters correct. Over the past 10 seasons there have been 160 playoff spots up for grabs. Of the 160 teams that have held down a playoff spot after the U.S. Thanksgiving weekend, 41 of them have finished the season out of the playoff picture. (We obviously didn’t include last season because the battle between the billionaires and the millionaires prevented us from having any NHL hockey until January.)
The people most directly involved with building an NHL-caliber, 20,000-seat rink in suburban Toronto held another news conference Saturday. The mayor of the City of Markham, Frank Scarpitti, talked about the rink being the permanent home for the Clarkson Cup, an off-shore team in a Chinese professional basketball league and perhaps even an Ontario League team.
But this rink, the GTA Centre, is about the NHL. Always has, always will be. Everyone involved in this project is tiptoeing around the subject of an NHL team because they all want to play nice. But nobody is going to take on a project like this one without visions of an NHL team dancing in their heads. I’ll write this again so everyone knows it: the NHL is the end game here. And as the City of Markham closes in on a crucial vote on whether or not to accept the financial framework Tuesday night, that’s a crucial point
“What I can promise the City of Markham and the residents of Markham is that nobody will work harder than me at attracting hockey at every level possible,” said Graeme Roustan, chairman and CEO of GTA Sports and Entertainment. “I’m going after everything. And for those of you who know me…I go after everything 100 percent, seven days a week and 24 hours a day.”
Does that sound like somebody who wants to fill his building with Bruce Springsteen and Trans Siberian Orchestra concerts? And the prediction here is that if the GTA Centre gets its vote next Tuesday night and this building becomes a reality, the push for an NHL team will begin immediately. Read more
The defection of Ilya Kovalchuk to the KHL last summer was undoubtedly a coup for the Russian pro league. We’ll acknowledge that. But everything you need to know about how good the league is in terms of quality of play can be seen by the two starting lineups it will be icing for its sixth annual All-Star Game.
One team has Deron Quint. The other has Brandon Bochenski. That speaks volumes.
Not only two players who essentially couldn’t play in the NHL, both finding regular work in the KHL, they’re some of the biggest stars in the league. In fact, of the 12 players who were voted by fans to the All-Star Game, only Kovalchuk and Alex Radulov would be considered good enough at this stage of their careers to crack an NHL roster.
So what does all of this tell us? Well, first of all, the KHL is not nearly the bogeyman that some people on this side of the Atlantic believe it to be. It is and always will be a haven for Russian players looking to play at home or have another league to use for leverage. The NHL will always have to deal with the potential of losing star Russian players at the height of their careers. Read more
1. St. Louis (5): The Blues have won their past five straight games by a combined score of 20-5 and just when you think Alex Steen is going to return to reality, he picks up the pace with his mind-boggling scoring. The Blues are healthy and productive and not only beat you on the scoreboard, but they punish you too. There is nary a shortcoming in this lineup at the moment.
2. Chicago (6): Even though the Hawks hold down first place overall in the NHL, they’re almost, but not quite as hot as the Blues. The defending champs have won four in a row and outscored their opponents 18-7. All four wins, though, have come on the road. A 3-2 win over the Calgary Flames Wednesday night marked the first ever career start and victory for Antti Raanta and extended Patrick Kane’s point-scoring streak to 12 games. Read more