It’s not every day The Hockey News makes an NHL player our special guest Editor-in-Chief for an issue of the magazine. In fact, in the 67-year-history of our esteemed publication, we’ve never done anything of the sort. And when we initially batted around the idea of asking an NHLer to take on the task this summer, there was really only one man we wanted for the job.
Ladies and gentlemen, THN’s staff presents to you our boss for the next edition (on newsstands and online in mid-October): Roberto Luongo.
That’s right – in addition to training and preparing for the start of his first full season as Panthers goalie since the 2005-06 campaign, Luongo has been hard at work with THN the past couple weeks crafting our next issue. We can’t give you all the details, of course, but the star goalie (a) set the agenda for the issue by choosing stories for our staff to work on; (b) wrote an editor’s notebook (sorry, regular Editor-in-Chief Jason Kay, you’re out of the mix this time) offered greater insight into the end of his time in Vancouver and the trade back to Florida; (c) conducted an excellent interview with another Quebec-born goalie of Italian heritage, Canadiens draft pick Zach Fucale; (d) answered reader questions in a special “Ask Roberto” mailbag; and (e) posed for an out-of-the-ordinary photo for the cover.
To say Luongo was thrilled for the opportunity was an understatement. Sure, he’s been spectacularly successful with his unofficial Twitter account, but this was something different and he embraced it fully. And maybe that’s because the Luongo of September, 2014 is a man at peace with himself after surviving an emotional rollercoaster late in his Canucks career. Read more
CORAL SPRINGS, FLA. – Jonathan Huberdeau’s first NHL season ended with him winning the Calder Trophy as the league’s most outstanding rookie. But, like many second-year pros, he discovered consistency over the longer term is more difficult to achieve.
The 21-year-old left winger scored 14 goals and 31 points in the lockout-shortened 48-game NHL campaign of 2012-13, but last year those numbers dwindled to nine goals and 28 points in 69 games. However, the so-called sophomore jinx wasn’t to blame. Instead, the origins of Huberdeau’s struggles can be traced back to the hip surgery he underwent in May of 2013; while the procedure dealt with a nagging ailment, it also set him back in terms of working on all aspects of his game.
“It was hard mentally with the season I had,” Huberdeau said. “It was hard physically, too, but hey, no excuses. I could’ve done better.”
When he finally got his feet under him late in the season (and just before a concussion cost him 11 games toward the end of the campaign), former Panthers interim head coach Peter Horacek inexplicably sheared down Huberdeau’s minutes to what you’d expect to see given to a fourth-liner, not the reigning rookie-of-the-year. Read more
Funny how Aaron Ekblad looks neither particularly dangerous nor lonely the afternoon before the 2014 draft. He’s sitting in his designated spot at the National Constitution Center, wearing an NHL-issued golf shirt, khakis and casual footwear (no socks), swatting aside questions with the same ease he does 16-year-old lightweights in the Ontario League. His hair has a blond streak and he’s well tanned, the result of having a little downtime after the season to spend on his family’s new Sea-Doo 21-foot Challenger boat on Lake St. Clair near Windsor. There’s a certain irony that Ekblad, the day before he’ll be consigned to an NHL team over which he has absolutely no choice, is doing this in the same city where the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution were signed.
Ekblad’s emancipation from junior hockey, though, is almost complete. He’ll soon be a part of the Barrie Colts alumni. At 6-foot-4 with a cannon from the blueline, NHL hockey sense and the makeup to log big-time minutes, he’ll be playing in the best league in the world this coming season. On this afternoon, the only question is where. The Florida Panthers are dangling the first-overall pick and they’re getting some action, particularly from the Flyers, who want to make a splash in front of their fans. They also want the player who’s the most NHL-ready among all the prospects. “He’s a man,” says Panthers GM Dale Tallon, who stays up all night stewing over trade offers before deciding to take Ekblad. “He’s 18 going on 30.”
2013-14 record: 29-45-8
Acquisitions: Greg Zanon, Willie Mitchell, Al Montoya, Dave Bolland, Jussi Jokinen, Shawn Thornton, Derek MacKenzie
Departures: Peter Mueller, Scott Clemmensen, Tom Gilbert, Jesse Winchester, Matt Gilroy
Top five fantasy players: Nick Bjugstad, Aleksander Barkov, Jussi Jokinen, Brian Campbell, Jonathan Huberdeau
Boom, Bust and Bottom Line: The best, worst and most likely scenario
Boom: The Panthers will have a full season with Roberto Luongo as their starter and Al Montoya as their backup, which alone will give them a huge boost. Last season’s combination of Tim Thomas, Scott Clemmensen and Jacob Markstrom was awful and cost the Panthers plenty of games and goals against. Read more
The hockey world has made great leaps and bounds in social awareness issues in recent years: the anti-homophobia You Can Play Project was embraced by players and teams, and racist epithets hurled at certain players are met with increasing disgust from the majority of fans. But there are still some areas in which the sport – and in particular, the NHL – can do better. One of them is in eradicating the misogyny, explicit and casual, that exists in the sport.
And one of the easiest places to start is by getting rid of half-dressed ice girls.
This issue isn’t about the cheerleaders themselves. It’s about what we ask them to do under the guise of “entertainment.” We ask them work for next to no money in frigid arenas with their shoulders, midsection and/or legs exposed. We ask them to objectify themselves – to be ogled and leered at by strangers – and never stop smiling. We ask them to reduce their contributions so that they’re little more than eye candy.
And really, why? What purpose does it serve? Nobody has demonstrated teams that employ ice girls sell more tickets than teams that don’t. Nobody leaves a game and says, “The best part of the night didn’t have anything to do with the action on the ice – it was when that cheerleader jumped up and down in co-ordination with other cheerleaders and said something positive about the team!”
More importantly, let’s look at what the presence of ice girls does to the paying female customer. Read more
The Chicago Blackhawks and Los Angeles Kings are, in the opinion of the deep thinkers at The Hockey News, the class of the NHL. Chicago is our pick to win the Cup, while the defending champs have, by far, the best chance of preventing that from happening.
It’s a virtual two-horse race with the co-favorites, having remarkably similar pedigrees.
But what if…we’re wrong? Unlikely, we realize, but not impossible. If both clubs get eliminated from contention, which dark horse is best positioned to come from the outside and bask in the winner’s circle?
More than ever, the professional sports world focuses on personality to help sell their products. In the hockey business, that’s been tougher to do thanks to a culture that discourages individualism in the name of team success. But the NHL still has a number of vibrant personas who’ll be worth keeping an eye (and an ear) on in 2014-15. Here are the top 10 hockey personalities this season:
10. Mike Cammalleri, New Jersey Devils. The veteran winger has filled notepads and digital recorders all across North America because he’s an intelligent guy with a healthy sense of humor and good head on his shoulders, and he understands that having opinions and showing the public he’s more than a hockey automaton won’t affect his on-ice performance. Here he is on the Canadian TV comedy series “Mr. D.”:
Cammalleri deserves kudos for putting himself out there. That said, let’s have a moment of silence for that charm now that he’s signed on with the Devils, who are the Bermuda Triangle of personality.
9. Jaromir Jagr, Devils. Yes, I also can’t believe two Devils are on this list. But Jagr is still one of the game’s great characters. He’s capable of going off on a hilarious tangent at any point, but he can also speak with tremendous insight about the game and his experience playing it:
Soon enough, the 43-year-old will be retired and back in his native Czech Republic. Enjoy him while you can. Read more
Quick, without looking at the particulars of their roster – how many points do you think the Florida Panthers will finish with this season? The measly (and second-worst in the NHL) 66 points they scraped together in 2013-14? The 94 points that helped them win the Southeast Division and secure the third seed in the playoffs in 2011-12?
But more to the point – regardless of how you think the Panthers will do this year, would you be confident enough to bet a notable amount of money on them? And if so, has your confidence level been surgically enhanced, or were you always this unfoundedly self-assured?
Because if there’s one thing I’m sure about this season, it’s that nobody quite knows what to make of Florida. Granted, that’s true to one degree or another of all but four or five teams at the top of the NHL’s echelon, and maybe one or two at the bottom. But whether it’s the THN editorial department or the hockey world at large, there’s no consensus on how the Panthers will perform.
Case in point: when THN staffers got together over the summer to debate and discuss our collective picks for our annual Yearbook, some of us saw Florida as a playoff team – enough of us to slot them in fourth overall in the Atlantic Division.
To be honest, I’m as shocked as you probably are. Read more