By Randy Sportak
Based on his rookie season, Sam Bennett could be in line for a nickname. Or a different set of digits on his sweater.
The Calgary Flames’ up-and-coming center/winger was known as ‘18-year-old Sam Bennett’ during the team’s 2015 playoff series against the Vancouver Canucks (a phrase that apparently drove some Canucks fans absolutely bonkers), and that number followed him to the end of 2015-16. Just check out the stats from Bennett’s freshman campaign: 18 goals, 18 assists and not just one but two 18-game goal-scoring slumps.
It could be enough for a spinoff version of the theory that most events in the world can be connected to The Number 23, and the basis for one of the stranger Jim Carrey movies in his eclectic career.
As Bennett looks back on his first full NHL year and forward to his sophomore season, the biggest element he vows to address is consistency, not so much an indictment on his production but those lengthy goal droughts. “That’s part of my job and part of my role with the team, to generate offense,” said Bennett, who actually threw an imaginary monkey off his back after snapping the first of those goal-scoring slumps. Read more
It was never boring. Before the first puck was even dropped on the 2015-16 season, shocking stories were reverberating through the hockey world and more were on the docket. Sometimes, these plotlines were happy, sometimes they were unsettling. But they definitely made an impact.
We’re well into the summer now, but to encapsulate the 2015-16 season, we have chosen 10 moments that defined the NHL. Some of these stories had quick impacts, while others will continue to shape the careers of the players involved for years to come. We lead off with what was truly a winding and stunning tale, that of John Scott. This season made a player from a dying breed into a folk hero and brought countless hot takes and debates to the fore, leading up to All-Star Game weekend. Some folks complain that the mid-season get-together is pointless, but after what happened in Nashville, it’s hard to agree with that anymore.
With Ryan Kennedy
Who was your role model growing up?
Nick Lidstrom was a big role model, but I wouldn’t say we play the same game. I like the way Ray Bourque played. I liked guys who skated with the puck, like Paul Coffey.
Why do you wear No. 77?
That was Ray Bourque. I watched a lot of Colorado growing up, with Peter Forsberg. Joe Sakic gave Bourque the Cup right away, and I thought that was pretty neat. I was No. 41 back home, but that was taken by Mike Smith in Tampa, so No. 77 came to mind pretty quickly.
BY DAVE HAZZAN
It’s Saturday evening in the Seoul suburb of Anyang, and life is proceeding apace. Couples are canoodling in the cafes, groups of older men are getting drunk at the barbecue restaurants and families are glued to that evening’s episode of I Have a Lover on Korean television.
Yet at Anyang Ice Arena, Goyang High1 have just upset Anyang Halla 4-2, finishing with a shorthanded empty-netter, six seconds before the end of the game. It’s High1’s first win in 10 games and Anyang’s first home loss in 18. It wasn’t supposed to happen his way, and the home fans are incandescent, screaming, booing and slagging off that cross-cultural punching bag, the referee.
By the time John Chayka was born in the summer of 1989, David Poile had been a GM in the NHL for seven seasons. Lou Lamoriello was two years into his job as the president and GM of the New Jersey Devils, and Ken Holland was a western Canada scout for the Detroit Red Wings. And Jim Rutherford had already been named the executive of the year – in the OHL.
As the youngest GM in NHL history – the youngest in the history of any professional sport, according to the Arizona Coyotes – Chayka will soon be talking trades and wheeling and dealing with men who were plying their trades since before he was born. How well he does will be a referendum on the analytics industry.
With Matt Larkin
Why do you wear No. 71?
It was given to me when I first got to camp in Ottawa (as a Senator). The trainers thought it would be funny, because that’s what number my dad (Mike Foligno) wore. I don’t think they realized I was just was just happy to be there, so I didn’t care what number I was going to wear (laughs).
Whom do you model your game after?
I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to model my game after him, but Peter Forsberg, besides my dad, was my idol growing up. He was a guy I was lucky enough to get to know a little bit when my dad was coaching in Colorado, too. He was an outstanding player in terms of how physically he played the game and how good he was, too. He was someone I looked up to big-time.
What was your favorite team growing up?
Usually it was whatever team my dad was playing for or coaching, and it was always the Avalanche after that, because of Peter Forsberg.
Fantasy drafts consist of choosing players, but what if you had the No. 1 pick in a GM pool? It’s a pretty important position, one we may see Las Vegas filling in the near future. Who is the best of the bunch? We surveyed a cross-section of agents (who deal with GMs and their staffs on a frequent basis) and prominent reporters to get the answer.
The two criteria: (a) best in terms of talent evaluation, trade savvy and salary-cap savvy; and (b) smartest rebuild. That way, we didn’t just get 10 GMs whose teams happen to be doing well. And to continue the theme of constant vigilance, we’ve also included a projection of who each GM’s top center, D-man and goalie will be in three years. Those “Down the Middle” depth chart positions are the most crucial in the NHL. Note that even some of the best GMs have work to do there. You will also find each GM’s most savvy recent move and one he’d probably like to have back.
*NOTE: This feature originally appeared in the June 20 edition of The Hockey News magazine. It has been updated but does not take into account any of the July 1 signings.
Practice has been over for a half an hour, and the dressing room is largely empty. Most of the New York Islanders have already showered and changed into their civvies, strictly adhering to the NHL off-day dress code of sweat pants and backward ball caps. Some are already on their way out of the rink. A lot of them take the Long Island Rail Road home from the team’s practice facility in Syosset, N.Y., and it’s on a schedule. Welcome to the real world, fellas.
As the dressing room empties, Kyle Okposo remains slumped in his stall, still in full equipment, save for the Islanders cap replacing his helmet. His legs are splayed, his fingers intertwined as they rest on his chest. He’s in no rush to move along. In fact, he looks as though he’s getting ready to go out and take another twirl. Perhaps it’s because he has a two-year-old and a newborn at home and realizes the chaos that awaits him. Or it could be that this is where he feels most comfortable. He speaks easily and relaxed, not the least bit ill at ease or scripted. Finally, a member of the training staff stands in front of him with the bin full of practice sweaters, hoping he’ll take the hint. “Oh, sorry,” Okposo says, peeling off his sweater. “I’m kind of in La-La Land here.”