The big prospect news of the week came with Buffalo sending Sam Reinhart back to junior after a nine-game tryout and one assist. I’m totally on board with this move. Reinhart now gets a chance to do some serious damage at the world juniors for Canada and pull the Western League’s Kootenay Ice out of an early season funk. He’ll get his NHL shot again next year and perhaps one day, the players listed below will, too.
With the hockey season well underway, it’s the right time for a plea to hockey parents at all levels: Whatever else you do for your kid during their time on the ice, do them a bigger service and ensure you’re not one of the overbearing, interfering, egomaniacal embarrassments of hockey parents roaming arenas throughout North America.
An extreme example of this drain-on-the-sport parental type made news in Vancouver this week when a B.C. Supreme Court chief justice granted a restraining order against a woman who had been harassing, among others, Detroit Red Wings and Western Hockey League employees in regard to her sons’ hockey careers.
The restraining order, filed by the woman’s former husband and father of the two boys, bars her from any contact with the NHL, WHL, and Kootenay Ice Hockey League. It also forbids her from communicating with her children’s principals, teachers, coaches and trainers. The ruling comes after she sent hundreds of emails to various people involved with her boys’ teams, disrupted games and assaulted a coach.
It’s apparent the woman has issues beyond her relentless pursuit of the NHL dream, but the symptoms she’s showed – the selfishness; the obsession; the vicarious living through her children – are not unfamiliar to the hockey world. To an increasing degree, we’re hearing about parents who think it’s reasonable or noble to trade punches in the stands with parents of the opposing team, or parents who teach their kids about fairness and respect by showering amateur officials with verbal abuse.
To be sure, there are parents like this in every sport and other pursuits (children’s pageants, for instance), but that shouldn’t make hockey tolerant of it. Because bad hockey parents don’t just destroy opportunities for their own kids the way the aforementioned B.C. woman did for her sons. They also poison the waters for children and parents participating in the game with basic levels of humility, humanity and dignity, and who understand that fun, and not individual fulfillment, is what hockey ought to be played for. Read more
The United States has produced some wonderful players over the years, legitimate Hall-of-Fame-caliber superstars who have earned honored member status.
What that nation can’t boast, however, is an NHL torch-carrier. In the modern era, the United States has failed to develop an undisputed face of the league in the Wayne Gretzky/Mario Lemieux/Sidney Crosby/Bobby Orr/Maurice Richard/you-get-the-picture mold.
The only American to win the Hart Trophy in the modern era was Brett Hull (a native of Canada) in 1991. The Golden Brett is one of the greatest pure goal-scorers of all-time, but even in the season he won the league’s MVP award, he finished 32 points behind Gretzky in the Art Ross Trophy race.
What happens when you’re caught between man among boys and boy among men?
It’s a question Jonathan Drouin had to answer a year ago, and it’s the same one Buffalo mega-prospect Sam Reinhart faces now. The Sabres announced Friday they were returning Reinhart to the Western League’s Kootenay Ice. At 18, he’s far from eligible for the American League, and he’d played his ninth NHL game, meaning one more would burn a year of his entry-level contract.
And the truth is Reinhart belongs in junior. Taken second overall in last June’s draft, he’s an oustanding prospect, a heady two-way center who can make everyone around him better. His superb hockey sense made plenty of scouts call him the draft class’ most NHL-ready player, but watching him this season suggested otherwise. His 6-foot-1, 185-pound frame isn’t quite ready to do battle against grown men. Tuesday when the Sabres visited Toronto, it was one of those games that had you checking the box score afterward to make sure he played. He was a non-entity, registering one shot and little else in 12:41 of ice time. That was largely the case through Reinhart’s first nine NHL games, in which he averaged 10:21 and managed one assist and three shots. In that tiny sample, his 31.1 Fenwick Close rating was 565th out of 568 qualifying NHLers.
Those numbers aren’t meant to harp on Reinhart. He has an outstanding career ahead of him. They do, however, suggest the Sabres were smart to send him down. And, to his credit, he gets it. I spoke with him after Tuesday’s game in Toronto. The elephant in the hallway was that he had one more game until his probable return to the WHL. In his short stay, he learned plenty. He lists veterans Brian Gionta, Cody McCormick, Matt Moulson and Josh Gorges as hugely helpful with their day-to-day advice. And game situations opened his eyes as well.
“Obviously you knew it was going to be a challenge,” Reinhart said. “It’s the best thing in the world, and to try and make the jump is difficult. The biggest thing I’ve tried to focus on and learned is the pace and intensity. It’s not as much the speed skating up and down the ice – it’s the overall speed and intensity with the puck. To want the puck, that’s the biggest thing I’ve learned.”
The before: my summer conversation with Buffalo Sabres right winger Chris Stewart.
“You look at our team now and there are 13 or 14 new faces. So we come in and think of last year as an anomaly. There’s nothing we can do now. We can worry about the future. I hear everybody talking about tanking for Connor McDavid. That’s not in my DNA, personally.”
The after: my conversation with Sabres defenseman Tyler Myers after Tuesday’s humiliating loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs.
“It didn’t go our way because we didn’t work. That was an embarrassing effort, top to bottom, from our group, including myself. We hung out our goalie (Michal Neuvirth). He battled as much as he could, and we didn’t give him any help.
“Something’s got to change. This is probably the worst we’ve had it.”
It’s not like optimism in Buffalo was sky-high entering 2014-15, but there was a glimmer of hope the team would improve. General manager Tim Murray brought back Matt Moulson and added a cadre of veterans, including Brian Gionta, Josh Gorges and Andrej Meszaros. Maybe, just maybe, the Sabres would trudge their way up the basement stairs.
But, goodness, Tuesday in Toronto was a sight to behold. The Sabres’ 10 shots set a 44-year franchise low. They’ve been shut out four times in six games and are on pace to double the record for the most donuted team in one NHL campaign. They average 1.1 goals per game. After posting an NHL-worst 41.0 Corsi Close percentage last season, they sit at 36.6 percent after 10 contests.
Is it too early for world junior speculation? Never! Unfortunately, the speculation comes at the expense of Team USA hopeful Steven Santini. The New Jersey prospect has been sidelined with a wrist injury that will keep him out of the tournament, but there may be a name or two below who can pick up the slack. Check out this week’s round-up of who to know in the world of prospects.
After seeing what the Edmonton Oilers accomplished in their past four games, it’s tough to argue that the Oilers aren’t actually built better to compete in the Eastern Conference than the West. Their 3-0 win over the Montreal Canadiens Monday night was their fourth straight, all against eastern teams, squads against which their skill and speed comes to the fore without the tight checking and physical play that seems to make them shrink.
This four-game stretch could not have come at a better time for the Oilers, who desperately needed to string some wins together to calm a very, very nervous fan base. And the wins could not have come at a better time for Leon Draisaitl, who will almost certainly appear in his 10th game this season when the Oilers host the Nashville Predators Wednesday night. Read more
In the history of goalie masks, there haven’t been much more intimidating than that of Gilles Gratton, who wore a ferocious big cat on his old-school mask. However, there might be a new challenger coming out of the NCAA.
Gabe Grunwald, who plays for the NCAA’s University of Wisconsin, has a new, fierce paint job of his own: Read more