There are several major stories developing early in the 2015-16 season and Mike Brophy shares his thoughts on the play of Oilers winger Nail Yakupov, John Tortorella’s opportunity in Columbus and the early struggles for the Calgary Flames.
Are the Montreal Canadiens really this good? Are the Columbus Blue Jackets really this bad?
Time will tell.
A few weeks into a new hockey season, here are a few observations and thoughts:
The No. 1 pick from the 2012 NHL Entry Draft has been a disappointment through his first three seasons managing just 42 goals and 88 points in 192 games. With two goals and seven points through eight games this season, Yakupov is finally making the impact the Oilers hoped for when they elected to draft him rather than trade the pick for immediate help in goal or on defence. They have suffered from that unfortunate decision the past three years and his reluctance to play a 200-foot game has been a source of frustration.
Yakupov’s improvement is welcome news for a franchise that has been spinning its wheels for far too long. At the very least it gives GM Peter Chiarelli a more tradeable asset.
TRUSTING TORTS: John Tortorella’s greatest challenge coaching the Columbus Blue Jackets is not tied to wins and losses. It is more about getting out of his own way. The intelligent coach I got to know when he was leading the Tampa Bay Lightning to the Stanley Cup in 2003-04 was a far cry from the maniac who ran the Vancouver Canucks into the ground in 2013-14. In a nutshell, Tortorella took himself way too seriously in Vancouver, just as he did in his final days with the New York Rangers. It is time to take a deep breath and get back to just coaching. He needs to be a coach an organization can trust, not a source of embarrassment. Most importantly Tortorella needs to remember he is a coach, not a player. Tortorella is much too smart to self-destruct again.
DOMI TO THE MAX: Nothing about Max Domi’s splendid start to his NHL career surprises me. For those of us who got to see Max play minor hockey, it was evident that he was a different cat than his dad. Tie Domi, whose skill was underrated, had a solid NHL career scoring 104 goals and 245 points with 3,515 penalty minutes.
Max, 20, is a gifted offensive talent who is more likely to beat you with goals and assists than knuckles and fists. That said, Max matches his father’s burning desire to be the best he can be even if his methodology is drastically different.
Max had a goal and an assist in his NHL debut with the Arizona Coyotes and had three goals and eight points in his first seven games. His bread and butter is vision and unselfishness. Max Domi is a deft playmaker who makes those around him better. Unlike his father Max is not a fighter, but his toughness and determination are not to be underestimated.
IMPENDING UFAs: Somebody might want to break the news to Anze Kopitar that when you are in the final year of your contract and headed toward unrestricted free agency, it is important to show up. Through seven games with the Los Angeles Kings the 28-year-old native of Slovenia has two goals. He needs to get his act together if he wants to cash in. The same could be said for St. Louis Blues captain David Backes who has no goals and two assists through seven games.
Kopitar and Backes could be part of an impressive UFA class that may also include Steven Stamkos of the Tampa Bay Lightning, Eric Staal of the Carolina Hurricanes, Andrew Ladd and Dustin Byfuglien of the Winnipeg Jets, Jiri Hudler of the Calgary Flames and Kyle Okposo of the New York Islanders.
It seems unimaginable the Lightning would let Stamkos get to unrestricted free agency, unless of course he has his heart set on playing for his hometown Toronto Maple Leafs.
FLICKERING FLAMES: Calgary Flames GM Brad Treliving is in a pickle. After his team made the playoffs for the first time in six seasons, the Flames have gotten off to a horrible start at 2-5-0. They have been outscored 27-15.
Does Treliving press the panic button and fire last season’s coach of the year, Bob Hartley? Does he pull the trigger on a blockbuster trade to get his club out of its funk?
Or does he take a deep breath and hope the Flames rediscover the passion, discipline and commitment they displayed last season?
Last year was no fluke and with the likes of Sean Monahan, Johnny Gaudreau and Dougie Hamilton, the Flames have a solid foundation from which to build. The Flames, who went from 27th in 2013-14 to 16th last season are rapidly learning it tougher to stay good than it is to get good.