With just more than one week of play in the books, here’s a compendium of six things that have been encouraging and six things that have been discouraging so far this season:
1. Encouraging: Without accounting for shootout goals, the NHL is averaging 6.3 goals per game this season going into Friday night’s games. That’s well ahead of the 5.7 goals per game it averaged last season. Scoring tends to be higher at the beginning of the season, but the gaudy stats for some of the league’s top players are great to see.
Discouraging: The Buffalo Sabres have three goals in two games and the Minnesota Wild has eight in three. The defected Marian Gaborik already has half that many by himself with the New York Rangers.
2. Encouraging: The Phoenix Coyotes, winners of two of their first three games, have already sold out their home-opener, which is scheduled for Saturday night.
Discouraging: There are some very real dark clouds in some places when it comes to attendance. The Nashville Predators drew just 14,797 for their home-opener Thursday night (keep in mind all struggling U.S. small market teams inflate their attendance numbers). After selling out their home-opener when they retired Joe Sakic’s number, the Colorado Avalanche got just 13,146 out for their next game. The Tampa Bay Lighting had more than 2,000 empty seats for its opener.
The Los Angeles Kings had steady and drastic declines in the two games after their home-opener and the Boston Bruins failed to sell out their second and third home games of the season.
But the biggest shocker? The Ottawa Senators came up more than 1,000 short of a sellout in their first home game of the season.
This is not good news for a league that hoped to get through the economic downturn unscathed.
3. Encouraging: Jonathan Roy’s assault case made it to trial.
Discouraging: The court system bailed, just as it has in every other case of on-ice violence. An absolute discharge for finally showing some contrition and making a $5,000 donation to charity? Former Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau once said the courts have no business in the bedrooms of the nation. It has become clear to those who administer justice that they apparently have no business in the arenas, either.
4. Encouraging: For the San Jose Sharks, Dany Heatley scored a hat trick in his first home game with his new team.
Discouraging: For the Ottawa Senators, Dany Heatley scored a hat trick in his first home game with his new team.
5. Encouraging: The Calgary Flames are 4-0-0 going into their home game against the Dallas Stars Friday night.
Discouraging: Jarome Iginla has just one goal and one assist in those four games (particularly when he was your first round pick in the office hockey pool).
6. Encouraging: Members of the NHL Players’ Association will hold another conference call next week to make key decisions on the embattled union’s future. It’s also nice to see they’ve come to their senses and decided to settle with former executive director Paul Kelly.
Discouraging: Players have had to spend countless hours distracted by this mess because of a coup by Eric Lindros and a couple of his NHLPA henchmen. (Yes, you Buzz Hargrove, Ian Penny and Ron Pink.) “I was getting texts from clients saying, ‘I’ve been on this conference call for five hours now,’ ” said one prominent NHL agent.
Ken Campbell, author of the book Habs Heroes, is a senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog will appear Wednesdays and Fridays and his column, Campbell’s Cuts, appears Mondays.
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