Welcome back to Screen Shots, a regular THN.com feature in which we take a look at a number of different hockey topics, in a shorter form than a regular column. As always, we’ll get straight to business:
– It was nice to see veteran NHLer Eric Staal back in the sport’s top league after a year away. The 38-year-old signed a one-year contract with the Florida Panthers this week for the minimum-salary $750,000, capitalizing on the pro tryout contract he agreed to with Florida in training camp.
It’s not easy for any player to take a year away from the NHL and then find their pace, especially on a legitimate Stanley Cup contender like the Panthers. He showed his commitment to the sport last season when he played four games in the AHL before being named to Canada’s national team for the 2022 Olympic Games. But many before him have tried and failed to make their way back to the NHL after not competing at the ultimate levels.
Essentially, doing what Staal has done is much like being placed in a track race, only you’re starting from a standing position halfway through it. Getting your bearings is achievement enough, but Florida will be leaning on him for his Cup-winning experience and resilience. He’s fortunate enough to be playing alongside his brother, Marc, on the Panthers, and he’s got the potential to be a Bill Masterton Trophy nominee for his dedication and perseverance. You don’t cheer for teams when you’re in this writer’s position, but you do have an appreciation for individuals, and Eric Staal is easy to root for.
– Hockey history was made this week when Sudbury, Ont., native Amanda Provan became the first-ever woman named to play for Canada's national blind hockey team. The 28-year-old has been legally blind since birth, but she began playing hockey at age 12, and in 2017, she was introduced to blind hockey. Provan’s first taste of national team hockey came against the United States in the third-ever National Blind Hockey Series, and she’s become a role model for sighted and non-sighted athletes aiming to represent their country at an elite level.
We don't pay nearly enough attention to many of our hockey athletes in non-Olympic years, but Provan is proving inclusivity and diversity efforts can lead to real change and progress. Congratulations to her on her important achievement.
– Finally, let’s talk about the misery endured by the San Jose Sharks thus far this season. They’ve played six regular-season games, and their first five all were regulation losses before they finally won a game on Thursday night against the New York Rangers. Expectations for the Sharks were already low heading into the year, but nobody believed they’d be the NHL’s worst team early on. Yet, here we are, and San Jose has scored more than two goals in a single game just once (their 3-2 win over the Rangers) and is tied with Anaheim for the worst goal differential (minus-10) in the league.
The Sharks’ veterans are going to have to decide if they want to be part of the solution, and if they have the patience to wait for that solution to come maybe a year or two from now. But losing at this pace is going to be extremely taxing for veterans Logan Couture, Tomas Hertl and Erik Karlsson, among others. Will any of them ask out and seek employment on a Cup contender? It’s certainly not out of the question.
It might all be worth it if San Jose wins the NHL’s draft lottery and selects generational talent Connor Bedard next summer, but in the meanwhile, it’s looking like it will be even more painful for the Sharks than optimists had hoped for. On paper, San Jose is better than the likes of Arizona and Chicago, but that’s small consolation for fans accustomed to them almost always being a playoff team in the Doug Wilson Era. This is a different time for them, and people have to adjust the bar they’ve set for them in the past.