Welcome back to Screen Shots – the column name I went with during my first tour of duty with The Hockey News many moons ago. For this semi-regular feature, I’ll cover off a few smaller NHL items that aren’t quite in need of a full column, and give you some variance in column topics from week-to-week. Let’s get started:
1. This is the first NHL season winger Patrick Marleau hasn't been with a team since 1996-97. Twenty-five years. Marleau hasn’t officially retired, but he’s now 42 years old, and his production has dropped steadily over the past few seasons. It doesn’t seem as if his longtime employer, the San Jose Sharks, are going to give him a contract offer, but if he stays in good shape, there may be a team willing to take him on as a depth asset at the trade deadline.
If Marleau doesn’t get any interest and has played his final NHL game, I don’t see him taking a management or coaching job right away. He’s got a great family to spend more time with. That said I get the sense he's going to be back in the game relatively soon. Don’t underestimate the competitive fire that Marleau has. If he can channel it in an off-ice role, he can give any team an advantage by showing its young players how to train and practice every day.
2. The Colorado Avalanche, Vegas Golden Knights, Boston Bruins, and New York Islanders are all at or near the bottom of their respective divisions, and the Sharks, Buffalo Sabres, Columbus Blue Jackets, and Detroit Red Wings are all at or near the top of theirs. As absolutely nobody predicted.
It's an upside-down NHL right now, but it's also a small sample size, and the sustainability of both groups staying on their current trajectory still doesn't seem high. San Jose, Buffalo, Columbus and Detroit probably will level off and endure some lengthy losing streaks, and the Avs, Bruins, Isles and Golden Knights will shake off their rust and reel off a slew of wins. The upstart teams have taken advantage of good opponents who’ve been dealing with injuries, but you can’t expect them to continue dominating at this rate.
3. Who is going to score for the Arizona Coyotes – especially after Phil Kessel gets traded? Sure, Clayton Keller has game, but the rest of their forward group is a dog's breakfast of once-were-great talents and worker bee journeymen. They've only managed to generate eight goals in their first four games, and two of those games came against Columbus and Buffalo.
The Coyotes scored a combined three goals in those games against the Sabres and Blue Jackets, and Arizona has averaged at least a full 1.00 goal-against more per game (5.25) than any other NHL team. In addition, their schedule is now a death march through the rest of the month (Isles, Panthers, Lightning, Capitals, Hurricanes). This clearly is a team in the early stages of yet another rebuild, and Coyotes GM Bill Armstrong has amassed a lot of draft picks – three first-round picks in 2021 and five second-rounders in that same draft – and that strategy could pay off down the road.
But slogging through this NHL season almost bereft of proven talent and desperate for any sign of progress is going to take a toll on Arizona’s players. The Yotes could clinch last place in the league faster than any team in modern history. Psychologically, that has to leave a residue. It falls on Armstrong and head coach André Tourigny to wipe those bad memories away and build a foundation for a winning team, and they’re already under the gun to keep things positive.
4. Do people now understand why many hockey observers like the Florida Panthers' chances at doing big things this season? They're four games in, they've won them all, and in three of the four wins – over marquee teams including the Pittsburgh Penguins, New York Islanders, Tampa Bay Lightning and Avalanche – they've allowed only a single goal. Star goalie Sergei Bobrovsky looks like he’s regained his top form, posting three wins in as many games played, with a 1.99 goals-against average and .944 save percentage. And their defense corps doesn’t get a lot of hype, but they just keep doing their job very well.
If Florida can fight through the tough part of their schedule – and that, for them, is in the early portion of this season – the Panthers will be in a position to dominate in the easy part of the schedule, and ride momentum straight into the playoffs. There’s lots of room on the Panthers’ bandwagon, so be sure to hop on early.