Some Monday morning musings for your dining and dancing pleasure…with only three more sleeps to go until the games start meaning something:
• The New York Islanders icing split squads for the pre-season is an abomination of the highest order. This is a team that has barely enough talent to put together one competitive NHL team. We know exhibition games are a joke and little more than a money grab, but when a team is preparing for the season, it wants to face something replicating an NHL roster, not a bunch of minor leaguers and fringe NHLers the way the Montreal Canadiens did Saturday.
The Islanders played just one pre-season game at home this fall, which tells us one of two things – the organization bleeds money every time it opens its doors or those who run the team didn’t want the locals to see how bad they would be any earlier than necessary.
• It was sad to see the way Darcy Tucker’s career deteriorated the past couple of seasons largely because of injury, but during his prime there wasn’t a player who punched above his weight class more than Tucker.
During his best seasons with the Toronto Maple Leafs, Tucker could play on any one of four lines, killed penalties and could play the power play. Perhaps because he often made himself the center of attention for the wrong reasons, Tucker never received enough credit for being a skilled player. He was a tremendous passer, had wonderful vision of the ice and was good at handling the puck in tight quarters.
But it will be his give-no-quarter/take-no-quarter approach that will define his NHL career. Tucker was willing to take on all comers both on and off the ice. I remember once going nose-to-nose with Tucker (a feat not possible with most others in the NHL due to my stature) in the visitors’ dressing room at the Nassau Coliseum in Long Island after a morning skate.
After we had patched up our differences, Tucker laughed and said, “I’ve had worse arguments with my wife.”
• If the NHL and its on-ice officials can’t come to an agreement this week, expect to see scab officials working the regular season games. The two sides are expected to meet in New York Monday and after a number of times when an agreement looked imminent, things have fallen off the rails.
If the NHL can’t get a deal done with the 80 or so officials, it doesn’t bode well for it coming to a pact with more than 700 players in two years, does it?
• The more I watch Kris Versteeg play, the more I like Maple Leaf GM Brian Burke’s acquisition of the former Chicago Blackhawk. He may not be a first-liner for most teams, but given the chance to be one in Toronto has produced results. And you just know that Versteeg isn’t going to be one of those players who lights it up during the pre-season then disappears when the games get more difficult.
So, the question is: is this the year Burke’s incessant remodeling finally produces some respectability in The Center of the Hockey UniverseTM? The Leafs simply cannot be worse on special teams and in their defensive play than last season and their goaltending is bound to be better. And it’s difficult to envision this team winning just one of its first 13 games of the season again.
• Reason No. 4,376 to completely dismiss anything that happens in the pre-season: the Calgary Flames were 7-0-0 and Ales Kotalik had three goals and five points in four games.
• Whether you agree with what TSN analyst Michael Peca said about how soft Jay Bouwmeester is – and not only do I agree, I’ve been saying the same thing for years – you have to admire his courage. Too many athletes who go into broadcasting are afraid to speak their minds or tell anyone where the bodies are buried for fear of reprisal from their former peers.
The Flames, of course, rushed to Bouwmeester’s defense as they should have. But let’s hope Peca continues to analyze the game with the same kind of insightful candor even after he creates a firestorm.
• No team has produced back-to-back winners of the Calder Trophy since Bobby Orr (1967) and Derek Sanderson (1968) of the Boston Bruins, but could the Buffalo Sabres turn the trick this season?
Actually, they could, with back-to-back Tylers, ‘Big Tyler’ and ‘Little Tyler.’ There are certainly sexier choices for rookie of the year this season, but it would be folly to count out 5-foot-9 Tyler Ennis of the Buffalo Sabres, who has done nothing but score since he turned pro last season. He was close to being a point-per-game player as a rookie in the American League last season and had an impressive three goals and nine points in 10 call-up games for the Sabres.
Ennis, who turns 21 in two days, possesses outstanding hockey sense and offensive instincts and knows he has to use his speed to overcome a lack of stature. Although he can play both center and the wing, he’ll likely start the season with the Sabres playing the left side of a line with Derek Roy and Drew Stafford.
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