Monday, October 20, 2008
Things we know so far into the 2008-09 season
By Damien Cox
Special to ESPN.com
It's hardly been 10 Days That Shook the Hockey World.
Moreover, it's too early in the NHL season to reach any conclusions. Eventually, for instance, Philadelphia will win a game ... right?
But there's a difference between conclusions and picking up a few tidbits, and the fact is, we've already learned a few interesting things 10 days into the 2008-09 NHL campaign.
One would be: who knew Aaron Voros could score?
But there's more. Here's 10 things we've learned so far:
1. Starting the season in Europe doesn't automatically jeopardize a team's start
|Ryan Hollweg was recently suspended three games after receiving his fourth game misconduct within 41 games.|
We should have already known this, of course, since the New York Rangers went to England before the start of the 1993-94 to contest the French's Mustard Cup with the Toronto Maple Leafs, and went on to win the Stanley Cup that season.
Fitting, then, it's the Rangers proving this season that just because the Ducks and Kings seemed to suffer ill-effects from overseas travel last season, the travel alone doesn't mean that has to happen. It may keep Chris Drury pointless for a while, but team-wise, it may just be a handy excuse.
2. Suspensions and warnings mean nothing to Ryan Hollweg
Who's Ryan Hollweg? Well, you might not have noticed him for his skills in recent seasons with the Rangers, but you might have noticed that when your favorite team took on the Blueshirts, there was this guy wearing No. 44 who liked to plaster players into the glass from behind. It happened over and over last season, and Hollweg served an automatic one-game suspension in February.
That didn't matter.
He moved to Toronto over the summer in a trade, and was suspended in the preseason for two games for another hitting-from-behind incident.
That didn't matter.
After sitting out that suspension, Hollweg went out and did it all over again to St. Louis rookie defenseman Alex Pietrangelo, earning a three-game suspension.
The expectation? It won't matter. He'll re-offend.
3. Fabian Brunnstrom was apparently worth the fuss
You might remember that every hockey club from Mexico to Alaska was chasing Fabian Brunnstrom over the summer, after word got out through YouTube and other information-gathering services that the Swede was a rare gem who had somehow eluded the detection of NHL clubs.
He was a free agent, and that touched off a bidding war -- an unusual one in which the teams wooing him were all offering the same money, as per the NHL's collective-bargaining agreement. Eventually, Dallas won his services, signing the 23-year-old to a two-year, entry-level contract worth as much as $2 million per season.
Brunnstrom became the third player in NHL history to pot a hat trick in his debut. He added another goal against Colorado on Saturday to register four goals in his first three games.
His next target? An assist.
4. Denis Savard is no Maurice "Rocket" Richard
|The Rangers are off to a 6-1-1 start.|
As a player, of course, Savard was very, very good, but not comparable to The Rocket. Few were.
What we're referring to in this case, however, is the coaching records of the two men. This season, Denis Savard lasted only four games with the Chicago Blackhawks before being canned last week and replaced by Joel Quenneville. That tied the mark of Ivan Hlinka (Pittsburgh) and Jacques Demers (Montreal), two bench bosses also canned after four games.
It was, however, a longer stint than afforded to Bill Gadsby by the 1969-70 Red Wings. He lasted two games.
But the record of all records is held by Richard, who agreed to coach the Quebec Nordiques of the World Hockey Association for the 1972-73 season, only to step down after one game.
One game! By comparison, Savard had oodles of time to get his club going.
5. The Tampa Bay Lightning don't seem to know what to do with old guys or young guys right now
With rookie Steven Stamkos, Tampa coach Barry Melrose is all over the map, playing the kid six minutes one night and more than 14 the next. Stamkos has no points and seems a tad lost, as most 18-year-olds are; but the Bolts have built their promotional efforts around him and are thus unlikely to send him back to junior. This could turn into a difficult season for Stamkos, not unlike Joe Thornton's first NHL campaign.
Then, there's the other end of the scale with 42-year-old Gary Roberts. Melrose played Roberts, who signed as a free agent over the summer, for just four shifts against the Islanders last week, and in two other games has played the veteran less than 10 minutes.
If you know Roberts, you know that won't make him happy. Oh yes, and he's also pointless, not that surprising on a team that has only eight goals in five games.
6. Martin Brodeur isn't getting old, but he's a bit skinnier
Remember Sean Avery ripping the all-world goalie as "fatso" last season? Martin Brodeur laughed that off, but he did go on a fitness kick last summer, working with a personal trainer and beginning a new dietary regimen that removed a lot of pasta and bread from his daily intake and has him drinking three liters of water a day.
The result is a trimmer Brodeur -- he's down about eight pounds -- and a fabulous start to the 2008-09 season. He's already picked up his 97th shutout to move within six of Terry Sawchuk's record, and surpassing Patrick Roy's wins record before Christmas seems a mere formality.
Could it be he's got his eye on starting the All-Star Game in his hometown of Montreal? Could it be he's not quite ready to give up his part-time job as Canada's Olympic goalie with the 2010 Vancouver Olympics now clearly in sight?
7. There's bad blood building between Washington and Pittsburgh; more specifically, between Caps star Alex Ovechkin and twin Penguins superstars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin
|Evgeni Malkin and Alex Ovechkin were hitting each other -- often -- during last week's Penguins-Caps game.|
When the two clubs met last week, Alex Ovechkin tried to take Evgeni Malkin's head off about five times, and some rumors suggest there's no love lost between the two Russians, on or off the ice. When the game ended, Sidney Crosby brushed past Ovechkin from behind, and the two jawed at each other at center ice as players from both teams milled about. Unfortunately, the two clubs don't meet again until Jan. 14 at Pittsburgh.
8. Todd McLellan was ready to be a head coach in the NHL
You could say, of course, that Ron Wilson left a very tidy house behind for McLellan in San Jose. That said, expectations were high going into this season, and a club with lots of established veteran players like the Sharks sometimes resists new ideas from a new coach.
Well, so far, so good. The Sharks are ripping up the Western Conference, suggesting it's much easier for an assistant to move into a head-coaching position with another club rather than with the same team (for reference see: Paddock, John).
Brad McCrimmon has assumed McLellan's old post in Detroit. The Red Wings, meanwhile, visit San Jose on Oct. 30 for the first meeting between the two clubs.
9. The Wild don't know whether to keep Marian Gaborik or get rid of him
Nobody else knows what they should do either. No question the guy has talent oozing from his pores. Still, he's frequently injured, missing two of four games already this season, and there's a sense the Wild have grown frustrated with their inability to get Gaborik, the franchise's all time points leader, to commit to a new contract.
His current deal, which pays him $7.5 million per season, expires in July, making him an unrestricted free agent. Some reports suggest the Wild have offered him as much as a 10-year deal at $8 million annually, but so far Gaborik hasn't been willing to bite.
He's by far the team's most talented player, but we may be getting into a Marian Hossa-like situation here, with the Wild forced to get something for the Slovak before the winter trade deadline, even with the club almost certainly headed for postseason play.
10. The Montreal Canadiens intend to celebrate their 100th anniversary in style
The Habs are unbeaten out of the gate and are playing with the swagger of the Flying Frenchmen of old, although the current roster is made up more of Finns, Belarussians and Americans.
The All-Star Game is also in Montreal and should be another occasion for the Habs to thump their chests as the world's most successful hockey franchise. Patrick Roy's No. 33 will also be retired in a ceremony in late November, and nobody does ceremony like the Canadiens. Let's just say it'll be better than the one done in Denver when the Avalanche retired his number there.
Landing Mats Sundin in the summer, meanwhile, would have been a lovely addition, but Robert Lang has done just fine as an addition down the middle and Alex Tanguay has helped the power play continue to be lethal despite the departure of point man Mark Streit.
After struggling on and off the ice in the late 1990s and the early part of this century, the Canadiens are back to their old selves, just as relevant in Quebec and the NHL as ever.
Damien Cox, a columnist for The Toronto Star, is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. He is the author of "Brodeur: Beyond The Crease" and "'67: The Maple Leafs, Their Sensational Victory, and the End of an Empire."