The tricky thing about being a sports pundit, or at least playing one on TV, is the constantly raging internal war between what the facts tell you should happen and what you really want to see happen. Left brain vs. right brain. Analyst vs. fan. Scully vs. Mulder. All of it.
Well, logic has no home in this particular column. In this edition of The Wysh List, I’m ignoring the trends, X-ing out the analytics sites on my browser and letting my freak flag fly. This is not about forecasting; this is about faith.
Here are 10 things I’m hoping, with all my hockey heart, will happen in the 2019-20 season. Just don’t hold me to them.
Either the Kings or the Blackhawks make the playoffs
One look at my T-shirt drawer will confirm that I have trouble letting go of familiar things, no matter how old, tattered and in need of a refresh they might be.
The Kings are probably about three years away from serious contention again, and the Blackhawks … well, they might have a defensive pairing of Olli Maatta and Brent Seabrook this season, so there’s that. It probably wouldn’t amount to a championship, but I’d like to see some life out of them. Maybe I just want to see Jonathan Toews and Drew Doughty play another meaningful game without having to wear a Team Canada jersey.
John Tortorella leans into ‘Us Against The World’
When your team has suffered a massive talent defection and has been effectively written off by most of the hockey world, there is no one you want coaching your team more than John Tortorella. Who better to tap into the deep well of resentment among the Columbus Blue Jackets? Who better to dig a rhetorical foxhole for his players to climb into for the season-long fight? He should start coaching games in full military fatigues like he’s Stanley McChrystal.
The Bruins become the NHL’s version of “Succession”
Jeremy Jacobs, 79, passed ownership of the Boston Bruins to his children this offseason, with the Boston Globe writing that it was “all part of a long-planned succession.”
I don’t know anything about the Jacobs kin, but I’m summarily obsessed with the idea that the Bruins will become embroiled in a sibling rivalry for control like a binge-able HBO drama. Kendall Jacobs becomes an empty husk after the failure of an attempted coup. Roman Jacobs attempts to run an ECHL team to prove that he’s more than a bundle of nihilistic asides. Shiv Jacobs risks her ascendance to the throne with a joke about “the NHL’s dinosaur owners.” In the end, cousin Greg — sorry, “Gregory” — ends up running the Bruins.
The NHL All-Star Game skills competition gets goofy again
NHL players are constantly complaining about the way they’re marketed and then balking at anything that might take them out of their comfort zones. That is why the NHL All-Star Game fantasy draft and that shootout with the hats and the Superman capes and using Johnny Gaudreau as prop comedy are distant memories.
Here’s my hope: That it’s a generational thing, and the new wave of NHL stars live that “Storm Surge lack of humility” life. Here’s my wish: The skills competition incorporates at least one goofy event that you’d find between periods of a regular-season game. Racing in sumo suits. Or giant hamster balls. Or tiny tricycles. Or the event that has become a fanatical cause for me: human bowling.
— CleanIce23 (@CleanIce23) February 1, 2017
I just want to see Victor Hedman go human bowling. Is that so wrong?
Mark Stone wins the Selke Trophy
We’re getting closer, folks! The Patrice Bergeron of wingers finished ahead of the actual Patrice Bergeron as a Selke Trophy finalist last season, but he lost the prize to Ryan O’Reilly in one of those “well, we can’t give him the Hart, buuuuuutttttt …” voting results.
Opposing players have called Stone’s defensive game “a nightmare.” He has the respect. He has the stats. The only two things he doesn’t have are a spot at center, which unfortunately has been the mandate for winners for the past 16 years, and the Selke Trophy, which Stone is owed.
Erik Karlsson plays a full, healthy season
It’s incredible to think back to 2013-16, when Karlsson didn’t miss a single regular-season game. Then it was 77 games played in 2016-17. Then 71 games the next season. Last season, with the Sharks, it was 53 games, and he was so injured in the playoffs that he became a liability. We never got to see the awesome power of that fully armed and operational San Jose Sharks defense, with Karlsson and Brent Burns eating up 50 combined minutes per game. I want to see it.
The top two picks in the draft are starting their careers in the same season, in the same division, on two geographic and spiritual rival teams in the New Jersey Devils and the New York Rangers. It’s awesome. Or at least, it has the potential to be awesome.
What I want is something on the level — but without the stakes, at least for now — of the Sidney Crosby vs. Alex Ovechkin double-hat-trick game in 2009, which remains one of my favorite sporting events I’ve ever had the honor to cover. And then hopefully either Kakko or Hughes will complain about how long it took for the ice crew to clean up the hats, like Sid did that night, thus securing supernova heat from fans.
The Stars make their ‘Mooterus’ jersey their Winter Classic jersey
Which Stars jersey is your favorite? pic.twitter.com/UbuDeieRdK
— NHL on NBC (@NHLonNBCSports) September 21, 2019
That’s it right there. Letter C. From 2003 to ’06, the Stars bravely wore this astrological logo that fans immediately found anatomical. As you can see, the Stars have some other classic looks they could resurrect for the highly anticipated Winter Classic at the Cotton Bowl against the Nashville Predators. But there is only one option that is udderly, er, utterly perfect for the biggest outdoor stage of the season. Wear the Mooterus!
Hearing about the falling out between Malkin and Kessel with the Penguins last season was like watching your favorite band implode because the lead guitarist hates the drummer. (Sid, in this case, being your lead singer. A bit more Eddie Vedder than Thom Yorke, if we’re being honest.)
According to Rob Rossi of The Athletic, a catalyst for both of their struggles last season was a comfort level that set in after their years of championship accomplishment, as well as a general misunderstanding of who they really are.
Now Phil is in Arizona, with perhaps the only coach with whom he has connected, Rick Tocchet. Meanwhile, Malkin is declaring, “I [have] not shown my game at 100 percent.” I want to see both of these guys at the height of their powers and with a renewed affinity for what they’re doing. It’s a shame we’ll never get a reunion tour.
Finally, a team that hasn’t won the Stanley Cup in the past 40 years wins it (or the Lightning)
Watching the St. Louis Blues and the Washington Capitals graduate from what my friend Jason Brough calls “The Sad Club” (i.e. those teams that have never won the Stanley Cup) has made the past two seasons feel positively storybook, and I want another fan base to enjoy those feelings.
The Buffalo Sabres, Vancouver Canucks, Ottawa Senators, Minnesota Wild and Columbus Blue Jackets probably aren’t graduating from the Club this season, but the Nashville Predators, San Jose Sharks, Florida Panthers, Arizona Coyotes, Winnipeg Jets and those long-suffering fans from Vegas all have at least a chance at the celebration of celebrations.
But let’s expand our scope to include the Toronto Maple Leafs, whose title celebration would make the Raptors’ look quaint by comparison, and the Tampa Bay Lightning, who last won in 2004, but after what happened last year … yeah, it’d be nice to see them flip the script on postseason humiliation.
At least that’s my hope.
It’s never too early for Jersey Fouls.
— Greg Colombo (@gmcolombo73) September 21, 2019
This is the Buffalo Sabres’ 50th anniversary jersey. I checked the Sabres’ store and they do not sell this sweater with “SABRES 50” on the back. If it was a gift from the team, then that’s not a Foul, by the letter of the law. If it was something this fan asked for at the pro shop … boy, that’s close, but it does fall under the Special Events Provision that allows for nameplates and numbers on limited release jerseys like the ones for the Winter Classic. We’re going to say that, overall, this is not a Foul.
A case of the exes
Dave Tippett is the sixth coach the Edmonton Oilers have had in the last eight seasons. That’s remarkable in itself. What’s also remarkable is that three of their previous coaches were all hired to new gigs last summer: Todd McLellan with the Los Angeles Kings, Dallas Eakins with the Anaheim Ducks and Ralph Krueger with the Buffalo Sabres.
Krueger coached the Oilers for 48 games in their lockout-shortened season of 2012-13. His tenure ended infamously, with GM Craig MacTavish — last seen getting fired after eight games as head coach of the KHL’s Lokomotiv Yaroslavl — dismissing Krueger over Skype.
He was always an interesting blip in the history of the Oilers. His team wasn’t successful, and despite the shortened season didn’t show improvement from the previous season. But that shouldn’t have been enough to get him fired after just one truncated campaign, and the Oilers’ young collection of standout players all lamented him not getting another year to figure things out.
“I have no hard feelings towards Edmonton because I was grateful for the opportunity and moved on quickly from that,” he said after getting hired by Buffalo.
One of the reasons he was dumped is because Dallas Eakins was available. He was in his mid-40s and was a hot shot coaching candidate with the AHL Toronto Marlies. At the time, landing him was a coup for the Oilers. He lasted 113 games, and was fired 31 games into his second season.
Krueger didn’t glean all that much from his time in Edmonton. For Eakins, it was like a template of what not to do as a new NHL coach.
“When I went into Edmonton, there was really no doubt that it was really messed up. I was brought in there to change the culture,” Eakins told me last week. “I took a road that was not too familiar to me, and I went in there hard. The line was drawn in the sand. And it was on. And that was not a good way to build a culture.”
It was too much, too soon, and he knew it.
“I thought I made the appropriate steps in the second year. I mended some relationships, and I thought the dressing room felt a lot differently in that second year. Instead of it being me and them, it was now us,” he said.
But he was fired, and interim coach Todd Nelson took over.
Eakins spent four years with the AHL San Diego Gulls before getting the bump from Ducks GM Bob Murray to take over in Anaheim this season.
“I’m sure I made a mistakes here already, and might not know it yet,” he said.
But now he’ll be more cognizant of them. Even when things go well for Eakins, he likes to “go back and do an autopsy” on his team. “Not only did I go through a thorough one there, but the guys that were still standing when I got let go, after two or three weeks, I reached out to them and told them that I wanted them to be deadly honest. What did we do well? What did we mess up?”
What did he learn? “It doesn’t take six weeks. It takes lots of time. So I should have gone slower on a lot of things,” he said.
McLellan left Edmonton feeling hurt.
“I’m past it, but it hurts to get fired. Somebody’s telling you that you’re not good enough and you don’t belong here anymore,” he said of the Oilers, a team McLellan said he would have gladly coached “forever” if given the chance.
“There’s an all adage that ‘guys get hired to get fired,’ and I don’t buy that one. The outside world sometimes thinks that coaches get paid so much that they shouldn’t care if they get fired. Well, it doesn’t resonate that way for us. It hurts.”
More than Krueger and Eakins, McLellan speaks about his time in Edmonton in the context of what the organization as a whole, rather than one coach, could have done differently.
“You can’t just win with one player,” he told me, during a conversation about Connor McDavid. “The people that are around him have to be doing their thing as well.”
Three ex-Oilers coaches. Three new gigs. Better luck to them all.
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This Week’s Winners and Losers
Winner: Julien BriesBois
The Tampa Bay Lightning general manager showed that Steve Yzerman wasn’t the only salary cap ninja, getting Braydon Point in at three years and $6.75 million annually, retaining his restricted free agent rights for another season after that. State taxes, the chance to win the Stanley Cup and living in Tampa are a heck of an enticement, apparently.
Loser: Toronto Maple Leafs
Auston Matthews is facing a disorderly conduct charge after being involved in an incident in May in his hometown of Scottsdale, Arizona. The details of that charge are ugly. I don’t really care what this means for the Leafs’ captaincy, which became the lead story in Toronto when his news broke. I care that the Leafs, through media reports and coach Mike Babcock, didn’t seem to know this news was coming. That’s a bad look for them, and a worse look for their young star and his reps.
Winner: Justin Faulk
Faulk went from a diminishing role on a crowded Hurricanes blue line to the defending Stanley Cup champions, where the anticipation is that he’ll quarterback their power play. Oh, and that seven-year extension for $45.5 million does hurt either, whether he remains in St. Louis or in the unlikely event his old GM Ron Francis tries to pluck him away in the Seattle expansion draft.
Loser: Winnipeg Jets
Faulk was one of the better available defensemen on the trade market. Unfortunately, he also had trade protection, and ultimately chose St. Louis. But watching another defenseman move (to a division rival no less) while watching an injury scare for defenseman Josh Morrissey once again underscored the predicament they’re in after losing Jacob Trouba and Tyler Myers this offseason, and with Dustin Byfuglien‘s future in question.
Winner: Cammi Granato
The two-time Olympian and U.S. hockey legend is officially the NHL’s first female pro scout after getting hired by Seattle. We’ve said for years that changing the gender makeup of NHL hockey operations is only going to come when women are in significant positions in those departments. This could be the first significant step for Granato to that end.
Loser: Everyone who didn’t hire Cammi Granato
Seriously, it took Seattle getting an NHL team before someone hired a Hall of Famer to scout for them? Congrats to the newbies for thinking outside the box, for once.
Katie Strang has more details on the Auston Matthews incident from police body cam footage. ($)
TMZ has the actual video of Matthews’s accuser.
Remember Lalia Anderson, the young fan who inspired the St. Louis Blues? Well, now the Hockey Hall of Fame will.
Targeting opiod use in youth hockey players. “When they looked at the different sports, ice hockey came out to about three-fold increased odds compared to the other sports.”
A good look at the fight for ice time for the hockey community in Iowa.
Interesting note on faceoffs in the NHL, and how a rule change might alter them.
Hockey tl;dr (too long; didn’t read)
Craig Custance is back with his goalie tiers. ($)
In case you missed this from your friends at ESPN
Sach Chandan with a at celebrities who played (or still play) hockey, from Steve Carell to Paris Hilton.