oil change

This vehicle needs an oil change

We witnessed a change in culture and an entire revamping of an organization last season in Edmonton. The savior of hockey in a particular community in Alberta named Connor McDavid was the culprit. It still appears to be this way; however, we see a group of individuals just five points ahead of the lowly Arizona Coyotes entering Thanksgiving. What is going on in Oil Country?

There’s never one reason why a club struggles the way they do. A hockey team has 20 pieces to a very complex puzzle. This includes a coaching staff, fans and front office members. Everyone plays a role (like we have discussed before) where one act or one decision can have a huge snowball effect. Are the problems initiated on the ice, in the crowd or in the front offices?

My guess would be everything including the media that’s causing this mayhem. The players on the ice are their own worst enemy. A team’s psyche and mental toughness reigns supreme in their ability to win hockey games. This Oilers team is not entirely different from last season where they made a postseason appearance for the first time in a decade. Nevertheless, this current Oiler squad needs an oil change fast…and in a hurry.

The “Savior of Hockey” in Northern Alberta??

oil change

Photo: Sportsnet

I’m not buying it as of right now, no matter how angry any Edmonton fan gets. Yes, Connor McDavid is the reigning MVP and maybe the most skilled young NHLer since Crosby, Ovi and Wayne; however, he is the captain of the Edmonton Oilers hockey club. He is also 20 years old. Has that responsibility, or that 100 million dollar contract been weighing on him?

28 points in the first 22 games of an NHL season sounds nice for him. What about 18 points in 22 games for the team? That doesn’t sound very good for a preseason pick with the 2nd best odds to win it all coming into the season. Are his leadership skills in question? They say actions speak louder than words. A captain’s notoriety typically goes beyond stats and highlight reel plays.

Wayne Gretzky said he was ‘truly amazed’ (The Globe and Mail) by what McDavid began to create last season. I myself was truly amazed to see him make just one play finally in a game this past Tuesday in St. Louis. Unfortunately for the Edmonton faithful, that one play was made after the Oilers were enduring a 4-0 deficit in the third period.

The Oilers surrendered a season-high eight goals to the Blues that night. We later find out McDavid had ‘flu-like symptoms’ and head coach Todd McLellan described his team’s play as ‘lazy’ (STLToday.com) on that particular evening. Oh well..just another loss in a long 82-game season, right? No need to panic.

That dreaded media that won’t go away..’sorry’

oil change

Photo: National Post

The Edmonton Journal posted an article two hours before I started typing bashing the Oilers’ player development system. Clearly I’m not the only one with harsh remarks for this hockey team. Yes, Mr. Gretzky it’s “hockey 365 days a year in Edmonton”. This is why you came back to the team you helped raise four Stanley Cups. However, that also means the Oilers have to (at the very least) meet expectations.

The article went on to say that “there is a feeling too many of their prospects are not panning out” (Edmonton Journal). There is this youth movement that we have discussed going on in the league. This doesn’t mean the youngest of young players have to be “leading” the charge (McDavid/Matthews/Laine). You have players in their primes leading the way (Pietrangelo/Toews/Crosby/Ovechkin). However, again, these are not the sole reasons the Oilers are struggling.

The media is going to nitpick every little speck of an organization to make stories about how a team is doing. This cannot affect how the players play on the ice. Maybe if the “home” media halted their badgering questions that clearly annoy their team’s players things could change. I have no idea what’s going on in the minds of the entire Oiler community. I just know after that game in early October against the rival Flames, I did not expect these results 22 games into the season.

the entertainment “business”

oil change

Photo. NHL.com

The folks in Edmonton will still fill up Rogers Place to capacity no matter what. If the Oilers play the Florida Panthers on a Sunday afternoon, they will be there. Entertainment value is never the issue; therefore, there is no excuse for the Oiler front office to not piece together a quality hockey team. I mean look at the roster..

Money can buy you a star-studded hockey club. Money cannot buy you wins and points in this parity-filled NHL. This has caught up to teams like the Capitals, Blackhawks and seemingly now with the Oilers. There are “must-have players” up and down each roster that deserve their money. However, is it the most sensible thing for a 22-year old Leon Draisaitl to be making nine million dollars right now?

You have all these ridiculously young players with fat contracts that may or may not be deserving at this point in time. Whether the Hawks had to or not, they realized they couldn’t keep an Artemi Panarin long-term giving him six million right away. Furthermore, you have the Oilers with 27 million in salary between five players that are not yet 30.

McDavid’s rookie contract is up at the end of this season where his 100-million dollar deal will begin. If the playoffs are not in this Oiler team’s future, we could see some real (oil) changes in 2018.

If it’s broke, fix it.

What’s going on in Edmonton isn’t working right now. The organization has multiple big contracts for players either very young or in their prime. Do these “young guns” feel safe and untouchable with all this money?

Connor McDavid is going to put up great numbers. He knows he has great players around him. The “next one” may know in his mind things will turn around naturally, which it could. Although, nothing ever just happens in professional sports. Is McDavid not worried because $15 million is coming his way by the end of next season?

I’m not saying they don’t care. I’m not saying they won’t get it together. I’m saying they are one of the two worst teams in the West right now. This should not be the case. Figure it out.

 

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larger than life

Hockey is larger than life

Larger than life by the Backstreet Boys was a top 10 hit in over 14 countries in 1999. It captured the love given to the group by their army of fans and how it propelled the boys to the top of pop music. Hockey captures this same idea and has become a “larger than life” sport.

A self-examination is never done as a kid that puts an emotional investment in question. Your parents typically support your fandom financially. However, there comes a time when you reach a certain age and you contemplate the extent of you as a fan.

The Backstreet Boys were unstoppable from 1999-2002. Their success has kept them with comfortable livelihoods to this day. Although, they have had just one hit in the last 15 years, but have stayed together through 2017. Die hard NHL fans have endured both successful time periods and rebuilds. Their commitment has kept their teams in their hometowns.

Your support benefits you the fan and the players playing the game. Studies indicate those invested in sports have “higher self-esteem and lower depression and stress rates,” (Seattle Times). Everyone’s role is different, but everyone is a part of the team. It’s not “they”, it’s “we.” That makes hockey larger than life.

“Can’t you see, can’t you see” “How your love’s affecting our reality”

larger than life

Photo: The Chronicle Herald

Ten

teams in the NHL have been standing organizations in their respective cities for over 50 years. The league has since become a stream that has generated over four billion dollars in revenue annually. Fans are the direct source for this establishment.

TV rights are the the main source of revenue for the four major sports leagues (football, baseball, basketball and hockey). Sports television programming in the United States is over 127 hours with over 107 million viewers. The NHL is currently in year six of a two billion dollar contract with NBC Sports, and in year four of a 5.2 billion dollar contract with Rogers Communications in Canada. These viewers are fans that make their teams and the league economically successful.

Watching sports in stadium or at home ramps up your emotion levels. Daniel Wann explains how our “blood pressure rises during games” and how our “testosterone plummets after a loss,” (Huffington Post). This range of emotions gives us undeniable empowerment and value just like our support does to our players on our team(s). Our fandom gives us a common language with our peers and boosts our overall sense of well-being. Each livelihood within a team’s community being strengthened makes the simple game of hockey much bigger than the sport itself.

“Every time we’re down, you can make it right”

larger than life

Photo: Pinterest

Teams move to cities when economics are not adding up. It takes commitment, dedication and loyalty to keep a team in your city. Hockey clubs struggle on the ice from time to time and it’s up to the fans to stick with them. Some of the most storied franchises have sustained success in their cities due to their loyal fans.

The Detroit Red Wings have struggled early on in their new home (Little Caesars Arena). However, there is little doubt they will overcome this and find success in due time. The organization had a “Dead Wings Era” of futility for 15 years from 1967-1982. “Hockeytown” stuck together and has won four Stanley Cups since 1982. Detroit is home to 11 Stanley Cups over a storied 91 year period and average 20,027 fans a night, which is the third highest attendance figure in the NHL.

The St. Louis Blues, Washington Capitals and Buffalo Sabres have yet to win a Stanley Cup. However, these three are all in the top 10 in national TV ratings for NBC Sports. Fans in these markets have unwavering hope. It is why these teams have stayed in these cities for 51 (St. Louis) and 47 (D.C. and Buffalo) years. Fans are the life support of their teams, which makes them as a part of the team as anyone.

“That Makes You Larger Than Life”

Hockey brings me to life, and I do my best to give that life back to the game. Avis Favaro reports that “hockey increases heart rates and can cause heart attacks,” (CTV News). That potential risk does not stop avid fans from watching. The benefits from investing in what we cannot control always outweighs the negative.

Over 82 jobs and millions of fans make one NHL organization run on a daily basis in its city. The players playing the game are never the only people involved. There will come a time when one fan will question his/her means to an end within his/her fandom. Always knowing that hockey is larger than life will make the discussion with yourself easier.

 

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NHL first month

First month in review: One down, six to go

The first month of hockey for this season is in the books. Nine teams are currently in a playoff spot that were not at the end of last year. An expansion team registered 16 out of a possible 22 points. A pair of teammates are the top two point getters in the league. However, there were 118 more slashing calls than last season through the first 57 games and has continued to spiral.

Frustration has hit with these penalties, but hasn’t dissipated the entertainment value whatsoever. We are fans of the most consistently ultra-competitive league. Any team on any given night can win a hockey game. The parity in the NHL is unbelievable, which gives fans the hope that their team always has a shot and anything can happen. Adding that up with the overall entertainment of hockey, the first month was a success.

The Tampa Bay Lightning and St. Louis Blues are at the top of the Eastern and Western Conferences respectfully. Eight points and seven points separate those two teams from themselves and the two eighth seeded teams. Therefore, regardless of what the current power rankings indicate, we are in for a wild ride into mid April. Special teams may have been overkill this first month, but they have made games even more interesting at times. It’s a sample size, but we have no idea where everyone will be at the conclusion of the regular season.

Lightning Bolts and Musical Notes

The top teams in the NHL after one month reside in Tampa Bay and St. Louis. Each of these clubs notched 10 wins in their first 13 games. The top three scorers in the league play for both of these teams. They both battled one another in Tampa the second week with the Bolts winning by one goal. There are positives and negatives to both of these starts, but they have clearly proven to be where they stand.

NHL first month

Photo by Getty Images

Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov are the best duo in hockey right now. Together, they netted 45 points and are a combined +13 to start the season. Their top goaltender, Andrei Vasilevskiy, is 10-1-0 with a 2.42 goals against average. Rookie defenseman Mikhail Sergachev had a great first month in the league with 11 points (four goals, seven assists).

However, not having Ben Bishop has put some pressure on their goalie situation as backup Peter Budaj let in eight goals and posted a .855 save percentage in his two starts.

St. Louis has one of the best lines in hockey with Jaden Schwartz, Brayden Schenn and Vladimir Tarasenko. They totaled 42 points and were a combined +30 in October. Their defensive core has a league-high 14 goals. The Blues have the best goalie tandem with Jake Allen and Carter Hutton through the first month as they combined for a 2.07 goals against average and a .936 save percentage. Depth is the concern as only five of their 43 goals have come from their bottom six.

The Blues and Lightning have the potential to remain at the top of the standings with the pieces they have in place. They also can be removed in a day. Therefore, there is no time for any form of complacency. It’s a long way to go, but will these two link up in the finals?

Caps/Hawks Right in the middle

Two of the NHL’s regulars at the top of the standings have had mediocre starts to their seasons. Chicago finds themselves in the final Wild Card position and just a game over .500. Washington notched just five wins, a game under .500, and are out of the playoff picture after the first month. Both teams were the No. 1 seeds in their respective conferences a year ago. What has sprung this inconsistent start?

NHL first month

Photo by Getty Images

The Blackhawks made a number of offseason transactions. They traded away former rookie of the year Artemi Panarin. Niklas Hjalmarsson was sent to Arizona, which has put their defensive depth in question. Scott Darling got traded to Carolina, which has deeply weakened their goaltending situation. Corey Crawford has posted a 1.91 goals against average and recorded all of their wins, but backup Anton Forsberg has yet to get a win letting in 11 goals in his three games of work.

Last year’s Presidents’ Trophy winners are out of sorts at the start of November. Needed money was given to players in the offseason, but all of the scoring as been in one place. The Caps’ top line is still the best in the league with Nicklas Backstrom centering T.J. Oshie and Alexander Ovechkin. However, Barry Trotz has attempted to spread the wealth by putting Ovechkin on line two recently as those three have netted 19 of the team’s 35 goals. Braden Holtby has been less than what he has been to start the year with backup Philipp Grubauer 0-3-1 with a 4.08 goals against average and a .876 save percentage.

This could be what these teams need. They have never been in this position very much as of late. The Hawks and Caps both have new young talent that are waiting to get comfortable. Expect them to still be playoff fixtures once again come mid April.

Sustainable Hot Starts for Devils/Knights?

Parity is a huge element to the National Hockey League as discussed. Two teams not expected to be where they are, but find themselves near the top play in New Jersey and Vegas. The Devils won nine of their first 11. The Golden Knights won eight of their first 11 in their first month in franchise history. How did these clubs get off to such great starts?

NHL first month

Photo from CBS Sports

The New Jersey Devils landed the No. 1 overall pick in this year’s draft with Nico Hischier, but no one expected a 9-2-0 start. Everyone had them in rebuild mode. However, they have a superstar in Taylor Hall, who recorded 15 points in their 11 games. Rookie defenseman Will Butcher registered 11 assists. Furthermore, they have a formidable goalie tandem in Cory Schneider (6-1-0) and Keith Kinkaid (3-1-0).

Las Vegas has come in hot to the NHL. The Golden Knights grabbed 16 out of 22 possible points to begin their history. Most “NHL experts” and league followers had them in the cellar all year like most expansion teams. No one saw this coming, but expansion rules are different presently. There is more talent in the NHL than ever before and you can’t protect as many players in the draft.

Many teams get off to unexplainable hot starts that are very difficult to maintain over the course of a season. New Jersey and Vegas could be in the thick of it or easily well out of it by March and April. However, no matter the circumstances, these two clubs have added to this season’s already hectic news feed.

We’ve Only Just Begun

One month is a big enough sample size to get a feel for future results for one’s work. It’s also very small when you put it up against close to seven months worth of work. Therefore, we take note of what has happened already, but expect almost anything for the months ahead.

Hockey is a sport that is unparalleled in a multitude of ways. There are generally favorites in sports like football and basketball. This sport can never mess with that concept at this point in time. Tampa Bay had the third best odds to win it all in preseason, but St. Louis had the 18th best odds. Edmonton had the second best odds and only Arizona had a worse record in the first month of the year.

We can highlight good and bad team traits after one month of play, but this is just the beginning. No one knows where anyone will be at the end of the regular season. That is why hockey stands alone.

 

Featured image from NHL.com

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changing lives

Changing lives on and off the ice

Pro athletes take part in changing lives just as the sport they play has done so for them. Professional sports is one of the great platforms used to impact the lives of those in need. The Make-a-Wish Foundation has been doing this for the last 37 years. However, pro teams in each of the major sports have done their best as well to get involved in these opportunities.

Proven psychological facts state that how fans feel about their teams and athletes have a large effect on how they perform. Some players say they are immune to how fans feel, but sports psychologist Daniel L. Wann explains why that is not the case. He tells us that “it’s like an adolescent who says they don’t care about what their parents think” (AASP). The relationship between the fans and players is very important. A team’s effort within the community they play for is vital to an organization’s success.

Fans must feel at ease with their emotional investment in their team. Meeting players, conversing with front office members and knowing the club you root for as best you can does wonders. Many that are unable to do that, who are in need and have an undying love for their team have that at the top of their bucket list. Fortunately, NHL teams make dreams like this come true every day.

Ari and Levi with Blues

changing lives

Photo: St. Louis Blues

Two lives have been rejuvenated in the last eight months by the St. Louis Blues and Vladimir Tarasenko. Levi Ervin and Arianna Dougan were granted wishes in the midst of heartache and struggle, but never imagined the extent of those wishes that they received. The experience they had helped them forget about their troubles for at least that while and is something they will never forget.

Arianna was given the best birthday present she could ask for this past March while battling cancer. Her favorite player (Tarasenko) gave her the news prior to his team’s game against Buffalo. She would be traveling with the team for a two-game road trip in Arizona and Colorado. Her can’t miss smile showed the entire club how special it was and “how tough she really is” Blues defensemen Robert Bortuzzo told the St. Louis Post Dispatch. Ari attended games beyond the road trip and into the playoffs where she became a rallying point for the fans each time they showed her on the jumbotron.

Levi signed a one-day contract with his team after being involved in a catastrophic car accident. His grandparents suffered third degree burns and his two-year old sister sadly passed away. The newest member of the Blues traveled with the team to Carolina for their game against the Hurricanes. He took the ice with his hockey hero Tarasenko for the morning skate, then fist pumped the boys as they left the ice after a 2-1 win.

The Blues clinched a playoff berth last spring with the three points they received during the road trip with Ari. They deposited a big two points nearing the end of the first month of this season on the road with Levi.

Kohen and Gage with the Oilers

Edmonton found a rare bright spot in their season in February of 2016. Kohen Flett was signed to a one-day contract with the Oilers. The eight-year old (at the time) was diagnosed with a brain tumor when he was only 15 months old. Like the previous cases, Kohen possessed a “larger than life smile” (Fox Sports) throughout this incredible experience.

The youngster spent his day with the team practicing with the Oilers for their morning skate. Kohen was able to help superstar Connor McDavid with his equipment. He then gave the team a speech before they hit the ice for practice. Flett got the entire player experience that ended with a team photo and interviews with the Edmonton media. Kohen said, “it was the best day of my life,” (Fox Sports).

changing lives

Photo: Instagram

Make-a-Wish Northern Alberta teamed up with the Oilers again this past September. Gage Foster got his opportunity to work out with his favorite goalie (Cam Talbot). The young fan and his family took the ice with the Oiler net minder prior to the start of training camp. Gage is a member of Make-a-Wish Southwestern Ontario, but his wish was still granted with the help of the foundation.

Edmonton has some of the most loyal fans in the NHL. It is hockey 365 days a year. In recent years of their rebuild they still managed to average 16,000 fans a night at home games. Their work within the community and connection to their fans is one of the big reasons why.

Across the league

Fans and players work as one to reach a common goal. The unifying of a community is imperative to reaching this goal, but it starts with the players. Each official team website has a community tab. A team’s community is the financial and emotional fuel to their club. A good relationship and cohesion between these two pieces makes giving this fuel an easy decision. However, many still question and criticize people who invest much of their time, money and emotions in their teams.

When you love something, it’s hard to describe. It’s not something you do, it’s something you feel. Furthermore, it’s reassuring when our impactful efforts are backed by psychological science. I love my team, and there have been many times I have acted irrationally in support of my team. The way all of our teams make us feel every emotion possible justifies these actions for us.

No one forces a player to make a young child feel good and smile. It is the renowned athlete that recognizes his ability to do so who then takes action. The moments a child has with his favorite team and player(s) last forever.

 

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slow start

Underachieving NHL teams: Off to a slow start, eh?

It is typical at times for a perceived great team to get off to a surprisingly slow start. It’s tough to judge a team just 8-10 games in, but you would like to see positive signs moving forward.

Montreal, Edmonton and New York (Rangers) are three of the five bottom teams in the league at the moment. The only team with a worse record (as of Oct. 26) is the Arizona Coyotes (0-8-1). All three of these teams finished with over 100 points last season.

This is a small sample size. However, after a long offseason, teams are typically high on new energy at the start of the year. Moreover, the points you deposit in October are worth the same as the points put in the bank in March. Ask the Canadiens of last year. Montreal started the season 13-1-1, played .500 hockey the next 43 games (18-18-7), and still captured a division title finishing 47-26-9.

Every team hits a lull, or multiple lulls over the course of a season. A hot start isn’t 100 percent crucial to a successful season, but it is your first imprint on the year. It’s the first building block. Your season can be made or broken based off of how it starts. It’s very early again, but what’s going on with three of the league’s current bottom feeders?

off and walking habs

underachieving NHL teams

Photo: NHL.com

The Habs began their season with a 3-2 shootout win over the Sabres. They then proceeded to lose their next seven. Montreal ended that skid Tuesday night with a 5-1 win over a Roberto Luongo-less Florida squad. The team is giving up close to four goals a game and both net minders (Price and Montoya) have save percentages under .900.

The Canadiens are a team that depends on their goaltending heavily having arguably the best in the league in Carey Price. The 2015-16 season saw them skate to a 10-2-0 record with Price in the net and a 4-15-1 record the next 20 after his injury. Thirty-seven of their 47 victories last season came with Price manning the crease. The pressure on Price is huge because they only possess one player (Max Pacioretty) that had over 20 or more goals for them last season.

Montreal is scoring less than two goals a game. They are averaging over 38 shots a game lacking finish. The Habs have the eighth worst power play at just under 14 percent in a year where special teams is ruling with the amount of penalties being called. It’s just not clicking for the Canadiens nine games into their season.

We could see a flip of the script of last year where Montreal could trend upward after October instead. There are 73 games remaining. It’s simply a slow start for the Habs.

Not Much Fuel early For the Well-Oiled Machine

Underachieving NHL teams

Photo: NHL.com

The curious case of the not so well-oiled machine at the moment is concerning. Edmonton has won only two of their first eight games. Connor McDavid is still doing Connor McDavid things (nine points). However, the depth along with the stellar goaltending from Cam Talbot isn’t showing up currently.

Edmonton is giving up an even three goals a game after giving up 1.89 per game through eight games last season. They needed everything and more from their starter Cam Talbot last year. The 30-year old played in 73 of the 82 games. It started with him as the Oilers let up the eighth fewest goals of any team. They’re going to need Talbot to be who he was last year and maybe more if the offense doesn’t pick up.

The league MVP is obviously the catalyst for everything that goes on offensively for the Oilers. However, to be successful and a true contender, you need production from all four lines. The 2016-17 season saw Edmonton possess five 20+ goal scorers, four 50+ point getters and one fourth liner (Mark Letestu) net 16 goals. McDavid can turn this team around in a hurry as they have almost everyone from a year ago minus Jordan Eberle.

Great teams sometimes suffer when they are aware of the talent they have. This can be seen at times with the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers during the NBA regular season. They get bored occasionally. However, the Oilers have no excuse having just made the playoffs for the first time in 10 years despite having the second best preseason Cup odds at 10-1. They haven’t won or proven anything yet.

broadway at a standstill

Underachieving NHL teams

Photo: NHL.com

The Rangers have played in 10 games so far this season and have come away victorious twice. However, they have shown the most positive signs of improvement statistically of the other two teams. New York has been in three one-goal games, averaging 2.50 goals per game, and converting on close to 20 percent of their power plays.

The Blue Shirts’ defense is centered around Kevin Shattenkirk and Ryan McDonagh after an offseason trade with Arizona and free agency. They traded Antti Raanta (backup goalie) and Derek Stepan (key bottom six depth player).

Their new backup (Ondrej Pavelec) is 0-2 and has given up six goals in 96 minutes of action. The penalty kill (manned by much of the bottom six) sits at 23rd in the league at 77.8 percent. The new defensive core is a combined -11.

New York finished ninth overall in the league last year with 102 points. They captured a series win over Montreal and took Ottawa to six games who was one goal away from reaching the Finals. The Rangers organization then presumed a few tweaks were needed to take the next step. Sometimes that’s valid and other times it isn’t the case at all.

This could be nothing like the previous two teams discussed. Hopefully (for the front office) this will be a footnote to the next 72 games for the Rangers.

No time to worry

There are new faces up and down a roster coming into the year. Chemistry and figuring out how to play with one another is crucial. Some teams learn faster than others and there is no way to project where these particular teams will be in the standings later on in the season.

The key is to have a short memory and always be in the right frame of mind. Each of these hockey clubs believe they can win with the personnel they possess.

The longest losing streak for the Stanley Cup winning Penguins last year was four. Therefore, the seven game losing streak by the Habs is alarming. The league worst 15 goals that the Oilers have registered in their eight games is concerning. The lack of cohesion from the new-look Rangers is also worrisome. However, they can’t look back.

Will these teams get it together sooner rather than later?

 

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big brother little brother

Best NHL rivalries: Big brothers and little brothers

The NHL is full of great historic rivalries that are usually between two cities in close proximity. Bad blood runs deep on and off the ice. You see it during the games in the players and in the stands with the fans. These brutal hatreds are a part of what drives the emotional investments in what many call just a game.

Many of these mutual uneasy feelings involve one team playing the big brother role, with the other playing little brother. One usually has championship pedigree while the other has been in dire search for that particular respect for years. There is appeal to both sides. You either root for sustained excellence or the fighting underdog.

History deals with evolutionary concepts. This is what makes these rivalry stories so intriguing. Two teams have been hating each other ever since their existence. The hatred is passed down through generations of fans that must never fade away. You either pick a side or are born into a side that you must never switch.

Canadiens/Maple Leafs

One of the most historic rivalries in the sport is between two Canadian teams. Two franchises that are the oldest in the league.

Best NHL rivalries

Photo: NHL.com

The Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs joined the NHL in 1917 (league’s inaugural season). There has been no love lost between the two cities since.

A combined 24 Stanley Cups were won between the two from 1917 to 1967. The two teams were in a class of their own and a competitive rivalry ensued. However, Montreal would claim the big brother role of the feud as Toronto has yet to win a championship since 1967.

Thirty-seven cups have been won in total between the two organizations which is the most by any rivalry and any pair of teams. Twenty-four have been won by Montreal and 10 since the last time Toronto did so in ’67.

It is something the Leafs are reminded by every time they visit Montreal as they look up at each banner. Oct. 14 was the first Maple Leaf victory in Montreal in the last 14 tries thanks to an OT-winner from none other than Auston Matthews.

Now that these two hockey clubs are both playoff caliber teams, we may see the first postseason meeting between the two in 38 years.

Blackhawks/Blues

Fighting in the stands is never appropriate, but it seems to be when St. Louis and Chicago play each other. These two hockey communities are one of today’s biggest big brother/little brother rivalries.

Best NHL rivalries

Photo: St. Louis Post-Dispatch

These arch rivals are separated by under 300 miles and both fan bases find their way into enemy territory every time they link up. The dispute spreads further than the ice. It goes into the stands and onto the baseball diamond.

Both cities are crazy about their teams and it is a true war zone when they play. However, in terms of the teams on the ice, one of these teams has had all the fun recently when it comes to winning.

It used to be a true battle between the Hawks and Blues as both teams had two of the three longest cup droughts. Chicago had not won since 1961 and St. Louis had not since 1967. That changed in 2010 as the Hawks won their first of three championships within the last seven-year time frame.

Today, the two clubs have met 12 times in the postseason with Chicago winning eight of the 12 series. The Blues are still in search for their first Stanley Cup as the Hawks continue their reputation of being the league’s modern-day dynasty. This is truly a big brother/little brother rivalry with one team uncomfortably admiring the other and one team giving the other little respect. Nevertheless, the hate is very much mutual.

The Hawks and Blues meet for the first time this year on Oct. 18 at Scottrade Center in St. Louis.

Penguins/Capitals

A rivalry with undeniable similarities to Chicago/St. Louis is between Pittsburgh and Washington. One team has reached the top of the NHL mountain multiple times while the other has yet to capture such glory.

Best NHL rivalries

Photo: NHL.com

This could be the most lop-sided of the rivalries discussed. The two teams have met in the playoffs 10 times. Pittsburgh has won nine of those meetings and has captured five Stanley Cups since the berth of the rivalry.

This would usually make a similar matchup unwatchable. However, the 2004 and 2005 drafts have made this matchup unquestionably entertaining.

The No. 1 overall pick by the Washington Capitals in 2004 was Alex Ovechkin. The 2005 No. 1 overall pick by the Pittsburgh Penguins was Sidney Crosby.

These two have been the faces of the league since the 2005-06 season putting their teams near the top of the standings each year since. Ovechkin and the Caps have won three Presidents Trophies as the No. 1 team in the regular season. Crosby and the Penguins have eliminated the Capitals three times en route to three Stanley Cups in the Crosby/Ovechkin era.

The Penguins lead the all-time regular season series against the Caps with 145 wins including a win in their first meeting of the year on Oct. 11. Washington has yet to reach a conference final since Ovechkin arrived in the nation’s capital. However, as long as they have the talent they possess to compete with Pittsburgh with the potential to win, this rivalry will never be unwatchable.

Today’s most heated Rivals

Historic rivalries will never die, but today, California is host to three teams who may hate each other more than any two teams do in the NHL.

This is unlike the big brother/little brother rivalries in that all three of these teams have had success. Three Stanley Cup championships are combined by each organization since 1993. This is like three big business rivals fighting each other to be the dominant force. Each of these teams are in the same division and meet regularly. The battle of California is heated and is home to extremely passionate fans from Los Angeles, Anaheim and San Jose.

Rivalries are important. Professional sports and all forms of competition need motives to put those involved in the right frame of mind. Mental toughness and a teams’ psyche is one of the biggest components in winning a hockey game. The teams that win it all are the ones that are mentally tough. Therefore, there is no room to like the opposition.

 

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Las Vegas

Las Vegas Golden Knights impact the city with more than just wins

The Las Vegas Golden Knights are the 31st team in the National Hockey League. Furthermore, their efforts in revitalizing the community have gone further than simply playing the sport.

Sports have the ability to unify a city which the Knights were planning to do as an expansion team. The organization has since become fuel for the city in the wake of the Vegas shooting.

Professional athletes always have a platform to partake in charitable contributions to society. They remind us that they are human and willing to help on and off the playing surface. Furthermore, it is difficult to not feel or have any emotion when players are active participants in helping their cities. Teams can help citizens feel good about where they live and where they come from. The Golden Knights are doing this in tremendous fashion.

Opening Night in Vegas

Tuesday, Oct. 10 was the Knights’ home opener at the T-Mobile Center. It was historic on all accounts. NHL hockey was alive in Las Vegas. The home team made history with their performance ending the night with a 5-2 win over Arizona. The victims of the shooting were remembered before, during and will in every game the Knights play this year.

Las Vegas Golden Knights

Photo: Sports Illustrated

It is respectful procedure to have a moment of silence before a sporting event in the aftermath of tragedy. However, to stand together in unity, the Knights made a more meaningful gesture in memoriam.

Each of the victims’ 58 names were lit up on the ice and the Vegas faithful stood in solidarity for 58 seconds. Then, Knights defenseman Deryk Engelland (a Las Vegas native) gave a heartwarming speech to the crowd informing them of his pride in calling Las Vegas home. A historic night at the T-Mobile Arena then ensued.

The Knights had already made history becoming the first expansion team to win their first two games prior to their home opener. Rally towels, insanely high crowd noise and the goal horn were all in effect on this night leading to their third win. Vegas put up four goals in the first period that electrified the crowd and me (the viewer) personally. Hockey along with the sporting world at large is dedicated to being a part of something bigger than the game itself. The Golden Knights are playing in honor of those victims who lost their lives in the tragic shooting which is an easy cause to get behind.

Knight In Shining Armor

James Neal was selected in this summer’s expansion draft from the Nashville Predators to be the Knights’ premier goal scorer. He has become just that and then some.

Las Vegas Golden Knights

Photo: Las Vegas Review-Journal.

In his first three games, Neal has scored five goals including the first game-winning goal in franchise history. The team has yet to name its captain, but he has already been named an alternate.

The 30-year-old veteran is still in his prime and has averaged over 20 goals throughout his career. Scoring the game-winner in the team’s first game against Dallas was one of the best feelings he’s had in hockey, he said according to USA Today. The team is creating chemistry by coming together as well as the fans knowing they are making history.

It’s a tricky situation potentially with this being a contract year for Neal. It isn’t if the Knights eventually fall into the expected cellar where they would trade him for a pile of assets at the deadline. However, if the club miraculously stays competitive throughout the year, they would face a tough decision. For now, they prevail onward in their historic inaugural season with their “knight in shining armor.”

Bigger than the game

Hard times and tragedy highlight what the sports platform is capable of in terms of unity.

In any case, the essence of sports at all times embraces the togetherness of its teams and fans. They evoke emotion and passion within those involved. Many relationships are formed and sustained through the teams that play in their cities.

Las Vegas is now home to an NHL franchise and will soon be home to an NFL franchise. For those who did not believe hockey would work, the organization received deposits for all 16,000 season tickets available for this season.

This town is deserving of pro sports with their economy and people within their economy already benefiting. Hockey is a powerful sport, and those who do not follow hockey are already seeing what the sport can do, thanks to the home opener on Oct. 10.

#VegasStrong

 

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power rankings

NHL week one review

We have completed one week of hockey. Three stories headline the past week that involve the league’s best teams. Connor McDavid increased his speed in the offseason (if that’s possible). The Toronto Maple Leafs and Chicago Blackhawks are really good. Alexander Ovechkin is a man among boys still on his team that dominates the regular season.

Referees have enforced the slashing a bit too much for my liking at times, but it was a great week. The Golden Knights won their first three games in franchise history, which no expansion team has ever done. We saw 235 goals scored. Jaromir Jagr signed with Calgary to prolong his illustrious career to a 24th season. This all took place in week one, but the excitement will continue to grow until early June.

There is always a chance something special could happen on any given night in the NHL. Keep your eyes open as this is only the beginning.

Well-Oiled Machine

NHL week one review

Photo: Matchsticks and Gasoline

Edmonton is off to a slow start, winning one of their first three, but no one is doubting where they will be at the end. Furthermore, if you haven’t seen Connor McDavid skate and possess the puck from end to end, you need to.

The 20-year-old league MVP has recorded four points in his first three games including a hat trick in game one.

Eight minutes into the third period of that game, McDavid took the puck from his own defensive circle. He then proceeded to skate past every player on the ice, posses the puck at full speed and put it past the net minder Smith- untouched.

The Oiler captain is impressive by his leadership on and off the ice. McDavid is always looking forward and knowing that tonight was great, but “we have a long way to go” (NHL.com). It is this mindset the third year superstar has that may prove the Oilers to be prominent contenders in the West this year.

Leafs/Hawks

Toronto and Chicago may have the two best offenses in the league. No club has registered more goals than these two.

You expect these numbers from teams like Chicago, but it’s nice to see a new face in the department. The Leafs scored 19 goals through their first three games and the Hawks notched 18. Both teams met Monday night in a thrilling game between two of the league’s current top tier hockey clubs. Will we see these two link up in late May and early June?

NHL week one review

Photo: SB Nation

The game started out with the Blackhawks jumping out to a 2-0 lead. Toronto would tie it in the third, fall behind 3-2, then tie it on the power play with under five minutes to play.

It headed to overtime where Auston Matthews would net one of the most gorgeous wrist shots you will see as the Leafs took the game 4-3 in overtime. A battle like this can be very telling even at this early stage of a season.

Teams are trying to put points in the bank right now and set themselves up to in good position in the second half. Two points in October is worth the same as two points in March.

The games played to start the year are played with such high energy. This one between the Hawks and Leafs definitely set the precedent of what we hope to see more of as this season progresses.

Alexander is still the great

So, Alexander Ovechkin recorded seven goals in his first two games. He became the first player to do so since the NHL’s inaugural season (1917-18). Alex attributes his two hat tricks to his sister-in-law because “every time she’s in town, like I score a hat trick,” he said (ESPN). His theory proved possible as he was held scoreless Monday night as his sister-in-law traveled back home. Ovy was said to have a down year last season after his 33-goal output which is amazing in itself.

NHL week one review

Photo: ESPN

The three-time MVP has never scored less than 32 goals (even in a shortened season) and has scored 50 or more in seven seasons. His speed is still there and his shot is obviously still there at the age of 32. No one doubts his ability to score and put up points. It is his ability to lead his team to victory and take the next step in his 13th season that is questioned.

The Washington Capitals have finished atop the league standings in each of the past two seasons, but have lost to Pittsburgh in the second round both years. The franchise has yet to reach a conference final in the Ovechkin era.

Therefore, each successful regular season will not be held in high regard until we witness the Capitals take the next step. Alex Ovechkin will still be looked at among the NHL’s elite, but like many of his counterparts, you are judged by wins, losses and championships at the end of the day.

Week one

I did not care for a few of the calls made this past week as I discussed earlier. However, the entertainment value did not diminish in the slightest.

This subtle protection package we have now may be somewhat of a blessing in disguise. There was an exceptional amount of offense this week, which is what we wish to see in all sports. We want to see more homers, touchdowns and goals. It would be very difficult to lessen the excitement of NHL hockey. Week one was a success, can’t wait for the next 35.

Good news is, we don’t have to wait..

 

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An Opening Night To Commemorate

October fourth was opening night of the 2017-18 regular season. Fans are in for another wild ride as no rule enforcement can diminish the hype of NHL hockey (as expected).

Four games were on the docket to start the year. The Toronto Maple Leafs exhibited their potential of being not just young talented upstarts, but a problem in the East. The Edmonton Oilers started their narrative in being among the elite in the West. St. Louis displayed their ability to send pucks to the back of the net with regularity despite their current roster subtractions. Then we further understood Wayne Simmonds’s case as one of the top tier power forwards in the league at the end of the night.

“I hope the rest of the season is as entertaining as it is tonight” said NBCSN color commentator Mike Milbury during last night’s game between St. Louis and Pittsburgh. The first of 82 games for four of 31 teams took place this past Wednesday. League policy issues and corruption is not at all a topic of discussion. Hockey fans are here to enjoy the start of this year’s grind solely. Let the shear passion and insanity commence.

Maple Leafs @ Jets

The lethal youth of the Toronto Maple Leafs surged them into postseason play this past spring. They took the President’s Trophy winning Capitals to six games. Management noted they must add depth and veteran leadership this offseason to take the next step. The Leafs told the rest of the league we’re done with being in rebuild mode in game #1.

opening night

Patrick Marleau nets two in his debut with his new team. Auston Matthews starts his sophomore season off right adding another in the Leafs’s dominant 7-2 win on opening night. Photo Courtesy of Sporting News

Patrick Marleau (38) was among the biggest acquisitions for Toronto in free agency this summer. There was curiosity about whether or not he deserved his 6 million+ average annual salary after his 46-point season last year. Opening night proved he could serve has a much valued find for the Leafs. Marleau scored his 509th and 510th goals of his career helping his new team capture their first two points of the season.

Toronto netted seven goals against the Jets to begin their year. They have solid goaltending in Frederik Anderson, high-octane offense led by their youth and the ability to roll four lines and compete with the league’s best. There is much to like about this new and improved Toronto Maple Leaf squad.

Oilers vs. Flames

The battle of Alberta began the season for the Oilers and Flames in Edmonton. Connor McDavid recorded a hat trick and Cam Talbot recorded a 26-save shutout in a 3-0 win over Calgary.

opening night

The league MVP and Oiler captain found the net and stat sheet 3 times on opening night in Alberta. Not a bad guy to have leading your team. Photo Courtesy of TSN

The rest of the West is taking serious notice to the players in Oil country. They possess the league MVP, four lines with offensive production, sound defense and a top 10 goaltender. All of these parts have Edmonton as a serious contender in the West. I would not want to see them come mid April as McDavid expressed that “it feels good, but we have a long way to go.”

These first two games between the four Canadian teams did not have a great deal of intensity. However, it was a phenomenal showcase of one team near the top of the league and one on its way.

Blues @ Penguins

The reigning Stanley Cup Champion Penguins opened up their season at home against St. Louis. Entertainment value, intensity and a roller coaster of emotion were all in play in this battle.

opening night

The captain of the St. Louis Blues Alex Pietrangelo led by example scoring the game winner in game 1 for the Blues capturing their first two points of the season. Photo Courtesy of the Telegraph

Penguins broke the ice first. St. Louis would then take control up two in the 3rd. Pittsburgh then tied the game with two goals in under a minute and the game moved to overtime. Alex Pietrangelo (Blues captain) iced the game with his 2nd of the night 1:15 into overtime.

This was a clash of two great teams that play similar styles, but at different paces. Each of these teams want to play that up tempo offense with two-way defensemen. Pittsburgh has the edge at the moment with more superstar talent as they are able to take full advantage of their opposition’s mistakes. The Blues have talent and depth, it just comes in less waves at the moment. They were able to be opportunistic and survive the fury of the Penguins late.

Shots were 34-33 in favor of the Blues and their ability to match Pittsburgh shot for shot with their somewhat diminished roster is something to note. St. Louis went toe-to-toe with the defending champs on the road without the likes of Fabbri, Steen, Berglund and Bouwmeester. This a game in which two top tier teams battled and went right down to the wire. Who knows where these two will end up at the end of the regular season and into the playoffs?

Flyers @ Sharks

The final game of the evening took place in the Bay Area as the Sharks hosted the Flyers. A high scoring affair ensued as Philly defeated San Jose 5-3.

Wayne Simmonds started the year off with a bang recording a hat trick, two goals on the power play including the game winner at 9:27 of the 3rd period. The Flyers do need Simmonds to be that elite power forward to get back into postseason along with solid goaltending. It has been a long time since Philadelphia was with a true #1. They may be on their way with Brian Elliott as he stopped 32 of the 35 shots he faced receiving the game’s 2nd star.

opening night

Simmonds ices the game with an empty netter completing the hat trick and the first win of the ’17-18 season for the Flyers. Photo Courtesy of NHL.com

I have said hockey is back numerous times, but I’ll say it again. Hockey is back.

 

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puck ready drop

The Puck Is Ready To Drop

It has been a dreadfully long offseason. I have not seen a puck dropped at center ice or one hit the back of the net in months. Teams have begun submitting their opening night rosters, which officially declares hockey is back.

There are storylines across the board to start. Players 21 and younger that have made their teams out of training camp are hungry to prove their worth. Some have accomplished this feat coming into the year and looking to build on last season and others are ready to get their feet wet for the first time.

All fans must be alert as opening night is just one day away.

Jake Guentzel

The Pittsburgh Penguins may have found a diamond in the rough midway through last year. Jake Guentzel tallied 16 goals and 17 assists in just 40 games last season. The rookie was the team’s leading goal scorer in the playoffs on their way to capturing their fifth Stanley Cup.

puck ready drop

Photo: Omaha World-Herald

Guentzel will be heading into his first full season with the team. The 23-year-old is setup to have a monstrous season being in what most would agree a very comfortable situation.

The Pens have a top-two forward in Sidney Crosby. They have one of the most dynamic goal scorers in Evgeni Malkin and a pure sniper in Phil Kessel.

The beauty in all of this is that head coach Mike Sullivan spreads the wealth around. Pittsburgh’s power play is the only time you will see these three together.

The reality is that Jake Guentzel is playing with one of the best in Crosby and some of the best players in the National Hockey League in many different circumstances.

I expect to see a huge breakout season for the young up and coming star. Reality may sink in and tell us otherwise. However, the excitement is definitely there as Guentzel prepares for opening night against St. Louis.

Tage Thompson

A 19-year-old American-born hockey player was drafted by the St. Louis Blues in the first round of the 2016 NHL Draft. He stands at 6-foot-5 and notched 64 points in 70 career collegiate games awaiting his first NHL game this week.

puck ready drop

Photo: Twitter

After totaling one goal and three assists this preseason, the rookie is ready to go according to his head coach Mike Yeo. His name: Tage Thompson.

The rookie has made the Blues roster out of training camp and is set to play against Guentzel on Wednesday. There is hope for this potential star as he has been given this opportunity right away due to St. Louis’ early injuries.

He will start play on the third line with not exactly household names of Magnus Paajarvi and Oskar Sundqvist (former Penguin). However, you may see him at the point on the Blues’ power play with his cannon of a shot. Nevertheless, he must be relentless in creating offense himself this season.

Pressure often fuels rookies, but you never how they will respond. Thompson is being asked to not only contribute in this position, but hopefully be a focal point in the team’s success.

Production needs to come from the bottom six within St. Louis’ lineup for them to be successful. They are a team still looking for their first championship and are relying heavily on their youth. The Blues head to Pittsburgh for opening night on Wednesday, October 4th.

There is no more waiting

Hockey is back, which is the greatest line anyone could say right now. Many believe that baseball is the longest season because of its 162 games. However, hockey goes nine-plus months vs. baseball’s six-plus months.

puck ready drop

Photo: CBC

We need a break from the grind, but the break is excruciating for those who do not play in the final. That is now 29 of the 31 teams in this league.

If you do not play beyond the first and second rounds of the postseason or don’t even the playoffs at all, you are beyond ready. April 9 (last day of ’16-17 season) was almost 200 days ago, which was the last time close to half of NHL cities witnessed their teams playing competitive hockey. It is time.

Let’s drop the puck.

 

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