* ZDENO CHARA has made one thing abundantly clear with his decision to sign with Washington -- despite his age, The Long One believes he still has plenty of good hockey in his long legs. No player we've ever met has been more diligent about his conditioning. There's no way Big Z would have considered a comeback if the zeal to win had disappeared. No doubt, Chara will take a regular turn on the third D-unit and work the penalty kill as well. The Caps gain is the Bruins loss, especially in the leadership realm. But, then again, the B's knew that their captain might retire -- or even defect, as he did -- so the Beantowners can be expected to adjust minus their blue line hero of yesteryear.
* THE BLACKHAWKS could use a break and we don't mean the medical version either. News that Jonathan Toews will be indefinitely sidelined as well as Kirby Dach and Andrew Shaw will turn a shortened season into a major challenge for coach Jeremy Collition -- not to mention veteran leaders such as Patrick Kane. The hope, of course, is that the Captain's absence will be relatively short in a year where his leadership is needed for the rebuilding franchise.
* RYAN CALLAHAN'S retirement announcement has been greeted with a ton of testimonials of admiration for Cally as a role model for an aspiring hockey player, male or female. No question but that Ryan was a throwback to an earlier era. His dauntless play, game in and game out, was a hallmark of his game; not to mention smarts and unquestioned leadership qualities. Honest to a fault, Ryan was a dream interview for any media member.
Vladimir Tarasenko's interview with a Russian reporter raised some eyebrows when he bemoaned the fact he was not given the St. Louis captaincy. While Ryan O'Reilly got the C-nod, the fact is that Tarasenko's much longer tenure with the Blues was worthy of consideration. Vlad's public dismay reminds us of the time the Canadiens gave the captaincy to Jean Beliveau -- rather than Bernie Geoffrion -- after Maurice Richard retired. Boom Boom was a lot more vociferous but returned to play solid hockey for the Habs. We expect the same from Vladdy.
The turning point for Zdeno Chara when it came to rejecting the Bruins was word from Beantown management that he'd no longer be taking a regular turn on the blue line. The Big Guy will get big minutes in Washington.
With the NHL opting for a pair of outdoor games at Lake Tahoe, some Easterners are wondering, "Can Central Park be next?"
Mathew Barzal arrived on Long Island and went into quarantine. Meanwhile, no new deal has been -- at least officially -- announced by the high command. (Leaks are unheard of with a Lou Lamoriello regime.)
Randy Sexton, who dates back to the original Ottawa NHL franchise, has hooked on with the Wild general staff.
The postseason seems distant at this point but Steve Simmons (Toronto Sun) says: “A lot of people I know aren’t picking the Winnipeg Jets to make the playoffs. I’m the opposite. The Jets have the best goalie in Canada and the best group of forwards.” We have to agree. Patrik Laine is poised to have “one of the best years” for the Jets according to G.M. Kevin Cheveldayoff.
UNPRECEDENTED TRAINING CAMPS UNDERWAY
With the calendar turning over and the new season less than two weeks away, the 31 NHL squads are getting back on the ice for training camp. TFR’s Alan Greenberg reports.
This year training camps will be like no other, given COVID-19 precautions and the NHL’s comprehensive protocol. There will be fewer players, camp will be shorter in duration and there are no pre-season games. Workouts will be in smaller groups, locker rooms will accommodate fewer players and in cases of teams choosing to train at their home arena rather than their regular training facility, there will be but one ice surface to utilize.
In a southern market, such as South Florida where it is warm outside, unique modifications are possible. Panthers’ g.m. Bill Zito recently explained some of his team’s innovations.
“We are distancing anybody and everybody as much as we can – being as prudent as we can with our spacing - pursuing some pretty novel concepts. In fact our weight room will be outdoors which is kind of neat and I think the players will enjoy that.”
He went on to explain that meals and meetings will also be outside to the extent possible. Multiple locker rooms will be used to allow distancing.
The training camp rosters of most teams are limited to those most likely to make the team or taxi squad and just a few additional hopefuls.
On the other side of Florida, Tampa Bay g.m. Julien BrisBois expressed his feelings of how this year’s training camp will be different.
“Usually the camps are longer. There are more players around…This is way more similar to the tail end of a camp, from day one. Right away it’s about getting ready for that opening night.”
To the NHL and NHLPA’s credit, there is a comprehensive protocol in place which will hopefully make the regular season as safe and enjoyable as the Stanley Cup Playoffs had been, notwithstanding the lack of fans in most arenas.
This should be one of the most interesting seasons ever.
EXPECTATIONS AND QUESTIONS OF CANADIAN DIVISION
Michael Traikos of the National Post echoes questions of our own as he previews the upcoming NHL season.
It has a fantasy league feel to it, like something you might find in the alternative universe of a video game.
Well, welcome to the 2021 NHL season, where you almost have to suspend belief in order to accept just how different the league will look this year.
This is going to be an odd-looking season. Think old pictures of Wayne Gretzky in a St. Louis Blues uniform look weird? What do you think it will look like to see Chara in a Capitals jersey or Thornton decked out in blue-and-white?
Similarly, it’s going to be strange not to see Henrik Lundqvist, who is out for the year with a heart condition, or Jonathan Toews, who is out indefinitely because of a mysterious ailment. With COVID-19 hovering like a dark cloud over everyone’s health, we could be in for some strange and significant losses.
But the strangest part of what lies ahead will most likely involve the 56-game schedule.
We might now be getting used to seeing games played in empty — or near-empty arenas. We’re also used to seeing a shortened season, thanks to the 2012-13 lockout that shrunk the schedule to only 48 games. But this year’s divisional alignment is unlike anything we’ve ever seen before.
Due to COVID-19, Canadian and American teams won’t mix. That means that Calgary, Edmonton Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Vancouver and Winnipeg will play each other exclusively in a North Division. The good news is that we’ll get 10 games of the Battle of Alberta and of Patrik Laine versus Auston Matthews.
But we won’t see Sidney Crosby against Connor McDavid or Drew Doughty renewing his rivalry with Matthew Tkachuk. We won’t see the defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning. Or last year’s finalist or semifinalists.
It’s one thing for Toronto to beat up on the other Canadian teams. It’s another to assert your will against Boston or Columbus. We know Calgary can beat Winnipeg. But do they now have the goaltending needed to beat Dallas? Has Edmonton learned how to hang with a veteran team like Chicago? We won’t know until the playoffs arrive.
Then again, good luck handicapping which four of the seven Canadian teams will qualify for the playoffs. With the exception of Ottawa, you can make arguments for and against all of them.
With only 56 games, expect the unexpected. And, while you’re doing so, be prepared to suspend belief.
This season promises to be unlike any we’ve seen before.
JARED SPURGEON TO WEAR THE ‘C’ IN MINNESOTA
Jared Spurgeon will take over Mikku Koivu’s former role as captain of the Minnesota Wild. In this excerpt, The Athletic’s Michael Russo delved deeper into the decision to award Spurgeon with the C.
Jared Spurgeon prepared his children for Wild G.M. Bill Guerin’s visit by explaining that Daddy’s boss was coming over. And that would explain the sidesplitting, “unique answer” Spurgeon’s 6-year-old daughter, Colbie, gave when Guerin tried to lighten the mood by asking Spurgeon’s kids if they could guess why he was in their home.
“She asked if he was firing me,” Spurgeon said, laughing. “It eased the tension a little bit right away.”
“I loved it,” Guerin, the Wild’s second-year general manager, said 18 hours later. “It was just such an honest question. It was great.”
No, Guerin wasn’t there to trade Spurgeon in front of his children. That would have been a harsh plot twist to the real reason he was sitting in the Spurgeon’s living room.
Instead, Guerin and Evason were there to present the Wild’s longest-tenured player with the team’s captaincy.
“It was a family affair,” Guerin said Sunday a few hours after officially presenting Spurgeon with the “C” in front of his teammates. “We just thought (coming to his house) would be a nice touch. We had a chance to sit down and discuss all the responsibilities and some of the things that we’d like to see different. I think in naming a new captain, especially somebody that’s been here for a long time, it’s important to have an open line of communication and to let Jared know the direction we want to go in. He’s going to have a voice.”
Guerin opted for Spurgeon, the smooth-skating, respected, intelligent, precision-like pro and the first player he committed to as GM with a brand new seven-year contract extension in September 2019. Remember, conversely, Guerin nearly traded Parise to the New York Islanders last February and could revisit that again.
Guerin not only was sold on Spurgeon’s impressive and unorthodox journey to the NHL — an unsigned late-round draft pick by the Islanders, a junior free-agent signing by the Wild and now an 11-year pro, consistent top-four defenseman who’s armed with the richest average salary ($7.575 million) in Wild history with a contract that takes him through 2026-27 — but also has been swayed by Spurgeon’s character.
“From the day I got this job, Spurge is the guy that I heard all about,” Guerin said. “He’s the guy that people in this organization gravitate towards. They love him. I had to see for myself and get to know him. … I knew him as a player, and I thought the world of him as a player. You just love the way he plays, but then when you sit down with him and you meet him and you start figuring out how he carries himself, more about him as a person, he really is the complete package.
“One of the things that I really do love about him is humility. He’s a humble guy. Him and his wife treat everybody like they’re the same, and I think that’s a great quality in a person, and it’s infectious. So was it Day 1? No, but it was soon after that that we kept thinking that this could be the next guy (after Koivu).”
Spurgeon, 31, ranks first among Wild defensemen with 82 goals, 29 power-play goals and 15 game-winning goals. He’s second among the franchise’s blueliners with 653 games, 198 assists, 280 points, a plus-50 rating, 93 power-play points, 1,056 shots and 14,610 minutes. He’s the franchise leader with 1,097 blocked shots.