Training camp is in full swing, and that means that the proper business of hockey is underway, so a review of some of the news around the league is in order. In this week’s go-round, the Flames get the roster down to a more reasonable configuration, the Jets have a noisy start to their exhibition campaign, and Brendan Shanahan has a full plate three nights in to the pre-season.
The club sent away the likely suspects this afternoon as they culled the herd in advance of this weekend’s tilts versus the Oil. I wouldn’t have minded seeing Patrick Holland one more time, but beyond that, there wasn’t anything remotely surprising, particularly given the over-stuffed nature of the Flames’ forward corps. There’s hardly even enough pre-season time for the actual players, let alone any fringe types.
One youngster is still in the mix for the moment, of course, since Sven Baertschi will get at least one more skate with the big kids this weekend. That seems about right as well, based on the bits and pieces I’ve seen over the last week.
The young man has the feel of a player that knows what he’s doing at the offensive end. He’s not quite the finished article on the bad side of centre ice, but if he was he wouldn’t have gone 13th, so there’s no real worry there. If the club was short a few bodies he might even get nine games in, but barring a spate of injuries he’s headed back to Oregon for the fall. Next season might be his time, though, with the Flames having potential for a few open spots as they shed contracts.
Last night’s pair of games had one unfortunate occurence mar proceedings, as Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond ran Matt Clackson into the side boards late in the third. PL3 has a hearing scheduled with the new czar tomorrow morning, and I’ll confess that the efficacy of employing players like him or Ivanans makes no more sense to me than it ever has. They prevent nothing, fix nothing, and as I’ve been prone to note, they never play when the games mean the most. I’d rather see Paul Byron or Lance Bouma on the roster than either of those gents, since they hold the promise of athletic competence.
The Flames play the evil-doers from the north end of Highway 2 this weekend, and Edmonton began trimming things as well today by sending a few juniors back to their clubs. That group of cuts didn’t include the Nuge, of course. I suspect he has a very good chance of getting his nine games in at the minimum, and I wouldn’t be shocked if he stuck.
That said, unless the Oil are under the impression that they’re ready to win this year, he could likely use one more year of physical maturity and one more season to beef up his EV play. In comparison, Taylor Hall was a much more robust specimen last fall, and the scenario that Gilbert Brule endured in Columbus should be a warning for any team thinking about keeping a smallish 18 year old around on spec. Kid’s smart, though, and unlike Brule he didn’t partially rely on being a physical force in the Dub, so he’s used to surviving on guile.
That sense of restraint regarding 18 year olds should be employed by the Winnipegs as well, although the pressure to keep a player that lights up the scoresheet in pre-season will always be great, especially for a team that might start the season a bit short on scoring. Mark Scheifele had himself a very nice night in his opener, and although his first step still seems a bit deficient at times, the vision and hands were in full effect against Columbus’ scrubs.
I was in attendance at a very loud MTS Centre last night, and I have a few other observations from the Jets’ pasting of the Blue Jackets’ C team. First, I completely understand why Zach Bogosian frustrated Thrasher fans. He’s talented as all get out, but his decision making is sub-standard. He lingered in possession a few times last night and made a couple of shaky reads at the offensive blueline that lead to Columbus odd-man rushes.
That said, it seems to me that he’s unschooled as much as anything. A player with his obvious ability often gets away with playing a bit recklessly as a junior, and that’s fine as far as it goes. At the pro level, defencemen need to learn safety first, and then with a bit of seasoning they can learn when to make an extra move with the puck or pinch to keep a cycle going. Atlanta always seemed like a poorly organized outfit, so it’s possible that better coaching can still help Bogosian’s cause. I’ve mentioned this before, but Charlie Huddy might end the season as Winnipeg’s best acquisition of the summer if he can help Bogosian pair his tools with a bit more tactical nous.
Another bit of business that jumped out at me, and this might seem odd given his reputation as a careless player, was that Dustin Byfuglien might have a lot less of the crazy in him than people think. I watched Atlanta play about 20 games last season, and the one thing that struck me was his general aura of calm when he had the puck. It’s certainly within the realm of possibility that he was simply lit out of his gourd on those nights, of course, but innocent until proven guilty and all that.
Jokes aside, last night was no different, and with the quality of opposition duly noted, he appeared quite calculating in his forays up ice. He was the best Thrasher defenceman at limiting shots against last season, and it wasn’t just because he was in the other team’s end by accident. He’s quite a bit better than one might expect at turning pucks over in his own end and starting transition, and his decision making was sound at both ends of the rink.
As I mentioned up top, Brendan Shanahan has a bit of work in front of him over the next few days. Beyond the Leblanc hearing, he’s almost certain to have a chat with Jody Shelley after a late, silly hit on Darryl Boyce:
Dumbass. There were a few other gents acting up this evening as well, as Mattias Olund, Dan Cleary and Mikkel Boedker all received majors for varying acts of stupidity, so the new lord of discipline isn’t getting a chance to ease into things.
In recovery news, it sounds like hockey’s best player is making progress. Sid Crosby is still in limbo, obviously, but he’s skating rather than just sitting in a dark room, so the news holds some promise of better things. Marc Staal is skating as well, even though he’s still suffering the after-effects from tangling with his older brother. The Rangers’ top D finished out the 10/11 season, which does make one at least slightly suspicious about his care after the injury.
As a reaction to one of last season’s most frightening plays, the Bell Centre has become the first NHL rink to incorporate the new acrylic glass system and the curved pieces of plastic that replace the stanchions in the vicinity of the player’s benches. The tempered glass that was in place in several arenas last season, including Calgary, will be gone league wide by the start of the year, and the curved stanchion replacements will be in place soon after. As I’ve mentioned before, the only losers in this scenario are Zdeno Chara and the Montreal police, and I hope they’ll be able to overcome the hardship.
The Dallas Stars went through their planned bankruptcy as scheduled, and rumblings of others aside, Tom Galiardi might end up being the one legitimate suitor for the club. The Stars’ history suggests that it should only require interested ownership to make a go of things, but my sense is that there’s only so long a non-traditional market can be taken for granted before the locals tune out, so it would be behoove all parties to get their affairs in order fairly soon.
All quiet down in the desert, as the City of Glendale continues its search for someone, anyone, to take on the Coyotes. The city council has gone about business in a much more restrained manner as of late, which is likely a good thing. The fashion that infamous council meeting last spring was conducted would have chagrined any sensible person, and although those types of folks seem in short supply in the CoG, maybe they’re finally learning to keep schtum about matters until they’re actually settled.
In the interests of fairness, it is possible that I’m being a bit hard on the good burghers of Glendale. The Coyotes have only been wandering aimlessly in the desert for 15 years, and although it’s not exactly a record to be aiming for, they do remain roughly a quarter-century shy of matching the historical standard-bearer.
That’s all for this week.