Welcome to the first installment of Blake’s Takes, where each Monday I’ll write about what stood out to me from the previous week in the NHL. It could be anything, from a coach saying something he shouldn’t have in a press conference, to an accomplishment worth celebrating.
1. “They are what we thought they were.”
To quote the late Dennis Green, many of the teams that we thought would be great this year have done nothing but back up the hype. Teams like the Toronto Maple Leafs and Boston Bruins look like everything we thought they would be. Auston Matthews has been the league’s most impressive player thus far, with the help of his new hometown teammate, John Tavares. The Bruins first line of Brad Marchand, David Pastrnak, and Patrice Bergeron are an offensive force that few teams know how to stop.
Let’s not forget about a few select players that are playing up to and above expectations. Guys like Nathan MacKinnon, Tyler Seguin, and John Gibson are proving that they are superstars in this league.
2. Two Rookies to Watch
Everyone’s eyes have no doubt been on Buffalo Sabres’ phenom and first-overall pick Rasmus Dahlin. But a few other rookies have put up solid numbers through the first few games of the season. Sure, it could just be a lucky streak, but here are a two of the league’s newcomers you should pay extra attention to for the remainder of the season.
Elias Pettersson, Vancouver Canucks: I’m sure this pick wasn’t much of a surprise, as Pettersson has been in the news quite a bit recently, considering he scored in his debut and was the victim of a nasty hit by Florida’s Mike Matheson. He leads all rookies with eight points in five games, including five goals. Unfortunately, he will be out of the lineup for a bit while he recovers from injury, but make sure you pay close attention when he rejoins the Canucks.
Dennis Cholowski, Detroit Red Wings: Call me biased as a Red Wings fan, but Cholowski has stepped right into the lineup for Detroit. Considering the Wings have been, at times, down their four top four blue-liners this year, just being able to skate would be enough for them. But Cholowski has impressed in his first few games with the Wings and is tied for fifth among rookies in points. Look for him to learn from his mistakes as he skates major minutes this season.
3. The Winter Classic…in South Bend?
Brace yourself for a scorcher of a take. When the league first played the Winter Classic in 2008, I thought it was something cool. I had never seen an NHL game outside before and I have since enjoyed the annual novelty. I believe the Winter Classic is a great way to highlight the hockey community of the host team and it is something that gets the fans excited. That being said, the league has gone overboard with outdoor games over the last few years, with the Winter Classic, the Heritage Classic and up to four Stadium Series games each season.
But the Winter Classic isn’t just something you can do wherever. It is something that only strong markets can get the most out of to host a successful event. That brings me to this year’s Winter Classic, which will be held on January 1, 2019, between the Chicago Blackhawks and the Boston Bruins. To play it at Notre Dame Stadium is an absolute joke. To state the obvious, Notre Dame is located in South Bend, Indiana, which is approximately 100 miles from the United Center where the Chicago Blackhawks, the closest NHL team, plays. I think it’s ridiculous to play a game that far out of market.
On a positive note, the matchup is about the only thing the league did right with the 2019 Winter Classic. Chicago is a great hockey market and has fans that will make the trip to South Bend. Also, there are many ND alums living in Chicago, which is a plus. Not to mention, Chicago successfully hosted the 2009 Winter Classic and has the fanbase to support this one, too. The Bruins are a great choice as an opponent in a game that should attract the casual fan.
Really, though, why are they playing the game in SOUTH BEND? The event is clearly just a cash grab, between the additional ticket sales (over 77,000 seats at Notre Dame Stadium), to limited-edition jerseys that the team will never wear again (though they are usually pretty sweet). This just proves that league will do anything just to make a few extra bucks.
4. Ben Street Scores!
I couldn’t write this column without giving a special shout-out to Anaheim Ducks winger Ben Street. Street is a 31-year-old forward that scored his first goal in the NHL this season. After 428 AHL games and a less than a half season of total NHL experience, Street was able to finally get his first goal in the Show. I was able to watch him play during the Grand Rapids Griffins Calder Cup run during the 2016-17 season. Congrats to him!
5. Connor McDavid takes lesson from NBA
If there is anything the NBA is better at than any other league, it is that its star players know how to leverage media attention to issues of their choice. When their stars talk, people listen. The NHL has no bigger star than Connor McDavid, who was recently quoted saying that, “You’d be stupid not to at least look into it.,” in regards to the league allowing players to use marijuana or other CBD-based products to aid in medical treatment. As marijuana is now legal in Canada, and a handful of U.S. states, the argument to allow players to use it in the NHL has picked up steam. And if there is any way for players are going to get what they want, it is to use their star power in the media. That all starts with McDavid. ■
Blake Isaacs is a die-hard Red Wings fan that doesn’t go to as many games as he should. He is also a big fan of 7-Eleven Slurpeees, Chipotle, and all things Michigan State. Follow him on Twitter @bisaacs1995.