The NHL needs to take a page out of the NBA’s playbook and create some buzz during the offseason. There is no one talking about the NHL. Other than a few small signings, roster movement is dead. Thankfully, there were a few headlines that people were talking about this week. You can look forward to a personal story, a new alternate jersey, and a surprisingly long take about a player’s need for a dictionary. Enjoy!
1. My Latest Acquisition
On Saturday, I was at the shopping at Twelve Oaks Mall in Novi, MI, doing my usual, popping into the same 11 stores and not buying anything. Then I went into this store called Gameday Detroit. It’s your typical sports apparel store that sells authentic team clothing, autographs, and other overpriced, miscellaneous items of the local teams. Then, I saw a Justin Abdelkader t-shirt jersey. I’ve been wanting an Abdelkader t-shirt jersey for a while now because he’s secretly my favorite player on the team. For those of you who are still reading after that last sentence, it’s for a few sentimental reasons. The first is that he went to Michigan State (Go Green!) and scored the game-winning goal to help MSU win the 2008 National Championship (the first college hockey game I watched on TV). He also wears my favorite number for my favorite team (#8 for the Detroit Red Wings). He is the only notable alumni of my dad’s high school, Mona Shores in Muskegon, MI. The last reason is that my girlfriend has an Abdelkader jersey, so I wanted to match. For all of those reasons, he’s my favorite player.
I knew I had to pull the trigger on the shirt now because the longer I wait to buy one, the uglier his contract looks, and I want to get some use out of this shirt. I have three other Red Wings t-shirt jerseys, all of which are no longer on the team, Nicklas Lidstrom, Gustav Nyquist, and Petr Mrazek, so it was easy to talk myself into buying another one. The coolest part is that it has the “A” on the chest, which most t-shirt jerseys don’t have. I’m hoping Abdelkader can resurrect his career this season so people don’t jeer me when I go to a game in Detroit.
2. Ekblad’s Need for a Dictionary
I was reading a bunch of articles the other day when I stumbled across one from The Athletic. The article was a Q&A with Panthers defenseman Aaron Ekblad, asking him questions about his career and the Panthers’ offseason. It was a good read. There was one thing that caught my eye: author George Richards said the following to Ekblad during the interview,
“There’s no question there are big expectations on this team right now.”
In which Ekblad responded:
“Maybe in the past people overlooked us, but right now, I would say we go into this year as the team to beat. With the players, we’ve brought in and the core we have established, I mean, if we don’t, you know things are going to go sideways pretty quick. We have to realize and know if we want to stay together, we have to win.”
Those are three very powerful sentences. The second two are fine. The Panthers did have a great offseason and have some lofty expectations after brining in Joel Quenneville as Head Coach and Sergei Bobrovsky to mind the net. It’s the second half of the first sentence that’s troubling. “I would say we go into this year as the team to beat.”
Maybe I’m crazy, but I’m pretty sure the powers in the East aren’t looking at the Panthers and saying, “Man, we want to beat Florida if we’re going to prove ourselves this season.” The Panthers haven’t won anything yet. They might be a team that people are curious about, but they are not the measuring stick. If they had acquired two megastars like P.K. Subban and Phil Kessel, in addition to what they already did, then maybe they would be the team to beat. But this isn’t the NBA, it’s almost impossible for a franchise to change their fortunes with guys they acquired in one summer. You have to already have the core pieces in place to win hockey games.
Look at the Maple Leafs. You could have argued that they were the team to beat after acquiring John Tavares last summer. The keyword is argued. They already had a roster with Morgan Reilly, Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, and William Nylander. The Panthers have talent, but far less than the Leafs had last year before signing Tavares.
I love to see that Ekblad is trying to charge his team up for the season, but let’s not forget about the other team in Florida that’s looking for every reason to blow the doors off of them in their first meeting. The Panthers are at BEST a fifth-seed in the East right now, behind Toronto, Tampa Bay, Boston, and Washington. Carolina, New Jersey, and the Islanders will be gunning for that fifth spot too. Ekblad and the Panthers are going to have to come out swinging if they’re going to live up to his comments. I’m sure they won’t be able to.
3. Buffalo’s Golden Jerseys
Last week, the Buffalo Sabres unveiled their newest alternate jerseys which will commemorate the 50th anniversary of the franchise. Basically, they changed the yellow to gold and added some stripes. That’s all they did.
Aesthetically (I spelled that right on the first try), the jerseys are solid. Sometimes less is more and I think the Sabres did a nice job with these. I wouldn’t buy one, but I don’t think fans in Buffalo will have any issues emptying their bank accounts for them. Because let’s be real, there isn’t that much to celebrate up in Buffalo. Hopefully, the Sabres will win a few games in these sweaters and can provide some good memories for the fans driving home through the snow with their four-wheel drive.
4. Nichushkin Signs with Colorado
Former first-round pick Valeri Nichushkin has signed a one-year deal with the Avalanche for $850,000. Nichushkin was picked 10th overall by the Dallas Stars in the 2013 draft. After spending three seasons between Dallas and their AHL affiliate, the Texas Stars, Nichushkin opted to go back to his native Russia. After a two-year stint in the KHL, he returned to Dallas last season and played in 57 games scoring 10 points.
Nichushkin has had a rather disappointing career for a first-round pick, scoring only 0.33 points per game. His KHL numbers are much better, having averaged 0.55 points per game with Traktor Chelyabinsk and CSKA Moskva. Still, there is no risk for the Avalanche with this deal. If Nichushkin doesn’t work out, then they have only committed the minimum to him. If he provides anything more than the 10 assists in 57 games he put up last year, this is a win for Colorado. The Avalanche still have to sign superstar Mikko Rantanen, and signing Nichushkin gives a bit more breathing room if they have to overpay him.
5. Season Preview: Anaheim Ducks
The Ducks are not going to be very good. Not very good is a compliment to the team they are going to put on the ice this season. They will be without franchise mainstay Corey Perry as he was bought out this summer and signed with Dallas. They will also be without seasoned veteran Ryan Kesler, who will miss the entire season with hip surgery. But, let’s focus on the positives, they will still have captain, Ryan Getzlaf, who is still capable of putting up points. They will also have a few young forwards to watch, like Troy Terry and Daniel Sprong.
On defense, Cam Fowler is still providing some stability on the blue line. The team did add Michael Del Zotto, which should help a bit. Their strength is in net. John Gibson is one of the best goalies in the league and had a tremendous season last year, finishing with a 2.84 GAA and a .917 sv%, which is fantastic considering the Ducks were terrible.
If there is anything to look forward to in Anaheim this season, it’s that Gibson continues to prove he’s a top-tier goalie and their young players show they’re on the right track in their development. If either of those things goes south, all the Ducks can do is wait out their awful contracts and hope they nab a franchise-changing pick. That’s not a lot to look forward to. ■
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.