It’s so easy to fire off hot takes when the season is rolling. Last week, we saw another major market team announce their newest captain. I’ll share my thoughts on an unsurprising reunion and a very surprising career resurgence for a pair of key veterans.
1. James Neal is Back
Last year, James Neal signed with the Calgary Flames as a free agent. He had spent the previous two seasons helping the Nashville Predators and Las Vegas Golden Knights advance each franchise’s first Stanley Cup Final. Sadly for Neal, he came away empty-handed both times. Still, he was a major veteran presence for both teams and had scored 20+ goals each season. Calgary rewarded him with a five-year contract worth $5.75 million a year.
Neal was an utter disappointment in his first year with the Flames. He posted career lows in goals, assists, and points with 7-12-19. Many thought he was washed up. That’s why it was surprising when the Flames dealt him to the Edmonton Oilers for another aging power forward in Milan Lucic. As bad as Neal was for the Flames, many, including me, thought this was a terrible deal for Calgary as Lucic makes more money and doesn’t provide as much scoring as Neal.
Shocking news, those who thought Edmonton would win this trade were right. Neal hasn’t just rebounded, but he has thrived playing alongside the best player on the planet, Connor McDavid (again, shocker). Through six games, Neal leads the NHL in goals with eight! That’s right, the guy everyone thought was done leads the show in tucks. It helps that McDavid also leads the NHL in points with 12, some things never change. Lucic, on the other hand, has zero points and leads the league in PIMS with 26.
I knew the Oilers would win this trade, but I didn’t know they would fleece the Flames. Going into the summer, everyone knew the Oilers had to make huge moves to add talent to an already depleted roster. McDavid can only take you so far. Not only did the new GM Kenny Holland dump Lucic, but he found a way to make his team significantly better. Holland straight-up robbed the Flames and helped position the Oilers to compete for a playoff spot again this year.
For Calgary, this really sucks. They have a really nice young core with huge potential. I know they wanted to add toughness after they choked against the Avalanche in the first round of last year’s playoffs. Still, Lucic was never going to have as high of a ceiling as Neal.
But the real winners of this trade are us, the fans. The fans benefit most when the Oilers are better. McDavid hasn’t morphed into a Crosby-like heel yet, and until he does he’s still the most exciting player in the game. McDavid has only played in the playoffs once, and that was in his second year. Now that he’s achieved deity-like status, all hockey fans can rejoice as we might see him lead Edmonton to the playoffs once again.
2. Marleau Returns to the Bay
This past offseason, Patrick Marleau was traded from Toronto to the Carolina Hurricanes and was quickly bought out. Many expected he would join a contender for his 22nd season, and possibly even rejoin the Sharks. Our wish came true, the Sharks signed Marleau to a one-year pact worth $700,000.
I’m a sucker for reunions. When Blink-182 announced theirs, I think I might have cried. I was rooting for Marleau to suit up for the Sharks almost as much as I wanted Blink to get back together. It helps that the storylines surrounding the return are enticing. Marleau and longtime teammate Joe Thornton are most likely playing their final year in the NHL. Seeing them finish their career together by winning a Stanley Cup is the stuff dreams are made of. As of this moment, I’m officially rooting for the Sharks to win this year’s Stanley Cup. If they do, I’ll post a video of me crying on Twitter as proof to everyone I do have a heart.
3. Horvat Named Captain in Vancouver
Less than two weeks after the largest city in Canada named their newest captain, the third-largest city followed suit. Last week, Bo Horvat was named the newest captain of the Vancouver Canucks. Horvat is one of the many emerging stars in Vancouver, alongside Brock Boeser and Elias Pettersson. He’s coming off his best season where he posted career highs in goals, assists, and points with 27-34-61.
I like this for the Canucks. I’m always a fan of naming young captains because I think it’s cool to see team leaders with longevity. It does make me feel like a piece of shit because Horvat is only one day older than me. Regardless of my failures in life, Horvat is the real deal as a player. The Canucks are also quietly emerging in the Western Conference. The development of Boeser and Pettersson could vault them up the standings very soon. Canucks fans can only hope that Horvat leads them to a Stanley Cup victory. If he doesn’t they need to pray they don’t burn the city down again.
4. The Devils Fall Flat
The Devils had arguably the hottest offseason of any team. They traded for Norris Trophy winner P.K. Subban, Russian phenom Nikita Gusev, and drafted the heralded Jack Hughes with the first-overall pick. Many were picking them to make noise in the playoffs, myself included.
We were all wrong. Six games into the season, the Devils are in dead last with zero wins. Former Hart Trophy winner Taylor Hall has played okay, with five points in six games. Even Nikita Gusev has scored a couple of goals. But it’s the play of Jack Huges that’s scary. A few pundits did acknowledge that he might struggle out of the gate due to his size, 5’10” 170 lbs. No one expected him to lay an egg like this. Hughes hasn’t tallied a single point through six games and is a -4.
You see it all the time, a team makes a bunch of big moves in the offseason and the team doesn’t gel immediately. I’m sure the Devils will right the ship at some point this season. Still, Taylor Hall is only signed through this year and if the Devils fail to get it together, he might look to sign his next contract elsewhere. For Hughes, I’m sure he will turn it around too. Still, if Kappo Kakko turns into a superstar and Hughes falls flat, the Devils will never live the 2019 draft down.
5. The Silver Stick Club
In the NHL, when a player hits the ice for his 1,000th game, he is awarded a silver stick in honor of the milestone. Obviously, playing 1,000 games in the show is not an easy feat, and it doesn’t happen often. Phil Kessel did it just last week. That got me thinking, who will be next and who else could do it this season.
What I found was amazing. This year, it’s possible that another 16 players could earn a silver stick if they avoid injury. They are: Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, Jeff Carter, Mikko Koivu, Marc-Eduoard Vlasic, Joe Pavelski, Alexander Steen, Valterri Filppula, Andrew Cogliano, Zach Parise, Sidney Crosby, Andrew Ladd, David Backes, Shea Weber, Brayden Coburn, and Travis Zajac.
That’s an unreal list. Obviously, there are some big names on that list like Crosby, Pavelski, and Weber. But, it’s really cool to see some roles players too, like Ladd, Filppula, and Cogliano.
It’s doubtful all of them hit the mark this year, but it’s something to watch out for throughout the season! ■
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.