Last week was a busy one in the NHL. In one week we saw the start of free agency and the NHL Draft take place. I could rattle off 20 takes this week. I’ll stick to my usual five, but I’ll include some of this week’s news in future columns because there is so much to talk about.
This week, I’ll focus on the bigger transactions around the league as well as a major points jersey announcement . Happy Tuesday!
1. Draft Highlights
The NHL Draft was hosted virtually last Tuesday and Wednesday. It went as I expected. The Rangers took the highly-touted Alexis Lafreniere first overall. The Kings took Quinton Byfield at two and the Senators took German-phenom Tim Stützle with the third pick.
The draft wasn’t that exciting, but it did have some cool moments. One of the best things I saw was this tweet from Sharks’ forward Evander Kane.
Congratulations to @byfield55 on his 2nd Overall selection and becoming the highest drafted black player in history.
— Evander Kane (@evanderkane_9) October 6, 2020
I wasn’t aware of this until Kane tweeted it. Considering everything that’s happened this summer regarding social justice, this is awesome to see. The NHL needs more people of color on and off the ice, and Byfield will help. Hopefully, he will live up to his promise so he can provide a perspective necessary in a league full of mostly white players.
The Senators made waves during the draft, too. They took Stützle third overall. Stützle is one of the most-hyped German prospects in a long time. But, it’s how Ottawa announced the pick that was electric. Check out the video below.
— Ottawa Senators (@Senators) October 6, 2020
Before I say anything, Alex Trebek is a national treasure and I love him.
Many were probably worried about the entertainment value of a virtual draft. The Senators delivered this gem for everyone and we’re all better off for it. This video was as great as the Sens’ new jerseys are bad. And I despise their new unis. Props to Ottawa for finally doing something right.
2. Taylor Hall Signs in Buffalo
The most shocking news of the free agency was that former Hart Trophy winner, Taylor Hall, signed with the Buffalo Sabres. And not only did he sign with Buffalo, but he only signed for one year and $8 million.
It’s pretty apparent that this is a fantastic move for the Sabres. They got Hall to sign. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out this is a positive. They’ll be a wild card in the Eastern Conference this season with Hall, Jack Eichel, and Rasmus Dahlin.
As to why Hall signed a one-year deal, I’m not sure. Hall is 28-years-old, so this isn’t a Mitch Marner or Auston Matthews situation. Those two signed shorter deals because they know that they earn more money over the course of their career using that strategy. Sign the short deal now, then cash-in big-time in your late-twenties when teams will still hand out the big long-term deal. Teams aren’t giving those deals to guys in their early-thirties anymore.
For Hall, that window has passed him by. This was the time to sign a big-ticket. I assume he signed a one-year deal because those big offers weren’t out there, or at least up to his standards. Signing a one-year deal gives him an opportunity to put up big numbers this year and cash-in next year. No chance he would have signed a bridge deal for 2-5 years. He went all or nothing. Hopefully, he can improve on the 52 points he put up this year and reap the rewards next summer (or fall).
Why did Hall sign in Buffalo? Only God knows that. Almost every team in the league could have offered him the same deal he signed with the Sabres. Maybe he saw the season Jeff Skinner had a few years ago and thinks he will put up monster numbers too? What I do know is that this video the Sabres posted is awesome and I love Hall for it.
— Buffalo Sabres (@BuffaloSabres) October 12, 2020
3. Stevie Y’s Grand Plan
After arguably the worst year in franchise history, the Red Wings are in dire need of help. Franchise icon and general manager Steve Yzerman was ready and made a flurry of moves last week that have drastically changed the Red Wings’ organization.
First, he put Justin Abdelkader on waivers for the purpose of a buyout. Abdelkader is one of my favorite players and scored the game-winning goal for Michigan State when they won the National Championship back in 2007. As much as I love him, it was time for him to go. He was only able to muster three assists last year. With three years left on his contract, his lack of production at over $4 million each year was hurting the Wings. Now, the Wings will be able to stretch his contract out over a few years and the move will open up a roster spot for a younger player with higher potential.
Yzerman wasn’t done. His first addition was signing former Senator Bobby Ryan to a one-year deal for a million bucks. The Masterton Trophy winner was able to make it back to the ice last season after leaving the team for personal reasons. He scored five goals in 24 games. Ryan was largely a disappointment in Ottawa. But, when he’s on the ice, he’s always a threat to score. For $1 million, this is an easy low-risk, high-reward move for the Red Wings.
After the Wings announced Jimmy Howard wouldn’t be returning, they needed a backup goalie. Yzerman signed Thomas Greiss away from the Islanders. Greiss was great on Long Island while splitting time with Semyon Varlamov. Last season, he went 28-16-9, with a .913 sv%, and 2.74 GAA. I don’t expect those numbers this season because the Red Wings are far worse defensively than New York and the Islanders’ style of play yields fewer goals. But, the Wings needed a backup and some security with Jonathan Bernier’s contract expiring after this season. This gives the Wings another solid goalie that can compete to be the number one and ensures they have a goalie signed for next season.
Yzerman still wasn’t done. He improved the d-corps with the signings of Jon Merrill and Troy Stecher. He also added Vladislav Namestnikov. With the additions of these players and subtractions of lesser players, the Red Wings are no doubt better this season. Obviously, they’re not going to be competing for a playoff spot next season, but they’ll be better.
What I like most about their signings is that these players want to play in Detroit. It’s clear Yzerman sold them on playing for a historic team trending up (they literally can’t get worse). Both Merrill and Namestnikov grew up rooting for the winged wheel and want to play there. Ryan even said the following about signing with the Red Wings according to this article in the Detroit News:
“The passion that comes through for the Red Wings through him is contagious,” said Ryan, who agreed Friday to a one-year, $1 million contract with the Wings. “I walked out of the room and told my wife ‘I think we’re signing with Detroit.’
It’s clear that Yzerman came into this offseason with a plan and he’s executed it. My expectations are still tempered. I know that these players are not going to bring the Red Wings back to prominence. I’m hopeful they’ll bring them back to relevancy.
4. Next Season’s Start Date Announced
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With COVID-19 forcing the NHL to finish the season at the end of September, only a week before the season would normally begin, it’s necessary for the league to restructure the 2020-21 calendar. Last week, the NHL announced that they’re targeting a January 1 start date.
While this is great news that the league is making moves towards configuring the calendar, January 1 is a garbage start date. Yes, the date itself is sexy, it’s the first day of the year, it’s a national holiday, and 1/1 just looks good. All of those things are obvious. But, as I’ve written about before, January 1 belongs to college football. I know there isn’t a ton of crossover between college football fans and hockey fans, but, if the league really wants to create excitement about their opening day, January 1 is not the right day to do that.
I’ve been thinking a lot about how the NHL can maximize their exposure if they’re smart with scheduling. I’m not going to get into it right now, but I can tell you that scheduling your first games on a day that most people will be watching college football isn’t a good idea.
The NHL would be smart to schedule their start date a few days later. If they can start on a weekday, maybe Monday, January 4, they would avoid the NFL playoffs and college football games. They’ll also be starting before the NBA comes back and the MLB will be in their offseason. As the fourth-most popular sport in the US, avoiding games in other leagues would be smart.
If the NHL can get out of their own way and avoid the sexiness that is 1/1, they’ll maximize their exposure and will force casual fans to tune in.
5. Flames Go Retro
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For all of the bad uniforms out there, there are some gems, too. The Flames announced they will be breaking out these bad boys full-time starting next season. Calgary rocked these puppies from 1980-1994 before updating their sweaters. They brought them back as their alternates in 2018.
I don’t think it’s a bold statement to say these are the best jerseys in the NHL. A few things make a good NHL jersey. They have to be smooth, clean, and the colors have to blend well. All of these things are true with these babies. Most importantly, they have to pop on the ice. Seeing as an ice sheet is all white, besides the ads, bright colors really pop. That’s why these jerseys are the best. We can all thank Calgary for making us forget about the abomination going on in Ottawa. ■