Blake’s Takes: NHL to Play Outdoor Games in 2021

Outdoor games will be played this season. It won’t be the Winter Classic or Stadium Series, but the NHL will travel to Lake Tahoe to provide us with some outdoor entertainment. That was the biggest news of the week but not the only news. A new captain was named and a few legends of the game switched teams. I’ll fire off takes about all of those topics and more.

Happy 2021 everyone!

1. NHL to Host Outdoor Games at Lake Tahoe

The big news of the week was that the NHL announced they would host two outdoor regular-season games in Lake Tahoe, NV. The Avalanche will take on the Golden Knights in the first game on February 20th. The second game will be played the next day when the Flyers play the Bruins. Rinks will be built on the golf course at the Edgewood Tahoe Resort, specifically on the 16th, 17th, and 18th holes. Fans will not be permitted for either game.

This news came out of nowhere. I had heard that many teams explored the possibility of playing outdoors this season so they could host fans. After those ideas were nixed and the Winter Classic was canceled, I certainly didn’t anticipate any outdoor games this season.

This is a good idea to get eyeballs on the NHL. With no All-Star Game, Winter Classic, and no fans in the stands, the NHL had to do something special to create some excitement for this season.

Outdoor games have grown stale in recent seasons with many sprinkled through the league calendar. I’m still a fan of the Winter Classic, but the Stadium Series games don’t do much for me. I normally wouldn’t expect these Lake Tahoe matchups to generate much interest, but with COVID-19 laying destruction to the season, anything is appreciated.

2. Chara Signs with Washington

 

 
 
 
 
 
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All good things come to an end. After 14 seasons with the Bruins, Zdeno Chara will suit up for the Washington Capitals this season. The 43-year-old signed a one-year deal with Washington worth $795,000. This season will be Chara’s 23rd in the NHL. Before joining the Bruins, Chara spent his first four seasons with the Islanders and his next four seasons with Ottawa.

Chara will undoubtedly be remembered as one of the best players in Bruins history. With the Bruins, Chara was a five-time All-Star, three-time Second Team All-Star, two-time First Team All-Star, won the Mark Messier Leadership Award, won a Norris Trophy, and captained the B’s to the 2011 Stanley Cup championship. He suited up for 1,043 regular-season games, scored 148 goals, tallied 333 assists, and was a plus-240 with Boston.

The Capitals have the talent to win a Stanley Cup with Alex Ovechkin and co. still firing on all cylinders. Chara will most likely play on the second or third pair with Washington. The Caps will need every ounce of Chara’s 6’9″ frame to win another Championship.

While this is sad for Bruin’s fans, it’s also a reason they should reflect on Chara’s contributions and be thankful for all the memories.

3. Spurgeon Named New Wild Captain

 

 
 
 
 
 
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For the first time since 2009, the Minnesota Wild have named a new captain. Jared Spurgeon will wear the “C” in St. Paul, MN starting this season. Spurgeon is the second full-time captain in Wild history. Of course, Mikko Koivu was the team’s first full-time captain, wearing the “C” from the beginning of the 2009-10 season through last season. Koivu was not re-signed by the team.

The Wild’s first season in the NHL was the 2000-01 season. The team didn’t name a captain until the 2007-08 season when five players served as part-time captains. Those players were Marián Gáborík, Pavol Demitra, Mark Parrish, Brian Rolston, and Nick Schultz.

Spurgeon has spent his entire 10-year career with Minnesota. He’s quietly been one of the most productive defensemen in the NHL over the last few seasons. He’s played 653 games, scored 82 goals, and added 198 assists.

Spurgeon wasn’t the obvious pick to be named captain. Both Ryan Suter and Zach Parise easily could have been selected. Both signed major contracts with the Wild before the 2012-13 season. Their contracts expire after the 2024-25 season. Spurgeon is entering the first season of a recently-signed extension that will keep him in Minnesota through the 2026-27 season.

This decision shows the Wild are more committed to Spurgeon than the other two aging stars. Not only is he signed in Minnesota for two more years, but he’s also much younger at 31-years-old. Suter and Parise are 35 and 36 respectively. At this stage of his career, Spurgeon is more valuable than the other two. There’s a better chance he sticks around through this rebuild. I would assume those factors were considered when naming a captain.

I don’t disagree with this decision. Suter and Parise are much closer to retirement than they are to being impact players. Organizations prefer to name a captain with some staying power. Something Spurgeon has. Congrats to Spurgeon and I hope this helps him get the respect he deserves.

4. Canadiens Ink Corey Perry

 

 
 
 
 
 
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Another former NHL superstar has changed teams. Corey Perry has signed a one-year deal with the Montreal Canadiens worth $750,000. Perry helped the Dallas Stars reach the Stanley Cup Finals last season after spending his entire career with the Anaheim Ducks. Perry scored five goals and 21 points in his lone year in Dallas. He did add another five goals and 9 points in the playoffs.

This signing doesn’t move the needle on the ice. However, Perry’s leadership and veteran presence should benefit Montreal. The Canadiens are one of the youngest teams in the NHL. Before they signed Perry, they only had one player under contract over the age of 30-years-old, Paul Byron.

If Perry can play the way he played in last year’s postseason, this will be a good signing by Montreal.

5. Toews Out with Illness

I saved the worst news for last. Blackhawks’ captain, Jonathan Toews, is out indefinitely with an undisclosed illness. According to this article on ESPN.com, Toews said the following about his illness:

“This offseason, I’ve been experiencing symptoms that have left me feeling drained and lethargic,” Toews said in a statement from the team. “I am working with doctors so I can better understand my condition.

“Until I can get my health back to a place where I feel I can perform at an elite level and help my team, I will not be joining the Blackhawks for training camp. I do not have a timetable for when I will rejoin the team. I am extremely disappointed, but it wouldn’t be fair to myself or my teammates to attempt to play in my current condition.”

This is a big blow for the Blackhawks. Toews has bounced back in recent seasons after three straight sub-60 point seasons. In the 2018-19 season, he scored 81 points in 82 games. Last season, he scored 60 points in 70 games. The 32-year-old is also one of the best two-way forwards in the NHL.

Chicago finished last in the Central Division last season. They are in the midst of a rebuild. While Toews’s injury is horrible, I’d expect them to still finish near the bottom of their division this season. It’s going to get worse before it gets better.

I’m hoping Toews gets healthy and can return to playing hockey again. Best wishes to him and his family. ■

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.

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