Last week was perhaps the most exciting week of the NHL season. The league hosted two outdoor games at Lake Tahoe. The broadcast was incredible and the league might have created one of the most-attractive made-for-TV sporting experiences we’ve seen yet. I’ll share my thoughts on the Lake Tahoe experiment in this week’s column.
In addition to the outdoor games, the past week wasn’t short for headlines. New Jersey named their newest captain and a few other milestones were achieved. As usual, I’ll also share with you one of my favorite plays of the week.
1. Craziness at Lake Tahoe
The NHL hosted two outdoor games on the 18th hole of the Edgewood Tahoe Resort golf course on the edge of Lake Tahoe this weekend. The league planned the two games to make up for the Winter Classic and Stadium Series games that were canceled this year due to COVID-19. If you want to read more about the idea and planning behind the games, here’s a great article explaining it all.
To be honest, I hadn’t planned on watching either game. I was bored on Saturday so I flipped on the TV to watch a few minutes of the first game between the Colorado Avalanche and the Las Vegas Golden Nights. What I saw was the coolest and most attractive hockey broadcast I’ve ever seen; that was, until the game was postponed for eight hours due to the sunny conditions.
First off, the views of Lake Tahoe and the mountains were gorgeous. Obviously, all of the NHL’s previous outdoor games have been hosted in other professional sports stadiums in order to seat fans. Those stadiums don’t provide views outside of the stadium during play. There were no walls blocking the sight-lines of the mountains and Lake Tahoe on this day. That led to some unbelievable photo opportunities.
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Second, both teams wore their critically-acclaimed Reverse Retro jerseys. I spoke before on our podcast about how much I loved Colorado’s and Vegas’ uniforms. (Puck Junk Podcast Series about the Reverse Retro Jerseys: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.)
Third, the matchup between both teams was great. Colorado and Vegas are two of the most exciting teams in the league with star power. It was an easy matchup for a casual fan to watch. Here are the highlights of the game if you’re interested.
I hope the league does something like this again. It was one of the most enjoyable experiences I’ve had watching sports in a long time. Part of that was because the games were meant to be watched on TV, not to attend in person. The next time the NHL hosts games like this again, it will be appointment television in my household. Also, shout out to the great Mike Tirico for his fantastic job on the broadcast. He’s one of the best.
I’m writing this before the second game between the Bruins and Flyers. I’ll be sure to turn my TV on for that game. I hope you all did too.
2. Crosby Plays His 1,000th Game
On Saturday, Sidney Crosby suited up to play his 1,000th NHL game. Crosby has played all 1,000 of his games with the Pittsburgh Penguins, the team that drafted him first overall in 2005. If you’re reading this, I don’t have to lecture you about how great of a player he is. As a Red Wings fan, he’s not my favorite player, but that doesn’t mean I don’t acknowledge his greatness. I’m ashamed to admit he was my favorite player to use when I played NHL ’06. At least he was before the Penguins faced off against the Red Wings in back-to-back Stanley Cup Finals. For good measure, check out Crosby’s list of career accomplishments. It’s very long and well-deserved.
When a player reaches the 1,000 games played milestone, a few things happen. First, they’re honored before the game with a special ceremony. Their family members are welcomed on the ice and they’re given a few gifts. That’s my favorite part of the ceremony. Each player is always given an engraved silver stick. That’s a staple. They are also given a few other items that would make most casual fans blush. Crosby received a custom mosaic with photos from all 1,000 of his games. He also was gifted a custom Rolex. Talk about a haul! Take a look.
There’s no doubt Crosby has earned every one of those items as he’s brought three Stanley Cups to Pittsburgh. I hope he doesn’t bring them any more, but still finishes out his career strong.
3. Hischier Named Captain in New Jersey
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Nico Hischier has been named the newest captain of the New Jersey Devils. Hischier becomes the sixth player to be named captain of an NHL team this season, joining Dylan Larkin of the Red Wings, Mark Stone of the Golden Knights, Patrice Bergeron of the Bruins, Ryan O’Reilly of the Blues, and Jared Spurgeon of the Wild. Hischier replaces Andy Greene, who was traded to the Islanders last season. Greene had served as the team’s captain from the 2015-16 season until the trade.
Hischier would have been my pick to be the Devil’s newest captain, too. The 22-year-old has quickly become the Devils’ best player. After being selected with the first pick in the 2017 draft, Hischier gelled with the eventual Hart Trophy winner, Taylor Hall. He put up 52 points in his rookie campaign, still a career-best. Although it may look like his production has dropped, his point-per-game numbers have been relatively on par with his first season. In his first three seasons, he’s posted the following PPG numbers: 0.63, 0.68, and 0.62. He was also named an All-Star last season.
At 22-years-old, there’s no doubt Hischier continues to ascend as one of the best players in the NHL. If the Devils keep adding talent to their roster, I’m confident Hischier will become a household name in Newark, NJ.
4. McDavid Reaches Another Milestone
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Connor McDavid has reached another milestone. Last week, McDavid scored his 500th point in only 369 games. Doing so, McDavid tied Sidney Crosby to become the eighth fastest player to score 500 points, putting him in elite company.
— #NHLOutdoors on NBC (@NHLonNBCSports) February 18, 2021
This is just another notch in McDavid’s belt. He’s truly lived up to his mammoth expectations since entering the league in 2015. He just turned 24-years-old and he’s already won a Hart Trophy and two Art Ross Trophies. He’s the frontrunner to win both this season, too. He’s currently first in the league in assists and points with a line of 12-25-37. His five-point performance against the Flames on Saturday night helped pad those stats a bit. Let’s not ignore his 1.85 PPG this season, which would be the highest of his career.
As long as McDavid stays healthy, these milestones will begin to drop like flies. I doubt he’ll ever touch Wayne Gretzky’s marks, but he’ll go down as the best player of his generation.
5. Heiskanen Dazzles Us With My Favorite Play of the Week
I love watching Miro Heiskanen. I remember writing about my finalists for the 2019 Calder Trophy and leaving him out of my top three. I quickly came to regret that decision. Since then, he’s become arguably the best and most dynamic defensemen in the NHL. Although he hasn’t scored a goal this season, he’s still averaging 0.67 PPG, which would be a career-high.
Plays like these that make you remember why the Stars made it all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals last season.
Miro with the defensive stick of the year pic.twitter.com/3pjFI5M3Fh
— Spittin’ Chiclets (@spittinchiclets) February 14, 2021
Defensemen get more credit in this day and age for their offensive numbers, rather than their defensive prowess. Plays like this one don’t get the credit they deserve either because they don’t show up in the box score. If THIS play doesn’t prove Heiskanen has eyes in the back of his head I don’t know what does. He’s an absolute wizard out there. I’m no scout, but I’d be shocked if Miro doesn’t become one of the best defensemen in the league. And when he does, there’s no doubt that he will be one of the most exciting d-men, too. ■