We have finally reached the NHL playoffs. In this week’s column, I’ll deliver a few takes that will tie up some loose ends from the regular season. After this week, playoff hockey will be priority number one.
This week’s set of takes are still top-tier. The NHL celebrated a few major milestones last week. I’ll give you all my two cents about each of those and one notable player’s return from injury.
1. Lightning Start Three Black Forwards
Racial injustice has dominated the headlines all over the world over the past year, and rightfully so. Too many people have buried their heads in the sand for too long in an attempt to ignore the systemic racism around them. The NHL is among those organizations that needed a bit of a wake-up call. Last Monday was a step in the right direction. The Tampa Bay Lightning started an all-black line against the Florida Panthers when Daniel Walcott, Mathieu Joeseph, and Gemel Smith took the ice for the opening faceoff.
Although, Tampa Bay was shutout 4-0 against their intrastate rival, of whom they will play in the first round of the playoffs, that didn’t water down the achievement.
I loved head coach John Cooper’s quote too.
∙ Daniel Walcott
∙ Mathieu Joseph
∙ Gemel Smith pic.twitter.com/KrjIEaetrV
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) May 11, 2021
These guys are in the NHL for a reason, they earned their place on the ice. I was ecstatic to hear the news. I was surprised at first because I had never heard of Walcott before, so I didn’t know Tampa Bay had three black players. It was Walcott’s first NHL game, so I’ll cut myself a bit of slack.
In a year surrounded by controversy, this is one of my favorite storylines, especially in the effort to make hockey for everyone.
2. Stastny Reaches 1,000 Games Milestone
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It feels like Paul Stastny is like the tenth player to reach the 1,000 games played milestone in the last month. Regardless, he has become the newest member of the silver stick club.
Stastny spent the majority of his career in Colorado, with two stints in Winnipeg, and one stint in St. Louis and Vegas. To date, he’s scored 263 goals and added another 492 assists.
Stastny hasn’t achieved too many milestones other than being selected for the 2011 All-Star Game. However, you don’t play 1,000 NHL games if you can’t contribute. It feels like Stastny is always one of the better players on great teams. He hasn’t played in a Stanley Cup Final, but his teams have made the playoffs ten times in his 15-year career.
While Stastny won’t make the Hall of Fame, he is deserving of this honor and I’m hoping to see him provide some excitement in the playoffs.
3. Kucherov to Return for Playoffs
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Last week it was announced that former Hart Trophy winner, Nikita Kucherov, would make his season debut yesterday against the Florida Panthers. I’m writing this column before the game, but Jesus. Do the Lightning really need more help?
Kucherov was ruled out for the season on December 29th after receiving hip surgery. The last game Kucherov played was Game 6 of last year’s Stanley Cup Finals, where the Lighting defeated the Dallas Stars to clinch the Stanley Cup.
Kucherov was a beast in last year’s postseason. In 25 games, he scored seven goals and added another 27 assists, adding up to 34 points. He led the league in both playoff assists and points.
I assume it will take Kucherov some time to get his legs under him. The Lightning may not have much time to wait. The Panthers are red hot right now, having won their last six games.
I’m expecting this to be one of the best, if not the best, first-round series. It seems unfair that the Lightning get reinforcements by the way of Kucherov, but I’m sure the Panthers will have something to say about that.
4. Kraken Sign First-Ever Player
The @SeattleKraken have signed Luke Henman, the first player in franchise history! 👏
— NHL (@NHL) May 12, 2021
The Kraken have entered the chat. While the Kraken will no doubt make waves this summer because of the expansion draft, that isn’t the only way they can add talent to their roster. On Wednesday, the Seattle-based franchise announced the signing of Luke Henman, a free agent center.
Henman signed a three-year entry-level contract with the Kraken. The 21-year old was picked in the fourth round by the Carolina Hurricanes in the 2018 draft. Because the ‘Canes didn’t sign him last year, he became a free agent.
The native of Dartmouth, NS, CAN is the current captain of the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada in the QMJHL. He’s been a great contributor in his five years with the club. He’s played in 225 games, scoring 63 goals, and added another 151 assists. That’s good for a 0.95 PPG.
I’m not sure if Henman will ever suit up for the Kraken. However, his signing signals to the rest of the league that the Kraken really have arrived as the 32nd team in the NHL.
5. Marleau Receive Howe’s Stick
Also, on behalf of the @NHLPA and in a request from the Howe family, Marleau was presented with the stick used in Gordie Howe’s final NHL game.
— San Jose Sharks (@SanJoseSharks) May 13, 2021
I told you there were a lot of milestones last week. After surpassing Gordie Howe as the NHL’s all-time leader in games played, Patrick Marleau has been enshrined in the Hockey Hall of Fame, well, at least his stick was. While Marleau will surely be elected to the Hall of Fame as a player when he’s eligible, his stick made it there first.
The Hall of Fame has placed his stick on display to recognize him as the all-time leader in games played. His stick replaced Howe’s stick. My favorite part of this story is that Howe’s family requested that the stick be gifted to Marleau to honor his achievement.
I’m sure Marleau has a great trophy room. But, can you imagine? Not only does Marleau get to show off his own memorabilia, but he’ll also have Gordie Howe’s stick hanging on the wall! That’s insane.
This is a great gesture by the Howe family. I’m happy that Marleau surpassed Howe because he is the perfect player to take on that legacy. A great player on the ice, and a better person off of it. ■