Blake’s Takes: The 2021-22 Season is Underway

The 2021-22 NHL season has officially begun. It’s been an exciting first week. The Seattle Kraken took the ice for the very first time as an NHL team. NHL GMs decided to get some last-minute work in signing a few massive extensions, too. So many extensions in fact I won’t be able to get to all of them this week. I will provide my two cents on the Kraken, one extension, as well as a few other notable stories around the NHL.

Happy Monday!

1. Kraken Name Captains

Only days before the season, the Seattle Kraken have named a captain and assistant captains for their inaugural NHL season. Former Calgary Flames captain Mark Giordano was named the first captain in Kraken history. Adam Larsson, Yanni Gourde, Jaden Schwartz, and Jordan Eberle will all serve as assistant captains for the Kraken.

Giordano was a natural choice as the team’s first captain. He has the best resume of all current Kraken players and served as the Flames’ captain for eight seasons before being selected by Seattle in the expansion draft. The 38-year-old doesn’t have too many years left, but he’ll wear the “C” well in Seattle.

The other four players are all good choices to serve as assistant captains, too. Larsson, Schwartz, and Eberle have all served as assistant captains before. Only Gourde has not. All four players are seasoned veterans and will provide great leadership for the rest of the Kraken.

Now we’ll see if the Kraken’s established leadership council can use that leadership to produce wins on the ice.

2. Vegas Finds Injury Bug

Thursday night was a tough one for the Vegas Golden Knights. Not only did they get stomped by the lowly Los Angeles Kings 6-2, but they also lost two of their best players in the process. Captain Mark Stone and Max Pacioretty were injured during the game.

Stone suffered a lower-body injury and is day-to-day. Pacioretty is week-to-week after he broke his foot. These are tough breaks for the Knights. Stone and Pacioretty are two of Vegas’ best players, if not their top two players. They’ll have to hope they can tread water in the next few weeks while they wait to get healthy. Let’s not forget Alex Tuch is injured and won’t return until close to the Olympic Break.

If you’re wondering what Vegas will be missing, Stone and Pacioretty were their top two leading scorers last season. Stone led the team in points with a 21-40-61 line. Pacioretty was second with a 24-27-51 line. Vegas is too talented to let this destroy their season. However, this will no doubt derail their next few weeks and will most likely result in a lower playoff seeding which could have a great effect on them when the playoffs roll around.

3. Zibanejad Gets His Bag

 

 
 
 
 
 
View this post on Instagram
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

A post shared by New York Rangers (@nyrangers)

Mika Zibanejad will be a New York Ranger for another eight years. Or, at least, he’ll be paid for another eight years. Zibanejad and the Rangers agreed to an eight-year $68 million extension, good for an $8.5 million AAV. Zibanejad is entering the final year of the five-year $26.75 million contract he signed with New York in the summer of 2017. A deal that clearly worked out for both sides. Zibanejad will be 37-years-old when the deal expires. The 28-year-old will be the second-highest-paid player on the Rangers behind Artemi Panarian when the deal kicks in.

Zibanejad earned this deal. It took him a while to elevate his game from being a reliable 15-20 goal scorer to the 35-goal/70-point man he is now. That doesn’t mean this contract doesn’t give me pause. Zibanejad returned to Earth last year averaging 0.43 GPG and 0.89 PPG. Those numbers are still very good, and in line with his play over the last three seasons. However, he’s already 28-years-old. He’s square in his prime and probably won’t get much better. I wouldn’t be surprised if his 2019-20 season ends up being his best.

That’s not to say Zibanejad can’t contribute anymore. I’m sure he’ll hover in the 30-goal/65-70-point range for the next 3-5 years. The Rangers should be worried about what this deal looks like in years 6-8. With the talent they have around Zibanejad, like Panarin, Chris Kreider, Adam Fox, and Jacob Trouba, they have the roster to win now. Other than Fox, their best players are all 27-years-old or older and are all signed through the 2025-26 season. That gives them a window to win until then. For that to happen, they need to pray that those players continue to produce and stay healthy for most of the remainder of their contracts. If they can’t, they’ll be entering the graveyard zone sooner rather than later.

I do hope to see the Rangers competing in the next few seasons. They needed to lock down Zibanejad, but an eight-year term is going to come back to bite them on the back end.

4. Robin Lehner Blasts NHL on Mental Health

Robin Lehner has been an advocate for better mental health services in the NHL for years now. He notably struggles with bipolar disorder, ADHD, PTSD, alcoholism, and addiction. He has been an inspiration to many due to his candor and openness to discussing his struggles while playing well on the ice. He won the Masterton Trophy for his perseverance and dedication to the sport after he came forward about his struggles.

Recently, Lehner came under fire after he tweeted his support for Buffalo Sabres center Jack Eichel regarding his disagreement with the team about what type of surgery he can pursue.

Lehner also called out NHL teams for their lack of mental health resources and willingness to distribute dangerously harmful and addictive drugs. Flyers coach Alain Vigneault was caught in the crossfire as well after Lehner called him out for his treatment of players.

It’s unfortunate that Lehner had to tweet about these issues for them to enter the public discourse. It’s even worse than he had to fear for his employment by bringing these massive issues to light. NHL players are people, too. They need mental health support and cannot be treated like robots. Thankfully, Lehner was able to meet with the NHL and NHLPA behind closed doors and was not disciplined, that we know of.

Lehner helped players take two huge steps forward towards better mental health treatment. First, he spoke publicly and was embraced by the hockey community. Hopefully, that will encourage other players to speak freely and their issues and it will encourage future players to speak it. It also shows players that it’s okay to struggle with these types of issues. Second, he’s actively working on making a difference with the NHL and NHLPA. The two bodies are not forced to address Lehner’s concerns and cannot claim plausible deniability. It’s embarrassing mental health has not been taken seriously in the past. It’s now on the radar of the public and the players know that. I’m hoping they get the support they need and force the league to take mental health more seriously.

5. Devils to Support Black Business

The New Jersey Devils and Prudential Financial announced that they will feature a Black-owned business logo on the Devils’ helmets for games this season. Last season, the NHL introduced on-helmet advertising where teams can sell ad space on player helmets. Prudential is the Devils’ biggest sponsor and pays about $5 million a year for the naming rights to their arena. Part of that sponsorship agreement gives Prudential the rights to the Devils’ helmet ad space.

Prudential will donate their helmet ad space to Black-owned businesses for 13 home games this season. Prudential also will provide financial consulting services for the businesses it selects.

This is the type of social justice initiative I’d like to see more of from the NHL. Prudential is actually donating its ad space to amplify Black voices and businesses. This will make a real impact on those businesses and will help those in the black community. Typically, when a team or the league attempts to make a difference, it’s usually something passive. They create some initiative or hold some press conference promising to make a change but doing little to make said change. This time, Prudential is putting their money where their mouth is and is making a real difference. Props to the Devils and Prudential for doing something legitimate for the Black community. ■

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.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.