The first month of the NHL season is coming to a close and here’s what we’ve learned:
This league is crazy.
How crazy? If the playoffs started on Tuesday, more than half of the 16 teams that qualified for last year’s tournament would not be participating this time around.
The Vegas Golden Knights (an expansion team) and the New Jersey Devils (dead last in the Eastern Conference in 2016-17) would be in the postseason, but three of the four division winners from last year — the Washington Capitals, Montreal Canadiens and Chicago Blackhawks — would not. The other division winner from ’16-17, the Anaheim Ducks, would squeeze in as a wild card.
New York Rangers and Boston Bruins in the East and the Nashville Predators, Minnesota Wild, Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames in the West.
Want more crazy? The Knights lost their top two goaltenders, Marc-Andre Fleury and Malcolm Subban, to injuries, forcing them to call up Oscar Dansk from the AHL’s Chicago Wolves to make his first career start against the Blackhawks last week. Naturally, the 23-year-old Dansk beat the Hawks 4-2 for Vegas’ seventh win in eight tries.
Speaking of the Blackhawks, who are they? Are they the team that clowned the defending champion Penguins 10-1 to start the season or the team that has lost three straight (and counting), two of them to Vegas and lowly Colorado? Joel Quenneville’s incessant shuffling of lines and defensive pairings once looked like the work of a matchup mastermind. Lately, those moves look more like desperation.
Remember when Edmonton was everyone’s preseason pick to be a Cup contender? Right now, they have a minus-11 goal differential and a measly seven points in 10 games, which puts them ahead of only one team in the West — the miserable Arizona Coyotes.
Devils? Sure, they have a better-than-average goalie in Cory Schneider, but have you seen the rest of their roster? Raise your hand if you saw Jesper Bratt coming. Anyone? Didn’t think so. Bratt, just 19 years old and a 6th round pick in 2016, has 10 points in 10 games. Rookie defenseman Will Butcher has the same number of points (11) as Edmonton hotshot Connor McDavid. If head coach John Hynes can get this Devils team into the postseason, he deserves more than just the Jack Adams Award for coach of the year. He should get the Nobel Prize for Alchemy.
It’s early, sure. Stanley Cups aren’t won in October. But if the first month of the season is any indication, predicting who’s still standing in June is a crap shoot, which seems fitting for the first major pro sports season featuring a team from Las Vegas.
Oh, and by the way, the preseason odds to win the Stanley Cup had Vegas and New Jersey among the longest of long shots at 200-1. The odds of them meeting in the Cup final would be… well, common sense says it’s probably somewhere north of infinity.
But then October says, maybe crazy is the new normal.