Today’s Daily Cup of Joe shares my first impressions (and somewhat updated expectations) for the Canes’ Central Division competition and opens the floor for everyone else to bandy around the same topic.
By no means is 2-4 games enough to draw any final conclusions for how a 56-game season will play out, but we do have now seen some real hockey that offers on-ice insight to be considered.
Tampa Bay Lightning
I am not sure the limited 2020-21 play offers much insight here. The Lightning smoked a young, Toews-less Blackhawk team twice and has not played since. One thing that continues to stand out about the Lightning is their strong combination of depth but also high-end talent…even without Nikita Kucherov. They should collect as many easy wins as any team in hockey courtesy of an offense that can pile up 4-6 goals quickly some nights. But they also have a trophy-winning defenseman and goalie to go with a decent two-way team such that they can grind out 2-1 wins on occasion if necessary.
Adjustment: I still just think the Lightning are built to excel during the regular season collecting more than their share of easy wins but also being built to win ugly when needed.
Like Tampa Bay, Florida has played only two games with both being against the Blackhawks. The Panthers have been a bit of an enigma for a few years. The Panthers have enough top-end young talent that they could hang with anyone. But some combination of goaltending and depth seemed to hold them back. With Bobrovsky’s struggles in his first season with the Panthers, I think these same question marks are still what determines the Panthers’ fate.
Adjustment: None really. I am still watching closely to see if Bobrovsky can settle in and be a difference-maker.
Detroit Red Wings
I have watched three of Detroit’s first four games including the two games versus the Hurricanes. Four games is a small sample size, but my initial impression is that the Red Wings will continue to be more competitive than 2019-20. My first impression is that Thomas Greiss could help more than I initially expected, but more so the team can be effective with its speed and aggressiveness forechecking such that it can at least punch back with something when challenged.
Adjustment: The Wings earn my biggest upgrade so far. I am still skeptical that the Wings are ready to compete for a playoff spot, but I do think the team will continue to be more competitive.
Columbus Blue Jackets
Through four games the Blue Jackets are 1-2-1 with mostly a ‘meh’ start. As has generally been the case for a few years, the team does not have a bunch of high-end offense and instead must score enough by getting decent balance throughout the entire lineup. The goaltending will be critical, as the Blue Jackets will not much room for error. Part of me thinks I overestimated the Blue Jackets a bit before the season started, but the other part of me remembers that John Tortorella collected a playoff berth from a 2019-20 lineup that seemed like it was half AHLers for a good chunk of the 2019-20 season because of injuries.
Adjustment: Through four games I would slightly downgrade Columbus. I think their raw talent level is such that they have a fairly low ceiling. Cue Tortorella to somehow get more than seems possible out his team.
The Blackhawks are off to a 1-3-1 start after getting thrashed twice by the Lightning and then losing twice more to Florida. The team was a bit short on talent and steady veteran presences even before Jonathan Toews was ruled out. Combine two young goalies with a young team and some forwards who do not defend well, and maybe what we have seen of the Blackhawks so far is what we should have expected.
Adjustment: The Blackhawks are my biggest downgrade. I just do not see how they will keep the puck out of their own net with any regularity.
Coming into the season, I expected Nashville’s depth defensively to be enough to keep them in enough games. I still think that is the story with this team. The team is maybe a little short on high-end scoring talent, but it tends to get decent balance and also net decent scoring from the blue line.
Adjustment: I leave the Predators about where I had them prior to the start of the 2020-21 season as a middle-ish team in the division with the potential to rise from there.
Because of COVID-19 protocol issues, the Dallas Stars have yet to play, so obviously there is not adjustment based on their game play. The fact that nearly the entire team had COVID-19 and the Stars have not had to play with an undermanned lineup could be a long-term benefit for the Stars if they catch COVID-impacted opponents after they are past it and back to health.
Adjustment: None yet, as they have not played.
What say you Canes fans?
1) What are your thoughts on the division from what you have seen so far?
2) Which teams get upgraded from your preseason expectations?
3) Which teams get downgraded from your preseason expectations?
1) my thoughts are consistent with yours on the division now
2) Detroit is the most interesting one. They are fast and play a system whose intention is to create high quality scoring chances. They generally don’t throw a bunch of low quality chances at the net. Because of the system and speed, including the speedy forecheck, they could suddenly click at any time and be dangerous.
They will be fun to watch regardless.
3) Chicago started in a precarious position, with trouble down the middle. They are going to struggle. I haven’t watched CBJ yet, but am thinking the results aren’t what they wanted or expected.
Detroit is playing hard for Blashill. Says a lot for a team to work for a guy who has lost as many games as he has.
You left out that Tampa Bay has one of the best goalies in the NHL. Prohibitive favorite even without Kucherov.
Blackhawks in tank mode.
1. I really haven’t looked much at other teams in the division to have a meaningful opinion.
2. DET moves up big given the way they played against the Canes. They are fast, pass crisply, and seem to be able to stay in the o-zone.
3. CHI is about as bad as I thought they would be. But I expected more from CBJ so that is a definite downgrade for me. I am on the fence about NSH.
I think the Canes are going to be – after DAL – one of the first teams to learn how hard it is coming back from a covid layoff. The big news being Burriston dropping off exercise bikes to the players in the last couple of days does not speak well to conditioning. The lack of ice time for all of them, and the fact that 4 or 5 players are shut-in in their out-of-town hotel rooms doesn’t lead to a high level of confidence when the Canes start playing again.
I also think coming back from covid will be tough for 2 reasons. 1) obvious. 2) packing in the missed games to an already packed schedule. The secondary effect will be worse than the initial.
HOLY SHMOLY Batman! DAL just beat NAS 7-0! Maybe there is a “fresh legs” effect in game 1!
I doubt that this season will fully work out for all concerned. Covid is too contagious and I think the cancelations will pile up until the vaccine is effective.
One way to solve this would be to vaccinate NHL players first. Yeah, I know they are healthy, young and not at risk, but they provide important entertainment, travel and are in close contact.
For every player vaccinated the team could donate the equivalent of 10 vaccines to the public or some such.
I wouldn’t be surprised if most teams will have to miss 3 to 5 games at least once this season and given the already abbreviated season it would make for a logistical nightmare.
Players don’t really want to play in the playoff bubble and last summer the bubble turned out to be a massive, massive cash drain, so much so that owners don’t really want to make the playoffs for financial reasons.
For the Canes, I would focus as much as possible on giving the kids a chance, don’t focus on the playoffs and the cup, or at least do so with the parts that will power a run to the cup next year.
I’m not saying the Canes should “play to lose”, but rather focus on long-term benefit and treat this as a very extended pre-season.