Welcome to 10 Insights and Observations. Every Thursday, I’ll use this space to highlight teams, players, storylines, and general musings around the NHL, and perhaps at times, the greater hockey world.
This week we look at some under-the-radar players including Shane Pinto, Matt Roy and Phil Kessel (!?), good and bad NHL marketing and much more.
Pinto an early Sens standout
Ottawa made a lot of headlines this summer with a big trade, a big free agent signing and massive extensions. All rightfully so, as they were all sizeable moves for a franchise that has generally operated on a tight budget.
Shane Pinto wasn’t an acquisition but he might as well have been. Last season was all but a waste for him, injuring his shoulder, returning, injuring it again and needing surgery. He only played in parts of five games for Ottawa.
Naturally, he has started this season with two goals in three games — he had one in 17 career games before the season began — including this beauty.
It’s a little difficult to appreciate just how good this overall play is from him. He supports Thomas Chabot low in the defensive zone and then makes a quick outlet pass to a wide-open Artem Zub to relieve pressure and kickstart the breakout before racing up ice to get open and one-time the puck home.
Both of his goals so far this season have come off one-timers. He is getting tough zone starts to begin the season — nearly 70% defensive zone starts (on non-neutral zone faceoffs) — and is in a bit of a third-line checking role. It’s a tough task for a player finding his footing in the league on a team that now has some expectations attached to it but the early returns are promising.
Defensemen are built different now
The Vancouver Canucks won’t like to hear it but comebacks in the NHL are great for the product. Last season, the NHL averaged 6.28 goals per game, which was the highest mark in the league since 1995-96.
The early 2000s were filled with trap hockey and after the full-season lockout ended in 2005, goals did go up but were inflated by the increase in power plays being dished out with the “new” rules in place. Now we are simply seeing offense and talent on full display. No lead is safe.
The types of players we are seeing in the league are stylistically shifting. How many shut-down, top-pairing defensemen do we see in the mold of an Adam Foote or a Scott Hannan? It simply doesn’t happen anymore.
There were 19 defensemen that averaged at least 24 minutes per game in the league last season, and all but four of them put up at least 40 points. Two of the four that didn’t were Drew Doughty and Chabot, each of whom would have easily hit the mark had they stayed that healthy. That group of 19 doesn’t even include Adam Fox, John Carlson or Morgan Rielly, who had 74, 71 and 68 points, respectively.
For reference, the season before the lockout, there were 25 defensemen that averaged over 24 minutes per game and 10 of them were under 40 points per game. If you’re logging big minutes you’re driving offense in some capacity now.
Lewis aging like fine wine
One of the oldest players in the league is Trevor Lewis, who was drafted 17th overall by the Los Angeles Kings in 2006. It is difficult to think of many other NHLers that were drafted in the first round as skill players and have completely reinvented their game and lasted in the league.
Lewis played 10 seasons with the Kings, winning two Cups as a role player. After a short stint in Winnipeg, he reunited with Darryl Sutter in Calgary in 2021-22. He turned in a strong playoff performance, including five points in 12 games and closing games for the Flames when they were protecting leads. He’s not a big point-producer but he makes winning plays by doing the little things, like he did here.
There he was yet again, late in a tight game, winning a battle along the wall that eventually led to the game-winner. He wasn’t the true reason that goal was scored and he rightfully doesn’t get a point, but he makes the small plays that lead to the big play and at 35 is still humming along in the league on a strong Calgary team.
Success of the coaching carousel
In a rare move that might work out for everyone, the Bruins fired Bruce Cassidy, who went to Vegas. The Golden Knights look strong and he has them humming to start the season.
Vegas had an opening because it fired Peter DeBoer, who ended up on a strong Dallas team that looks like it will be a problem this season.
And that circles back to Dallas’s coach from a few seasons ago, Jim Montgomery, who ended up in Boston. Montgomery was fired by the Stars for unprofessional conduct, which Montgomery admitted was “deserved.” About 10 months later he was back on the bench with the St. Louis Blues as an assistant coach before getting back to leading a team. It’s early, but Bruins goalie Jeremy Swayman has given him a strong endorsement.
“He’s definitely commanded us the right way, and we love him here,” Swayman said, via NESN.
Here’s to hoping he’s able to keep his off-ice issues behind him and stay the course. He’s a heck of a coach and has been well-liked in a number of stops.
Don’t sleep on Roy
The Kings are flush with talent on the right side of their defense. Doughty naturally gets a ton of attention — especially after he was putting together a strong rebound season last year before getting hurt. While he was out, Sean Durzi joined the team and emerged as a legitimate skill player.
It’s easy to forget about Matt Roy in that mix, but he is a player. He’s 27 and making $3.15 million in the second year of a three-year deal. He’s rounding out LA’s top four at the moment, averaging nearly 19 and a half minutes per game, including over three minutes per game shorthanded. He’s off to a blistering start, too, potting three goals in five games to open the season, including this late marker to tie the game (which led to an eventual win). He was all over the ice and had a great chance seconds before scoring, too.
He’s generally been paired up with Durzi this season. They will need to iron out some things on defense but the offense is flowing. Roy is one goal away from his career-high already.
Phil is still a thrill to watch
It took until Aug. 24 for Phil Kessel and an NHL club to come to an agreement and that might prove to be one of those “how did he last so long” signings when we look back on this season. The stats show one assist in four games but so far he’s playing on a Golden Knights line with Jack Eichel and Rielly Smith and they are controlling the play.
It’s a limited 33-minute sample and they’ve been on for one goal and none against at 5-on-5 as a trio, controlling nearly 62 percent of the shot share and expected goals. What stands out is the puck movement from Kessel, adding another playmaker to Vegas’s roster. His lone assist so far this season came off a nice bit of puck movement here, with him and Eichel moving around the offensive zone and Kessel ultimately snapping a crisp pass to the point that led to a goal.
Kessel is 35 now and his game has limitations, but he can still produce. He had 52 points last season on the Arizona Coyotes. Now he’s making $1.5 million playing on a contender in a prime top-six role.
NHL botched opening night
I don’t want to sit here and complain about things all the time but it would be remiss if there was no mention whatsoever about the start of this season. Seriously, did anyone know the NHL opened overseas? Who was watching that game? Where was it promoted? A few days later the words “welcome to opening night” were said before puck drop, but the season had already started.
The reason this is really being brought up is we all love the game and want to see what’s best for it to help it continue growing. That opening can’t be it. Overseas contests that nobody knows about followed by two games on a Tuesday night? Make it an opening weekend. Have a bunch of games. Make it a whole extravaganza. But the approach this season was a face palm, and that’s putting it nicely.
New ads not going over well
Similarly, video ads have not gone smoothly. This simply can’t happen.
That’s a glitch out of a video game in 2008. We all understand the reasoning behind video ads during the game, but do it right. There have been all sorts of examples of issues with the display and how distracting it can be.
It is disheartening when the viewing experience appears to be going backwards instead of forwards. Revenues going up makes everyone happy but it can’t come at the expense of fans enjoying the actual games.
Reverse retros a smashing success
On the flip side, let’s talk about positives. The Adidas reverse retros look like a massive win. Some great jerseys are back! The Leafs paying tribute to their 2006 alternates, the Rangers bringing back the Statue of Liberty beauties and the Capitals with the screaming eagle are all standouts. I have even come around on the Predator that Nashville is bringing back. The Buffalo head is awesome.
There will naturally be some flops. That is to be expected. It happens. But the previous reverse retro series from just a few years ago was disappointing at best. There are misses and then there are the Detroit Red Wings and Dallas Stars jerseys they released. Early returns are no jerseys that are that bad. I can’t wait to see so many of these in action.
This chant needs to go
Lastly, one of the things all sports need to get rid of is the “Ref you suck” chant. It’s tired and unoriginal. At this point, it sounds like we’re hearing it in almost every arena. Fans love getting after the refs and sometimes it’s even warranted. But every single arena chanting the same thing has really taken the shine and meaning away.
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