Boudreau

It is both justified, and annoying: anytime a hockey analyst or fan or fanalyst weighs in on something that’s happened in the NHL so far, it comes with the qualifier that “it’s early.” “It’s a small sample.” “It may not mean anything, buuut…”

And sure, these things may not mean anything. But as of early November, we suddenly note that teams who are already out of a playoff spot rarely find their way back in. One, two, maybe three teams may start poorly and climb their way into the playoffs, but some clear separation of the good from the bad teams has happened by then, and so I don’t think it’s unreasonable to zoom out after each team has played about five games and say “Do we have any clues to the direction of certain teams (or players) this season?”

Because the answer is, yes. We do have some clues. And some of the early ones that have my attention are…

Could Connor Bedard go to the Sharks?

Contrary to the beliefs of Sam McKee, the producer of Real Kyper and Bourne, I’m fairly certain that NHL drafts are not, nor have ever been, rigged. (I cannot believe the league has believed its brightest stars are best located in Pittsburgh and Edmonton over the years). And so I don’t believe it’s predetermined that Connor Bedard is going to go to the desert and save the Arizona Coyotes, who will undoubtedly finish in a league-wide place that falls between 30th and 32nd.

But I am intrigued by the idea of him ending up somewhere else with a warm climate, in San Jose. The Sharks are 0-5-0 to start the year, and looking at their forward group, it’s hard to imagine they’re suddenly going to rally and get to .500 (which would still miss the playoffs by a good distance). Their division has suddenly gotten very good – the Kings were a playoff team, Calgary and Edmonton have Cup aspirations, the Knights are off to a hot start – and it just doesn’t look like San Jose’s year. Are they dead last bad? Probably not. But they may be closer than most thought before their season quietly began in Prague.

If nothing else, the Buffalo Sabres are a handful

They’re only 2-1-0, and they’re on a tough west coast swing here where they’ll likely lose a game or two, but they just look like a team that’s a challenge to play against, which is a huge compliment. They’ve got big bodies – you saw Tage Thompson’s great goal, and maybe Ilya Lyubushkin’s latest big hit – they’ve got some young talent, and they work hard. I don’t see a playoff team necessarily in the tough Atlantic, but I do see a future with some real opportunity. Shocking as it is to say this, they’ve become really fun to watch.

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Bruce Boudreau the first coach on the hot seat?

Like many people, I love Bruce Boudreau. I think his teams love him too, mostly. But the way the Canucks have lost early, with blown leads and comments about being “mentally weak” and players-only meetings, and him not having a contract that extends into next season, and … boy.

The Canucks are good enough to get two-goal leads on teams regularly, that’s good. They’ll probably be a team that finishes somewhere in a 10-team range between 15th and 24th league-wide. But if the winning part of the season doesn’t happen soon, Boudreau may not see games 15-24 of the Canucks season.

Some teams that have inspired “oh damn, that’s an extremely good team” thoughts, and why:

A few of those teams: the Hurricanes, Flames, Rangers, and Golden Knights. And what do they have in common? Good defencemen.

With roughly every team wedged up against the salary cap to the point you have to accept some roster flaws, a number of teams have prioritized keeping good forwards, and in some cases, goaltending. But it’s the teams that’ve built solid D-corps who seem to have such an advantage right now, and the groups mentioned here fit that bill. Vegas hasn’t held on to all their forwards, but boy, that’s still a really good defence group (and wouldn’t you know it, the goalie looks good as a result).

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Related: early concerns for the Leafs, Lightning, and Oilers

Each of these teams that have come out of the gate slow entered the year really liking their respective groups, while being mildly concerned about their ability to defend. It’s weird to say about the Lightning, but without Ryan McDonagh and Jan Rutta, you’re suddenly seeing an awful lot of Cal Foote and Haydn Fleury and Philippe Myers. The Leafs lost Jake Muzzin, don’t have Timothy Liljegren and are getting questionable performances from the defenders who are in. The Oilers have talent on their D-corps, but don’t excel at the actual defending part, and while their season has barely begun, the ability of these teams to defend is certainly worth keeping an eye on.

What’s Pasta gonna cost the Bruins?

David Pastrnak looks like a salary storm for the Boston Bruins. It has all the elements of a big ticket. He’s young, at just 26. He’s a pending UFA. He scored 40 in his sleep last year despite missing 10 games, and already has a Rocket Richard Trophy. He’s been wildly underpaid for years – like Nathan MacKinnon was – earning just $6.6 million against the cap. He’s been dangling like crazy so far and has eight points in four games, the cap is rumoured to be going way up, so yeah … he’s not going to come cheap. Nathan MacKinnon got $12.6 million a year, though Pastrnak’s not going to get that on principle. But you’re nuts if you think he’s costing less than $10 million per season, and I bet it’s well north of that.

Sneaky good player of the season: Gustav Forsling

Though they’ve only played three games, Florida’s Forsling is currently one second behind Victor Hedman’s average TOI per game, at 25:29, which leaves him sixth in the NHL in that stat. With MacKenzie Weegar gone (and a fairly average D-corps in general), Forsling’s been elevated to a greater role, and looks like an effective player in those minutes (he’s a superb neutral zone defender). This from a guy who was a waiver pickup, and will be earning just $2.66 million for this year and next. All I know is Florida better hope he stays this good: Aaron Ekblad went on LTIR today, so don’t expect Forsling’s minutes to come down any time soon.

Why are the Flyers doing this?

Tanking is the worst, and every team should always be trying to win, full stop. But the Flyers starting 3-0-0, boy, I’m not sure this is the best thing for their future. But you don’t hire John Tortorella to have a peaceful trip to the league’s basement, so clearly they want to win. Props to them for getting things going in the right direction.

And finally, speaking of the basement…

Do the Habs have too many good players to finish around the bottom again?

I still expect the Habs to have some lottery balls and a chance at Connor Bedard, but watching this team, it’s tough to miss that they have a number of guys who can make plays and shoot the puck in the net. No, they don’t have a D-corps to speak of, but with their forward group, it doesn’t feel like you’re watching a team like Arizona or the Sharks or even the aforementioned Flyers. Between Cole Caufield and Nick Suzuki, Kirby Dach and Mike Hoffman, Brendan Gallagher, Jonathanb Drouin, Josh Anderson, even Sean Monahan and Evgenii Dadonov, they have guys who can make plays. If they aren’t going to be good this year, at least they may be fun to watch.



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