It's the Era of Good Feeling in Edmonton right now, and why not? New blood, new excitement, and, most importantly, wins in the first two games.
No doubt Oilers fans are unconcerned with the plight of an AHL defenceman, but I think the organization should be. Steve Tambellini/SheldonSouray is the messiest divorce since Sandra Bullock/Jesse James, and there are potentially far-reaching consequences.
I'm not picking a side here. Clearly, the Oilers needed a full-scale cleanout after last season's disaster. Tambellini made some very difficult decisions, including firing a coach who was a long-time friend and mentor. It looks like Edmonton will be better off because of those choices.
Here's the thing I've learned about Souray, though: He's pretty popular among his peers. Obviously, he's not as beloved in Edmonton, but that doesn't affect his relationships elsewhere. And that should be important to the Oilers.
The team's fans don't need reminders about how difficult it's been to attract players to the NHL's northernmost outpost. But there were other issues besides the obvious. For example, it was well-known around the league no team was more difficult to deal with when it came to getting new sticks or skates for the players. (That's one of the main reasons the equipment staff was changed.)
When you're battling to change your image, there can't be any loose ends. And that's why Tambellini should end this dance. So far, the GM refuses to put Souray on recallable waivers, which would allow another team to claim him for half of what remains on his contract. It's believed there is interest (Columbus, New York Rangers), because this deal is nowhere near as large as Wade Redden's. If no one snares Souray, then Tambellini can at least say, "Hey, I tried."
The longer this goes, the more it will give players another reason to be wary of Edmonton. Tambellini is trying - and succeeding - in building optimism. Why keep this storyline alive?
1) I admit it: I was watching the game and laughed when I saw James Wisniewski mock Sean Avery, mostly because of the sheer craziness of the situation. But, you can't have players doing that. One game, at least.
2) Glad to hear Ondrej Pavelec could be cleared to play sometime this week. However, both Ian Laperriere and Marc Savard admitted they rushed back too soon. I know it's the athlete mentality to get back as quickly as possible, but I really hope Pavelec is honest with himself. No one wants to see him go through that again.
3) Meanwhile, John Tavares and suffered what the Islanders called a "mild concussion" and Rene Bourque is suspected of having one. Researchers studying football are learning these kinds of glancing blows cause serious damage if you're not prepared for them. Neither player saw these collisions coming. Here's hoping the news is good on both.
4) There was a rumour this is going to be the last season of Daniel Alfredsson's NHL career. He laughed it off. "I haven't made that decision."
5) Think Sidney Crosby was a lot more disappointed than he lets on about not winning the Hart, or, more importantly to him, the Pearson. Probably wasn't as painful as the second round playoff defeat, but it bothered him.
6) One NHL GM, on Zdeno Chara's new deal with Boston: "I was hoping he'd get to unrestricted free agency."
7) Pierre LeBrun reported contract talks are beginning between Shea Weber and the Nashville Predators. I agree with Pierre when he says these are the most important negotiations in the franchise's history. (Weber is RFA next summer, UFA in 2012.) If he wants to stay, the best thing in Nashville's favour may be that Tennessee is a no-tax state. For that reason, the $4.8 million the Predators offered Phil Kessel compares nicely to Toronto's $5.4 million. Kessel still said no. How does Weber feel?
8) The only thing I didn't like about the Mike Green/Ilya Kovalchuk fight? Watch Kovalchuk's skates as both men fall to the ground. That's why I strongly disagree with Shawn Horcoff's goal Sunday night - skate blades should be kept on the ice as much as possible. They're too dangerous.
9) Unfortunate it didn't work out between Shane O'Brien and the Canucks. I think Canadian teams badly need players like that, funny guys who are willing to entertain the media during good times and bad. It takes some heat off your stars. One thing O'Brien said that other players would agree with: coaches like Alain Vigneault and Ron Wilson make it harder in tough markets because their cutting comments give everyone else licence to rip you too. However, O'Brien was guilty of giving Vigneault too much material.
10) Haven't had a chance yet to see it closely, but curious to see if Peter Schaefer changed his stick blade. In Ottawa, Schaefer's blade made Bryan Murray crazy. Murray would say Schaefer had a great shot, but the blade was so thin the winger couldn't use it.
11) Back in 2006-07, Schaefer played several games with a swollen eye. Doctors couldn't figure out the problem, until one found apiece of graphite from a stick in there. That's tough.
12) Ottawa's best off-season move may have been hiring Rick Wamsley to work with Pascal Leclaire. They were together in Columbus, and, as Leclaire says, "He knows if I'm off-track before I do." Now, if only Senators teammates could reach his early season level.
13) And I thought Toronto's pre-season schedule was bad. Ottawa played four back-to-backs. Amount of games their best lineup played together: 0. Amount of games it was even close: 1. Why do teams do this to themselves?
14) Technical changes Canadiens goaltending coach Pierre Groulx wanted to make with Carey Price: weight on the front on his feet, not the back; and a higher glove position.
15) Josh Gorges has eight goals in 330 NHL games. Wanting to improve, he worked on being in better position to shoot upon receiving a pass. Marc-Andre Bergeron, who can really fire it, gave him some tips. Gorges did score 11 in each of his last two junior seasons.
16) Ryan White had a great attitude about being sent down to AHL Hamilton when deserved to make the Canadiens. "I have to look at it as I did my job and I'll be back," he said. But I really felt for Alex Henry. White is 22, on the way up. Henry is 31, and won't get as many chances. He put on a brave face, but the politics must hurt.
17) Francois Beauchemin said one of the reasons he thought Toronto would be improved this year: "We're a better practice team." Last year, it wasn't unusual to see sloppy drills and missed passes. The veteran says the players police mistakes now, yelling at each other when something goes wrong. Dion Phaneuf is one of them, as are Clarke MacArthur and Colby Armstrong.
18) Ron Wilson, asked if he felt the pressure this season: "No, I feel relaxed because I like my team."
19) Here's a conversation with a Toronto exec, after Saturday's 5-1 win over Ottawa. Him: "What do you think about that?" Me: "Good start to the season for you." Him: "Thank God."
20) A lot of talk about the small crowds at some of the Europe games, but to me, the biggest issue is if the NHL teams should be playing exhibitions against the KHL. The Russian league takes those games very seriously. The Hurricanes removed Eric Staal because of dirty play. Two years ago, it was obvious to the Rangers that their game against Magnitogorsk meant a lot more to the Russian team than the American one.
21) Did Erik Gudbranson really go back to junior because a contract couldn't be worked out? Or, was that an excuse, the Panthers not wanting to "start the clock" with this young defenceman? I'd bet the latter.
22) Anaheim's given up eight goals in its first two games, with Cam Fowler on the ice for none of them. What's even more impressive is that Randy Carlyle called him "very special." Carlyle rarely - if ever - compliments his young players. Did GM Bob Murray ask Carlyle to loosen up? Wonder how long that lasts with the Ducks off to a bad start.
23) He may not last right now, but Nick Leddy's got a lot of fans around the league.
24) The vultures are circling around Todd Richards. Former Wild assistant Mario Tremblay has him fired already, and there's another bad omen. Owner Craig Leipold told The Minneapolis Star-Tribune: "Nobody in our front office thinks we're a team that's not going to make the playoffs. Period." Well, outside the organization, the feeling is the Wild don't have the high-end offensive talent necessary to play the way Richards likes. He may be fired for being a bad fit more than a bad coach. This team is not a contender.
25) We've had a lot on Wade Redden since the Rangers demoted him. Here's something else: You can bet the league fights hard for another buyout option in the next CBA.
26) Another CBA debate: Should teams like the Islanders receive revenue-sharing? Right now, they don't, because the population base is so large. I'd argue that franchise needs it as much as anyone else, as long as that money goes into players. You don't want them to abuse the system, losing games while making money (**cough Pittsburgh Pirates cough**).
27) A few scouts were saying Steve Downie is on the verge of becoming a real star. "He took a big step last year, can he take another one this year?" If he can keep his self-control, he's got a shot.
28) Derek Stepan became the fourth player to score a hat trick in his first game. That's not always a good omen. Alex Smart (1943) scored two NHL goals afterwards. Fabian Brunnstrom (2008) has 16. (The other is Real Cloutier, who'd played 369 games in the WHA beforehand. Doesn't really count.) Here's betting he beats both Smart and Brunnstrom combined.
29) What did Stepan get as a reward? Apparently, aYankees jersey in his stall. He's from Minnesota. Did anyone tell the Twins the series started yet?
30) Even Steve Simmons criticized The Toronto Sun's Nazem Kadri pacifier photo. (It was undeserved because the player didn't complain about his demotion.) It reminded me of another hockey-related Sun cover. During the 2002 playoffs, the Leafs beat the Islanders in seven brutal games. There was only one off-day before the next round against Ottawa, and the players were told to stay home. With a lack adequate preparation, the Senators slaughtered Toronto 5-0 in Game 1. Goaltender: Curtis Joseph. Headline on Toronto Sun: "Jo-Sieve". It took Joseph a long time to get over that.
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