Each week, hockey columnist Scott Morrison and his protegé, senior hockey writer Tim Wharnsby, exchange (mostly) friendly banter on the latest storylines in the NHL.
1. Which team will win the world junior championship in Buffalo: Canada or the United States?
WHARNSBY: In this job you try to remain objective, but I must admit that, having covered 16 world junior tournaments, it’s hard not to root for your country’s teenagers. So, of course, Canada will win. The U.S. has eight returnees, including goalie Jack Campbell and a couple in defenceman in Nick Leddy and forward Jeremy Morin who have played for the Stanley Cup-champion Chicago Blackhawks this season. But I like Canada’s leadership, led by captain Ryan Ellis, head coach Dave Cameron and his staff. This Canadian team isn’t loaded with big names, but sometimes that can be a good thing in a tournament like the world juniors.
MORRISON: Unlike my protégé, I don’t come armed with pom poms. Having said that, it is difficult to select against Canada in these junior tournaments for obvious reasons, but this was supposed to be the tournament towards which the Americans were building their program. Winning last year was a year ahead of schedule, but this is still the one they targeted and they will win on home ice. Wiser folks than I wonder where the goals will come from for the Canadian squad. Please don’t deport me.
2. What's been your favourite story in the past week?
MORRISON: Hands down, Bruce Boudreau getting a call from his Mom about the many cuss words he used on the now-famous premiere of the HBO behind-the-scenes show 24/7. But know this, folks: that is how coaches talk.
WHARNSBY: His next game will be the 670th of his NHL career, but there was doubt that 34-year-old Ryan Johnson of Thunder Bay, Ont. would play another game after he was left unsigned this summer because of health concerns. Johnson, a shot blocker extradinaire, had broken bones in both feet and needed time to recover this summer. Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville, who was familiar with Johnson when he played under Quenneville with the St. Louis Blues, convinced Chicago management to sign Johnson to a one-year contract worth the league minimum $500,000 US. The Blackhawks have two wins in two games with Johnson in the lineup.
3. What did you make of Tom Renney’s bold statement that his young Edmonton Oilers could make the playoffs? The Oilers coach said, "Nothing will surprise me with this group at all. It won’t surprise me when we make the playoffs. The biggest surprise at all might be if we don't."
WHARNSBY: I admire Renney’s nerve. But how can you not like his club’s recent 8-4-1 run after a 4-10-4 start? That’s progress, baby. And if the Oilers continue to demonstrate this kind of betterment, who knows what can happen in their final 51 outings. In the previous five seasons, the eighth-place team in the West has finished with between 91 and 96 points. So that means Edmonton has to pluck a minimum 62 points from its remaining games.
MORRISON: It’s nice that Tom likes his team and well he should. They have improved a lot and are fun to watch, but sustaining that improvement will be a challenge. I tend to think they need too many points and have to leapfrog too many teams.