Welcome back to Northern Exposure, your weekly NHL Canadian tour. Join me as I make a stop in each of the six (seven?) Canadian NHL cities, discussing stories of interest in each.
It may be very early in the Stanley Cup playoffs, but it is never too early for hyperbole. In its infancy, the two most dominant teams in the post-season call north of the border home. The Vancouver Canucks have dominated their nemesis and defending Stanley Cup champions Chicago Blackhawks. Roberto Luongo and his club have the Hawks on the brink of elimination, up 3-0 in their first round matchup. Meanwhile in the East, the Montreal Canadiens have the Boston Bruins searching for answers and might have chased probable Vezina trophy winner Tim Thomas from the Bruins net for game 3. Carey Price has been spectacular and timely scoring has staked the Habs to a 2-0 lead coming home for the next 2 games.
There is still a lot of hockey to play, but Gary Bettman‘s biggest nightmare could become reality – an All-Canadian Stanley Cup Final. This has only happened twice since the league expanded from 6 to 12 teams in 1967, both times involving Calgary and Montreal. The 1986 Habs won it all, while the Flames garnered revenge in 1989. With the NHL currently in major negotiations for its next US television deal, this would be the worst time for an All-Canadian matchup in the finals, from that standpoint. Meanwhile, CBC is salivating over the prospects and should have its highest ratings ever, should the improbable but increasingly possible match-up occur.
The next 6 weeks will have a lot to say about it, but early on the Canadian clubs have been the most impressive of the 16 playoff teams.
Now for the tour…This week we will start our journey in a new destination….
The city of Winnipeg is abuzz over the reports that the Phoenix Coyotes are already destined for a return to Winnipeg. Nothing has been announced officially and won’t be while the Coyotes are still in the playoffs, but reports are that the deal is done. In fact, there is already a season ticket canpaign going on in Winnipeg, as the city that never should have lost its team in the first place is on the verge of getting it back after 16 years.
The lone Winnipeg Jet remaining with the franchise is captain Shane Doan, but for the rest of the players, they are in for a shock in many respects if the relocation does in fact happen. Are the players prepared for a Winnipeg winter? Or playing in front of a full building on a nightly basis? Which one of these will be more of a shock to their systems? More to come on this story in future weeks.
Winning two games in Boston and coming home up 2-0 is just what the doctor ordered for the Montreal Canadiens. Brian Gionta and Scott Gomez have carried the team on their shoulders, and the speed of the Habs has been difficult for the Bruins’ defense to handle. The lack of Zdeno Chara (virus) on the blue line in game 2 was a blessing for the Habs and likely will keep Boston out of the series. The play of Carey Price has added ammunition for those fans who are touting their goalie for the Vezina over Thomas.
In Vancouver, the 3-0 lead they have taken over the Hawks is impressive for more than the lead they have. It is also in how they have done it. Not known for their physical play in the regular season, they have stepped it up and manhandled the Hawks in all parts of the ice. Given they way they have played, it would be in their best interest to finish the Hawks off as quickly as possible so they can remain fresh for their next opponents. If the Canucks can play this way against all teams, they will be extremely tough to beat for anyone that steps in front of them. The Canucks escaped further discipline to Raffi Torres who many felt should have been suspended by the NHL for is hit on Brent Seabrook in game 3.
Despite continued trade speculation, the Calgary Flames apparently have no intention whatsoever of moving captain Jarome Iginla. Acting GM Jay Feaster stated as much at the season ending “state of the team” address to the media. He stated that players like Iginla, Robin Regehr and Miikka Kiprusoff were the blocks upon which the team would be rebuilt.
WORLDS BOUND: Despite a number of candidates (Iginla, Bouwmeester, Regehr, Bourque, Glencross), no Flames were named to Team Canada for the upcoming World Championships. Don’t know who was asked and turned down the invite, but a lack of Flames’ representation is surprising.
The Edmonton Oilers had a major victory off the ice, as they held onto the first overall pick when New Jersey won the Draft Lottery, moving up from 8th spot to 4th, forcing the Islanders and Senators down a spot to fifth and sixth respectively. They are holding the keys and the player they choose to select will be another building block for the future. If I were an Oilers fan, Adam Larsson would look mighty good on the blue line next year.
WORLDS BOUND: Jordan Eberle and Devan Dubnyk were named to the Canadian Roster for the World Championships in Slovakia. Eberle played on the team last year, and was very excited about being able to continue his season again this year.
Toronto Maple Leafs assistant GM Dave Nonis is busy building Team Canada for the IIHF World Championships, and he has named 3 of his Leafs to the roster so far. Goalie James Reimer will join defensemen Dion Phaneuf and Luke Schenn as they don the” other” Maple Leaf in Slovakia at the end of the month.
WORLDS BOUND: In addition to the three mentioned above, Clarke MacArthur might also be named to the team. Management will wait and see if any players that are first round casualties in the NHL playoffs are better candidates for the team.
The Ottawa Senators saw their hopes of cashing in for a first overall pick die the moment the New Jersey Devils logo came out of the #4 envelope. Sliding to the sixth spot is not the end of the world, and speculation is that they might try to move up into the top 3 via trade, and with 5 picks in the top 65, Bryan Murray has plenty of chips with which to play at the table. Word is that Gabriel Landeskog is atop the Sens’ wish list, as he is the most NHL ready for next season.
WORLDS BOUND: Center Jason Spezza will continue to his rapid development from star to superstar at the Worlds for Team Canada, and should have a leadership role. He is the 2nd oldest player on the roster (former Senator Antoine Vermette is the greybeard), and his steep climb to maturity will continue if he gets to wear an A.
So ends our Canadian Tour for this week. Please return your tray tables and seat backs to their upright positions and fasten your seatbelts for landing! Thanks for flying with Too Many Men On The Site!