Ten Things We Learned During the First Month of the NHL Season
Arizona's horrendous, Vegas has surprised, hockey players love Trump, and scoring is way up (at least for now).
Photo by Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports
October has come and gone, and it sure was eventful. Here are 10 things that we learned during the NHL season's first month.
1. Matt Duchene is still an Avalanche, for some reason — I'd give anything to reshoot the scene in Office Space when The Bobs ask Tom Smykowski what he does at Initech, only it's The Bobs asking Joe Sakic what he does at the Avalanche.
"What you do at Avalanche, is you take the contracts from your assistant GMs and you bring them down to the players?"
"Yes... yes, that's right."
"So, Joe, I just have to ask, why can't the assistant GMs just take the contracts directly to the players?"
"I'll tell you why. Because AGMs are not good at dealing with players."
"You physically take the contract from the AGM?"
"Well... no, my secretary does that. Or the fax."
"So you must physically bring them to the players."
"Well... no. I mean, sometimes."
"What would you say you do here?"
"Look, I already told you! I deal with the goddamn AGMs so the players don't have to! I have people skills! I am good at dealing with people! Can't you understand that?!?! What the hell is wrong with you people?!?!?"
It's bordering on lunacy that the Avalanche haven't dealt Duchene yet, and since they went 6-5-0 in October, they'll probably put it off for another month. He has eight points in 11 games, by the way. He's pretty good.
2. Vegas won't be the worst expansion team ever — With eight wins in 11 October games, the Golden Knights matched the win total of the expansion Washington Capitals (8-67-5) in 1974-75. There's still a very good chance the season goes sideways—when you're down to your fourth-string goaltender and lose in regulation to the New York Rangers, those are very bad omens—but the Knights gave their fans a great first month.
There are still organizational red flags, like having way too many defensemen because they couldn't trade them after misreading their value in the expansion draft, and the Vadim Shipachyov situation. When you give someone two years and $9 million and want to cut ties after three games, someone fucked up. This is still George McPhee running the operation so there's reason to believe things will get worse than anyone can imagine right now because everyone is currently dancing through the streets of Vegas like Homer in the land of chocolate.
3. Scoring is way up and it may be for real this time — I am the first to admit that I will always get suckered by increased scoring in October and take it to mean that it will continue throughout the season, freeing us from the hockey elitists who can't wait to tell you that you are an idiot if you can't appreciate the beauty of endless 2-1 and 1-0 games like they can. "Oh, you need goals to enjoy hockey, hmmm? Not me, for I only need to sniff my own farts and enjoy the wonder of low-scoring hockey."
We were at 6.2 goals per game entering Wednesday, the highest total since 1995-96. There are 17 players on pace for 100-point seasons and a few more that aren't that far off that pace. Again, I'm a goober and you will trick me into believing the NHL is getting more offensive because while I come across as cynical all I want is more goals in this stupid sport, but here's why I think it lasts.
Whenever the NHL expands, there's a decent chance scoring will rise. It's not that existing teams fatten up on the new team—it's that the new team thins the talent level across the league, and the elite players take advantage of this over the course of the season. Overall scoring doesn't rise after every expansion, but it's practically guaranteed that you'll see spikes in the numbers of the best players. There was one 100-point scorer last season; barring injuries, that number should rise to at least five, which in this era is terrific.
I think the new team paired with the new rules instituted the past two years to increase scoring will get the job done. If I'm wrong again, I can't wait to see you all back here next year when I fall for the same thing.
4. Arizona is flat-out horrendous — Because life hates me, I've seen three Coyotes games in person this season, so I am confident in telling you this team is just terrible. They're not catching bad breaks or lacking puck luck—they look like a team that doesn't have a coach. Bad breakouts, terrible forechecks, huge gaps between their defense and forwards when they attempt to break out of their zone, no goaltending. If the operation can't function without Antti Raanta for a few weeks, it was a doomed operation anyway.
The only other team I've ever seen that resembles this is when John MacLean coached the Devils for half a season in 2010-11, and now he's a Rick Tocchet assistant in Arizona, so this is probably going to last all season. It says something about the coaching staff when this team added Derek Stepan, Raanta, Niklas Hjalmarsson, and Jason Demers and the season is over before the calendar hits November.
Thirteen games, zero regulation wins. This would be bad if the Coyotes were an expansion team, so it's criminal that this is an established NHL team that got to play an expansion team twice in October.
5. Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov are beautiful — Name a more iconic duo. I'll wait. I think that's how that meme works. Anyway, Stamkos is on pace for 38 goals and 151 points; Kucherov is on pace for 82 goals and 132 points. Kucherov is criminally underpaid because the NHL's collective-bargaining agreement is about as close as you can get to having unfair labor practices while avoiding criminal charges but he's a $10 million player, as is Stamkos when he's healthy, which he is. The Lightning have looked like the NHL's best team through one month and unless they get ravaged by injury again, they should be a conference finalist for the third time in four years.
6. Hockey players love Donald Trump — Whether it was the Penguins jumping at the chance to visit the White House, Golden Knights forward Alex Tuch dressing as a border patrol guard with "THE WALL" as a name tag or Connor McDavid dressing as the man himself, hockey players showed how much they love the American president. They love his politics, administration and more and more people are saying this, let me tell you.
I thought it was odd that McDavid caught way more hell for his costume than Tuch, because there's not really a whole lot of room for interpretation when you dress as border patrol. At least with Trump, you can make the case you're dressing as him to make fun of him all night. Like, what if McDavid acted really scared every time he was around a flight of stairs? Or if he wore a diaper that he soiled every 20 minutes? That's hilarious. There's really no gag with a border patrol costume.
Of course, McDavid is 20 and Tuch is 21, so in actuality they probably put zero thought into the costumes other than, "I think this is funny" because young, rich people are not comedy mavens. I dressed as Anton Chigurh a while back and it wasn't because I thought strangling cops and shooting Woody Harrelson was a good idea; I just thought flipping a coin and doing the Chigurh voice while holding a gun that had a rolling pin wrapped in aluminum foil as the silencer was funny. So it's unfair to assume that McDavid is pro-Trump because of the costume.
McDavid is, however, a super rich hockey player that gave a non-explanation explanation when asked about the costume, so maybe he does loves Trump and has a fantasy about playing a round of golf with him, but is too dumb to understand why that's bad. My baseline with hockey players is "they all love Trump unless explicitly stated otherwise" so thoughts and prayers to McDavid about the indictments Monday.
7. Penguins on back-to-backs — The Penguins have the second-worst goal-differential in October and it's largely because they've been slaughtered on the second half of back-to-backs (and the since-jettisoned Antti Niemi). They've lost 10-1, 5-4, 7-1, and 7-1 in those situations, and the most recent blowout occurred with Matt Murray in net, so the Penguins need to figure this out before it becomes a season-long problem.
Tristan Jarry is the current backup after the Penguins demoted Casey DeSmith, who didn't fare too well in relief of Murray against the Jets. It's odd the Penguins didn't start DeSmith for the 7-1 thrashing in Winnipeg that Murray endured, because how could he have been any worse than Niemi in that situation? Murray has yet to play a full NHL season so running him into the ground during the first half seems like a bad idea.
8. Buffalo stinks — Boy was I bullish on the Sabres this year. New coach, a full season of Jack Eichel, an Eastern Conference in decline. Yet they are somehow worse than they were last year. They are 3-7-2 and dead last in the East. Eichel is snapping sticks over his leg. They have the eighth-worst PDO, so there are signs this will turn around, but man, what a terrible start to what was supposed to be a promising season.
Is this what it's like to be a Buffalo sports fan? Are you just counting down the hours until the Bills lose to the Jets on Thursday night? I tell you, it's enough to make you want to get drunk and drive your truck into a donut shop, then flee the scene. I don't know how you do it.
9. Coaches can't be fired — In any other season, at least two coaches would be out on their asses right now. But since all the teams that are bad either have new coaches (Buffalo, Arizona, Florida) or coaches that just signed new contracts (Montreal, N.Y. Rangers), everyone is just cruising into November consequence-free. The Oilers are the only team that doesn't fit either of those bills, but that roster isn't Todd McLellan's fault. He didn't pull the trigger on the Ryan Strome-Jordan Eberle deal (or any other deal made by Peter Chiarelli, really).
10. The Kings hated Darryl Sutter — Remember last season when the Kings were stacking garbage cans in front of the locker room door to keep Darryl Sutter out of the room and everyone was like, "Hey, that's just players blowing off steam! Who among us hasn't used garbage bins to prevent our bosses from entering a work space?" Well, Drew Doughty let everyone know that this hot Kings start has everything to do with players not hating their lives and dreading coming to work every day.
"This is the most fun I've had playing hockey since we won the Stanley Cup three years ago," Doughty said to the media. "It's been a rough few years for us. We've come to the rink, not with smiles on our face, but this year, it's a whole different thing. We have a new coaching staff. We have a lot of life in the room."
When all entrances to a room aren't guarded by dumpsters, I'd imagine that creates a better energy in there. You don't usually get too much out of players when it comes to new coaches. They give you crap like, "They communicate better!" or "We just needed a new voice!" but Doughty went with, "Our lives were miserable and now the air is sweeter and the sun shines brighter!" and it was a big deal for like eight hours.
I don't have a lot of rules when it comes to hockey news, but I think all stories that involve shit-talking a coach that won Stanley Cups and couldn't get into a locker room after a game because of garbage cans should be news for at least two days.
[Correction: The original version of this story stated that the Oilers traded Jordan Eberle for Dylan Strome. It was in fact Dylan's brother Ryan who was traded for Eberle. It changes nothing about our opinion of Peter Chiarelli.]