Whenever you say the word ‘hockey’ these days, the next thing that leaps to mind is ‘Canada.’
Maybe they’ll fix that when they’re doing the rebrand on Justin Trudeau’s new national hockey oversight body, Sunny Games (feat. sticks and pads).
The NHL has managed to avoid most of this mess. How did it do that? By saying nothing, and then standing completely still whenever anyone looks its way.
It knows that we know that it knows that this is not over for it. But until the whole story comes tumbling out, it’s going to keep schtum.
Maybe that’s why the season crept up on us. After a soft launch in Europe over the weekend, the 2022-23 NHL campaign begins in earnest on Tuesday.
What’s happened since we last saw our Canadian heroes dangling from a bridge and about to be swept away by the playoffs? They were, and then most of them got worse.
The Leafs – worse.
They replaced one pretty good goalie with two large question marks that have heads and arms. Is Matt Murray the answer for Toronto? As soon as you ask that question, you already know. Especially in this city. Has any one guy ever been the answer for Toronto? You’re not allowed to yell out ‘Red Kelly!’ If we’re talking about a time when there were farms on the north side of St. Clair Ave., then that’s too long ago.
If Murray felt pressured in Ottawa, this city is going to catch his head in a 24-hour-a-day vice. Yes, he’s won Cups. But no, not recently, and never without the mid-canonical Pittsburgh Penguins roster in front of him.
Let’s put it this way – if Matt Murray takes this bunch of mutts from zero to Stanley Cup in one year, he is the greatest Leaf of all time. They should knock down the arena, build a Colossus of Rhodes-sized statue of him where it once stood and leave Toronto hockey perfect forever.
The Oilers – worse.
Since when is picking up the Leafs’ leftovers a good NHL strategy? The Bad News Bears hadn’t put anyone you liked on waivers?
This is not to say that new Oilers No. 1 and formerly the most roundly liked Maple Leaf, Jack Campbell, isn’t a decent goalie. It’s not the talent. It’s the pedigree.
There is a school of thought that Leafs goalies get magically better once they leave. Frederik Andersen is the most recent example. I’d be better too if I went from this greenhouse of anxiety to the wide, open spaces of North Carolina, where none of the people shopping alongside you at Mega Mart have ever heard of hockey. But that hasn’t made any of them winners.
Edmonton needs a winner. Like the Leafs, their window is closing. It’s now or whenever people stop coming to games. So … forever, I guess.
The Canadiens – worse.
It’s beginning to feel like Carey Price wasn’t just the best Montreal Canadien. Maybe he was the only Montreal Canadien. Last time he was there – Stanley Cup final out of nothing. Since then – just barely a professional hockey team.
Let’s call the Canadiens – who just lost all of their preseason games – a work in progress.
The team has spent the last while debating their favourite hockey topic – the French language.
When the Canadiens are good, the hockey is all that matters. When the Canadiens are bad, everything else comes into play. Now they’ve got a captain who speaks la belle langue like he’s gargling marbles while reading from a pill bottle and the premier’s up in their business. It’s going to be a long year.
Winnipeg – same.
The Jets used to be so beautiful. Shiny and new and full of promise. Relatively unspoilt by a lengthening recent history of Canadian failure at Canada’s game. Fun fans and a cool playoff gimmick. They were all of our secret hope.
Now they seem as tired and dysfunctional as the rest. It’s found itself in the Canadian Predicament – not very good, but terrified to change.
Are they better? Worse? Who knows? They’re Canadian. They’ve got some problems that can’t be fixed by general managers. Maybe an exorcist can help? The seven franchises should get together and see if they can get a package rate.
Vancouver – same.
Everything we just said about the Jets, but rainier.
Can a full season of Bruce Boudreau fix whatever’s wrong with a team that should be good, but isn’t? I don’t know, and I strongly suspect the Vancouver Canucks don’t either.
Are they at least filming it? Because at least that way it’ll be funny when it all falls apart. Bruce, do the ice cream bit again. C’mon. Please. Just once.
Ottawa – better.
Showed real verve this past summer in improving the lot of its constituents, which is not something you usually associate with the city of Ottawa.
The real coup was convincing that sinking tanker of a franchise in Chicago to give them Alex DeBrincat.
Is DeBrincat the answer for Ottawa? In this case, yes. Because he is a viable NHL star and, once he found out he was headed to our nation’s capital, didn’t pretend he couldn’t speak English and then move to a remote island without WiFi for the summer. He just went along with it. Pair that with Claude Giroux choosing to sign there and it’s almost as if NHLers no longer treat Ottawa like Area 51.
Is it safe to return to the arena again? Probably. If not playoff-ready, the Senators are playoff-adjacent.
Calgary – much better.
Once Johnny Hockey dumped Calgary so he could date someone much worse, that’s when the city knew it was time to move on. And like a surprising number of sad-sack, recent dumpees, they found someone better – Jonathan Huberdeau.
We could argue one guy’s abilities vs. the other, but the big difference is that one of them wants you and the other guy wants to live in tract housing near a Walgreens.
They also got Nazem Kadri so, at the very least, faces will no longer go unscrubbed in southern Alberta.
Calgary is headed where the Leafs and Oilers so often fear to go – into the land of big change at the top. How the Flames manage that will set the latest fashion going into the next off-season. So for purely dramatic reasons, here’s hoping the Flames succeed wildly.
There are also 25 American teams. But since they always win in the end, the kind thing to do is to let the Canadian clubs shine now. Poor little guys, they never get picked for anything.