by Mike Ries

Always late to the party, this year I chose not to prognosticate and to let the season begin before I took a look into the crystal ball. This will be the first time in forever it seems that the game we all love, will be played in front of full arenas of fans on both sides of the border. Albeit the fans on the northside of the border are still restricted on travelling to the good old USA. But that is a political rant for another day.

What is clearly evident through the beginning of the 2021/22 NHL regular season that there are new contenders that will be in the forefront sooner, rather than later namely the New York Islanders, Carolina Hurricanes and the Florida Panthers . The contenders of old namely Pittsburgh, Nashville and Vegas are starting to show signs of age and are paying for years of trading away top flight talent in a win now mode. It is refreshing to say the least to see young teams like the New York Rangers, Ottawa Senators and Los Angeles Kings show signs of life and will be once again in the hunt.

In the case of the Canadian teams it appears to be the same old song and dance with the two most storied Canadian franchises. The Toronto Maple Leafs and general manager Kyle Dubas are once again grasping at straws and will see a quick exit from the postseason with the team that he has constructed. The team lacks and has for years a true number one goaltender and the fact that the malaise of this very team was hung on the head of departing goaltender Freddie Andersen is quite frankly a joke. They have in fact overpaid for their top six forwards and are quite handcuffed with salary cap restraints and will never ascend to greater heights with a player of the ilk of Mitch Marner who is more intent on watching his fancy plays than focusing on his 200 foot game. The other storied franchise the Montreal Canadiens are still smirking over their Stanley Cup final appearance last season and hats off to them. But second place in pro sports is the first loser and sorry all you Nancy’s out there the name of game is winning ….period. The Habs will suffer the same fate as the Dallas Stars who preceded them to the final dance the previous year and to be sacrificed to the Tampa Bay Lightning. They will not make the Stanley Cup Playoffs this season. I have said it over and over for years, the lack of an abundance of quality draft picks in the last ten plus years has this team heading nowhere fast. The remaining Canadian teams on the other hand have all headed in the right direction and do not be surprised that Connor McDavid and his Oilers go deep into the Stanley Cup Playoffs this season.

The two time defending Stanley Cup Champions Tampa Bay will have something to say before Lord Stanley is hoisted once again. In the West the Minnesota Wild, Oilers and perennial favorites the Colorado Avalanche will rise to the top this season. In the East the aforementioned Lightning will battle with cross state rivals the Florida Panthers and the Washington Capitals to make it to the final dance.

The Seattle Kraken Get Crackin

by Mike Ries

The 2021 NHL Expansion Draft was anticlimactic to say the least, with most of the expansion picks by the Kraken leaked and reported on by the media long before the 8pm show scheduled to air on ESPN. The leaked expansion picks to the media, was no surprise in this day and age of Social Media. Absolutely everything finds it’s way into Social Media sooner more often than later. The Carey Price saga quickly evaporated as Seattle took defenceman Cale Fleury from the Canadiens instead of saddling themselves with a ten plus million dollar contract. Price would have been the perfect face of the franchise and would have generated millions in jersey sales and made the Kraken immediately recognizable in the hockey world. Price after all is a West Coast boy and his wife is from the Seattle area.

General Manager Ron Francis took a completely different route than the previous new entry into the NHL, the Vegas Golden Knights. The Knights and their management team drafted players and made side deals with teams to not draft certain players . They became instantly successful and made a Stanley Cup Final’s appearance and have been successful since their inception. The Kraken will not be successful out of the gate with the roster that they now assembled. Their strength will come from their defence as they signed ex Oiler Adam Larsson and drafted former Flames Captain Mark Giordano, who will become the immediate face of the franchise and no doubt their first ever captain. Along with Vince Dunn from St. Louis and Jamie Oleksiak from Dallas, they have a strong top four on the backend.

General Manager Ron Francis has a history from his days with the Carolina Hurricanes of building from the draft. The Kraken will be hard pressed to put the biscuit in the basket on a regular basis. They will rely heavily on Yanni Gourde( Tampa Bay) and Jordan Eberle(NYI) to be the go to scorers. With those two as your top forwards, one would be concerned that they will be on the losing end of the scoreboard most nights in the NHL. Francis still may have a few moves left up his sleeve to add to his lack of scoring upfront. The Kraken have a ton of room in the salary cap and do not be surprised if they bring in a a high priced free agent forward.

Seattle passed on Carey Price and instead will put heir faith in Vitek Vanecek(Washington), Joey Daccord(Ottawa) and Chris Driedger(Florida). They have a solid trio in those goaltenders, some would argue better than a few established teams. Vanecek is the wild card for me, he may come out of the scrum as the starter in this group. All three have a small sample size at the NHL level and it is anyone,s guess how it will play out. One thing is for certain, Driedger will battle hard for the starting job. He has battled his whole career and having spent time with him in the Ottawa organization there is no one who works harder at his craft than he does.

One thing is for certain, Ron Francis and his management team will have the good ship Kraken righted sooner than later. There will not be immediate success, but there will be long term success for this franchise going forward. Seattle will stick to the plan in place and with a solid management core and stable ownership they will be one of the up and coming teams in the near future, along with Ottawa Senators and Detroit Red Wings.

Back to Back…Baby!!!

by Mike Ries

The Tampa Bay Lightning were crowned 2021 Stanley Cup Champions on Wednesday Night and the celebration has not stopped. The Lightning were far and away the best team and the best team always wins the championship. Not to take anything away from the Montreal Canadiens, who through true grit and determination made their way to the Stanley Cup Final since 1993 and gave hope to a nation that Lord Stanley could possibly return home north of the border. Unfortunately their magic ran out in the final round and were dominated from the drop of the puck in game one. The Habs were thin offensively to start the playoffs and the concealed injuries to Tyler Toffoli and Brendan Gallagher made scoring goals for les Canadiens damn near impossible and painful to watch at times.

The Montreal Canadiens to their credit defied the odds by upsetting Toronto, Winnipeg and Vegas. Nothing to be ashamed of there at all as every so called expert predicted they would fold like a cheap tent in every series. Head coach Dom Ducharme had every player to a man believing in the system that he installed and they played their hearts out. Despite not having much in the way of offensive talent, they relied on the big four horses they had on defence to derail the opposition and of course Carey Price. Who was Carey Price and did what he could to propel this team forward. Unfortunately for the Canadiens faithful the divisions will go back to normal next season. That will mean even a larger hill to climb for Montreal and a playoff berth is even a longshot with the team that they have at the moment. There is no mistaking the fact that they have some top end young talent in Cole Caufield and Nick Suzuki and Phillip Danault who emerged as a top tier forward. General manager Marc Bergevin may have escaped the chopping block at the end of this season with the Habs Cinderella run. He and his staff may not be so lucky after next season.

The Tampa Bay Lightning are still enjoying the genius that is former General Manager Steve Yzerman. This is still for the most part his blueprint that current General Manager Julien BriseBois has had the fortune of inheriting. The Lightning some argue won the Cup with a roster that was almost 20% over the cap. But they did not do anything any other team would not have done in the Kucherov case. The NHL has changed the no cap rule in the playoffs for next season as a result of the Tampa situation. Tampa will look quite a bit different next season as they will need to trim quite a few current players from the roster to maintain the core talent they have. The upside for the Lightning is that they have a deep pool of talent to draw from in Syracuse and still in Junior and College. The Bolts are as deep on defence as any team in the NHL and are led by perennial Norris Trophy candidate Victor Hedman and he shows no signs of wear and tear.

To repeat as champion in any league is a major feat and should not be over looked. The Lightning were crowned Stanley Cup champions playing in a bubble with little outside world interaction and an experience no one had ever had been through in history. This season they for the most part iced the same team, save for a couple of players. All the while improving as team game by game it appeared. Tampa had the ability to play and adapt to what the opposition’s style of play was. In this years final Tampa dominated at both ends of the ice and made a statement that they were deserving of hoisting Lord Stanley.

Les Canadiens Need the Energy of Their Rabid Fans

by Mike Ries

The 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs have been nothing short of spectacular in this day and age of NHL hockey. The Tampa Bay Lightning have proven once again that they are still the best team on the planet. They are able to play any style of hockey and adapt to the team that is put in front of them. Regardless of the rule bending they applied to circumvent the salary cap that is nonexistent in the playoffs. Speaking of course to the surgery that kept top winger Nikita Kucherov out of the lineup all season. The Lightning are four lines deep and have one of, if not the best core of defencemen in the league. General Manager Julien Brisebois has learned well from his predecessor Steve Yzerman and built a team that can play the run and gun style and beat you 7-6 or they can play a tight defensive style and win 2-1. The Lightning have in goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy the top goalie in the league by a long shot and he is proving it in the 2021 Stanley Cup Final. Tampa honestly does not have a glaring weakness and Montreal is finding that out the hard way to date in the Finals.

The Montreal Canadiens by all accounts should long be exited from the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Unfortunately for the Toronto Maple Leafs they started to believe their own hype and were more concerned about making the pretty play instead of winning hockey games. Les Canadiens beileve to a man in the system that Dom Ducharme has inserted and they make up for the lack talent and skill throughout their lineup, with heart and desire. They made fast work of the Winnipeg Jets and the Vegas Golden Knights. Until the final series the Habs have been able to stymie the opposition and the fast pace that most teams use in transition. Montreal first and foremost needs to score the games first goal and defend off the rush from that point forward. They are adept at keeping the play to the outside and with the size on defence that they have, it makes it almost impossible for the opposition to drive the net.

The Tampa Bay Lightning are the first team that Montreal has faced that plays as tight defensively as they do. That creates a whole new set of problems for the Habs as they are undermanned at the forward position and it is showing on the scoreboard and in the series, with Tampa holding a commanding 2-0 lead. The first game of the series the Habs looked and were tired and it was a write off as far as the game went. Game two was a different story as the Canadiens threw everything but the kitchen sink at Vasilevskiy to no avail. The out played Tampa, but with the lack of scoring depth on this team they could again only muster one goal against the Lightning.

The series returns to La Belle Province for games three and four and it is an outrage that the government will not allow the team to have the arena at half capacity. No where on this planet is hockey more revered and followed than the Province of Quebec. There is no doubt it will be a crazy scene outside the Bell Centre, but the team needs the vocal support of it’s fans IN the arena for these games and to prolong the series and to give Montreal a punchers chance to bring the Cup home North of the border

Who the Fack is Jack Eichel

by Mike Ries

The Buffalo Sabres won the consolation prize in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft when they fell short by one place in securing Connor McDavid a true generational player. The Sabres took solace in the fact that they had the second pick and that the next best available player according to the experts was Jack Eichel who had spent 2 seasons with the U.S. National Development Team as their leading scorer both seasons. He then went on to play one season with Boston University and was thought to be the corner stone that the Sabres franchise could build a team around and propel them into a contender.

Fast forward six seasons later and the Sabres are nothing short of a dumpster fire and have not seen the playoffs in the time that Eichel has been with the Sabres. He has however cost three coaches their jobs, including Stanley Cup winner Dan Bylsma. Bylsma lasted two seasons with the Sabres until Eichel publicly feuded with his coach. The Pegula’s who own the Sabres and the NFL’s Bufflao Bills have kowtowed to Eichel and his every growing ego. The Pegula’s have done wonderful things in revitalizing the area around KeyBank Center in downtown Buffalo. What they have lacked in doing is bringing aboard quality hockey management people and letting them do their jobs in building the Sabres franchise into a winner. Terry and Kim Pegula would be best served in staying on their $75 million dollar yacht and leaving the day to day operations of the Sabres to General Manager Kevyn Adams and Associate General Manager Jason Karmonos

There is no doubting the ability of Jack Eichel as a hockey player and his stats are solid if not outstanding. What the problem is with Eichel , is the fact that he is a cancer in the dressing room and has been a major part of the Sabres spiral into the dumpster fire that they were in 2020/21. To the outsider it appears that Buffalo is struggling in all areas of the development. When in fact it is quite the opposite the Sabres have a solid core of young players with the likes of Sam Reinhart, Casey Mittlestadt, Tage Thompson, Rasmus Dalhin and goaltender Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen to build around. Mittlestadt and Thompson need more time to develop, possibly at the AHL level. But rest assured with the addition of defenceman Owen Power, with the Sabres again winning the NHL Draft Lottery this team will be in a much better position in two seasons from now without Eichel and his attitude.

Buffalo Sabres will be a solid NHL franchise if left alone to the hockey personnel and the cancer in the dressing room is removed and the players are allowed to develop. The turn around with most NHL franchises usually takes two to three years depending on the quality of the nucleus and not the five plus seasons that it once took. Sabres fans can all exhale once Eichel is sent packing and becomes someone else’s problem.

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Maple Leafs Failure and Who Is To Blame

by Mike Ries

Well, well well the Toronto Maple Leafs are once again out in the first round of the playoffs and the Montreal Canadians have made it to the Final Four and will be the fourth seed and will either revisit the Patrick Roy Bowl or the Max Pacioretty Bowl. The Leafs were a victim of the their own doings and in all my years of hockey no matter the level. I have never seen a team play a game seven with such little emotion or care for the game that pays them so well. Short of Jack Campbell the Bud’s should be ashamed of their effort and deserved to go home. Montreal played them perfectly and clogged the middle of the ice and slowed the Leafs offensive attack and the lack of defensive responsibility on the part of the Leafs so called superstars speaks volumes to how this team was constructed. The Leafs are in a flux and need to seriously consider how they need to change the culture in the locker room. The veterans did little to push the Marner’s and Matthews’ to compete at the next level. It has been mentioned numerous times by myself that the Leafs need a rah, rah guy in the room and at least a vocal leader. One who holds these players accountable. Time will tell the direction Toronto will go next season. On the other hand, full marks to the Montreal Canadiens to a man for buying into a system and sweeping the Winnipeg Jets.

Where were the Leafs Marner and Matthews when the Leafs needed their scoring? Most of the time they were looking for the pretty play and were seen sitting on the bench with disinterested looks on their faces. The loss of captain John Tavares was a contributing factor, irregardless the Leafs should have rolled past the Habs and been in the position the Canadiens are now. You can point the finger in many directions as far as the Leafs are concerned. Out worked, out coached and outscored by a team that struggled to find offense all season. Coming into the playoffs the blue and white faithful were bemoaning the play of William Nylander. Low and behold he was the best Leaf on the ice for the seven game series.

Coming into this much publicized matchup of Canadian Original Six teams, it was commented by the so called experts that Montreal would be looking to clean house on the management side . Marc Bergevin and his close knit cronies would be looking for work and Carey Price would again be disappointed in the team in front of him. As they say that is why we play the games. Brendan Shanahan and Kyle Dubas should be looking for work and the Leafs need to step back and retool the team that has been assembled.

Simply put, this version of the Toronto Maple Leafs does not work and is not built for playoff success. The Leafs have a group of solid NHL players , but what they do not have is a solid team. They can score goals and make the pretty play, but when push comes to shove they act like a bunch of spoiled children and want to take their puck and go home. Where the changes come from will certainly make for an interesting summer in Leafland.

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The Second Season Begins in the NHL

by Mike Ries

As the world slowly begins to return to some sense of normalcy the NHL embarks on the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs. There is a distinct flavor to this version of the pursuit of Lord Stanley. The opening few games have had an edge that has not been seen in awhile in the NHL. The players have upped their game and are playing with an edge that has been missing in hockey. The officiating has been in the background at this stage of the playoffs and that with the uptick in emotion from the players has made for great hockey. It has been quite a long time since this writer has looked forward to NHL hockey.

The usual suspects in Tampa, Colorado have high expectations this season as always and anything less than a Stanley Cup winning season will be seen as a failure. Colorado has all the tools to hoist the Cup this season. The glaring hole in their lineup is goaltending, Philipp Grubauer is a solid NHL goaltender but not on the level of Tampa’s Andrei Vasilevskiy who can steal a game when needed. The Av’s may not need Grubauer to steal a game, just to not give one away and they can emerge from the second season and make a Stanley Cup Final appearance. Tampa and Boston have looked good early in the going as well. The Bruins loaded up at the trade deadline and though the first three games with the Washington Capitals have all gone to overtime the Bruins could go on a long playoff run this year.

The darlings of the NHL’s second season are once again the Carolina Hurricanes. Rookie goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic emerged as the best goaltender for the Hurricanes this season and leads a deep team into the playoffs. Coach Rod Brind’Amour does not garner the accolades that he should. The Canes are deep at the forward position with the scoring being spread out from top to bottom and are led by Sebastian Aho. Defenceman Dougie Hamilton again showed why he was a first round pick and was fourth on the the team with 42 points in 55 games. If the Canes advanced to the big dance it would not be a surprise at all.

In Canada we have the Habs and Leafs rivalry renewed for the first time since 1979 , as has been reported over and over. The Leafs are trying to win a playoff series for the first time in 17 years and the Habs are looking to spoil the parade for Leaf fans. What is intriguing to me is the Jets and Oilers series. Connor McDavid seems to be on a mission this year to lift his team up and carry them beyond the North Division. Unfortunately the Jets are to man the better team and proved it in game one.

Regardless of who you are cheering on this post season all points to an exciting path to claiming Lord Stanley this year. It is a damn shame that fans are not allowed in the games in Canada…..another rant for another day. There is nothing more exiting than twenty thousand plus rabid fans rooting on there favorite team. For this season we will have to cheer in our own small groups . Regardless the excitement and passion of playoff hockey is back.

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Never Mind the Upcoming NHL Playoffs, Let’s Talk Tom Wilson and What is Wrong with the NHL

by Mike Ries

The 2021 NHL regular season, if you can call it that is winding down and the usual suspects are heading to the post season dance. The big surprise in my opinion was the Philadelphia Flyers who fell completely short of expectations and will miss the post season. The Toronto Maple Leafs are once again giving their long starving fans a glimmer of hope that they can capture Lord Stanley, after all 1967 is a looooong time ago. The belle of the upcoming ball are the Carolina Hurricanes who have a legitimate shot at Stanley Cup glory this season. But low and behold none of that seems to matter after Tom Wilson bounced the head of Pavel Buchnevich off the ice and then Artemi Panarin was injured trying to tackle Wilson in a feeble but brave attempt to bring Wilson down.

The saga was continued the next day when the NHL and the head of player safety George Parros did not suspend Wilson. The backlash from the non-suspension in itself is a statement that highlights what is wrong in the NHL. Back in the dark ages, when I played, my nose was broken from a crosscheck to the face because I took too long to move the puck off the half wall. The result was a two minute penalty for the other guy and a serves you f****** right from the coach. In the politically correct world today everyone is offended by everything and the NHL as a corporate entity looks at the dollar first and product second. Wilson should not have been suspended and the commentating that came from the so called experts is laughable, to a man they remarked it was a horrible act, as scripted by the NHL. Wilson has a long history of pushing the envelope as he knows full well no one can tune him up as would be common place back in the day. Was it a smart play by Wilson? No, was it a horrendous play?.. again no. Was it suspendable? no his on ice penalty was sufficient. Wilson could have really hurt Panarin if he so chose but he ragdolled him and then let him be.

The response the following night from the Rangers, was the correct response as the game started with a three on three fight. Albeit not heayweights as the Rangers do not have such a player in the lineup. Team owner James Dolan firing GM Jeff Gorton and President Mr Ranger himself John Davidson amid all the chaos and the laughable statement from the Rangers condemning Parros and the NHL that cost the Broadway Blueshirts a quarter million did not help the situation, only adding to the circus . New York did not insert a heavyweight to make Wilson answer for his actions instead Brendan Smith did an admirable job of engaging Wilson.

The fact that the whole incident has become such a media and internet sensation begs the question, why has the NHL and hockey abandoned the enforcer role? There was a time when hockey from the bottom up policed itself. Cheapshots and anything that was out of line was dealt with by the players and the teams. Not necessarily immediately, but the offending player knew retribution was coming. The fact that players who get blood on their jerseys, now have to change them so that it makes for better television is a sad statement. God forbid anyone is offended by something that happens on the ice. Bring back the code and the fourth line trio that can play, but keeps the other team honest.

Who Will Be The Next Great One ?

by Mike Ries

The past thirteen months have been one of the most challenging time for a great percentage of the world’s population. We have had to adapt and create distractions to keep our sanity throughout this most challenging of times. These words have been echoed over and over as we finally see a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel. What it has given this writer, is time to ponder who will carry the torch as the next Great One. Both Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby are still at the forefront of the upper echelon of NHL players, but both are on the downside of their illustrious careers. Who will be the next top player year in and year out?

To be considered as the next great player to join the company of Crosby, Ovie, Gretzky, Lemieux and players of that elite company. The next Great One will have to be dominant not only for a year or two or have a breakout season. It will be debated on the longevity and the dominance the player has over multiple seasons. As the game is evolving and becoming more of an offensive show and less about the grit and grinding of decades of the past. It still must be taken into account the players overall ability at both ends of the ice and not just on point totals. Longevity is one of the toughest plateaus to attain in professional sport. There are countless stories of pro atheletes’ who have had their careers cut short and not attained the greatness they had been destined for.

The top players that come to mind are Connor McDavid, Nathan MacKinnon and Auston Matthews. Those are the most likely of suspects in the game today as they are all first overall picks and dominant players in the game today. In the age of Crosby and Ovechkin there were Stamkos and Tavares, both were and are good players but never reached the lofty heights of Crosby and Ovie. With the next crop of great players can players like Nikita Kucherov, Leon Draisaitl or Aleksander Barkov take the title as the next Great One. It certainly will be interesting to watch over the next decade as these players mature and elevate their game. All great players have a solid supporting cast and that rings true with the three M’s McDavid, Mackinnon and Matthews. All three have at least one linemate that is talented in their own right and relieves some the pressure when they have an off night. The question also must be answered, will there be a player in the next few years that will compete with this group to be the dominant player?

The version of the NHL in 2021 certainly has changed how the fan views the game as we are for the most part not able to witness these players first hand and we all know watching a live sporting event on our couch is nowhere near the experience that being in that arena is. Hopefully we have turned the corner on this mark in history and will return to some sort of normalcy in the coming months. Hopefully we can watch these players cement their place in NHL history and we can watch the evolution of the next Great One.

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NHL 2021: Coming into the Home stretch

by Mike Ries

The Covid-19 shortened 2021 NHL regular season is rounding in the home stretch and the usual suspects are leading the newly formed divisions. The Tampa Bay Lightning are heading up the Central Division with the surprising Carolina Hurricanes and Florida Panthers hot on their heels. Both the Panthers and Hurricanes, barring a total collapse will qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Stanley Cup Finalists from last season the Dallas Stars have never recovered from being shutdown at the beginning of the season and are showing just how integral centerman Tyler Seguin is to the team. Along with the absence on Seguin and starting goaltender Ben Bishop the Stars have suffered from Alexander Radulov missing time and will not sneak in the Stanley Cup playoffs this season.

The East Division has also had its share of surprises and the Philadelphia Flyers who many picked to emerge from the Division as champs (this guy included) have been nothing but disappointing and are in a fight to even qualify for the post season. The pesky New York Islanders are a prime example of what a quality coach and strong front office can build in a short time. They have one the strongest lineups from top to bottom and coach Barry Trotz is one of the best, if not the best in the league. The Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins are in hot pursuit of the top seed in the division. The dark horse may be the Boston Bruins who have a handful of games to make up before the end of the season. Do not be surprised if the final four, of the Islanders, Penguins, Capitals and Bruins make for the best Divisional post season of 2021.

The West Division over the past decade featured the valley of death in California with the Ducks, Sharks and Kings at the top year after year it seemed. In the Covid-19 era they have been nothing close to the teams they once were, as all three are in rebuilding mode and easy pickings for the rest of the West Division. The Vegas Golden Knights and Colorado Avalanche are the creme of the crop and the Avalanche are the team to beat for the Stanley Cup in my opinion. What they are lacking is solid goaltending and it cost them dearly last season. But Nathan Mackinnon and crew are solid from top to bottom and have the best young defencemen in the game. The Minnesota Wild have been the surprise in the West and the arrival of Russian sensation Kirril Kaprisov has them fighting for the title. The Wild are another solid team from top to bottom and may surprise someone come playoff time. The St. Louis Blues are firmly in the fourth position and you can never count out a Craig Berube coached team.

The North Division a.k.a the All Canadian Division has played out to this point in the season as most had predicted with the Toronto Maple Leafs and Winnipeg Jets leading the charge. The biggest surprise this year is it appears as though the Edmonton Oilers have finally found their way and are challenging for top spot. For most Oiler fans any post season appearance would be considered a win at this point. The Ottawa Senators have taken great strides in their rebuild, but are a few years away from becoming a contender. The Canucks and Flames have seemed to have lost their identity, but they still have a chance to leap frog the Canadiens and grab the last playoff spot. The coaching change in Calgary may have come too late to salvage the season and the Canucks are suffering from the sophmore jinx and will be in a much better position next season. That just leaves the Montreal Canadiens who are just the Montreal Canadiens a team with aging veterans and no strength at the center position. They will repeat their performance from last season and bow out early in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, if they indeed qualify.

The quality of hockey from the NHL this season has had it’s ups and downs, but all in all palatable. The return of fans in the United States, even in small numbers is a welcome sight and makes this hockey fan yearn for the return to full arenas and the atmosphere we as fans create.

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