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NHL Blueline Review: Mid-Term Grades

Welcome to another edition of the NHL Blueline Review, where the usual formula of looking at the hot topic of the week will instead be replaced this week with a look at the season as a whole up until this point.

For my day job, I’m a high school teacher. This means that lists and rankings, while not completely impossible for me, aren’t as relevant to me as using grades to gauge performance. The column took a week off last week while I did just that, over and over, for my students. So I’m in a bit of a groove and will continue that for hockey this week, grading some of the big events this season.

TOP OF THE CLASS

3-on-3 Overtime – It seemed a bit gimmicky as part of the AHL extra frame, but there is no doubt that it’s been a huge hit this season. Successful enough for the NHL to blow up their entire All-Star Game for a new format built around it.

Dynamic Duos – Ovechkin-Kuznetsov, Benn-Seguin, Kane-Toews, Backes-Tarasenko, Malkin-Crosby (with the latter playing on the wing!). Top lines now feature two players who seem to mesh well, and fans in some arenas perk up when their shift begins.

ABOVE AVERAGE

Substitutes – Backup Goalies (especially Mike Condon in Montreal) have stepped up when needed for however long they are needed. Even teams with elite netminders don’t go into a panic during a day of rest. Gone are the days of the equipment manager filling in for a period while Jacques Plante got stitched up.

Freshmen SensationsJack Eichel is already regularly contributing to “Goals of the Week” lists. Artemi Panarin is yet more proof that the Blackhawks don’t rebuild, they reload. Dylan Larkin is looking like the next Paul Coffey. Max Domi is quickly becoming one of my personal favorite players – plays more like a young Doug Gilmour than his  infamous father, Tie. The aforementioned Condon is holding the Montreal juggernaut together. Even Connor McDavid is a prodigy when it comes to injury rehab.

NEEDS IMPROVEMENT

John Tortorella – He came in and stopped the bleeding, but now progress needs to be made. We’re not expecting playoffs, but we’d like to start with some consecutive wins now and then.

Last Year’s Final Four – Sure, the Rangers have been solid. But Chicago only recently woke up, Tampa Bay is currently missing the playoffs, and Anaheim has the third-worst record in the league.

DETENTION

The Usual Suspects – Edmonton, we’re not falling for the “This is the year all those draft picks pay off!” anymore. Leafs, you’re supposed to be the attraction in Toronto in October, not the Blue Jays. And Avs – nice win streak, but good luck keeping it going in that brutal division.

Those are your grades. If you don’t like them, I’ll tell you the same thing I tell my students: You have another semester to change.

THREE TO WATCH

NY Islanders at Colorado (Thu., 7 MST, MSG Plus, Altitude): The Isles have been steady all season, and the Avs on on a three-game tear with seven wins in their last ten.

Montreal at Dallas (Sat., 6 CST, NHL Network, TVA-Sports [fr], The City, Fox-Southwest): Here is your Stanley Cup Finals Preview, the main event this weekend. Guaranteed to last longer than Aldo-McGregor.

Washington at NY Rangers (Sun., 7 EST, NHL Network, TVA-Sports[fr], CSN-DC, MSG): The Patrick Metropolitan Division lead is on the line, and a great battle between Evgeny Kuznetsov and Henrik Lundqvist is in the offing.

THREE TO DODGE

San Jose at Toronto (Thu., 7:30 EST, CSN-California, TSN4): How miserable are the Leafs? This game is on TSN 4. No matter how bad they were in a given season, ESPN would NEVER let the Red Sox slip to the ESPN Quatro.

Columbus at Arizona (Thu., 7 MST, Fox-Ohio, Fox-Arizona): Arizona needs two points to keep pace with the Sharks and the Kings in the Pacific. Merry Christmas, Yotes.

Anaheim at New Jersey (Sat., 7 EST, KCOP Los Angeles, MSG Plus): Two of the league’s worst offenses are on display. For diehards only.

GIRLFRIEND QUESTION OF THE WEEK

Every week, I watch dozens of hockey games with my girlfriend, who is also a big hockey fan. Unlike other girlfriend-viewing situations, her questions tend to be about finer points of tradition, strategy and technique, and not the typical “What’s ‘Offsides’? Is that like it is in football?” type. Here’s this week’s question:

She: “What’s up with the (Tampa Bay Lightning) Spaceman?”

Answer: The Lightning already have an actual mascot – that would be the mediocre ThunderBug. And they even have a superfan of sorts – this wonderfully obsessed fangirl. But for the past two seasons at the Amalie Arena, opposing players and coaches have been taunted by what appears to be a Buzz Aldrin cosplayer.

Turns out, it’s not a fan at all, but a creation of a Lightning sponsor, local Bluetooth speaker company Malektronic.

She: “So he’s just a corporate shill?”

Answer: Not exactly. It’s a full-on spacesuit without any corporate insignia (only the basic NASA mission patches – I leave it to space geeks to investigate which missions are referenced), although one of the company’s Rocket speakers is attached to the suit. The Lightning don’t go out of their way to identify him/her or their corporate background, but simply refers any questions to the company themselves.

So, the Tampa Bay Astronaut: Not as cool as the Vancouver Green Men, but way cooler than the Burger King.

COACH DEATHWATCH

Players get cut, traded and sent to the AHL all the time. If you REALLY want your team to stop sucking, it starts with firing the coach. Here are the coaches around the NHL that should get their resumes in order and buy the Rosetta Stone Swedish program, listed in descending order of their imperilment.

Todd Richards, Columbus

Mike Johnston, Pittsburgh

Bruce Boudreau, Anaheim

Patrick Roy, Colorado

Bill Peters, Carolina

Paul Maurice, Winnipeg

Bob Hartley, Calgary

Mike Babcock, Toronto

Todd McLellan, Edmonton

Dave Tippett, Arizona

Claude Julien, Boston

Ken Hitchcock, St. Louis

Wow, I did NOT see the Pens bailing on Johnston, at least not until the Capitals had swept them in first round four months from now. With the Ducks in last in offense and the Pacific, Bourdeau is on borrowed time right now.

Also, Sutter is safe in L.A. That was a stressful start, but getting back to the playoffs will make it all better in Kingsland.

WEEKLY GOAL HORN REVIEW

Push play! Listen to the Song! Cheer!

All right! It’s the Deh-TROYT/DEE-troyt/Dey-TROY-ett Red Wings! The Dynasty of the 2000’s will bring something, right? Especially with Motown’s great musical history, right?

Yeah. Great. Kid Rock.

Sure, I give credit for using local artists, but when you look at the catalog of local talent, you can find someone better in every category. You want hip-hop flavor that reached its peak 15 years ago? Get Eminem. A country-rooted rocker? Get Bob Seger. A loud personality with a flashy nomme de etape? Get Madonna. You want a conservative? Get Ted Nugent.

This is a big reason why I hope the Wings get shut out at home every night.

Grade: D+

“YOU HAD TO KNOW THAT WAS GONNA HAPPEN…”

For the 30th season in a row, the NHL is trying to cut down on fighting. Instead of simply penalizing players, the Blueline Review believes we should study the CAUSES of hockey violence. Each week, we’ll look at a fight and how it could have been prevented. Increase the Peace!

Fighting ain’t just for meathead fourth-liners who are trying to convince the coach not to send them back to Rockford. Sometimes, high-scoring stars like to throw down. Take a look from last weekend’s Central Division tilt between the Blues and Stars.

That’s Jamie Benn. League-leading scorer and Hart Trophy shoo-in Jamie Benn. Jamie Benn, getting David Backes’ lid knocked off and his sweater over his head while decorating his mug with uppercuts. I think Benn realized that he won’t get that Gordie Howe Hat Trick without a fighting major. so he went for it in the first.

Didn’t work. Blues won, 3-0. Crime Doesn’t Pay.

HOCKEY FOR VEGAS DEGENERATES

We see how it is; now that the DFS apocalypse has come to pass, you gamblers want to come crawling back to betting on games? Very well: every week, we’ll give you a Wednesday night game to plop money on with our for-entertainment-purposes-only expertise!

Pittsburgh (+127) is a slight underdog on the road against Boston. The Pens have a new coach and the Bruins have a losing record at the TD Gah-den, so it’s worth a go.

Blueline Review Season Record: 5-4

HOCKEY COURT

Hockey Court is a semi-regular feature wherein our crack legal experts critique suspensions and disciplines laid down by NHL VP of Player Safety Stephane Y. Quintal. This week, we look at…

…Ducks forward Nate Thompson! Let’s see what he did to Carolina’s Justin Faulk:

You’d think Faulk, a five-year vet, would have kept on the lookout. But we don’t blame the victim here at the Blueline Review, we castigate the criminal. And Thompson is damned lucky to have avoided more than three games. Had Faulk been made of weaker materials, Thompson would be looking at double-digit length to that suspension.

As if things weren’t going bad enough for the Ducks, now they lose one of their few players who actually has a plus rating.

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