It’s Friday, and Pierre refuses to give us more interesting things to talk about. Here are some thoughts.
Ridly Greig is kinda nice with it
By now, you’ve probably already seen Ridly Greig’s highlight-reel goal from Wednesday’s game against Latvia from the World Juniors. Still, I’m going to share it again, because I know you want to watch it again:
I haven’t been able to watch the tournament this year, but it’s been great seeing these clips of Greig. This kid has all the makings of a fan favourite: ridiculously skilled, plays with an edge, and of course that shit-eating grin. He lit up the WHL last year after a really impressive preseason, and after signing his entry-level contract he’s expected to turn pro this year. It’s very likely we’ll see him in Ottawa at some point this season even if he spends most of his time in Belleville, and I for one cannot wait.
Not feeding steak to babies
On the topic of Greig and where he might be playing this season, I just want to say that it’s really nice to see the team at a point where they can afford to keep prospects in the minor leagues for a bit longer than strictly necessary. Bringing in Cam Talbot means that Mads Sogaard and Leevi Merailainen will have more time to figure things out in Belleville and actually fight for an NHL job. Having DeBrincat and Giroux at forward means there’s way less urgency for guys like Sokolov, Jarventie and Greig to become NHL’ers. For the last few years, it’s felt like every prospect needs to be good, or the whole plan will fall apart. It’s nice to be able to chill a little bit.
Now, the situation on defense is a completely different story, at least for now, but that topic has been done to death already.
The Atlantic Division
It’s been said before, but the Atlantic Division was the toughest division in the NHL last year and it’s somehow gotten even better. Toronto hasn’t changed much, Tampa is still Tampa, and Florida might get worse but they won the President’s trophy last year. Boston briefly looked vulnerable but now has Bergeron and Krejci back, they look like they might still be the Bruins, and Detroit and Buffalo both made strides last year. The Habs will be where they belong at the bottom of the standings, but other than that the division is shaping up to be a bloodbath.
I am as nervous as anyone else about the Sens’ chances of making the playoffs, but I do think it’s important to point out that these things often change much faster than people expect them to. The Pacific division went from the best division in the NHL to the worst in about a year not too long ago. The Metro division was the toughest one for a while and now looks wide open. Down Goes Brown does a competition over at The Athletic every year where he asks readers to make extremely easy predictions - five teams that will make the playoffs, five teams that will miss, five coaches that won’t be fired, and so on. No one ever gets a perfect score.
The NHL is super unpredictable. We don’t know which up-and-coming team will take a step back, which contender will fall apart, or which bubble team will blow it all up. The outlook in the Atlantic division might be completely different a year from now. Just remember that everyone starts out at 0 points in October.
New and Old Rivalries
One of the fun things about writing regular previews and game recaps is trying to come up with storylines for each matchup. It’s not always easy. But there were a few teams last year that really gave me a lot to work with, and many of them were in the Atlantic division. As training camp finally starts to draw near, I’ve been looking forward to a lot of rivalries that I think will provide good content soon.
Sabres vs Sens is a great dynamic because both were good in the 2000s and their flop eras mostly coincided, although the Sens had slightly more success during that time. Both have been league wide laughingstocks for a long time, becoming famous for off-ice drama and organizational dysfunction. Now both teams are on the upswing, and we saw a little taste of rivalry between them during their season series last year. More than any other rival the Sens have, it really feels like these two teams deserve each other, and that’s what makes this storyline compelling. I haven’t stretched this muscle in years, but I think I could become a Sabres hater this season. It could be fun.
The other team that fascinates me is the Red Wings, for a completely different reason. I’ve found that the Wings have Habs energy, in the sense that they act like their rightful place is at the top of the standings and anything else is some kind of cosmic injustice. They’re a storied franchise that’s had a lot of recent success and is just now crawling out of rock bottom. A lot of hockey analysts and fans seem very convinced that Detroit is in a much better position than Ottawa, and I suspect a lot of that comes from each team’s reputation. It would be very funny if the Sens ended up being better than them, and for that reason I have decided that I’m going to make this rivalry happen in 2022-23.
More Hockey Canada
Content warning for discussion of sexual assault.
Based on clips I saw from the World Juniors, it sounds like TSN took advantage of the opportunity to talk about the recent Hockey Canada sexual assault cases, which is really nice to see. However, it still feels weird to have Canada at the tournament at all, and that plus how little Hockey Canada has actually done to change its leadership recently doesn’t make me very optimistic that real change is coming.
Russia isn’t competing in this tournament because their government invaded Ukraine. I agree wholeheartedly with that decision. I also think it would have been reasonable to ban Canada in the wake of this scandal. It sucks to have to punish players for something they had no involvement in, but both organizations should be embarrassed on the International stage. Plus, as Shireen Ahmed recently pointed out in a great CBC article, Hockey Canada and the IIHF don’t seem to have any problem canceling and rescheduling women’s hockey tournaments, so it’s kind of strange to see so much concern about players missing out on an important tournament all of a sudden.
Moreover, I think it’s a mistake to look at these sexual assault cases as isolated incidents with little to do with this year’s world junior team. Hockey Canada’s recent testimony at the house of commons, and the new information we have about an assault that took place in 2003, both suggest that this is a persistent, far-reaching problem. Do we have any reason to believe that something that’s seemingly been happening pretty consistently with Hockey Canada players will suddenly stop because the issue is getting more media attention now? There, frankly, needs to be a lot more concerted action before we can say we know there will be meaningful change.
I certainly don’t begrudge anyone for enjoying the tournament - it’s a lot of fun! - but I do think it’s very inappropriate to have Canada competing this year. At some point, there need to be consequences of some kind.