1. Carolina Hurricanes: 7 Points (3-0-1)
First off, I was a big fan of GM Ron Francis’s tenure and was critical of Don Waddell being promoted. However, Waddell seems to have hit it out of the park so far. Every off-season addition to the roster (Jordan Martinook, Dougie Hamilton, Micheal Ferland, Martin Necas, Andrei Svechnikov, Lucas Wallmark, Valentin Zykov, and Warren Foegele) have recorded at least one point in the first four games of the season. The new additions have bought into Rod Brind’Amour’s system and play a physical game and are tough to play against.
The biggest standout has been Warren Foegele, who has been an absolute workhorse (shout out Brett Finger). He is relentless in his forechecks, and he is relentless on the puck. He pesters teams and gets under their skin with his hard work. Just look at the penalty that Alexander Edler had on Foegele; it was all frustration that led to it. The good thing about this team is they stick up for one another, so that shouldn’t be an issue this year.
The most fascinating piece of this team is goaltending. I was upset when the Canes didn’t initially make a claim on Curtis McElhinney when the Blue Jackets waived him in 2017, but they didn’t make the same mistake twice. He has come in and is now challenging Petr Mrazek for second on the depth chart. When Scott Darling returns, the Hurricanes have to find a way to keep all three of these guys on the roster. Mrazek and McElhinney are proving they can all contribute, and it would give the Canes the flexibility to ride the hot hand all season.
2. Washington Capitals: 5 Points (2-0-1)
The Capitals haven’t just had to battle their Stanley Cup hangover; they have also been handed a very strange opening schedule by the league. They started the season with two Wednesday-Thursday back-to-back series. Tonight, they look to improve on their first back-to-back performance where they let up seven goals to the Pittsburgh Penguins. They face a well rested New Jersey Devils team who are prepared to play their first game in North America, and will be a tough test for a Caps team coming off a later than usual game last night.
The Caps received a bit of good news yesterday. It was reported that Tom Wilson was granted Non-Roster player status. This is important because he does not count as part of the Caps’ active contracts, which allowed them to activate Michal Kempny without having to waive another player from the roster. This precedence was set back in 2015 when Raffi Torres was granted the same status during his 41-game suspension when he was with the San Jose Sharks. However, Wilson’s cap hit - which is not insignificant - will still count during his suspension.
3. New York Islanders: 4 Points (2-1-0)
It has been annoying that the Canes have been subject to so many attendance tweets and stats for years. But...BUT....The Islanders drew fewer than 9,000 fans against the Sharks on Monday. Now that they are officially on the way out of Brooklyn, we could be seeing a lot more of the real attendance numbers and not the inflated numbers with ticket giveaways and promotions counted. (Where are the calls to move them to Quebec?)
Their struggles aren’t just off the ice. Earlier this week the Isles placed Jan Kovar on unconditional waivers to terminate his contract. Kovar, a successful center who averaged over a point per game in the KHL, signed with the Isles this off-season for one-year and $2 million. The Czech forward was a standout during the Olympics, but will now count towards the cap this year as a buy-out.
4. Columbus Blue Jackets: 4 points (2-1-0)
The Blue Jackets’ lone loss came against the (league-leading, you’ll recall) Hurricanes. They are currently projected to come in first in the division by the Athletic with a total of 101.9 points for the season. However, Columbus is dealing with a couple of injuries that could slow their hot start earlier than they would like.
Forward Brandon Dubinsky has been placed on IR for 4-6 weeks while he deals with a strained oblique that he sustained in practice earlier this week. With Dubinsky out, Alexander Wennberg will now have to step up as the second line center, leaving former Hurricane Riley Nash as the third-line center. Nash is coming off his best NHL season with the Boston Bruins, and will have to prove that he can perform long term as a third line center. The Jackets are also dealing with the loss of their number one defenseman, Seth Jones, who is also on IR, will miss four to six weeks with a sprained knee.
5. Philadelphia Flyers: 4 Points (2-1-0)
After being demolished at home 8-2 by the new-look San Jose Sharks in their home opener, the Flyers bounced back against the league’s worst team, the Ottawa Senators. The Flyers will be relying on a fairly young but dynamic defense corps, featuring both Ivan Provorov and Shayne Gostisbehere. This leaves them vulnerable to the types of games that Canes fans have seen over the years. They will score plenty of goals, but find a way to allow even more.
Their defense is very boom or bust and depending on how they play on a given night their team will perform. With goaltenders Brian Elliott and Calvin Pickard, they are not able to rely on goaltending to bail them out and win games. During Tuesday’s game Dave Hakstol was unable to stop the early bleeding after the Flyers let up two early goals. This will be something to keep an eye on. Philly needs to be able to rely on the coach to stem the bleeding and get things turned around in games, not something that Hakstol has demonstrated he can do in the past.
6. New Jersey Devils: 2 Points (1-0-0)
The New Jersey Devils have been largely forgotten about so far this season, although through no fault of their own since they opened the season in Sweden against the Edmonton Oilers. This was a great chance for Swedish players like Adam Larsson and Marcus Johansson to play in front of their hometown crowds. Every year during the Winter Classic, the broadcast makes a big deal about playing outdoors, but I would think for the Swedes, this means a whole lot more than playing at an American football stadium.
The Devils are now well rested and used to the Eastern time zone again. They are prepping to play the Capitals who are coming off a win over the Vegas Golden Knights last night. The Caps’ offense has been incredible in this young season, but the Devils and Cory Schneider will look to smother them and keep the damage to a minimum. For the Devils this game, much like most of the season, will come down to forward Taylor Hall’s ability to score.
7. Pittsburgh Penguins: 2 Points (1-1-0)
The Penguins received bad news this week when it was reported that goaltender Matt Murray suffered a concussion in practice after being kicked by his own teammate, the third concussion in the past four seasons for the young goaltender. There is currently no timetable for his return. Concussions are always tricky, and the Penguins will be hoping that Murray can come back at full strength sooner rather than later. Casey DeSmith will take over in his absence.
The thread that binds us. The colors that unite us.— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) October 9, 2018
We are Pittsburgh and we bleed black and gold.
Let us introduce our third jerseys. #BurghProud
Details: https://t.co/Pr0HapFRCN pic.twitter.com/m8zqE98Yn9
In more fun news, the Penguins revealed their third jerseys this week, and are the last team in the league to do so. Their third jerseys feature a familiar yellow pattern and aren’t significantly different from previous yellow jerseys that they have released. The fact that it took so long to come out leads me to believe that management and Adidas were really negotiating hard for what they wanted. I would tend to think that Pens management wanted to feature gold at home multiple times. This could also mean a more aggressive design for the Stadium Series game later this season.
8. New York Rangers: 0 Points (0-3-0)
This hasn’t been a surprising start for the New York Rangers, who made it very clear that they were going to rebuild and have a couple of down seasons. The most compelling piece about all of this is still Henrik Lundqvist. The goaltender has been able to transcend hockey, but the big issue is what does he want.
It doesn’t seem that the Rangers will be ready to compete in the next one to three seasons, so why is he staying around? If the goal is to make sure his family doesn’t have to move, and he can keep collecting a paycheck I get it, but if he wants to compete, why wouldn’t he want a trade? He has a full no-move clause and would not waive it last year, but with the team’s performance it gets more and more confusing as to why he would stick around. He could be a very interesting trade target for a team that is on the verge of breaking through this year—like Florida, for example, who is dealing with an injury to starter Roberto Luongo.