As you know by now, yesterday was Remembrance Day: the 99th anniversary of the armistice of November 11, 1918 — the end of the first World War. On Hockey Night in Canada, the Coach’s Corner segment is very important on Remembrance Day because that day is the national day to honor those who sacrificed in defense of the British Commonwealth and its affiliated nations. In the United States, Veterans Day is a day not just to remember, but to say thank you to those who have served in the Armed Forces. And now without further ado, here’s the Remembrance Day edition of Coach’s Corner.
This week’s edition of Coach’s Corner is dedicated in memoriam to Tragically Hip lead singer Gord Downie, who succumbed to his battle with brain cancer at the age of 53. This week is about more than hockey — it’s about the legacy Gord left behind for all Canadians and the people affected by Gord’s outreach around the world.
You’ve been waiting for it, and here it is: From last night’s 65th Season premiere of Hockey Night in Canada, the first Coach’s Corner of the 2017-18 season!
Here’s the final part of my 2017-18 season preview, predicting on the Central Division for this season:
Key Additions: Patrick Sharp, Brandon Saad, Connor Murphy
Key Losses: Artemi Panarin, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Scott Darling, Marian Hossa
Everyone thought that the Chicago Blackhawks would win the Central Division last year. But no one — NO ONE — thought that they would be swept in the first round of the playoffs in four straight games scoring a combined total of three goals against the Nashville Predators. During locker room clean-out day, Blackhawks General Manager Stan Bowman promised changes, and he delivered, sacrificing talent for cost-certain roster stability. During Draft Day, two blockbuster trades were made: one sending Artemi Panarin and Tyler Motte to the Columbus Blue Jackets for Brandon Saad and Anton Forsberg, and another sending Niklas Hjalmarsson to the Arizona Coyotes for Connor Murphy. The former was to finally get captain Jonathan Toews going after two sub-par seasons (also to get a much-needed backup goaltender after Scott Darling signed with the Carolina Hurricanes), and the latter cost certainty for an unproven defenseman. But is all this change too much for a team that’s literally facing the end of a decade of sustained success? Not really. New opportunities arise from these departures, and it’s up to guys like Ryan Hartman, Nick Schmaltz, Vinnie Hinostroza, and Michal Kempny to step up to the plate and prove that they actually belong here. Also, after two years in Dallas, Patrick Sharp signed a one-year contract to potentially have his 15-year NHL career come full circle with one more round with the team he won three Stanley Cup rings.
Key Additions: Colin Wilson, Jonathan Bernie, Nail Yakupov
Key Losses: Mikhail Grigorenko, Francois Beauchemin
It was as bad as it could get for the Colorado Avalanche. They finished last season with the worst record in the NHL, and what looked to be having a top-3 selection in the NHL Draft, turned out to be the fourth-overall pick in the NHL Draft. With that pick, the Avs selected their cornerstone of their blue line, defenseman Cale Makar. Makar, who will be playing college hockey for UMass-Amherst, won’t probably be NHL-ready until 2020, so this gives time for the Avalanche to get younger and faster. There’s also the uncertain future of Matt Duchene mixed into the Avs’ season storyline this year, too. Are they willing to give up one of their best big-name players to make this team better?
Key Additions: Ben Bishop, Alex Radulov, Martin Hanzal, Marc Methot, Tyler Pitlick
Key Losses: Patrick Sharp, Antti Niemi, Ales Hemsky
The Stars we’re injury-plagued last season, and what could have been a successful season led to a sixth-place finish in the Central. During the offseason, issues concerning the team were hopefully fixed. Need a number-one goaltender? They signed Ben Bishop. Need a depth scorer? They signed Alex Radulov. Need a second-line center? They signed Marty Hanzal. Need help on defense? They acquire Marc Methot in a trade? And need a new voice of reason to guide this team forward? Look n further than rehiring the man that coached this team to a a Stanley Cup Championship back in 1999 in Ken Hitchcock. On paper, this looks to be the most-improved team in the NHL, and I believe this team will indeed bounce back and get back into the Stanley Cup Playoffs this year.
Key Additions: Matt Cullen, Tyler Ennis, Marcus Foligno
Key Losses: Jason Pominville, Marco Scandella, Martin Hanzal
There were two notable stretches last season that defined the Minnesota Wild: the first one was the start of December to the All-Star break, when the Wild looked practically unbeatable, going 21-3-2 and was leading the Central Division to that point. The other was the month of March, when it looked like the Wild couldn’t win anything, going 4-10-2, and giving the Central Division away to the Chicago Blackhawks. Still, despite the best season ever in franchise history, the Wild were ousted by the St. Louis Blues in the first round of the playoffs in six games. It’s going to be tough to have a repeat of last season, not to mention that there are some holes in the roster that need to be filled, one of them being second-line center. Which brings up 2015 first-round draft pick Joel Eriksson Ek. Eriksson Ek is a player to watch and could help the Wild be successful this upcoming season.
Key Additions: Nick Bonino, Alexei Emelin, Scott Hartnell
Key Losses: James Neal, Colin Wilson
The Nashville Predators we’re THE big story of last season, riding momentum off of a four-game series sweep of the Chicago Blackhawks and advanced all the way to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in their 19-year history of their franchise. Now usually, the following year would be difficult for a team to repeat success. Not for the Predators. The Predators just kicked their championship window wide open, and will be a threat to be at the top of the Central Division for years to come. Based on what they have, they are, on paper, the best team in the Central for the fact that they have the three hockey phases — offense, defense, and goaltending — all in top shape.
Prediction: Central Division Champions
St. Louis Blues
Key Additions: Brayden Schenn, Nate Prosser, Chris Thorburn
Key Losses: David Perron, Nail Yakupov
The Blues did fine in a time of transition, but right now, they are facing a big challenge. Patrick Berglund underwent another shoulder surgery and will be out until December. Alex Steen will miss the start of the season with a broken hand. Most importantly, Robby Fabbri, whose season was cut short by a torn left ACL last season, re-tore that surgically-repaired ACL and will miss the entire season. A promising NHL career now looks like it’s in complete jeopardy after all that rehabilitation and you suddenly go back to square one. Can the Blues find a way to fill these holes, along with restructuring their defense?
Key Addition: Dmitry Kulikov, Steve Mason, Matt Hendricks
Key Loss: Ondrej Pavelec
The Jets should be a playoff team right now. However, taking unnecessary penalties and below-average goaltending have set the Jets back. They did solve that problem between the pipes by signing veteran goaltender Steve Mason. Mason, the 2009 Calder Trophy winner with Columbus, will mostly be mentoring Connor Hellebuyck on how to be a better goaltender. And if the Jets can cut down on penalties this season, they will be a very dangerous team in the Central.
Well, that concludes the 2017-18 season preview. The next time I’ll be posting something, the games will officially count!