It’s one of the red-letter days on the calendar of any hockey fan: the start of the NHL season.
Each year fans sit back with baited breath, waiting for their favourite team’s campaign to begin. After all, on that first day of the season, every team is undefeated.
Sure, there are teams with higher expectations than others. Only the most optimistic of Ottawa Senators fans would expect that their club could find its way into the postseason after back-to-back miserable seasons. Look at the bright side, Sens fans, your team is still better than they were their first few years.
Still, there’s one thing that annoys me each year at this time: the phrase “hockey is back.”
You see, hockey has been back for several weeks now. I would know, because I’ve been watching it ever since the Labour Day long weekend, when I was at Affinity Place to watch the Estevan Bruins training camp and their Black-Gold intersquad game.
Local hockey parents have been watching hockey for an even longer period of time, as the ice was installed at Affinity Place in early August, and since then, there have been hockey camps and tournaments happening.
So I’m not sure what sport some people think we’ve been watching and playing for the past couple of months. I like to think it’s hockey.
Maybe these people who were saying “hockey is back” in regards to the start of the NHL season should spend a little more time at their local rink, and take in more grassroots hockey action. If it means they miss watching a televised Florida Panthers versus Los Angeles Kings game in the middle of January, well, that’s just too bad.
Anyways, now that I’ve finished another rant against big-city folks, I am glad that the NHL season is here. It’s been a while since a Vancouver Canucks fan has been able to be optimistic about their team’s chances at the start of the season, but this year is actually shaping up to be a good one for the Canucks.
Elias Pettersson is in his second year and looks to be a budding superstar. Brock Boeser is signed and ready for a career year. Bo Horvat is going to be what we have come to expect from him, which means he can still do everything well even with his hair on fire.
The addition of JT Miller and Michael Ferland give us depth that we haven’t had in recent years.
The defence is retooled and should be better with the additions of rookie Quinn Hughes and veterans Tyler Myers and Jordie Benn.
Jacob Markstrom was great in goal last season, and we can only hope we won’t see the return of inconsistent Markstrom.
These last few years have not been kind to the Canucks. We’ve missed the post-season for the past four years, something that hasn’t happened since the late 90s, when we were mired in the days of the Mike Keenan and Mark Messier show.
If we miss the playoffs for a fifth straight season, that would be a first in the history of the Canucks. As bad as they were for the first 20 years of their history, they never missed the playoffs for five straight years.
While current general manager Jim Benning has proven to be a shrewd drafter and an excellent evaluator of young talent, he has been underwhelming as a trader, and his record when it comes to signing free agents has been abysmal.
(We’re all hoping the free agent class of 2019 turns that around. Myers and Ferland have to be better than Sam Gagner and Loui Ericksson, right?)
The moves the Canucks made in the offseason reflect an organization that says it is finished with rebuilding, and expects to be in the playoffs this season.
To do so, Vancouver will need good health that it hasn’t had the past couple of seasons. The young players will need to take the next step forward in their development. Markstrom needs to continue to shed the underachiever label that dogged him until last season.
I’m not dreaming of a Stanley Cup parade down Robson Street in June, but there are encouraging signs. There are reasons to watch this team on those rare nights when the games are airing nationally. There might even be reason to listen to a game on the Canucks radio broadcast.
As for the other Canadian teams, fans of the Calgary Flames and the Toronto Maple Leafs should be optimistic. Winnipeg Jets fans should look forward to watching a team that has lots of offensive firepower but defensive issues. Montreal Canadiens fans can know that they have a shot with Carey Price; Edmonton Oilers fans can look forward to watching Connor McDavid put on a show, at least until he gets tired of losing.
As for the Senators, yeah, they’ll be terrible again. But Sens fans (and fans of every other NHL team) can always find lots of great hockey at arenas other than the NHL.