By Lori Bennett
This weekend marked a significant point in the NHL season. Statistically, American Thanksgiving is the point in the schedule where teams can sort of predict how their seasons will turn out. In recent years, about three-quarters of teams in a playoff position when the Americans are carving the bird end the season with a playoff berth, while those outside of a playoff position have the odds against them to claw their way back in.
Three teams are at the very top of league standings. The Vegas Golden Knights are finally reaping the rewards of their big trade for Jack Eichel and are looking stronger than they have since their first season in the league. After bringing the band back together for another run, the Boston Bruins have been dominant.
While everyone expected this to be a growth year for the New Jersey Devils, no one imagined they would have grown all the way to the top of the league. These teams may come back down to earth a little by season’s end, but not likely enough to threaten their playoff chances.
The basement has a larger group of about ten teams whose hopes are significantly higher to get a top draft pick than they are to make the playoffs.
The disappointment in the group is the Ottawa Senators, who were expecting the kind of growth from their kids that the Devils are seeing but that has not been realized, and time is running out for GM Pierre Dorion to add help and get the season back on track.
The Vancouver Canucks are a hot mess, caught in no man’s land holding big contracts with the ink not yet dry and looking like they need a rebuild.
The middle of the pack can be divided into two groups – those likely to stay in playoff contention, and those who are a question mark. Teams like Colorado, Dallas, the Toronto Maple Leafs, Carolina and Tampa Bay are all in the former group, and smart money has them making the playoffs. There are some surprises – like the Red Wings, Kraken and the Winnipeg Jets. The latest expansion team speaks for itself, and Detroit is reaping the benefits of a long rebuild, but I’m not sure anyone was expecting the resurgence the Jets have seen under Coach Rick Bowness.
Three other Canadian are caught in the question mark group. The Calgary Flames started slow while their new additions built chemistry but have been putting together wins of late and are on the rise. The Edmonton Oilers have struggled and are on the outside fringe of a playoff spot, while GM Ken Holland does what he usually does – not a lot. The Montreal Canadiens are winning as much as they’re losing, which is a vast improvement over last season, but probably won’t be enough to earn them a playoff spot. They’re more likely to sell at the trade deadline and vie for one of those top draft picks.
With teams taking inventory, we can expect business to pick up and the Maple Leafs got started this week. GM Kyle Dubas received the straw that broke the camel’s back when defenseman Morgan Rielly was added to the injured list. The Leafs were already in need of help on the blueline, but this latest hit forced Dubas to make a deal.
On Wednesday the Leafs acquired Conor Timmins from the Arizona Coyotes for forward prospect Curtis Douglas. Timmins is a big right handed defender who will help in the short term, but another defenseman has to be on the Leafs shopping list.
The Maple Leafs could sure use the services of Borje Salming in his prime. Number 21 patrolled the Toronto blue line from 1973 to 1989, and his retired jersey hangs in the rafters at Scotiabank Arena. On Thursday, Salming passed away, having been diagnosed earlier this year with ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.
On November 11th, Salming was honoured in Toronto with former teammates and fellow hall of famers present to pay tribute, and fans given the opportunity to say goodbye.
Blue Jays Babble
News surrounding the Toronto Blue Jays this week revolved around their home field. This past summer the team announced that the first phase of renovations to Rogers Centre would take place this winter.
The renos are projected to be about $300 million in upgrades and are focused on “modernizing the fan experience and building world-class player facilities.” The stadium opened on June 3, 1989 as the SkyDome, and fans who remember still affectionately use the SkyDome name.
CFL Catch Up
Ironically, some of the history of Rogers Centre is connected to the Grey Cup. In November of 1982, Toronto hosted the Grey Cup at Exhibition Stadium, and inclement weather resulted in a very uncomfortable experience for fans. Seven months later, the plan to build the SkyDome was announced.
The Edmonton Eskimos won that Grey Cup, defeating the Argonauts. But last week it was the Argos who lifted the trophy in perfect Regina weather conditions. A couple of blocked field goal attempts, and a timely interception by Henoc Muamba, made for an exciting finish. It was Toronto’s first Grey Cup win since 2017, and the victory by the underdogs interrupted a developing dynasty for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
On Thursday, the Argos brought the Grey Cup to Maple Leaf Square, just outside Scotiabank Arena. The Leafs were on a road trip and missed the parade.