Monday, October 29, 2018

Weekend rankings: The Leafs played the Jets and nobody won

This​ week served up​ one​ of​ the​ early​ season’s​ first big​ showdowns, as the​ Maple Leafs and​ Jets​ hosted each other​​ in a two-game miniseries for Canadian bragging rights. The two games came with a big spotlight on both sides of the border, as the teams faced off on national TV in the U.S. on Wednesday before getting the prime Hockey Night in Canada slot on Saturday. We weren’t sure whether we’d get any sort of decisive result, but we figured at least one team would come away from the week feeling good about themselves.

Yeah, maybe not.

Let’s start with the Maple Leafs, who ended up taking both games in regulation. That’s a huge result for a young team that’s still trying to learn how to close out good teams. They carried the play for much of the two games, weathered a dangerous Jets attack, largely shut down Patrik Laine and blitzed the Jets for three quick goals on Saturday to steal two points. All in all, pretty much an ideal outcome.

Except, of course, that nobody’s talking about that today. Instead, the big news is Auston Matthews, who left Saturday’s game early in the second period after absorbing a hit from Jacob Trouba. He’s out with an injured shoulder, which sounds a little too familiar given his history, and initial reports were simply that he wouldn’t play tonight. This morning, we found out that the news was worse, and he’ll miss at least a month.

Is that a reason to panic in Toronto? Well … maybe, yeah, it might be. The Leafs figure to be in a tough race for home ice in the Atlantic all season long. Every point will count and missing their best player for weeks at a time will cost them. More importantly, at some point you wonder if Leaf fans will have to cover their eyes every time Matthews takes a big hit to the shoulder. Our own Justin Bourne has some personal experience with shoulder issues and shared his thoughts here: Toronto fans may not want to read them.

As for the Winnipeg side, we won’t read too much into the sweep, especially since there was a mitigating factor on Saturday. While the Leafs were home and resting up, the Jets had to play in Detroit on Friday, so maybe it wasn’t a shock to see them run out of gas in the late-going the next night. But we’re now a dozen games into the season and it’s fair to say that the Jets have been just OK. They’ve won seven, lost five and have been pretty even in terms of goal differential and possession. They haven’t been bad by any stretch. But they haven’t been great and going pointless against a fellow contender doesn’t help that perception.

So there probably aren’t a lot of smiles in either Winnipeg or Toronto right now. The good news is that both teams remain in our top five. Let’s see who else is joining them …

Road to the Cup

The five teams that look like they’re headed towards a summer of keg stands and fountain pool parties.

Before we get to the rankings, it’s worth taking a moment to mention that former NHL president John Ziegler passed away on Thursday. That’s a name that may not be familiar to some of today’s hockey fans, since he hasn’t been directly involved in the league in over 25 years. But there’s a decent case to be made that even all those years later, Ziegler is in the conversation as the second most important behind-the-scenes figure in the league’s modern history, behind only Gary Bettman.

Ziegler was a somewhat surprising choice to become league president in 1977, an American lawyer replacing a legend in Clarence Campbell. He inherited a league in which several teams were on the brink of financial failure; within a year the Cleveland Barons had folded, becoming the last team in major North American pro sports to do so. The NHL was also in the final stages of its battle with the rival WHA and Ziegler stickhandled the complicated merger that saw four teams absorbed into the NHL.

The 80s saw two franchise moves, the near-death of the Blues, the weird Pat Quinn situation, an emerging drug problem, several headline-grabbing acts of violence, the Alan Eagleson scandal and an influx of European players. There was, of course, the infamous disappearing act on Yellow Sunday that marked the low point of his tenure. But Ziegler also oversaw the early 90s expansion to markets like San Jose, Ottawa and Tampa, and faced the only player strike in league history, a midseason walkout that briefly threatened to wipe out the 1992 playoffs.

It was his handling of that strike that ultimately led him to being pushed out, opening the door that would eventually bring us the Gary Bettman era. Ziegler’s reign was far from perfect and Bettman inherited a league with more than a few fires burning. But given the challenges that were thrown at him over his 15 years on the job, Ziegler probably did about as good a job as we could have asked for. That’s a legacy worth remembering and recognizing.

5. Winnipeg Jets (7-4-1, +3) – Next up are back-to-back games against the Panthers, which of course are being held in Finland and only an idiot would think otherwise.

4. Toronto Maple Leafs (8-3-0, +7) – Let’s see how they look without Matthews before we drop them, but this is a team with three great centers and then not much else down the middle. Those third and fourth lines might be rough.

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

No comments:

Post a Comment