Last Night’s News 📰
RHETT AND WILD: Yesterday, the NHL announced that country music star Thomas Rhett will perform at the 2022 Discover NHL Winter Classic. The New Year’s Day game will take place at Target Field between the Minnesota Wild and St. Louis Blues.
MAN ADVANTAGE: Alexander Ovechkin tied Dave Andreychuk’s NHL record for power-play goals, notching his 274th tally on the man advantage on Wednesday night against the Chicago Blackhawks. It was the 36-year-old’s fifth power-play goal of the season and his first since Nov. 26.
BACK IN THE BOOTH: For the first time since being diagnosed with cancer on Aug. 9, Tom Murray returned to the broadcast booth to call the Blackhawks game against the Capitals. Murray, a former forward with Chicago, is still undergoing chemotherapy treatments every other Monday.
Top-Shelf Thursday – Top Intermission Entertainment
With the announcement that Thomas Rhett will be the headliner at the Winter Classic in Minnesota, the news compelled us to look back at other performers the NHL featured, which includes the Goo Goo Dolls and Simple Plan. Since the league is always looking for ways to bring in new viewership, it should stop using the NFL’s playbook and actually showcase a performance that fans want to watch. Although some of these acts may be unrealistic, you can’t deny that they would boost the ratings for the biggest outdoor hockey game of the season.
#3 – Snoop Dogg ft. Justin Timberlake and Pharrell Williams
Before I get into this iconic trio, it should be stated that Snoop Dogg is a national treasure around the NHL. Fans get overjoyed when he joins the LA Kings broadcasts and can’t wait for his next appearance. You may have forgotten that Snoop and JT have previously collaborated. Their song “Signs,” which was released in 2004, is still a bop and would get fans out of their seats. In addition, Pharrell has worked with both artists and would ensure “Happy” hockey fans by the end of their performance.
#2 – Justin Bieber
Love him or hate him, the Biebs is good for hockey and has been seen sporting multiple jerseys over the years, including the Toronto Maple Leafs, Arizona Coyotes, and New Jersey Devils. He has also been a top-selling artist for the last decade, so there is no doubt that he would draw in viewers with his performance. Throughout his career, Beiber has done multiple collaborations that could open the door for special guests, like Ludacris, Ariana Grande, and Post Malone.
#1 Foo Fighters
The Foo Fighters have been around since 1994 and David Grohl is a musical icon that is known for his stage presence and fan interaction. Everyone knows at least one Foo Fighters song, whether it’s “Everlong” or “Best of You.” Having previously collaborated with Billy Idol in 2018, the duo would bring the house down in any venue.
Five In Boudreau
On Dec. 5, Travis Green was shown the door as part of a Vancouver Canucks shakeup, which also claimed general manager Jim Benning, in response to a disappointing team that had only won eight of 25 games on the season and three of their previous 13. Enter Bruce Boudreau.
Although Boudreau hasn’t suited up for an NHL game since 1985, his coaching acumen as a former bench boss of the Washington Capitals, Anaheim Ducks, and Minnesota Wild instantly legitimized him to the Canucks’ faithful who had long grown tired of the old regime. More significantly, the NHL lifer also earned the immediate backing of his players.
The change has been dramatic; Vancouver is 5-0 in the Boudreau era, climbing out of the Pacific Division basement and entirely changing the tone of the club’s six-game homestand. Now, with the Canucks beginning to entertain playoff dreams once more, it begs the question: how is Bruce doing it??
Sure, believing in yourself is one of those cheesy, non-quantifiable qualities that may seem more suited to a peewee team than an NHL roster of professional hockey players. However, there’s clearly something to it with this energized and invigorated Canucks group. How else can you explain Tuesday night’s rally from being down 3-0 to Columbus? That win simply wouldn’t have happened with Green still behind the bench.
Thatcher Demko has been between the pipes for four of the five wins, including a 31-save, 4-0 shutout of the Los Angeles Kings to kick off the Boudreau era. Demko’s numbers over that span: 4-0, a 1.21 goals-against average (GAA), and a .962 save percentage (SV%). To paraphrase Tampa Bay Lightning head coach Jon Cooper, show me a hot goaltender and I’ll show you a great coach.
It was Brock Boeser after the Carolina win who pointed out the team’s stylistic shift to a more aggressive game plan, one in which the Vancouver blueliners are pinching more to create offensive opportunities. It’s no coincidence that Quinn Hughes has five assists during the streak, while Tyler Myers has collected four assists of his own.
Elias Pettersson has goals in each of the team’s past two games, including the winner in Sunday’s 2-1 victory over the Hurricanes. That’s one more goal than the struggling Swede had registered in the 15 games prior. It’s still too early to declare Pettersson “back,” but it’s an awfully encouraging sign for the franchise.
Early Favorites – Norris Trophy
Now that every NHL team has played at least 24 games, there is enough of a sample size to start looking at early-season candidates for the Norris Trophy, which is awarded to the best defenseman for that season. While the list includes players who have been in the Norris conversation before and even won, there are a few new names that make this year’s race more exciting. Without further ado, here are the top five early-season candidates for the 2021-22 season.
The Colorado Avalanche defender is scoring at an insanely high rate for his position and is currently on pace to achieve more than 30 goals over an 82-game season. Former Washington Capitals defenseman Mike Green was the last defenseman to accomplish the feat during the 2008-09 season.
Makar is one of the most electrifying players in the game, and playing with Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, and a red-hot Nazem Kadri should help him remain the frontrunner for this award.
New York’s blueliner won this prestigious award last season after posting a career-high 47 points in 55 games and is currently on pace to break that number this season. Fox is a lethal option on the Rangers’ first power-play unit and is among the best skaters in the game with an ability to find passing lanes for his teammates.
Like Makar, Fox benefits from playing with stars like Artemi Panarin and Mika Zibanejed, so it’s almost inevitable at this point that he will be a contender for this award again.
Nashville has seen many players resurge their careers this season, including Matt Duchene and Mikael Granlund, and that has allowed Josi to benefit from their increased production. With 27 points in 28 games this season, it’s unlikely that he sustains this near point-per-game pace, but he will likely remain in the conversation as the season progresses.
The blueliner won the award in 2020 and is among the league’s best at creating stretch passes to his teammates from his defensive zone. At 31 years old, Josi also boasts excellent puck-handling skills to go along with his speed.
Hedman’s 2020-21 regular season didn’t quite live up to the Swede’s normal standards based purely on his defensive metrics. For example, the Tampa Bay Lightning had a goals-for percentage (GF%) of 49% with Hedman on the ice at 5v5. Looking at the other side, the team had a 59% GF% without him on the ice, meaning the Bolts were generating more offense when Hedman was on the bench.
However, he has turned the narrative around to begin this season. He has 28 points in 28 games to start the season and will likely be a finalist when the season ends.
It’s been a few seasons for Rielly since he was last considered in this race, as he’s battled with multiple injury problems. However, since signing an eight-year contract extension with the Toronto Maple Leafs, he has been producing at his best offensive pace since the 2018-19 season. Rielly currently has 26 points in 31 games, including 12 points in his last seven games, so he is slowly progressing as the season continues.
It’s unlikely he will surpass the players above to win this trophy, but he is playing like a top-four defenseman for one of the hottest teams in the league right now.