December 22 — NHL Reindeer & Warranting the Wild

Yesterday’s NHL Scores

Last Night’s News 📰

FAMILY FIRST: On Wednesday, the Dallas Stars announced they granted Denis Gurianov a leave of absence from the team for family reasons. A 25-year-old forward, Gurianov has two goals and five points in 25 games with the Stars this season.

OTTAWA EXTENDS ZUB: Artem Zub received a four-year, $18.4 million extension from the Ottawa Senators on Wednesday. Zub has been considered one of the Senators’ best defensemen, and although he has been out with a fractured jaw since Dec. 2, the 27-year-old will look to play a big part in turning Ottawa around. He has 4 points and is a minus-1 in 14 games this season. 

A LEG(WAND) UP ON THE COMPETITION: With a goal and an assist in last night’s win over the Chicago Blackhawks, Roman Josi passed David Legwand as the Nashville Predators’ all-time leading scorer. Josi, whose goal ended up being the game-winner in the 4-2 victory, also eclipsed Martin Erat for third-most game-deciding tallies for Nashville with 27. 

PREPARING FOR THE STORM: With severe weather expected to hit the area, the NHL is rescheduling Friday’s game between the Buffalo Sabres and Tampa Bay Lighting for Saturday, March 4, 2023. Buffalo’s initially scheduled game for that night against the Philadelphia Flyers will now take place on Monday, Jan. 9, 2023. 

BLACK KEYS IN BOSTON: Fans will be rocking in the stands at Fenway Park on Jan. 2, as the 2023 Discover NHL Winter Classic between the Boston Bruins and Pittsburgh Penguins will feature acclaimed musical guests. Headlining the annual event, six-time Grammy-winning rock band, The Black Keys, will perform during the first intermission. Meanwhile, R&B group Bell Biv DeVoe and the legendary Boston Pops orchestra will play the national anthem, as well as between stoppages throughout the game. 

Top Shelf Thursday – Top Underperforming Signings

As each summer passes, seven- and eight-year contracts are becoming the norm around the league. Fans see massive offers thrown out at the same rate that Oprah Winfrey hands out cars. Of course, not every player lives up to his lucrative deal, and today we look at three players who have been underperforming through the first few months of the season.

Seth Jones – Chicago Blackhawks

Things have been a mess in Chicago, and it doesn’t solely land on the play of defenseman Seth Jones who signed an eight-year, $76 million ($9.5 million average annual value) extension with the Blackhawks on July 28, 2021. This season the blueliner has one goal and nine points in 20 games, which is the exact point total as his brother Caleb who has a cap hit of just $1.35 million. There have been rumblings that the Ottawa Senators made a call to check in on the elder Jones’ availability. Will Chicago part with its once-prized acquisition after his tough start? 

Jacob Trouba – New York Rangers

On July 19, 2019, the New York Rangers signed Jacob Trouba to a seven-year, $56 million free-agent contract worth an AAV of $8 million. This past offseason, he was named the 28th captain in franchise history. Fast forward 34 games, and he has been underperforming while only scoring two goals and adding nine assists. He has taken his fair share of criticism, and—considering he is one of the team’s highest-paid players—Trouba will continue to be under the microscope in New York. 

Jack Campbell – Edmonton Oilers

At this juncture, it’s safe to say the Edmonton Oilers are relieved they didn’t ink Jack Campbell to a longer deal. Over the summer, Edmonton signed the goaltender to a five-year contract, which has been an absolute disaster. It has been so bad that the goaltender lambasted himself earlier this season, calling his performance pathetic. Recently, Campbell has taken a back seat to Stuart Skinner, who emerged as the Oilers’ No. 1 goaltender and even earned himself a three-year extension. 

Real or Fake: Minnesota Wild

This weekly segment looks at a notable, eye-opening trend in the league, be it an individual or team performance, and examines whether it’s real or if it’s more likely an aberration that should correct itself over time.

Remember when the Minnesota Wild coughed up a whopping 20 goals over their first three games? That feels like a lifetime ago now, particularly considering that they’ve surrendered just six goals over their past six contests. Of course, those goals have all come in winning efforts, propelling the Wild to a 19-11-2 mark and the third spot in the Central Division.

If Minnesota’s disastrous early start got chalked up to struggles in net and on the blue line, as well as some negative mojo stemming from the club’s tight cap situation, what’s to make of their recent success? Kirill Kaprizov continues to do Kirill Kaprizov things, but how far will that take them? Are they actually for real?

Real: Running It Back

Yes, the Wild front office will have trouble improving the roster in the coming years. And yes, the organization had little choice but to unload Kevin Fiala in the offseason. However, the long-term angst makes it hard to remember that this was the same team that recorded a franchise-record 53 wins and 113 points last year. Just because they didn’t escape a first-round playoff showdown with the Blues last spring doesn’t mean their regular season wasn’t successful. Minnesota is roughly on pace to match its point total from the 2021-22 campaign.

Fake: Soft Schedule

If we’re being honest, the Wild’s current win streak has come against some inferior opposition. They’ve beaten Vancouver, Edmonton, Detroit, Chicago, Ottawa, and now Anaheim during the run, with a game against the lowly San Jose Sharks coming tonight. After that, the real test begins with Winnipeg, Dallas, St. Louis, and Tampa Bay on the docket.

Real: The Tandem Is Working

If not for Kaprizov, you could argue that Minnesota’s MVP thus far has been unheralded netminder Filip Gustavsson. The 24-year-old Swede is firmly on track to break his career-high 18 games played and has earned the trust of head coach Dean Evason. For the Wild front office, Gustavsson has provided an effective and far cheaper replacement to a disgruntled Cam Talbot. For Marc-André Fleury, Gustavsson has eased the pressure on the 38-year-old future Hall of Famer. 

NHL Players as Santa’s Reindeer

We all know that the NHL is only as good as its players—much like Santa and his reindeer! Santa needs the help of his reindeer for his operation to succeed, so as a fun holiday segment, we will tackle which NHL player matches which reindeer the best, courtesy of the Santa Rules website. (Note: only female reindeer keep their antlers in late December)

Cole Caufield as Dancer

Dancer is the life of the party, loves to celebrate the big and small moments, and loves to dance. She fits the profile of Montreal Canadiens forward Cole Caufield. Teammate Brendan Gallagher said Caufield is always dancing around the locker room and having fun. He seems to bring eager, youthful energy wherever he goes. Montreal even posted a video of Caufield’s awesome dance moves in November!

Marc-André Fleury as Prancer

The Flower is one of the best at pulling pranks in the NHL. Minnesota Wild goaltender Marc-André Fleury is known to have fun on every team he has been on and loves messing with his current and former teammates. Prancer is famous for the same thing as she is known for being outgoing, pulling pranks on her friends, and being spontaneous. One example of Fleury’s antics was when he pranked Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby at the NHL Media Tour in September. Fleury taped all his hockey equipment into a giant ball and hid a cup of water under his helmet, so when Crosby went to grab it, the water spilled all over. Oh, Fleury! 

Trevor Zegras as Vixen

Trevor Zegras is a player who is always trending, not just for his hockey heroics but for the entertaining things he does off the ice. Santa Rules describes Vixen as a class clown who loves entertaining while making people laugh. One funny thing from early this season happened when the NHL asked players to predict who would score the most goals in 2022-23. Zegras answered John Gibson—Anaheim Ducks goaltender and teammate. 

Vincent Trocheck as Comet

Most hockey players treat their teammates like family, and that describes Comet. Comet is referred to as the “mom” of the group and is always looking out for her friends. New York Rangers forward Vincent Trocheck had the entire team over to his house in Pittsburgh on Dec. 19, as they were in town to face the Penguins and Trocheck is from the area. His grandma proceeded to make them an Italian dinner with dishes that included chicken parmesan and meatballs. What a motherly way for Trocheck to treat his friends for the holidays. 

Ryan O’Reilly as Donner

With their love of music in common, the St. Louis Blues and forward Ryan O’Reilly are a perfect match. Donner is the “singer” of the reindeer family. She loves to sing and perform and is very creative, which relates to O’Reilly. He has stated many times in the past that music is his passion. His dad is a singer, so he takes after him and is self-taught on the guitar. O’Reilly even wrote songs, including one titled “Goodbye,” about missing home when he first started in the NHL. He also performs his songs for his family during summer reunions. Being a Stanley Cup champion and a musician are two impressive accomplishments to have on hand. 

Lane Pederson as Cupid

Love, the name of the game with Cupid, and one story of love around the league came from Lane Pederson of the Vancouver Canucks. He is currently dating Luke Schenn’s sister Madison, and Schenn mentioned that he has known Pederson for eight or nine years and was even at training camp in Arizona with Lane. Now, they are teammates, and it looks like it is a loving family affair as both Lane and Luke posed for a picture on the ice with Luke’s brother, Brayden Schenn, before the Canucks faced the Blues on Dec. 19. 

Cale Makar as Dasher

Dasher is the fastest reindeer and also happens to be athletically gifted. Colorado Avalanche defenseman Cale Makar is one of the fastest skaters in the NHL and has tremendous offensive capabilities to match. Anyone will have a tough time replicating his season last year with a Stanley Cup championship, Conn Smythe Trophy, and Norris Trophy. Makar continues to fly by everyone! 

Matthew Tkachuk as Blitzen

Energizer bunny-type players are on every team, and one of the most known ones is Florida Panthers forward Matthew Tkachuk. Always bringing a level of feistiness and “thrill” to his game, Tkachuk will give you offense, hits, and occasionally a fight or two. Blitzen has a reputation for being a thrill seeker, who is full of adventure, and pushes the limit. We know Tkachuk would be proud to share those traits with Blitzen. 

Connor McDavid as Rudolph

Naming Connor McDavid as Rudolph seems easy, but he has been leading the way for his team the same way Rudolph leads the sleigh. Listed as a natural-born leader, Rudolph is hard-working and quiet, which fits McDavid to a tee. Former teammate Cam Talbot described him that way by stating that McDavid “leads by example on and off the ice, just the way he carries himself. There are different ways that you can lead, and it doesn’t always have to be vocal, and Connor is just one of those guys who leads by example, and that’s a guy you can follow.” It makes sense why he holds the honor of being the youngest captain in NHL history when he got the nod at 19—a quiet leader who also happens to be the best player in the league. 

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