Wednesday, October 31st, 2001
Looking at the standings, you may think you were blasted into the past. Maybe
the early 1980's, when the Islanders roamed the NHL. Maybe the late 1970's,
when Le Habs ruled the Canadian national sport in America. But actually,
you weren't blasted into the past, rather, you have been catapulted into
a new generation of teams that win by getting the small things right.
Small things? What about all those teams that are attempting to buy their
way to the Stanley Cup? Obviously, the list is extensive: Detroit, Colorado,
Dallas, Toronto, and St. Louis were among the most active in the offseason.
True, their performances haven't been anything to laugh at, but the load
of expectations that have been burdened upon the players could prove too
much to handle against a team with less talent, but airtight cohesion amongst
The intangible factor - good coaching, team chemistry, and basically doing
the small things right - has lifted many previously depressed teams to the
top of the standings. Such teams like the Boston Bruins, Montreal Canadiens,
Calgary Flames, and New York Islanders have seen the light at the end of
Many would claim that the Islanders are at the top because of Yashin and
Peca, their highly-prized free agent acquisitions over the offseason. To
an extent, that notion is correct, but only because Peca was more of a team
player than many had suspected. Not only a legitimate two-line center, he's
also a gritty team leader who leads by example, perhaps the best method of
Inheriting Red Wings' defector G Chris Osgood was also a plus, not because
he's skilled at netminding, but also because he's been around a winning
atmosphere his whole career in Detroit and has even been to and won a Stanley
Cup with them. Osgood is showing that a guy who knows how to win is always
worth more than a superstar with talent through the roof. Winning is not
something that's inborn, it's something that has to be seen and then done.
Something tells me these Islanders are not done surprising people.
The most surprising team is arguably the Calgary Flames in the talent-infested
waters of the Western Conference. Apart from up-and-coming superstar center
Jarome Iginla, the Flames lack any other secondary talent that could be
bolstering their 8-2-1 campaign so far this season.
So then why are they so good? The answer to this question lies in every aspect
of their game plan that's executed every time they play, which doesn't rely
on Blues castoff Roman Turek to make forty saves or Iginla to score a hat
trick every night. Rather, their plan is an intricate design of passes and
gritty play helped by a young and fast defense that's been able to lighten
the load off of Turek and been able to help score on offense.
The disheartening health condition of team captain Saku Koivu would lead
many to believe that the Canadiens would be in for another disappointing
season. Maybe the ultimatum he gave about his return to hockey was an inspiration
to Canada's true hockey town. With newfound heart, the fans have once more
come back to cheer Le Habs while Brian Savage and Co. are making every effort
not to disappoint. Who ever thought a team would be better off without its
visible captain? Certainly not these Habs or anybody else who predicted they'd
finish at the bottom of the East.
Perhaps the most likely to make a playoff run out of the four teams mentioned,
the Boston Bruins were expected to be in this article. But this could be
the last time in a while. The Bruins went on a hot 4-0 start lead by G Byron
Dafoe while Rolston is off to a surprising start and free agent acquisition
Martin LaPointe is playing dirty with 42 penalty minutes. I say they won't
be in the playoff race next year because they refuse to open their wallet
and sign their prized elite holdout center Jason Allison.
Instead, they traded him to Los Angeles for two slightly above average players
in Glen Murray and Josef Stumpel. Bruins GM Mike O' Connell claims that it
was the best offer on the table, which only means that they had no intention
of signing him.
They are also unlikely to resign Byron Dafoe who will ask for the kind of
big money contract Marty Brodeur of the Devils just signed. Bill Guerin also
will likely be testing the free agent market. He would be boneheaded if he
didn't since he's 31 and could be the last time he'll have a legitimate shot
to land a big money contract after a big season last year.
Many of these teams' surprise runs won't last until April, but it's worth
pointing out that money doesn't buy a winning team. Perhaps it's best exemplified
by the paradoxical situations in Detroit, a team with seemingly infinite
spending money, and Boston, a team looking to step into the ranks of the
elite, but won't spend the dough needed to, that money instead buys