Steve Yzerman never gets too excited too soon. In August, when congratulated on his strong moves in his first offseason as general manager of the Tampa Bay Lightning, he replied: “Yeah, we’re undefeated.” More recently, when asked about the Bolts’ first month of the regular season, he said: “We’re off to a respectable start.”
Yzerman knows how long the NHL regular season can be and how quickly fortunes can turn. But it isn’t too soon to get excited about the Bolts. They’re off to a more than respectable start.
The Lightning was leading the Eastern Conference with 16 points. That set up an intriguing matchup Thursday night with the Los Angeles Kings, who were leading the West with 16 points.
No one should get carried away and call it a preview of the Stanley Cup final. But the great start is a great sign for the Bolts, who are trying to make the playoffs for the first time in four years. They led the East with 15 points in October. Only twice in the past 24 years has a team missed the playoffs after leading its conference at the end of October.
“Character-wise, I believe we’ve got a really strong group of people,” Yzerman said. “They’ve shown from the first day of training camp that they’re committed to getting better and doing what they have to do to make the organization better and to stay in the organization.”
Boucher, a rookie NHL bench boss, has lived up to his reputation for doing things his way – from his 1-3-1 system, to giving players a lot of time off so they stay fresh and hungry, to having the players visit the organization’s offices so they appreciate the people who work behind the scenes.
“It’s early, and so none of us want to get too excited about it,” Yzerman said. “But he’s a special guy and he’s very, very passionate. He’s very bright, and he’s got a lot of great ideas. He’s an innovative guy that isn’t afraid to try things differently.”
Stamkos – who tied for the NHL goal-scoring lead last season, posting 51 along with the Pittsburgh Penguins’ Sidney Crosby(notes) – is tied for the league goal-scoring lead again. He has 10 goals along with the Chicago Blackhawks’ Patrick Sharp(notes). He leads the league with 20 points, four more than anyone else.
“He’s a really nice person and an upbeat personality, but he’s very competitive on the ice,” Yzerman said. “I think we’re fortunate that with he, with Marty (St. Louis), our leaders, they’re kind of really setting the example, whether it’s practice or games. They’re very professional. It’s great to see.”
The scary thing? Just like the Kings have started so well without star defenseman Drew Doughty(notes), who has missed six games with a concussion, the Bolts have done it without star winger Simon Gagne(notes), who has missed five games with a neck injury. Gagne had no points and a minus-8 rating before he left he lineup. Imagine if he comes back and gets it going.
“He’s very mature in his thought process, and this is why I know he’s such a great leader: He always makes the right decision,” Trotz said. “It’s not necessarily the popular one, but he makes the right decision. He just doesn’t blow off the little things.”
One of the examples Trotz gave was a team dinner Weber held in Chicago before the Predators’ first road game. Weber invited everyone – even the coaches.
“He said, ‘I’m going to do a team dinner with the players, and I want you guys there, too, because if we’re going to win, we’re going to do this all together, meaning coaches, trainers, everybody. I want you guys there,’ ” Trotz said. “He could have said just the team. But he didn’t. He wanted everybody there.”
Is that what Trotz meant by unpopular decisions?
“You don’t get that,” Trotz said. “Usually the players are like, ‘We’re going to have team dinner, coach. OK. See you later.’ ”
Brendan Shanahan(notes) will be watching closely Monday when Dino Ciccarelli is inducted into the Hall of Fame. Ciccarelli played for the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League from 1976-80. Shanahan played for them from 1985-86 – and lived with the same family Ciccarelli did.
“I used to hear really funny Dino stories when I was 16, 17 years old,” Shanahan said. “He was sort of like a house favorite there. He was in the NHL. He was already, like, an all-star. So I always followed him closely after that.”
Any stories fit to print?
“Usually they involved him getting into trouble,” Shanahan said, smiling. “The family I lived with referred to him mostly as a rascal. Dino was a tough competitor to play against. I liked playing against players like Dino because they got under your skin, and they brought out the best in you.”
What was in the water at that house? Ciccarelli scored 608 goals and 1,200 points in the NHL. Shanahan had 656 goals and 1,354 points, and he will be headed to the Hall himself.
Ken Holland wants to be clear: He isn’t planning an elaborate presentation for Tuesday’s general managers meeting in Toronto. He isn’t pushing for immediate changes to the NHL’s overtime format, nor is he married to any particular proposal. It could be radical (four minutes of 4-on-4, then four minutes of 3-on-3, then a shootout) or subtle (a dry scrape of the ice after regulation).
“My intent really is to say, ‘Is there a better way to do overtime than we have now?’ ” said Holland, general manager of the Detroit Red Wings. “My intention is to continue to keep it on the agenda, to continue to try to have conversation. Would I like to see some change at some point in time? Yeah.”
When the league voted to introduce the shootout for the 2005-06 season, the vote was 29-1. The only team that voted against it? The Red Wings.
“So we never have been big shootout fans,” Holland said. “But after seeing the shootout, I like the idea that when the fans leave the rink, there is a winner and there is a loser and somebody gets two points and somebody gets one point. So I have no problems with the shootout. I’ve learned to appreciate its importance.”
But just as Holland’s view on shootouts has evolved, so has the dynamic in the league.
“The salary cap is doing everything it was intended to do,” Holland said. “People are coveting their young players and their draft picks. There’s less and less teams in it for the quick fix. All of that adds up to more and more and more parity. What does more and more parity mean? More and more parity means more and more close games, and more and more close games means the potential of more games that end up tied after 60 minutes.”
And more and more teams have played conservatively in overtime to get to the shootout, where coaches can control the lineups and use scouting reports to their advantage.
Holland brought up the idea of altering overtime last March, and there wasn’t much support. He brought it up again in June, and there was a little more support, after a record 15 percent of games ended in a shootout last season.
The NHL tinkered with some ideas at its research, development and orientation camp in August, including long line changes and 3-on-3 play. Shanahan, the league’s vice-president of hockey and business development, will make a presentation Tuesday about the data collected at the camp.
But only seven percent of games have ended in shootouts so far this season. While a number of GMs seem open to ideas and discussion, they seem reluctant to act just yet.
“There was a trend that more and more games were being decided by the shootout,” said Phoenix Coyotes GM Don Maloney. “My feeling, we need to watch it very closely, watch it this year. If that trend continues and grows, now there has to be some sort of adjustment. Now what that adjustment is, I’m not sure. There’s a lot of ideas. We’ll kick it around.”
• This week’s early-but-interesting sign of parity: Six teams that made the playoffs last season wouldn’t make them again if they started today – the Ottawa Senators, New Jersey Devils, Buffalo Sabres, Nashville Predators, San Jose Sharks and Phoenix Coyotes. The Sabres, Devils and Sharks all were division champions last season, too.
• Trotz entered the season planning to play his backup goaltender 15 games. But the way Anders Lindback(notes) has performed for the Predators – 3-0-1 with a 2.55 goals-against average and .920 save percentage – Trotz has bumped up that number to about 20.
• The injuries to Zach Parise(notes) and Dion Phaneuf(notes) are as painful off the ice as on it. Parise is the example of how the New Jersey Devils need to play, and they had to hope he would rub off on Ilya Kovalchuk(notes). Despite his struggles, Phaneuf has had a major impact on the attitude of the Toronto Maple Leafs.
• Here’s hoping the GMs do discuss coaches’ challenges or the expanded use of instant replay. The game has become so fast and the technology so great, it makes sense to at least explore ways to help the officials get it right.