What we learned from the last week of play in the NHL:
The Player Safety department has a spine
The Lords of Discipline have been woefully inconsistent but they correctly nailed Washington Capitals forward Tom Wilson with a 20-game suspension without pay for his needless hit to the head of St. Louis forward Oskar Sundqvist in an exhibition. Sundqvist might have had his head down, but that’s not illegal and it’s not an invitation to be hit. Wilson got him in the head, and that is illegal. And why smash a guy in the head in an exhibition? The NHL Players’ Assn. filed an appeal on behalf of repeat-offender Wilson, but maybe Sundqvist — also an NHLPA member — should be allowed to weigh in, too. Commissioner Gary Bettman will hear Wilson’s appeal; after that, Wilson can appeal to a neutral arbitrator. This season launches Player Safety off to a strong, standard-setting start.
NHL making that old college try
Dallas’ decision to hire Jim Montgomery as its coach was greeted with skepticism because until recently, NHL teams had gone decades without hiring a coach straight out of college hockey. Montgomery, who coached at the University of Denver for five years, led the Stars to solid wins in his first two games, a confidence boost for a team that missed the playoffs the last two seasons. David Quinn, hired away from Boston University to coach the New York Rangers this season, hasn’t found instant success: His team is 0-3. Dave Hakstol, who spent 11 years coaching at North Dakota before he left for Philadelphia in 2015, has guided the Flyers into the playoffs twice in his first three seasons. Before he was hired, the previous college-to-NHL jump was made by “Badger” Bob Johnson in 1982. Before him, Ned Harkness left Cornell for the Detroit Red Wings and didn’t last a season.
The bizarre googly-eyed, orange-bearded creature introduced by the Flyers this season is the Wayne Gretzky of mascots. Gritty achieved a feat not even the Great One can claim: Gritty (or a reasonable facsimile) appeared on “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon,” “Last Week Tonight With John Oliver,” and “Conan” last week, gaining attention for a sport that rarely gets attention in the prestigious late-night time slot. That’s masterful marketing by the Flyers, though it’s still tempting to believe they’ll proclaim the whole thing a joke at some point and introduce a cuddlier mascot.
The Canucks aren’t playing games
Well, they’re playing NHL contests, but they’ve instituted a team-wide ban on playing the immensely popular video game “Fortnite” during trips. The Canucks aren’t the only team concerned the game could adversely affect players’ sleep and rest habits. “In my opinion, there’s better ways to spend time on the road, whether it’s hanging with the guys in the room or going to a movie with the guys,” Vancouver forward Bo Horvat told radio station TSN 1040. “There’s a lot of cool cities we visit and to be cooped up in your room all night, playing ‘Fortnite,’ is a waste of your time.” Winnipeg forward Patrik Laine didn’t buy that line of reasoning. “I think they just needed something to blame after last year,” Laine said, referring to the Canucks’ 31-40-11 record last season.
The Coyotes will score. Really, they will
Arizona has outshot its opponents 71-45 in its first two games but has nothing to show for that advantage after being shut out by Dallas and the Ducks. Remember, last season the Coyotes were 0-10-1 before they got their first win and fell so far behind that even a greatly improved second-half performance couldn’t get them near a playoff spot. They should be better this season but they’re still waiting for their first goal, let alone their first win. “It’s only two games into the season, we’ve got to chill out there,” coach Rick Tocchet said after the loss to the Ducks. “We’ve played two pretty good games and we can’t score right now, and it is what it is.”