Top questions of the 2015–16 NHL season

Photo by Jeff Vinnick via http://thescore.com

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in the Other Press. October 6, 2015

Here’s to another year of hockey, and, like the start of every school year, we have to wonder who will excel, what surprises will occur, and how all the changes will affect the grand scheme of things. Overtime storylines will play out on the ice, and we’ll learn the answers. Until then, these are the top question entering the 2015–16 NHL season:

Will Connor McDavid lead the Oilers to a playoff berth (and beyond)?

McDavid is marketed as the next Sidney Crosby, but will Edmonton—with its poor development system and defensive support—drain the talents of another first overall draft pick? Will McDavid be able to do what Nail Yakupov, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and Taylor Hall couldn’t? It took Crosby three full seasons before captaining the Penguins to a championship. How long will it take McDavid? No rush. The bar is low. For now, synergistically, Edmonton as a whole can aim for the next level and make it into the playoffs. Easy.

How will three-on-three overtime affect the overall standings?

The shootout has not been eliminated, but with three-on-three overtime, it might as well have been. I love this new tie-breaking format, however, I’m disappointed to see the end of four-on-four—if only there was some way to integrate that. Needless to say, with opening the ice for key players and reducing the flip-of-the-coin factor of shootouts we can see more skilled teams earning points. For example last season the Los Angeles Kings won 2 of 10 overtime shootouts. Those lost points could have ultimately gotten the former Stanley Cup champions into the playoffs, where they would have surely dominated.

Can coaching changes turn the tides for underachieving teams?

Mike Babcock to Toronto, Peter DeBoer to San Jose, Dan Bylsma to Buffalo, and Todd McLellan to Edmonton—these are a few of the high profile coaches standing behind new benches this season. The only reason coaches are moved is because their old teams are failing to achieve certain goals and their new teams have limited options. I don’t believe any coach can singlehandedly turn a franchise around, and as great as their track records are—especially for Babcock and Bylsma—I believe it’ll be a few years before they can make their mark. The thing is, will their new teams be so patient?

Will the Western Conference dominate the East again in the finals?

For five of the past six years, the winner of the Stanley Cup playoffs has been from the Western Conference. On top of that, those five victories were from two teams, the Los Angeles Kings and the Chicago Blackhawks. These two “dynasty” teams will be hard-pressed to continue this pattern as many of the Eastern contenders have seen improvements. This might be the year the New York Rangers, Pittsburgh Penguins, or Tampa Bay Lightning learn from their tribulations and win four series in a row. There are also a few dark horse contenders with generational players—Alexander Ovechkin and Jonathan Tavares both have optimistic teams ready to face-off—ready to take their legacy to supremacy. This year, I believe the two teams matched in the finals will be turning the page on the Kings’ and Blackhawks’ dominance.

Top players should not have ‘Jackass’ injuries

Connor McDavid of the Erie Otters. Photo by Aaron Bell/OHL Images

Prospect Connor McDavid’s injury proves that some players shouldn’t fight

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in The Other Press. November 17, 2014

Emotions run high in a game of hockey, but when a valuable player goes down for an asinine play such as a meaningless fight, the team pays the price.

In the wake of Erie Otters’ star player, Connor McDavid’s hand injury—received in a fight against Bryson Cianfrone of the Mississauga Steelheads—the hockey community is once against putting the topic of fighting on the discussion table. The debate is not whether fighting is good or bad for the sport, but why do star players continue to risk injuries fighting? In McDavid’s defence, he is 17 years old and probably felt invincible. How could he not? He is touted as the most promising prospect since Sidney Crosby.

No doubt missing five to six weeks out of such a defining year in his career will leave him regretting his decision, perhaps leading him to think twice before dropping his gloves again.

It seems as though every year a top player gets injured. Last year, Steven Stamkos went out with a freak leg injury after crashing into the opposition’s net, and this year Taylor Hall is missing games due to a similar incident. John Tavares missed a portion of last season as well after a hit during the Sochi Olympics. And this year we already saw the absence of top forwards, including Zach Parise, Mike Cammalleri, T.J. Oshie, and Radim Vrbata. Injuries happen all the time and rarely does skill level factor in. Many would say that injuries in hockey are unavoidable.

Nevertheless, fights are always avoidable, especially if it involves an elite player like McDavid. The cause of the fight was because Cianfrone had allegedly slashed McDavid numerous times during the game, and out of frustration, the top prospect took matters into his own hands—thus injuring it. Hockey teams need to protect their star players. It doesn’t matter which league they’re in. If they want to win, they’ll need their best players.

Remember the overall effect of losing Crosby to a concussion? Fans want to see the grittiness of the game, but they also want to see the skills of the elite players. And any player that suffered an initial injury would tell you that the game never feels the same afterward; there is an instinctual need to be careful and stay safe.

For McDavid to injure himself in junior may not impact his draft standing, but in a sport where high impact is part of the game, he probably doesn’t want the label of damaged goods before his is selected either.

There will always be a target on the backs of the best players, and it’s up to the rest of the team to protect their top assets. There was a reason why Wayne Gretzky avoided fisticuffs at all cost. He didn’t need to fight; he had a big guy like Marty McSorley to protect him. The reason why there is still a place for enforcers in the game is because top players shouldn’t get injured fighting. As long as fighting remains, which in my opinion it should, then enforcers need to defend their goal scorers.

Sure, it was McDavid’s fault for getting into the fight and hurting himself, but the player who should feel the worst is the guy on the team assigned to protect him.