The Biggest Takeaways from Week 2 of the 2013-14 NHL Season
Hockey is back—big-time. We're two weeks into the new NHL season and the news cycle is churning at a furious pace.
The roar of the anti-fighting debate has died down a bit since George Parros' opening-night injury, partly because there have been so many new subjects to dissect.
We've been dazzled by both new and old faces, on offense and in net, and we can't stop staring in morbid fascination at the early train wrecks.
Above all, it has been the "codes" that have dominated the discussions this week—how franchises, players and media choose to conduct themselves.
Most of these debates are far from settled, but here's what we learned—and what got tongues wagging—during Week 2.
It's Never Too Early to Make Changes
The week started off with a bang last Monday morning when the Philadelphia Flyers dismissed head coach Peter Laviolette. After just three games, it was one of the fastest early-season firings in NHL history.
The decision was a quick reversal of course for the Flyers. Management had stood by Laviolette when Philadelphia missed the playoffs in the lockout-shortened season, but chairman Ed Snider expressed his disappointment with training camp and the overall operations of his team as well as its poor start this year.
The Flyers were 0-3 under Laviolette and went 1-2 this week under former assistant coach Craig Berube, who has been handed the reins.
Philadelphia management was heavily scrutinized for its decision to hire from within. It remains to be seen whether, as Snider proclaimed, the Flyers "have a pretty good culture" and "know what they're dealing with."
With a full 82-game schedule this year, management groups of other underachieving teams have a bit more time to make decisions. The hammer will fall again—the only question is when.
New Coaches Bring Mixed Results
In addition to Craig Berube's new appointment in Philadelphia, five other coaches took over NHL teams last summer. Some are having success while others are struggling to get their group to gel.
The best of the bunch so far is fiery Hall of Famer Patrick Roy. He hasn't been shy about showing his emotions and, in doing so, has gotten his Colorado Avalanche off to a surprising 4-0-0 start. It may not last, but that's already a win in Denver.
Vancouver has seen mixed results so far from John Tortorella. He has kept his temper largely under control and seems to be getting good buy-in from his players, but the Canucks have struggled to win against quality competition.
The Dallas Stars are also playing .500 hockey so far under Lindy Ruff, as the team works towards building a new identity.
The roughest starts have been those of Dallas Eakins in Edmonton and Alain Vigneault in New York. At the end of Week 2, these teams lead the NHL...in goals against.
The Oilers are alone at the bottom of the Pacific Division with a 1-3-1 record. So far, Eakins hasn't found the magic switch that will catapult the team to the next level. The Rangers are in a tough spot—on a long road trip while Madison Square Garden is being renovated—but a 9-2 blowout at the hands of San Jose and a 6-0 loss to the Anaheim Ducks don't do much to boost confidence in the new regime.
The sample size is small, but there's room to wonder which of these coaches will be right for their teams over the long term.
Competition Is Hot in the West
In addition to Colorado's hot start, the Calgary Flames have defied expectations by going undefeated through the first two weeks of the season. The Flames have used hard work and the youthful enthusiasm of rookie scorer Sean Monahan to climb to second place in the Pacific Division.
The playoff odds may be better in the West, where eight of 14 will make the postseason, but the return of the interlocking schedule has given a decided edge to the Western Conference teams so far. San Jose and St. Louis are also undefeated, giving the West all four unbeaten teams.
The Eastern Conference is home to all four teams with the lowest point totals after two weeks—the New York Rangers, Philadelphia Flyers, Washington Capitals and Buffalo Sabres.
The Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks have started the year just fine with a 3-1-1 record, but that's only good enough for third place in the new Central Division.
If the good teams stay good and the weaker teams get good too, the battle in the West will be intense.
The Rookies Are Rockin'
It has been a banner year for teenagers so far in the young NHL season.
Tomas Hertl of the San Jose Sharks has garnered the most headlines. He leads the entire NHL with seven goals and scored four against the New York Rangers. Calgary's Sean Monahan has four goals of his own while fellow 2013 draftee Nathan MacKinnon leads his Colorado Avalanche with six points.
The list goes on.
Seth Jones and Jacob Trouba are each logging more than 22 minutes a game on the blue line for the Nashville Predators and Winnipeg Jets, respectively. Aleksander Barkov has fit in nicely in Florida. Among older rookies, 25-year-old Mark Arcobello has stepped in to become Edmonton's best two-way center.
The youngsters are loaded with talent and eager to demonstrate that they belong in the big leagues. So far, they're putting on quite a show.
"The Code" Isn't What It Used to Be
San Jose Sharks rookie forward Tomas Hertl made headlines with his four-goal game on Tuesday. The volume of the chatter was turned up to 11 because of the nature of the last goal—a fancy between-the-legs play that was followed by an exuberant celebration.
According to the National Post, Washington Capitals coach Adam Oates argues that such flashy play is disrepectful to the league when the game is out of reach.
As the story goes on to say, public opinion seems to be shifting away from that conservative perspective. Fans love to be entertained and hockey would be well-served to embrace these special, spontaneous, highlight-reel moments.
Even noted old-schooler Don Cherry cut Hertl some slack. On his weekly Coach's Corner segment on Hockey Night in Canada, Cherry said he thought Hertl's celebration was over-the-top, but gave him a pass because he's new to the North American game.
No such leniency was granted by Cherry to Nail Yakupov after his enthusiastic early-season celebration last year—and that was a last-minute game-tying goal.
When even Cherry is softening his stance, expect to see "The Code" struggle to retain its traditional relevance as time goes on.
The Media Loves to Talk About the Media
In yet another incident that originated from the actions of Tomas Hertl, his linemate Joe Thornton drew a ton of media attention of his own this week.
On Thursday in Vancouver, the captain interrupted an interview about Hertl by his teammate Patrick Marleau with an off-color joke about what he'd do if he ever scored four goals.
Jason Botchford of The Province quoted the comments verbatim in his White Towel game-day report. There wasn't much backlash against Thornton for his vulgarity. Instead, the focus turned to Botchford. What were the circumstances surrounding Thornton's statement, and should it have been reported?
Virtually every hockey writer and broadcaster around the league weighed in with their two cents, and opinions varied widely.
Some thought that, as a longtime friend to the media, Thornton should not have been betrayed in this way. Others posited that it could lead to a backlash whereby players will be less forthcoming in future.
David Pollak of the San Jose Mercury News wrote that the Sharks themselves condemned the reporting as a "pathetic attempt to generate some page hits."
For his part, Botchford seems comfortable with how the situation played out and is rather enjoying all the attention. His editor also seems pleased.
If we had such a thing as Employee of the Week, it would go to @botchford
— Wayne Moriarty (@Editorinblog) October 11, 2013
Much like "the code," due to new technology, the role of sports media has been constantly shifting in recent years. Some try to stay the course while others adapt.
As we saw this week, in these ever-evolving times, writers and broadcasters are more than happy to tear down that fourth wall and dissect the inner workings of their own business.
The jury is still out about the best way to operate in the new-media landscape.
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