First impressions of Bedard, Couturier's return, and 5 more NHL items
Takes, Thoughts, Trends is theScore's biweekly hockey grab bag.
The NHL's schedule makers sure know how to take advantage of a marketable player. Check out Chicago's slate to start the Connor Bedard era:
- Sidney Crosby's Penguins on Opening Night
- Presidents' Trophy-winning Bruins a day later
- Hockey Night in Canada in Montreal on Sat., Oct. 14
- Hockey mecca Toronto on Mon., Oct. 16
- Stanley Cup-contending Avalanche on Oct. 19
- Home opener against reigning Cup champion Vegas
That's six marquee matchups over the first 12 days of Bedard's career.
He lived up to the hype in his first two games, which aired on ESPN and TNT. He recorded an assist in 21:29 of action against Pittsburgh and a goal in 21:44 against Boston. Heading into Friday's games, the 18-year-old is tied for the league lead in shots (11) and has the second-most shot attempts (18). He's been less productive in the faceoff circle, going 8-for-25, though that's typical for rookie centers.
So much can happen in the next 80 games, and there will be bumps. But what's clear already is that Bedard is more Crosby than Connor McDavid. Like Crosby, he's both powerful and graceful, and he uses his backhand to generate offense. His demeanor on and off the ice is Crosby 2.0: comfortable but reserved, serious but polite, and no moment too big.
Bedard, whose shot is considered elite by NHL standards, showcased his patented drag-and-release style multiple times in his first two games. "Nifty" is a word that comes to mind when watching him operate in the offensive zone. An average shift length of 1:03 is definitely too high, but with that the No. 1 criticism through six periods of hockey, the kid's off to a stellar start.
"I don't see a reason why he can't get 40 goals," TNT analyst Paul Bissonnette said on a preseason conference call with reporters.
To Bissonnette, 80 points in Year 1 is a fair projection for No. 98.
"He's built like a brick shithouse," Bissonnette said of Bedard's lower-body strength. His Martin St. Louis-like quads should allow him to "take the punishment that's going to come his way, having to go up against first-line centers."
Hall of Fame-bound goalie Henrik Lundqvist sees 60-80 points for the rookie. "Is he a guy who can have 80, 90 points? Absolutely," the TNT analyst said. "But, to me, it's going to come down to how competitive his team is."
Couturier looks good as new
Welcome back, Sean Couturier, and take a bow.
The 2020 Selke Trophy winner returned Thursday after a whopping 663 days on the sidelines, helping the Flyers beat the Blue Jackets in Columbus. Couturier, 30, skated 20:39 - tops among Philadelphia forwards - including 3:06 on the power play and 2:03 on the penalty kill, and recorded an assist.
The strongest sign old Couturier is back: he didn't look tentative, despite undergoing two back surgeries over the past 22 months. Never a flashy player, Couturier provided Patrice Bergeron-esque stability at center.
Philly outscored Columbus 3-0 in all situations with Couturier on the ice and controlled 76% of the expected goals at even strength.
"As the game went on, I felt better and better, " Couturier, who won 11 of 20 faceoffs, told reporters.
It won't be surprising if Couturier adds another trophy to his collection by season's end. The Masterton is awarded to the NHLer "who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to ice hockey."
Snow will 'be missed'
Longtime NHL executive Brad Treliving spoke beautifully Thursday about Chris Snow's optimism, wit, intelligence, strong-willed nature, and love for life during a memorial service in Calgary. Snow, a member of the Flames' front office since 2011, died Sept. 30 after a lengthy battle with ALS. He was 42.
Snow, an assistant GM, created Calgary's analytics department. He was very detail-oriented and leaned on skills learned as a former journalist to present data in an uncomplicated way. "When I'm trying to sell a story to the GM or coach, if it doesn't look good, how are they going to be convinced that everything under the hood is good?" Snow asked his team.
David Johnson, a former analyst who worked under Snow for six years, never saw his boss' drive to win a Stanley Cup slip while he was ill, nor his ability to do his job to the best of his ability. Snow losing his voice meant more texting, not less communicating. He courageously fought back against ALS' complications.
"He was never in a bad mood. He was always cheerful," Johnson recalled Wednesday. "Even when there's issues going on - data's incorrect or there's technical issues, whatever - it was never unpleasant. 'There's this issue, can you have a look at it?' That's it. He was very easy to work for in that respect."
You wanted to live up to Snow's high standards, Johnston added, because at the end of the day, he wanted what was best for you and for the organization.
"The two things he loved most was spending time with his family and sitting in the front office talking hockey," Johnson said. "He's going to be missed."
The Adin Hill Won the Cup effect
CapFriendly is an invaluable resource. It's where you go for any and all contract details, and it also helps paint a picture of league-wide trends.
Did you know that as of Thursday morning, nine NHL teams were spending less than 6% of the $83.5-million salary cap on goaltending? (Tampa Bay is counted here, but only because Andrei Vasilevskiy is on injured reserve.)
Think about that: A quarter of the league has allocated next to nothing to arguably the sport's most important position. Los Angeles, a club with Stanley Cup aspirations, is spending a league-low 3%, or $2.5 million, on goalies Pheonix Copley and Cam Talbot. Let's call this the Adin Hill Won the Cup effect.
At forward, meanwhile: Toronto, Dallas, Washington, the Islanders, and New Jersey lead the NHL in cap percentage spent, all at 63% or higher. The Maple Leafs, Stars, and Devils are offensive powerhouses and should get their money's worth. The Capitals and Islanders appearing in the top five is less of a compliment - too many bloated contracts up front.
Carolina's the most interesting case for spending on defense. Among four teams allocating 35% or more of the cap to the blue line, the Hurricanes have by far the best personnel, with Brent Burns, Jaccob Slavin, Dmitry Orlov, and Brett Pesce headlining the seven-player group. The other teams at or above 35% - Columbus, Nashville, St. Louis - all have at least one problematic contract. Exhibit A: Damon Severson, at best a second-pair guy, who Columbus is paying $6.25 million through 2030-31.
Unforced error: Sometimes the NHL can't get out of its own way. Over the last 12 months, the league's gone from fully supporting special-initiative nights, to being spooked by a handful of players choosing not to wear Pride Night warmup jerseys, to banning the use of Pride Tape. So much of the good associated with Hockey Fights Cancer Night, Military Appreciation Night, Pride Night, and Black History Night has been reversed. And for what? McDavid, Morgan Rielly, Scott Laughton, James van Riemsdyk, Zach Hyman, and Anthony Duclair are among many NHLers to express displeasure with the timeline of events. Talk about failing to read the room.
Dying art: Something I didn't discuss in my 24 predictions for the 2023-24 season piece but that's worth mentioning here: slap-shot usage will continue to plummet, because the modern NHL power play usually features four forwards and one defenseman and has for the most part ditched clappers from the point. Instead, east-west passing is prioritized so that quick, hard, deceptive wrist and snap shots are unleashed from high-percentage areas, like the inner slot. The windup time needed for a proper slap shot has become too burdensome in all situations, with the pace of play simply too high. Defensive players and goalies have more than enough time to prepare for a slap shot.
Expansion gem: While Matty Beniers may prove to be a superstar down the road, Seattle's currently a team without one. Instead, the Kraken lineup's filled with quality NHLers. Asked prior to the season for his most underrated teammate, Beniers chose 26-year-old defenseman Will Borgen. The 6-3 righty may play an unsexy game (mean in the corners, good first pass, motor that doesn't quit), but he's ultra effective on the second pair alongside Jamie Oleksiak. General manager Ron Francis was widely criticized for several of his 2021 expansion draft picks, but it's safe to say he unearthed a gem in Borgen, a 2015 fourth-rounder plucked from the Sabres.
John Matisz is theScore's senior NHL writer. Follow John on Twitter (@MatiszJohn) or contact him via email (email@example.com).