[Every weekend, Canucks Hockey Blog goes out of town as Tom Wakefield (@tomwakefield88) posts his thoughts on what's happening around the NHL.]
Photo credit: Pesonen and the Pens
Growing up in the `80s there were two camps: Wayne Gretzky vs. Mario Lemieux. The Great One vs. Mario “Le Magnifique.”
To idolize one was to idolize a “great Canadian” – a small-town Ontario boy who grew up playing on a backyard rink. Wayne? He was humble, hardworking and personified brains over brawn.
To idolize the other was, at least in my neighbourhood, almost traitorous. Mario? He was arrogant and aloof. He didn’t love the game. Yeah he scored that great goal in ’87, but he rarely played for Team Canada. For Pete’s sake, he was a smoker!
Funny how time changes things.
While Mario was saving the franchise that made him an icon, Wayne invested money into the Phoenix Coyotes, a team he had no previous allegiance to.
Today, Mario is a positive force and influential member of the Pittsburgh community. His Mario Lemieux Foundation has raised millions of dollars for medical and cancer research. He’s an active NHL owner, with a seat-at-the-table on decisions that impact professional hockey.
Meanwhile, Wayne has become a bit of a huckster, all activities seemingly weighed against their impact on his brand and bottom line. He’s currently ‘taking time away from the game” in an argument over
money owed by the NHL. Maybe this time away will help him manage his winery or his restaurant.
Yes, as I watched Mario christen CONSOL Energy Centre with water from the old Mellon Arena, I couldn’t help but think how, these days, I wish #99 was a bit more like #66.
In the post-lockout NHL, where the game is played at unparalleled speeds and teams have to manage the salary cap, young (cheap) talent is an important commodity.
Opening night rosters around the league are dotted with 18-, 19- and 20-year olds.
But one youngster whose name you won’t see in any lineup is Erik Gudbranson.
And this is not a bad thing.
Big and nasty, Gudbranson was arguably one of the best players at Florida Panther’s training camp.
But there is a big jump between pre-season and regular season hockey. Learning defense at the NHL level is extremely difficult, especially when this is so clearly a rebuilding year for the Panthers.
Returning Gudbranson to juniors gives him a chance to dominate, to work on his offensive game, and to take a leadership role on Team Canada at the World Juniors.
Meanwhile, the Panthers give themselves an extra year before Gudbranson starts the clock toward NHL free agency.
Contrast this to how the Toronto Maple Leafs handled the development Luke Schenn.
Schenn’s first training camp in Toronto was an impressive one. The stay-at-home defenseman made the team as an 18-year old, despite the fact that he couldn’t execute a slapshot consistently.
Two up-and-down seasons later, Schenn enters this year with reduced career expectations.
And at 21, he’s also just four years away from free agency.
The jury is still out on both Gudbranson on and Schenn, but their careers will serve as an interesting comparison to watch over the coming years.
THOUGHTS ON THE FLY
- Speaking of the Panthers, Michael Grabner’s work ethic at camp was one reason why the Panthers waived the former Canuck. But don’t rule out the play of Mike Santorelli as a contributing factor either. Also gifted with great speed and above-average hands, the former Predator prospect earned a top-6 role, bumping Grabner to the Islanders and Steven Reinprecht to the fourth line.
- Boy did Edmonton look fast against Calgary. One game does not a season make, but those fears about Calgary’s footspeed may be justified.
- The Leafs and Nazem Kadri are saying all the right things, but the fact remains he projects, at best, to a Derek Roy-type player at the NHL level. Is that good enough to win a Stanley Cup?
- Cam Fowler will become the third youngest player to ever play for the Anaheim Ducks. Other notable teens to play for the Ducks: Oleg Tverdovsky, Stanislav Chistov, Luca Sbisa, Vitaly Vishnevski, Chad
Kilger. That’s a lot of teenage mediocrity.
- That was nice of Marty Turco to honour Antti Niemi by stinking up the place for Chicago in the first game of the season.
- Still rather surprised the Oilers gave Shawn Horcoff the Captaincy. There was a strained relationship between veterans and youngsters in the Oiler dressing room last year, and Horcoff’s name was always included in the mix of vets (along with Ethan Moreau and Sheldon Souray) who were part of the problem. Even if he’s turned over a new leaf attitude-wise, Horcoff was also arguably the team’s worst player last year.
- I still don’t understand how Rick Nash is the 14th best player in the NHL, according to TSN. On the one hand, he may be the most talented big-man in the game today. On the other, he’s never hit 80 points in a season and is a career minus-54.
- Nigel Dawes – yes, that Nigel Dawes – is reportedly starting the season on Atlanta’s top line with Nik Antropov and Fred Modin. Good luck with that, Thrashers fans.
- RJ Umberger starts the season on the third-line in Columbus so Nikita Filatov can play with fellow first-round picks Derrick Brassard and Jakub Voracek. Filatov’s had a good camp and might have 20 goals in his hands this year.