MODERATOR: Thank you for joining us for our NBC Sports media conference call to preview the 2019-2020 NHL season which begins this Wednesday night on NBCSN with defending Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues hosting the Washington Capitals, followed with a doubleheader, Vegas hosting San Jose in the second game.
Joining us on our call today is Mike Doc Emrick, Eddie Olczyk, Mike Milbury and Patrick Sharp, who is now full time here with us here at NBC Sports, and of course Sam Flood, executive producer of NBC Sports as well as the former captain of the Williams College hockey team.
We’ll begin now with opening remarks from executive producer Sam Flood.
SAM FLOOD: What a way to open the season with the last two Cup champions going head to head followed by a matchup of West Coast teams that have a little bit of angst, anger and excitement built into how the season ended last year.
So it adds a whole element to how the season begins, which we think will be fabulous. And our Wednesday nights, which we transitioned into Wednesday Night Hockey last year and rebranded it because it really is showcasing and celebrating the entire league.
What was accomplished last year was putting the spotlight on more teams creating a ton of doubleheaders, and the doubleheaders allowed the West Coast teams to be shined in the spotlight on a regular basis. And we’re really pleased with how that worked out, how we got attention to a lot of these new markets.
And then we got to the playoffs, and the Avs became this incredible story. And to be able to play around with them and showcase them in a number of games was a big help to us and a big help to the NHL as we continue to grow.
But the scheduling gods of the NHL, also known as Hotseat (phonetic) did a wonderful job with us with this year’s Wednesday night schedule and the entire season schedule, giving us great matchups that are going to make people care about the game as we continue to evolve, and how we showcase the stars, particularly across these doubleheaders. And that second game of the doubleheader has increased in audience year over year, and we’re excited about how we’re able to play in that space.
But most importantly, we’re excited that Doc Emrick will again be the voice of NHL on NBC and the job he’s done. He’s set the standard for play-by-play in all sports right now. And can’t wait for him to call it on Wednesday night. So, Doc, I’m going to pass the puck your way.
DOC EMRICK: Thank you. Great to head to St. Louis. And it’s always fun to see what teams decide to do to raise the banner and show off the Cup. In the last six years we’ve had five different Stanley Cup champions. And out of a possible 12 teams in the Finals we’ve had 11 different ones. Only Pittsburgh’s repeated.
Season 103 will be exciting and season 15 on NBC — time goes quickly and Eddie is here with us now. You’re on.
EDDIE OLCZYK: Thank you very much, Doc. Where has the time gone? This will be my 14th year of sitting next to Doc Emrick. And thanks to our boss, Sam Flood, for giving me that opportunity back in the start of the ’06-’07 season.
It’s hard to believe, Doc, this will be the 14th year I’ll be sitting next to you. What an honor and privilege it is to sit next to you.
Yes, we get to be in St. Louis for Wednesday night and the banner raising. And as Sam mentioned, the last two Stanley Cup winners — and think about St. Louis, you know, where they came from, it’s well documented, but I think it’s important for everybody to really not forget that, look, a lot of us thought that they would be a very good team and they would make the playoffs and make some sort of a run.
But not necessarily the recipe that they followed with falling into last place in the entire National Hockey League in January, in the first couple of days of January.
And give Doug Armstrong, their general manager, a boat load of credit for not blowing it up; for Craig Berube, for continuing to rally the troops; the great leadership inside that locker room with Alex Pietrangelo, their captain.
You look at what they did recently by acquiring Justin Falk from the Carolina Hurricanes, and I would argue their right side, their right-sided defensemen, with Pietrangelo, Parayko and Falk, they’ll get the opportunity to play the left side at some point.
But right-handed shot, that’s a pretty loaded right-handed set of defensemen in St. Louis. So looking forward to that and that matchup on Wednesday, I would argue — again we know because Kuznetsov is not eligible to play due to suspension — but you think about their top five forwards in Ovechkin, Backstrom, Oshie, Kuznetsov and Tom Wilson, you put those five forwards against any team in the National Hockey League, without question I would.
And not sure how it’s all going to work out on the back end, but this is a team that lost out at home last year against Carolina with their great run. So it should be one heck of a matchup, two teams that can really get up and down and really looking forward to getting there.
Another key for me to start the season is what’s going to happen in the state of New York, including the Buffalo Sabres, but looking more at the Rangers, the Islanders and across the river in Jersey. Look what Jersey’s done, they’re getting back a healthy Taylor Hall, we hope, getting Jack Hughes No. 1 overall. And then getting P.K. Subban. So that will be a really interesting dynamic to keep an eye on those New York/New Jersey teams.
Dallas being very aggressive over the course of the summer, going out and getting some experience with Joe Pavelski, and getting Corey Perry, I know who is banged up right now. But this season’s got an opportunity to be as good as we’ve seen and see how it all plays out, see what managers decide to add a little bit.
But as Sam said, these games that we have on Wednesday nights, and once we get into past the Winter Classic, we have a boat load of great games to come and looking forward to being a part of it.
So my turn now to pass the puck to Mike Milbury.
MIKE MILBURY: A lot of stories to talk about as we start the season. And in the East, I think I got my eyeballs glued to what’s going to happen in Tampa Bay.
It had to be a bitter pill to swallow after the regular season that they had to go home at the hands of Carolina Hurricanes. They need to prove that they have the gumption, the courage to win the big games. And if they don’t do that this year, I think you’re going to see some major changes in Tampa Bay. They have to prove that they’ve got the right stuff.
Other Eastern (Conference) stories, the Bruins. I mean the talk here in Boston, where I reside, has been the bitter pill they swallowed in a Game 7 loss. I believe that the St. Louis Blues beat them fair and square, were the better team for most of the series, but they’re anxious to prove that they can get back to it.
This is a window that’s closing with David Krejci and Patrice Bergeron getting into their mid-30s. There’s not much time left, but they’ve added some depth and added some pretty good players in the system. There’s some good guys coming up. So, a team to be reckoned with.
And the Toronto Maple Leafs, who are a fun team to watch, I don’t know if their defense can hold up but, boy, they can score some goals and make some things happen offensively. And I’m going to watch very carefully how Mike Babcock handles this, because all the eyeballs of Toronto are on him and how the Leafs do, particularly in the postseason.
Out West, I can’t get past how impressed I was with St. Louis. Of Greg Berube, with his referee comments, in my estimation, during the middle of that series, changed the tenor of that series, got his team back to playing that gritty, tough game and were nearly impossible to score against in that Game 7, made it look almost too easy.
So those are some of the things I’m looking forward to and drop the puck.
PATRICK SHARP: Thanks for having me on. Milbury was never a great passer of the puck, so I guess I gotta jump in here without the assist.
First, I just want to let everybody know how excited I am to be joining the NBC broadcasting team full time this year. Spent a lot of weeks during the playoffs and a handful of appearances during the regular season last year and had a great time, asked a ton of questions to all the broadcasters that are on the phone now. Sam, who I know is on the call, as well.
Keith Jones, who is over in Europe, was also a big helping hand throughout the course of the season last year. Can’t wait to get things started.
I’ll be on the air Wednesday for Wednesday Night Hockey, and when you look at the four teams we are featuring in that awesome doubleheader, that’s four favorites to me that we’re going to see playing deep into the playoffs. It starts in the east with Washington, a year removed from their Stanley Cup championship. They lose early in the playoffs last year.
I know as a player and now I’m seeing it as a broadcaster how difficult it is to repeat going deep into the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Washington is a team for me that is built to do that.
The team that they’re playing against, last year’s Stanley Cup winners, the St. Louis Blues, have just about the entire team returning. They’re going to look to bounce back from a short off-season and try to get back in that playoff conversation and go deep again.
And the second game, to me the game that stood out the most in the playoffs last year was Game 7, San Jose-Vegas, one of the most incredible games I’ve seen, I was calling it from the studio. And to see these two teams match up, which is going to be a rivalry for many years to come, but especially this year.
Look at the way they’re built. I expect San Jose and Vegas to be in the thick of things in the Western Conference come April. But that’s a long ways away. Let’s be excited about the start of the season, and look forward to talking to everybody throughout the year.
Q. Sam, wondering about the Green Day Open that you guys are going to debut next week. What went into the thought process to have kind of an opening song? And what do you think the evolution might be knowing the kind of Monday Night Football/Hank Williams Jr. songs of the past and what this might turn into for Wednesday Night Hockey?
SAM FLOOD: Steve Mayer at the NHL came to us at the start of the summer saying he had an opportunity to work with a group that obviously is iconic in that space. And we think it fits really well with hockey. The song the way it’s been executed will be a lot of fun.
It will roll out next week because Wednesday night of this week is the Opening Faceoff and then the Wednesday night series begins after that. And so we were happy with the musical choice and Steve has done a great job through the years bringing music, tying it into the NHL. And we thought this was a good opportunity to play in this space.
We’ve had other options in the past but nothing to this level that we felt would have an impact and be a signature item at the top of the show. Obviously Sunday Night Football, with what we’ve done there and Freddy Gaudelli and the Sunday night group, this is a different direction. We think it’s going to be a lot of fun and are pleased that the opportunity came through the NHL to make this happen.
Q. Ed mentioned the changes with the Devils and Rangers but the Islanders stood pat from what they stood from last season. Is that good enough to keep them where they were if not better than last year, or is there a danger in just kind of sticking with what you have, to not take the steps they need to get even better?
EDDIE OLCZYK: Look, I don’t think there’s any doubt that Mr. Lamoriello was very aggressive in trying to do some things. And getting Anders Lee signed, obviously, was huge to get him back in the mix. They lost Lehner to free agent, a one-year deal with the Blackhawks.
So, look, they’re going to be in every game just because of how well they’re able to defend and hoping some of their young players — and on the back end a kid like Toews, he’s really blossomed into a really solid defenseman to complement what they’ve got going there.
So I think a guy like Barzal, can he take his game to another level? They’re going to be another year removed outside losing Tavares. So I just think that the way that they play, they’re going to be in every game. And they may not generate as much offense as maybe they would like. But if you can play good D and get consistent goaltending, which you could argue — they’re going to be in every game just because of Barry Trotz and his system.
MIKE MILBURY: One question from me is they had incredible goaltending last year and will that hold up is a major factor. You know you have good coaching and a pretty good core, but one of the things that got them to where they were last year was a superlative level of goaltending.
I would have some concerns in that department. But can they be better than last year? I think so. And I think Lou, if he identifies weaknesses as much as he didn’t do all that much in signing restricted free agents this year, he’s likely to make something happen in order to bolster his team.
But this is a good, solid team that should be in the playoffs and I look forward to seeing how they emerge. But it was one of the great stories last year, the Islanders, and how Barry Trotz left a championship team and came to Long Island and made them one of the stingiest teams that have ever played the game. Good one to watch, especially at goal.
Patrick, over to you. I’m not going to pass. I’m just going to shoot.
PATRICK SHARP: Thanks, Mike. Patrick here. As far as the Islanders go, Eddie and Mike touched on it really well. I think it’s a good thing that they’ve got a few guys signed and retained a bunch of their forwards in the offseason, starting with their captain, Anders Lee. It’s important to have a leadership base to your group. And to have a guy locked up for seven years at some pretty good money that’s going to patrol the front of the net and score a lot of goes on that power play, that’s an area that the Islanders will have to take a step in their development.
Going back to the playoffs, they’re a shut-down team. They make you fight for every inch. Scoring chances are a premium when you play against the New York Islanders, but when you look at a guy like Mat Barzal, who to me is ready to take a huge step in his game. He’s been an explosive rookie, he had a good season last year with a new coach and a new system to adjust to.
Now is the year, I think, where he steps into big role, scores a lot of goals, making plays. He’s fun to watch. Every time he’s on the ice, his speed is notable and he’s making things happen. And there’s a defenseman on the back end, Pulock, who was getting better and better as the playoffs were going on. I look for those two guys to help the Islanders to get back into the playoffs.
Q. You mentioned the second part of a doubleheader on Wednesday night. I don’t know if the question, I guess, is will we see Evander Kane in that game? I’m not sure if you got a chance to see that game last night or the incident with Kane and the officials. But do you see a suspension coming for Evander Kane from that incident?
EDDIE OLCZYK: Yes, absolutely. All players are taught that once the officials get in there like that, especially because it was like — it was almost a one-on-one. It wasn’t, you know, the official did a good job getting in between him and Deryk Engelland. And Kane didn’t like what the official was doing and he put his hands on him. Whether he pushed him or grazed him or whatever, that can’t happen regardless of how heated this rivalry is or it’s an exhibition game.
You love the emotion and stuff, but anytime you take advantage of the official or put your hand on him or push him or whatever he was trying to get away from him, you know, there should be a penalty. And there was in the game. It was the right call. And I would anticipate something happening.
Again, with the angles that I saw watching the game — when was that, last evening, yeah — but, yes, I mean, I would not be surprised to see if he was suspended.
Q. I guess there were already questions about the Sharks depth this year — after Pavelski left for free agency — how do you see the Sharks depth this year? Obviously they’ve got a ton of star power, but are they deep enough to make a run right now?
EDDIE OLCZYK: I mean, look, you’re right, you lose — between Donskoi and Pavelski what did you lose, some 55, 60 goals. You’ve got an all-around leader and winner and a guy that really does everything for you in Pavelski and your captain, and a guy like Donskoi who seemed to be up and down the lineup but certainly has that ability, that break-away speed. But now you’re asking for other guys to take that next step. Timo Meier played at times last year, at times he was a beast. He was absolutely all over the place.
Labanc had a couple of incredible playoff games. So, yeah, that will be tested for sure. They lose Justin Braun, another experienced guy on the back end. So, yeah, I think it’s a very fair question is — the guys that were the depth guys, are they able to take that next step with the ice time that’s open with the players that have gone?
So exhibition is one thing. And Mike and Sharpy can tell you, you get to the regular season and that’s where you get your indication. And I think that you can get a pretty quick read on it the first five to ten games and go from there. But, yeah, I think that there are some questions there with the guys that they’ve lost.
And, look, can their goaltending — I’m trying to think of the right word — can their goaltending get back to that consistent play that we’ve seen in the past?
I mean, it was all over the place last year. And Jones has to — if he’s indeed the guy and going to be the guy, he’s got to find that consistent part that he had prior to maybe the last year plus. And Mike touched on it earlier, the goaltending — and Doc and I say it all the time — if you don’t have it, you’ve got no shot to win. I don’t care what type of team you have in front of you or who is standing behind the bench.
Yeah, I think it’s fair. I think there are some — I think there are some big question marks on San Jose getting back to where we’ve seen them in the last handful of years with all the changes and where their goaltending is coming off of the regular season and how things went in the playoffs being up and down as it was.
DOC EMRICK: I think you’re around the league, you see teams that hang around to veteran players. San Jose has been a very consistent competitive team in the league but they haven’t been able to reach for the cap. And I think it was maybe time for a change.
They stuck with Joe Thornton. They put him in a limited role with a limited salary. Maybe it was just time in Doug Wilson’s time to move on and give the next wave a chance. It’s a tough thing to manage a team at that level for as long as he has. I think you have to give him the nod for being able to do that. This may be another move towards the transition to some of those younger players.
And I do have that question about Jones. There’s a major question mark. They have some pretty outstanding defensemen back there, but they still have to get the odd great save, and Jones is a question mark for me. That has to be answered positively for the Sharks to be moving on to the next round.
PATRICK SHARP: I’ll just wrap up with all the good things you guys said. For me, San Jose, consistency in the net is the key. Marty Jones doesn’t have to stand on his head every night like he did in Game 6 against Vegas in the playoffs last year to force that Game 7. He just has to be a solid goaltender, give the guys in front of him a chance to compete every night.
Whenever you trot out a Karlsson, Burns, Vlasic on the back end each and every shift, they’ll be in a good spot. You talk about the forwards that they lost in Donskoi and Pavelski, yeah, that might hurt a little bit, but you still retain Hertl. Logan Couture is coming back. Timo Meier, with a 30-goal season, looks to improve. And he’s, to me, a playoff-built type hockey player.
Kevin Labanc will get better and his production will go up. You mentioned Evander Kane off the top. There’s still a lot of production in the San Jose Sharks team, and they’ll be top of the Pacific or near it all season long.
Q. Sam, question for you. The full rollout of this player- and puck-tracking system from the league has obviously been pushed back until, they’re saying now to the start of the Stanley Cup playoffs. You have a little more time now to prepare for this thing. What, if anything, are you and your team doing to prepare for how to use that technology and that data that’s going to come flooding in, and how you’re going to be using that as a storytelling tool within a broadcast?
SAM FLOOD: A year ago we assigned Stephen Greenberg, who is one of our top NHL producers, to be the focus on this opportunity and how we’re going to execute it. He worked through the plan that we used last year in the All-Star Game, did an outstanding job.
We took data back from that and showcased it to a number of people to see how he wanted to evolve from what he created. His efforts continue to this day. He’s looked at new graphic designs and executions and is constantly bringing ideas to us and going through the execution plan.
We’ll have an opportunity to play with this element at the NHL All-Star Game, and we feel very good about the direction the process is going in and most importantly having one person with his eye on this full time has been really beneficial. Steve’s out producing the game Wednesday night in St. Louis. He’ll be hanging out with Doc and Eddie.
And I’m sure they’ll weigh in on his ideas and concepts as we go forward. But we’re really pleased with how this is rolling out and what the thought process is as we create new content and new ways for people to immerse themselves in the game.
Q. How do you anticipate what you’ve seen or what you expect to see from this tracking that could be coming down the line, how it impacts how you broadcast and analyze a play, a player, an entire game, how do you expect it to change your job?
EDDIE OLCZYK: I think it will be really interesting because more times than not, just to kind of paint a picture for you, when we’re working up in the booth, as Doc and I are, we’ll get a heads-up from our team in the truck that, hey, this graphic’s coming or this note is coming or this replay is coming.
It won’t be any different once we get to that stage. We had a little bit of it last year in San Jose for the All-Star Game.
At least to know what’s coming and then be able to explain it to the fan base. And again sometimes it’s self-explanatory.
Sometimes it needs a little bit more of a talking about, but I think it’s just another way to, in my opinion, at least, to see and teach and appreciate maybe how quickly a guy can get up and down the ice or how quickly the puck comes off his stick, all that kind of stuff.
So it’s more information. And sometimes it’s self-explanatory. I think that will be, at least for me anyways, it will be a work in progress, once it’s full bore moving forward.
Q. Sam, last year obviously was one of the most diverse sort of amount of teams, amount of players that you guys featured on the broadcast. Obviously coming back this year with a similar slate, what are some of the things that you guys are going to be doing or you found effective last year in terms of introducing more fans to Western Conference teams around the East Coast who haven’t seen these players before or, even frankly, to the new young players that they might not know just yet?
SAM FLOOD: Very important part of what we do is create content around the star players. We just spent time with the NHL first week in September in Chicago with some of the top players in the game, and created content there.
Also want to take the players out of the traditional elements and allow them to have fun and engage with our talent in different ways. We’ve done that with Jeremy Roenick. Jeremy has a unique ability to bring people out of their shells perhaps and say things and have some fun and Kathryn Tappen takes people off ice and engages with them on content.
We felt that’s been another way to give a window and engage the players at a different level. Always to get people at home to care about these players differently and get into a window in what makes them tick off the ice. We know how good they are on the ice.
Let’s create a relationship with them off the ice. And to that end we’re going to be rolling out some new content with a digital podcast series that’s going to engage all of our talent.
And oftentimes what happens in the green room stays in the green room. But there are things that are said between Keith and Mr. Milbury, Pierre on the road with the players, that are really unique pieces of content that give a window to the game of hockey, give a window to the people and the personalities in the sport that we want to showcase.
And McCloskey is probably mad at me for mentioning it on the call today, but it’s something we’re going to roll out as the season progresses and we feel it will be more one window in the sport of hockey that — it’s a sport of storytellers. And there’s nothing like being in a hockey locker room after a game and people making fun of, having fun with, engaging.
And that banter, that insight and what makes a hockey team special and what makes a hockey player special are the things we want to open up to the audience. And we think we’ve got a new vehicle to do that beyond the Jeremy and Kathryn elements that we engaged with last year.
Q. Doc, what does a Blues miraculous comeback from last year say about the sport of hockey?
DOC EMRICK: It says that at no time during the year should we write anybody off. When we were watching the festivities at Notre Dame and the Bruins marched out, we thought they had a pretty good shot to at least challenge in the second round of the playoffs against Tampa Bay.
Well, they didn’t wind up against Tampa Bay in the second round of playoffs, did they? And we thought the Blackhawks, if they could put anything together, might get a chance at a wildcard. And that didn’t pan out.
The Blues weren’t really on our radar at all. They were buried down with Ottawa and we didn’t give them much of a thought.
And now here we are with a situation that arises and the Blues catch fire and it’s Hockey Day in America in Minnesota. The Blues are stringing together a franchise string. And it just continues to build down the stretch.
And this goaltender that started the year as the backup goaltender in San Antonio as a part of all this as well as the coaching change and everything else that’s been so well documented.
So the first rule now, and it hasn’t really changed but it’s changed so markedly in a way because now we’ve had an emphatic statement made that you never write anybody off especially in mid-year, even if they’re buried all the way down and last.
Because we just had our comeuppance on acting smug about dispensing of anybody even at the midway point in the season.
It will be fun to be there to watch all of this and see if the Anthem singer, who retired and sang his last in Game 6 last year, whether he comes back to sing the Anthem on Wednesday night. And all the other connections that we found with the Blues down the home stretch of the season.
All of these things are maybe not a part of the Xs and Os and all a part of the rosters, but they sure are things that make your heart go a little faster as you follow this game. And that’s just a part of what’s fun for me, and I hope it is for you and the audience, too.
Q. I wanted to expand on what Eddie said earlier about the New York teams and with the Metro Division in general. You look at that division: You have Carolina go to the Conference Finals last year. Washington still has Ovechkin. Pittsburgh still has Crosby. Flyers finally have a goaltender in Carter Hart. Could the Metro Division be the toughest division in hockey? And also, a question for Patrick Sharp, want to know if Patrick recalls his days at Vermont playing against Union and RPI.
PATRICK SHARP: I do recall that. Memories aren’t so good. We didn’t become exactly a powerhouse team at the University of Vermont. I was there for two years, enjoyed my time. Met my future wife and then got out of there, to go play in that division with the Philadelphia Flyers.
To answer your question, this is a division that we seem to look at all the time. A lot of big powerful stars in this division. And when you look at the Devils, the Rangers, and to me the Philadelphia Flyers fall into that category as well as teams I’m going to have my eye on, especially early on in the season.
New Jersey, I love how they’re building their team. It seems like they have these quick, smaller-sized, speedy forwards that can just race up and down the ice. Injuries hurt them last year. Excited to see how they rebound and put together a full season.
I did a lot of games covering the Rangers last year, and I was excited about what they had coming down the pike. I think they had strong goaltending, whether it’s Lundqvist, Georgiev, or another Russian goaltender that’s on his way over. They’ve got plenty of young forwards added to the lineup, suffered for a year or two, now ready to take that next step in their development.
Philadelphia didn’t really look too good today in a preseason game, but I’m excited for what they’re going to bring with Coach Alain Vigneault behind the bench.
I think Philly competes from start to finish for a playoff spot. But when you talk about the toughest division, I’m going to get out of the Metro and go back to where I spent the bulk of my career in the Central.
When you look at 1 through 7, it’s tough to put an order together. May not have the high-powered teams, the Stanley Cup favorite teams that a lot of people have penciled in, but every night in the Central Division, no matter who you’re playing you’ll get a tough opponent.
Q. You touched on it, but what does it say about the parity of the league when the past two years we’ve had teams that have never won before and some teams maybe that people aren’t talking about that you think make noise this year?
EDDIE OLCZYK: It is so difficult. We said this over the years, but I mean it is the toughest trophy to win. It’s the toughest championship to win because you’ve got to play the 82 games to just get in.
And some of the divisions, as Sharpy touched on, with the Metro and the Central, just to get in is a bear. And then sometimes it does come down to matchups.
We know injuries, if you’re banged up it’s going to be really difficult. But it’s just — I look at — it’s great for those fan bases.
Washington, right, two seasons ago, comes up short and all the questions were there about the Capitals and Ovi and could they get over the hump. And think about how they were able to do that in winning their Stanley Cup.
Being down in a series, losing the first two games in a series to Columbus and then winning four straight. And in doing what they did in the Stanley Cup Final, and the rest is history.
So, it’s great for the fan bases. And I think — to me, I look at a team like Dallas. I look at a team like Dallas and go their defense is pretty darned good. The acquisitions by general manager Jim Nill of getting a couple of older guys, but guys that have great experience and guys that can help out Seguin and Benn a little bit, depending on what Jim Montgomery wants to do with the lines and what have you.
But I look at a team like Dallas that, in my opinion, they might be under the national radar, but they’re not under the radar for me. Like, I look at them and go, yeah, I can see them getting in the Conference Finals. I could. So that would be one team that I look at and go — and they won before. But it’s been a while.
But that’s one team, I think that maybe if you talk to 50 people, 100 people, maybe Dallas wouldn’t be in their top five, but for me I see them being a real dangerous team come playoff time.
MIKE MILBURY: What strikes me is the depth of talent throughout the league. We talked about the strength of the Metro Division. Sharpy talked about the Central. We haven’t even mentioned a team like Florida, which looks like it’s ready to rebound off of a tough season.
But there’s only one or two what I would consider to be really struggling franchises right now.
But the depth of talent and the fact that we’re getting talent from everywhere. We’re getting it from Arizona. We’re getting it from Florida, getting it from New Jersey, getting it from around the globe now.
The league is a much stronger league than in my day where you could go into a Detroit, say this is almost an automatic two points.
Those days are gone. Every point is a tough one to come by. And the St. Louis story, the ability to come back is another indication. Every team, as they put it together, put a streak together, get the goaltending they need, can be a threat.
It’s too tough a call to make any predictions on who is going to win this trophy this year because there’s any one of 25.
PATRICK SHARP: I’ll jump on this. I don’t want to make any predictions as to what’s going to happen, but I want to touch on the team that Mike mentioned, the Florida Panthers.
The season they had last year with all the talent and offensive ability that they have, the one thing that they struggled with was keeping the puck out of their net.
Obviously signing Bobrovsky is huge. But with Joel Quenneville going there and his long-time assistant Mike Kitchen, I can tell you from firsthand experience that they do an excellent job of cracking down on the easy goals against. If Florida can improve in that area then they’re a team that’s for me right back in the playoff race in the Eastern Conference.
And besides the Metro and Central which I already touched on, I look at the Pacific, and why not the Edmonton Oilers?
I know it’s been ugly there in recent history, but they’ve got two of the best young players in the game in McDavid and Draisaitl.
They have some players coming on the back end, and with Dave Tippett, are getting involved — Ken Holland there, I think things will go in the right direction, and they’re a team that can surprise.
The biggest thing about the league is that each year whatever happened the previous year or two goes right out the window.
And there’s always a new team that surprises everybody. So that’s what’s so exciting about the 82-game season.
Q. A guy like Jack Hughes coming in, all the excitement about him, kind of a smaller player, obviously has all this playmaking talent. Turns the puck over a little bit. What do you think about the best way the Devils should look at his development in terms of should they be throwing him into the action and letting him kind of sink or swim, or is it maybe better to bring along a player like that slower, protect him as he’s 18 years old and still building up some upper body strength?
EDDIE OLCZYK: I mean, I think it’s a great question. And I think that there’s ways to work him into those situations where he’s going to be — where he’s going to have the opportunity for success, whether it’s starting him on power plays, playing him in four-on-four situations.
He’s going to be out there in overtime and all those type of things. I think that you can kind of help or protect young players that are learning. But if he’s in that spot and look, you know, he’s going to turn the puck over. And he’s going to try things that he won’t in 50 games from now or 100 games from now.
You’re going to have to take the good with the bad and vice versa. And I think it’s all about philosophy within the organization. It’s all about the players around him. Who are the guys that are pushing him for that ice time or certain situations? I said the philosophy: Is it win at all cost?
Is it you’re not going to allow him to start in his own zone, right? He’s not going to be taking faceoffs, all those things, I’m just using those as examples.
But I think there’s certainly a time and a place, and it will be really interesting. But just from watching him with the national program and then watching a couple of the preseason games and highlights, this guy has that ability to go ahead and turn not a whole heck of a lot into a high-quality scoring chance.
If you’re playing with him, you better be ready. You better be ready, because the puck is going to find you, regardless if you want it or not, the puck is going to find you. He just has that incredible ability to make plays.
And he has the courage and the want-to to make those plays. Sometimes you get players that come in and you get intimidated a little just from the theater, not intimidated physically. It’s just that’s the reality of it. But I think you just — you take it day to day and the situation will play itself out.
But once he gets into the schedule. And, look, players like that that are built like that, they’re going to hit a physical wall. They’re going to hit a mental wall at some point. But again, it’s up to the organization how they manage that and help that player along and having strong leadership inside that room as well will certainly help him down the road.