Now that the first month of the 2013-14 NHL season is in the books, I'm starting to see the competition League-wide take shape. It might be a little early to predict a Stanley Cup winner, but you can see which teams are emerging as legitimate contenders.
The way I usually identify top teams, especially this early in the season, is by looking at organizational depth. It's not just about which teams have the biggest stars scoring the most goals. You have to take a closer look at the NHL's top teams to distinguish the contenders from the pretenders.
In theory, the stars cancel each other out. I really believe that you can only go deep in the playoffs and have a chance to win or even play for a Stanley Cup if you have depth. That's why the smart teams do a good job of continuing that development of their depth players. They empower their depth players and help them get better. It's a big part of the organizational philosophy. You can't just lean on depth players under the white-hot lights of the playoffs. You can't all of a sudden say, "Hey, fourth line, we want you guys to go out and kill a penalty now."
It doesn't work like that. I think the Chicago Blackhawks are a great example of that.
Michael Frolik and those role players had huge playoffs. Marcus Kruger, Nick Leddy, Michal Rozsival. Each of those guys played a real impactful game. Did anyone project Bryan Bickell to be on the first line? Did anyone think Brandon Saad was going to develop the way he did, or that the Frolik line would be so key? Behind the scenes, they got leadership from veteran Jamal Mayers, whether he was in the lineup or not. A lot of those players who bring intangibles are needed to go deep.
Yes, it's early in the season, but you've got to start finding that early.
Look at the Anaheim Ducks right now. Is anyone demonstrating better organizational depth? Look at their goaltending. Last year, they had Viktor Fasth and Jonas Hiller. Now you have Fasth, Hiller and Frederik Andersen. Oh, and by the way, you also have John Gibson, who is awesome and was named the American Hockey League's goaltender of the month for October. The credit for all of that has to go to the Anaheim organization.
Top Finnish prospect Kasperi Kapanen, an "A"-rated international skater on NHL Central Scouting's preliminary players to watch for the 2014 NHL Draft, will be sidelined the duration of the 2013 Under-20 Four Nations Tournament in Russia this weekend due to an illness.
Goran Stubb, NHL Director of European Scouting, confirmed the news for NHL.com.
"My guess is he'll return to his club lineup at some point next week," Stubb told NHL.com.
The three-day tournament, scheduled to begin Friday, will take place in Novogorsk, Russia.
SAN JOSE -- It was midway through the second period of the San Jose Sharks' 5-4 shootout loss to the Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday night when coach Todd McLellan began shuffling lines, looking for a spark.
Tommy Wingels jumped from the third line to the top line, trading places with Tyler Kennedy. Wingels joined center Joe Thornton and rookie forward Tomas Hertl. Wingels went on to score a third-period goal, as did Hertl and Kennedy.
Not surprisingly, McLellan will stick with the new-look lines that worked so well Tuesday when the Sharks play the Vancouver Canucks on Thursday at SAP Center at San Jose.
EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- Linden Vey's family lives too far for them to come to Los Angeles for an extended period of time. Vey is from Wakaw, Saskatchewan, with a population of about 1,000.
"Really small," Vey said. "Everybody knows everybody."
They will have to settle for seeing Vey on television for his NHL debut, as is expected when Vey and the Los Angeles Kings play the Buffalo Sabres on Thursday. Vey took line rushes at center on the fourth line while Colin Fraser stayed out for extra skating.
"You just got to think of it as just another hockey game," Vey said. "Obviously it's a little more than that. I've been playing ever since I was 4 years old and I'm looking forward to this. I think there will be a little bit of nerves the first shift, but once I get into it I'll be fine."
Downie spent Friday and Saturday in a hospital being evaluated. He was released Sunday.
"I wasn't too scared," he told reporters in Philadelphia. "It was precautionary reasons. They got a couple X-rays done. It's healing well. Should be back soon."
Montreal has played 15 games, including a dozen against Western Conference teams, without playing a division game since Oct. 1, when they lost their home opener against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
While the Toronto-Montreal rivalry is the oldest in NHL history, the Canadiens and Senators took their budding rivalry to a new level last spring when Ottawa won their first-round Stanley Cup Playoff series in five games in the first modern postseason encounter between the teams.
Canadiens coach Michel Therrien said he welcomes the enhanced rivalry against a team that is a two-hour drive from Montreal.
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That's today's game. That's one of the things you have to deal with when you're a championship team. Guys are going to earn more money based on their performance and what they've achieved, [and] deservedly so. [Saad] falls into that category.