There are plenty of great storylines to follow early in the 2013-14 NHL season. A number of teams and players have been getting lots of attention, and deservedly so, for their great performances so far. But there are a couple of teams in particular who I actually think might not be getting enough attention.
I was thinking about this Saturday when I spoke to Joe Thornton of the San Jose Sharks after his team's 6-3 win against the Calgary Flames. Joe was telling us on "Hockey Night in Canada" how impressed he was by that Flames team. Two nights later, Calgary scratched out a big victory in Los Angeles against the Kings.
Calgary started its current five-game road trip 1-3-0, so the question is, "Are they for real?" You know what? I think that their approach is for real. Sean Monahan, their first-round pick, has been awesome. But more than anything they're a team that competes hard and plays an honest game. They're starting to believe in themselves. It was doom and gloom in Calgary last season, but now these guys are having some success. They're starting to believe in themselves. Much of the focus early this season has been on the Colorado Avalanche and their incredible turnaround. But the Flames are also worth a look.
Flames coach Bob Hartley, who knows a thing or two about Colorado, has had a big impact on this Calgary team. I think he benefited from going to Switzerland to coach and being reinvigorated. The NHL's players are younger than they've ever been. As a coach you have to be able to relate to them and he has done a very good job of that. Even after the game on Saturday in San Jose, just hearing his post-game comments about his team and how they needed to be better that night. He was able to make his point without shattering their confidence, but still held them accountable. That was really impressive to me.
My hope is that the Flames can continue to compete now that they have decided to keep Monahan on their roster rather than send him back to the Ottawa 67s of the Ontario Hockey League. He's their best player right now. He and Jiri Hudler have been great. You add Mike Cammalleri, who recently returned from injury, and that's three good offensive players.
Monahan has impressed me on a nightly basis. They had two days off a week ago and he actually showed up at the rink to work out. You can't get much more impressive than that. You have a 19-year-old in the NHL who has time and money and what he wants to do on an off-day is go to the rink and work out. That tells you everything you need to know right there.
No question about it. Calgary is a good story right now. But the thing with success is you have to continue to do the things that made you successful. I was just talking to Anaheim Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau about this. You can't start loving yourself so much that you deviate from what made you love yourself in the first place.
Speaking of Boudreau, his Anaheim Ducks have been great. They won seven straight before losing 4-2 to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Tuesday. But they're also not getting as much attention as the League's other top teams.
The thing with the Ducks is they exceeded expectations last season. A lot of Anaheim's players really flourished. I've known Andrew Cogliano a long time and that is some of the most confident hockey I've seen him play. He's flourished under Bruce, as have players like Kyle Palmieri, Nick Bonino, Emerson Etem and Daniel Winnik.
Once you combine that supporting cast with the big boys in Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Teemu Selanne, you're cooking with gas. And Hampus Lindholm has come in and really exceeded expectations. They weren't expecting much out of him this season. He certainly didn't wow them in training camp. But once he came in, then they went, "Wow, this kid can play."
One of Anaheim's biggest motivators this season has to be how last season ended: With a loss to the Detroit Red Wings in Game 7 in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. It's a very difficult way to end an excellent season. We know how deep the West is. You look at how well Anaheim played and what they accomplished. I'm sure that's a huge part of their motivation, to know they were that close. That goes a long way.
Of course, you can't talk about Anaheim without talking about Teemu, who recently scored goals in three straight games at age 43. I wish he would play until he was 50.
I told Emerson Etem this: Just be a sponge. Just go and sit beside him. Ask if you can tie his skates. See the way that he conducts himself. See the way he interacts with people and treats the trainers and staff. It's all the little details that make him who he is. Whenever he decides it's the end, it would be a huge loss to them to not have learned from playing with him.
And speaking of motivators, you know this impressive Ducks team wants to win another Cup for Teemu.
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