Each Friday throughout the regular season Kevin Weekes will be bringing you his Friday Four in his Weekes on the Web blog. He will be blogging about four players, teams, plays, trends or really four of whatever in the NHL that have caught his eye.
The Evander Kane dilemma, the amazing Calgary Flames, the transformation of their coach, and how the speed of one team became too much for the opponent. It's all in my Friday Four.
Here we go:
1. Kane, the Jets, and becoming a star
I've had a chance to spend time with Evander Kane. I've watched him. I've talked to veteran hockey scouts who have watched him since he was playing with the Vancouver Giants in the WHL. The common theme is this:
Left Wing - WPG
GOALS: 10 | ASST: 12 | PTS: 22
SOG: 126 | +/-: -1
The sky is the limit for Kane and the type of hockey player he wants to be. He is strong. He is tough. He can one-punch you and knock you out. He's in unreal physical shape. He has great speed. He has a great release. He has a fantastic shot. He is smart. He has all of the tools and attributes to be a star in the NHL, but the thing is for him is does he want to be a star -- and if so, when?
It's not a question of if he can be a star. It's not a question of does he have tools to be a star player. But does he want to be a star? How good a player does he want to be? That's what it comes down to. The only person that is going to determine what Kane becomes as a player is Kane himself.
I've played for Paul Maurice. He's the best coach I ever played for. He had the best human touch of any NHL coach I played for, without question. He's done an amazing job with that group in terms of bringing structure but also being a guy players want to play for. He treats people with respect and exceptionally well.
So you know from Paul and from the Jets' staff that they want to see Kane succeed, but I know there have been a bunch of incidents and now we have a new one. So here comes the trade talk. Well, if you're the Jets you have to consider two things:
What are you going to get in return if and when you decide to move him now?
He has been playing hurt and putting off a surgery or maybe two, which you have to give him a lot of credit for.
I don't say the second part to take him away from any of his responsibility in this latest incident, but the Jets do have to be careful in how they handle this situation because I don't think they are going to be able to get an equal return. I really don't think that they will.
There have been a lot of reports on what happened and why he got scratched. I've heard a few as well as they relate to him wearing a track suit because something happened to his regular suit. One thing I'm very sensitive on is branding people and not being fully informed. I'm very cognizant of that, but I will say that at this point in time he's been in the League for six years and at some point in time there has to be a certain responsibility that he takes to determine what type of player he wants to be. Do you want to be paid like a star but only look like a star sometimes, or do you want to be a star all the time.
One of the great things for me about playing with a lot of teams is that I was fortunate to play with a lot of stars. Rod Brind'Amour wanted to be a star every day. Jaromir Jagr wants to be a star every day. Zach Parise wants to be a star every day. Ron Francis was a star every day, all the time, 24/7.
I believe Evander Kane has the ability to do that, but the onus now is on him to determine what he wants to be. I spoke to one Eastern Conference general manager on Thursday and he told me flat-out, "I love him and would love to get him."
Kane was projected to be a star in this League and he has all the attributes to be a star. But only he can decide if he really wants to be a star.
2. Can't ignore the Flames
I talked about the Calgary Flames earlier in the season when they were hot, and I talked about them when they went through what I'd refer to as a market correction, but 16-4-1 in the Pacific Division right now is pretty well off the charts. The Pacific Division and the Central Division are considered the best divisions in the NHL, so it's just crazy to think about the Flames' record against Pacific Division teams.
This is a testament to them continuing to build on what they did last season. I have spoken at length at how good they were getting last year, and they clearly have continued to take steps forward. It's just been fun to watch. They are a great team to watch play. Talk to any player, coach or even pro scout, it's the same message across the board, "You better be ready to play when you play Calgary."
The Flames are supposed to be in a pseudo-rebuild, and yet they're so good. They're not super elite, and yet they beat super-elite teams. They're very good. They work exceptionally hard. They never quit. They have a lot of skill.
You can point to Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau, who have been exceptional, but I still think their blue line is underrated. It's the highest-scoring defensive corps in the League, and for me, right now, Mark Giordano will be my Norris Trophy winner.
Defense - CGY
GOALS: 11 | ASST: 32 | PTS: 43
SOG: 132 | +/-: 19
But it's not only Giordano. Look at their scoring from the back end with TJ Brodie
and Dennis Wideman
, even Kris Russell
. They're doing it against some of the top players in the League in their division such as Ryan Getzlaf
and Corey Perry
, Anze Kopitar
and Marian Gaborik
, Henrik and Daniel Sedin
, Radim Vrbata
. They're going up against these guys all the time and it's tough sledding, but the Flames' defense corps as a whole has been ridiculously impressive with the way they move the puck, play with the puck, play without the puck, read the play and jump into the rush.
People say Nashville's defense is underrated and it is because Phil Housley has done such an impressive job with them, but my gosh, Calgary's "D" is as underrated and as impressive.
People also aren't talking enough about Jiri Hudler, who for my money is one of the quietest and best leaders in the game right now. Mike Cammalleri had this effect on the Flames last season; Hudler has that effect on them this season.
He's not too far off a point-per-game pace. But it's not just his production, it's also how he relates to a lot of the young players like Gaudreau and Monahan and Brodie. He is showing them professionalism. It's no surprise either, considering he comes from that Detroit background.
He spent a lot of time with veteran players with the Detroit Red Wings. He spent a lot of time with Chris Chelios. He worked out with Chelios in L.A. He got to be around good veterans there too. But these weren't just good veteran players in Detroit, they were good people; now, he's passing along what he learned from them to the young players in Calgary in a way that today's young player can relate to and is expecting.
What Hudler does for this team is invaluable.
3. And one more with Calgary
I've got to give coach Bob Hartley so much credit here.
I played against Bob Hartley teams in the American Hockey League, and this is a different Bob Hartley. His evolution and growth is incredible. His demeanor is completely different. His tone is completely different. His approach and mindset are completely different. And all of it is different in a good way.
Listen to him communicate in the media and watch him communicate behind the bench, his composure from what we used to see from Hartley is so different. I really think he has had a great transformation. He has a whole new perspective since he went over and coached in Switzerland. It's been a real nice change for him and the way he conducts himself.
It's not only what Hartley says publicly, which is great, but it's also behind the scenes, how he relates to the players, how he praises his staff.
The other thing with Hartley is that his approach in practice is amazing because it's almost like a hockey school when the Flames practice. He doesn't yell and scream as he used to; he teaches and tries to make guys better. Of course you have to hold the players accountable, but now it's more about the process with him now than it has ever been and the results speak to that. The results are impressive.
4. Rangers' speed
I spoke about the New York Rangers' speed against the Boston Bruins' heavy, physical play in my Wednesday blog in advance of the NBCSN game that night. Let me tell you, I was alarmed at how fast the Rangers really were, and how much their speed exploited the Bruins.
Boston players were talking about it after the game, basically saying, "Sorry, they were so fast, we couldn't handle their speed." Hearing Boston players say that, guys who have won internationally and have won a Cup, that's pretty profound.
When the Rangers are on their speed game, it's very impressive and it's very hard to deal with. The Bruins could not deal with it. They took their lumps and admitted it.