As we zoom into December next weekend, taking time of course to be grateful around the table Thursday, Weekly Warmup's first stop will be off the ice.
Let's get to puck drop:
Hockey Fights Cancer
The NHL's "Hockey Fights Cancer" program raises significant dollars for cancer research and, especially, supporting families with loved ones undergoing treatment. Individual teams additionally touch their fan bases with Hockey Fights Cancer nights and other activities. The Nashville Predators staged a moment of silence "for those who have battled and continue to battle" cancer. Fourteen-year-old Zach Steward, undergoing treatment for CNS Leukemia, got to hang in the Flyers locker room.
A 21-month-old girl dropped a ceremonial puck at a San Jose game; she is the daughter of two Sharks staffers who found out their daughter's diagnosis last November, right before the SJS 2018 Hockey Fights Cancer night. The Los Angeles Kings identifies a sponsored "Heroes" before every game; during Saturday night's home game, the team introduced Kalea and Noah, siblings who were diagnosed with brain tumors two weeks apart. That's a sample--emotional, healing, raw.
Turning Over New Leafs, Part 1
As the hockey world dissected Mike Babcock getting fired as head coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs last Wednesday, the storylines and ironies were staggeringly plentiful. For instance, Toronto President Brendan Shanahan played for Babcock on the 2005-06 Detroit Red Wings. They are both icons in Red Wings history. Babcock is the winningest Detroit coach, besting even Jack Adam for whom the league's Coach of the Year award is named. He won a Stanley Cup in 2008 and never missed the playoffs as Red Wings coach. For his part, Shanahan was key player on three Cup champions in Detroit (1997, 1998 and 2002).
Both men are members of a hockey's elite "Triple Gold Club"-winning a Stanley Cup, Olympic Gold Medal and hockey World Championship Gold medal. Shanahan did it as a player and Babcock did it as head coach, including winning the 2010 Olympic gold in the legendary Game 7 overtime victory over the USA in front of a home crowd in Vancouver, then winning gold again in 2014.
Turning Over New Leafs, Part 2
Shanahan credited his once-former coach and now-ex-employee with "putting our organization in a better place" with three-straight playoff appearances after a first season everyone, even the Toronto media, agreed was a total rebuild. But Babcock's teams lost in the first round each time, including two straight Game 7 losses to Boston. This season's 9-10-4 start was disappointing, punctuated by a six-game winless streak.
Enter Sheldon Keefe, promoted from the American Hockey League affilitate Toronto Marlies. Keefe has previously coached more than half of the players on the Maple Leafs roster. He won the AHL coach of the year award twice in the last five seasons. His teams were 199-89-31. Keefe led Toronto to two victories in his first two games, at Arizona and at Colorado, both opponents playing high-quality hockey.
Edmonton and Calgary have played the most games, 26, of any NHL teams. In a complete reversal of what most any expert would have predicted, it's the Oilers who lead the Pacific Division and Calgary 10 points back. The Flames are not likely a sixth-place team come April, but it's not early to push the hurry-up-and-get-better button. Calgary ended a six-game winless streak with a 3-2 road win at Philly Saturday but local and national media are still speculating whether it's time to trade star center Johnny Gaudreau. Edmonton continues to impress, bouncing back from a 5-1 loss ]in LA Thursday with a pair of away-wins at Vegas and Arizona. The 3-1 road trip started with a 5-2 victory in San Jose last Tuesday and finishes with Colorado visit Wednesday.
Gaming Games in Hand
The New York Islanders has amassed 34 points in 21 games. Only Washington (35 points in 25 games) and Edmonton (35 in the aforementioned 26 games) have more. But the Isles have a potential eight points to gain on its Metropolitan Division rival Washington. That other NYC team, the Rangers, also sit on 21 games played, are stuck in sixth place in the Metro with 22 points. In the Atlantic Division, Tampa Bay has only played 20 games, the league's lowest total. The Lightning is a respectable 11-7-2 with fewer losses than Buffalo (9) and Toronto (10), which currently top TBL in the standings, and the same number of losses as Florida and Montreal, even higher in the same standings.
Vancouver goalie Jacob Markstrom is talking with management about extending his contract. Markstrom qualifies to be an unrestricted free agent July 1 next summer-and figures to be appealing to many teams. The Canucks are clearly interested in keeping Markstrom, seeing him as No. 1 with a solid young backup in Thatcher Demko. Talks were put on hold earlier in the season. Markstrom's father, 59, succumbed to cancer this month. The Canucks encouraged Markstrom to take a five-day leave in October to visit his dad in Sweden.
Seven Rolling Elevens
Seven goaltenders are tied for the league with 11 wins. Though not a favorite stat among hockey analytics experts, the sports cliché is hard to dispute is "a win is a win is win." The Magnificent Seven: Petr Mrazek (Carolina), Jordan Binnington (St. Louis), Tuukka Rask (Boston), Frederik Andersen (Toronto), Marc-Andre Fleury (Vegas), Connor Hellebuyck (Winnipeg) and Braden Holtby (Washington).
Games to Watch
There's only one Thanksgiving game on this week's schedule: New Jersey at Montreal. But Wednesday night features 13 matchups. Winnipeg (14-9-1) at San Jose (12-11-1) features two teams on the upswing. Toronto takes the short trip to Detroit after some practice time with its new coach, while the upstart Florida Panthers will go on the road to try to close the point gap with Washington.
Brotherly Love & Support
We return to where we started-with a Hockey Fights Cancer moment: For our Sunday feature, NHL Seattle assistant GM Ricky Olczyk talked about supporting the cancer diagnosis and treatment of his brother Eddie Olczyk, a hockey great as both player and now Chicago Blackhawks announcer. Feel free to watch it more than once.
Video: AGM Olczyk reflects on his brother's cancer treatment