Culver City Observer -

By Kay Douglas
Hockey Columnist 

Drop The Puck! Anyone For Hockey Season?


October 12, 2017

The 2017-2018 NHL season is set to begin. Can the Pittsburgh Penguins win a third straight Stanley Cup? Can the Los Angeles Kings actually secure a playoff spot? Will the San Jose Sharks be deep enough to get a Stanley Cup for Joe Thornton, set to play in his 20th NHL season and returning after major knee surgery? Can the Anaheim Ducks put a significant season together if they start with so many injured players? And can The Las Vegas Golden Knights be a contender in their first National Hockey League season? I hope that given the recent horror Las Vegas has had to deal with the hockey fans will give this fledgling team one hundred percent support.

A few thoughts about our Southern California teams:

What happens to the Los Angeles Kings this season will likely dictate what they do going forward. After winning two Stanley Cups, their big-name players are all in their late 20s or early 30s. If the Kings try and fail to make the playoffs for the third time in four years they might think about clearing the roster (including the coaching staff) and starting over.

There is a lot of older talent there but without any reasonable depth behind them.

Some of these players have had less than wonderful seasons, based on their own standards. When you add injuries and the aging process there are few options for improvement.

In the past four years their draft picks have not made significant contributions. Thirty-four draft picks have played in only 50 games. Given the age of most of their experienced players, if they’re not capable of even earning a playoff spot now the odds that they will in one, two, or three years from now are certainly not going to be much better.

The Anaheim Ducks’ Josh Manson is known for some of the most lethal hip checks in the League. At 6-foot-3, 217-pounds he clears intruders out of the goal easily.

Manson has become a defensive mainstay for the Ducks, giving muscle to partner Cam Fowler. They might need to tap into that more so than usual to start this season because of their numerous injuries.

While it is necessary for defensemen to be multifaceted in today’s game, there is also a need for players like Manson to instill fear into opponents who venture near the boards or behind the net.

Working against the Ducks will be the prolonged absence of center Ryan Kesler, a Selke Trophy finalist as the best defensive forward in the NHL last season. Kesler had hip surgery June 8 and the team is hopeful he will return by Christmas.

In hockey one of the most significant statistics is calculated by counting the average number of shot attempts per 60 minutes of play. In five-on-five play last season, the San Jose Sharks averaged 58.21 shot attempts per 60 minutes, allowing 55.65. This average of 56.93 placed them seventh in the NHL.

The Sharks return with Norris Trophy-winning defenseman Brent Burns, veteran center Joe Thornton and all-star goaltender Martin Jones, but their success this season may ultimately depend on the performances of depth players.

Joe Thornton saw his production decline from 82 points to 50 points last season and had surgery to repair two damaged ligaments in his left knee. Though he's projected to remain the first line center Thornton's time there may be numbered if age and durability become issues. The core team is getting older and the competition in the Pacific Division is better.

The Anaheim Ducks have won the division each of the past five seasons, the Edmonton Oilers are moving up after making the second round of the playoffs and the Calgary Flames improved their position by making several very smart trades during the off season.

San Jose's window to win the Stanley Cup may not be closed but it's smaller with a roster that has eight players 30 years of age.

San Jose is another team that can see the finish line for some of its core players, yet the Sharks are still good enough to remain a playoff team if the next group catches up fast enough. This club has missed the playoffs just once in 13 seasons and played in the Stanley Cup Final two years ago. Any form of success begins with a playoff spot.

I know that all professional sports begin each season with a round of predictions from supposed experts. The National Hockey League is no exception. Predictions for the 2017-2018 season include the Pittsburgh Penguins very possibly winning their third Stanley Cup in as many seasons, the Tampa Bay Lightening ‘owning’ the Atlantic Division, the Nashville Predators coming out on top of the Central Division and the Edmonton Oilers winning the Pacific Division.

There are more predictions and the variables impacting each are significant. I personally don’t put much stock in guessing at the outcome of the season. As much as I love hockey I will continue to watch every game possible and wait until the end of the third period to find out what happens!


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