“Quiet Ice is a phrase used to characterize a sliver of playing surface goal-scorers love to find because it’s unguarded by opposing players and can be used to rip off a good, quick shot. It is not, as some had understandably assumed, a reference to any place where Sean Avery isn’t.” (Source, the Hockey News)
In the new spirit of NHL gambling, I’m calling this the “over and under” — but instead, the over and underrated. We’re questioning some of the reputed best in the game and shining the light on some who are lurking in the quiet ice throughout the Atlantic Division. So, lace up your skates and let’s hit the . . . Quiet Ice.
People say Boston is in “win now” mode in deference to Chara and Bergeron, and they are dangerous again, but could be more so if they perform some addition by subtraction. As tough a beast as he is, David Backes is struggling with injuries and generally not productive when he’s in the lineup. My take — he’s not right for this team. They do not need go-through-wall guys slowing them down any more, and with Jake DeBrusk settling in and David Pastrnak emerging as a top-seven or eight sniper in the league, they need to cut some dead weight. For now, I’m putting Boston in the “over” category too.
Sabres fans are less surprised than others about their play this year because they saw their team finally building well over that past few years. Bringing in Scandella (though, yes, he’s struggling at the moment), Sheary, Skinner and Carter Hutton to add to the super talented crew they’ve been putting in place show circumspect and deliberate planning. Intelligent planning. Eventually, this defense will settle in, infuse the forward lines with greater confidence, and scoring will follow. The whole Sabres organization gets my unsung hero award.
Detroit Red Wings
In Detroit, we see another team that has a long way to go but can get there quicker by subtraction by shipping out the highly overrated Mike Green. During 2008-10, he made his reputation and garnered Hart and Norris consideration, the Norris again in ’13 when he was a minus 3, so we’ll call that a sentimental vote. I never thought he was worth all the hype, and I don’t think the Caps would have won a cup with him there. He’s in that Shattenkirk category for me — unwarranted elite status. Move on, Detroit.
I thought the Panthers would be far better and more exciting this season. I was high on the Mike Hoffman addition and their offense looks downright terrifying. But for whatever reason, this cat seems declawed and defanged. If I had to guess what that reason was, I would guess the absence of Michael Haley has lessened the accountability among others, resulting in an unwillingness to crash a bit among this highly skilled offense. This lack of bite allows other teams to take advantage and exploit opportunities better, and by contrast, that disables the Panthers from doing the like to others.
Take the Sharks and look at Evander Kane or Timo Meier, even Hertl, and you see less skill than on the Panthers, but that willingness to bang around to score goals. I just don’t see Florida as willing to go there. Knowing Bob Boughner’s style, which has often been called “rugged and hard-nosed,” I have to wonder if maybe the coaching staff doesn’t have the green light to get hard-nosed with the players. It’s a puzzle that makes the Panther offense collectively overrated.
If you asked every GM in the league who they would pluck from the Canadiens given the chance — and we’ll exempt Jesperi Kotkaniemi from this hypothetical – I’m betting it would not be Carey Price but Brendan Gallagher — one of the unsung-est of unsung heroes. Every coach sings this guy’s praises without hesitation and his $3.75 AAV is such an unbelievable deal, it almost seems a crime Montreal hasn’t done more to benefit from it by now. Gallagher embodies the proverbial bulldog or dervish. There are very few players who bring what he does; in fact, I can’t think of one with his brand of grit and skill. Not underrated by coaches, but by fans outside of Montreal, certainly.
Unlike many people, I recognize what Ottawa got in Dylan Demelo and Christ Tierney, a couple of unsung beauties: Tierney is a guy that winning teams need and I was crestfallen to see him leave the Sharks. Sens fans are seeing that now as he’s getting bigger opportunities. This team has many great pieces and is in nowhere near as bad shape as people think. So, the unsung heroes here are the pieces that came back in the Karlsson trade, including what’s still to come via drafting.
Tampa Bay Lightning
In Tampa, with Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh, I think we’re seeing an example of hubris by Steve Yzerman coming home to roost. Don’t get me wrong: I have all the respect in the world for Stevie-Y, but I really think it’s as simple as Yzerman the Sorcerer thinking he could bring his Midas touch to virtually anything, and getting a little carried away with his own myth. I’m guessing he saw another opportunity to shock and awe the hockey world be bringing these two players to the Fountain of Youth down there. Yzerman was on the right track with guys like Yanni Gourde, Tyler Johnson, Paquette and Palat, but to mix in this plodding group — disaster in the making. Might as well have kept Suster if that was the plan.
Tampa gets my “over” award for Yzerman’s GM-ing job of late, and for the assumption that they’ll be in the East final vs. the Leafs, which is the other half of this ridiculous sandwich.
Toronto Maple Leafs
I know people believe the Maple Leafs have already won the Cup and just haven’t been invited to the ceremony yet, but at some point, they’re going to have face reality. And reality includes injuries, failure, contract and cap issues, sacrifice and probably some wearing out of welcome syndrome with Babcock.
I also see a team and fan base that likes to point to Pittsburgh and say, “See—they did it with a defense that wasn’t top-tier.” But they’re missing the world of difference between Pittsburgh’s d-corps and the one Toronto is currently icing. Personally, I hope they keep believing in themselves because their fall will be enjoyable to watch. If they want to win, however, they’d do well to go after one of those guys mentioned earlier — Justin Faulk or his ilk. In a previous article, I focused on Hampus Lindholm and Niklas Hjalmarsson, either of whom would be good fits. Anton Stralman even. Surely Nylander can land a guy like these.
Look for Kadri to be key to their success or failure, and also a guy like Patrick Marleau who is playing with all the motivation in the world to go out on top, and still skates like the wind; not many others in the league can catch Marleau, and he’s still a finisher. Sometimes age truly is just a number.
That’s your over-and-unders from the Quiet Ice.