From the Quiet Ice: Metro Division Over-Underrated

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 Metro. So, lace up your skates and let’s hit the . . . Quiet Ice.

Carolina Hurricanes

Carolina endured all the “Faulk talk” and emerged to get the last laugh — for now. Here’s the thing: Justin Faulk is good, just not 7.5% of the team cap hit good. They would be better off moving him for a strong return, and they have the defense to absorb his loss. Hear that, Toronto?

But the real unsung hero with Carolina is Micheal Ferland — a high-energy, high-impact player who is costing them almost nothing at $1.75 mil. AAV. Ferland is the type of spark plug that every winning team needs — the guy that keeps opponents nervous about accepting that pass or cutting across for that better shot. He’s basically Tom Wilson for 1/3 the price and a far smaller fraction of the headaches, risks, lost man-games and bad PR; some will argue Wilson is far better in this role than Ferland. I say great; but even if that’s truer than the glory of pancakes, it doesn’t matter much if he’s not on the ice. In short, every team would love a Ferland. Especially this particular Ferland.

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Referencing a point I made in my previous ‘Canes celebration article, put aside all the silly kayaking and slow-clapping, and at the end of the day you’ve got a Justin Williams who has no intention of being a loser.

Columbus Blue Jackets

My unsung hero in Columbus has to be John Tortorella, and yes, for his recent comments about “hug-fests” and other on-ice congenialities. He is my hero for voicing his true opinions in a league where almost nobody else does; that I understand his point is a bonus, but it wouldn’t matter to me. No matter what you think of Tortorella, you cannot question his passion for the game and the depth of his caring. Because that is so obvious, we understandably feel sadness over his struggle to fit into an evolving sport he loves. He wants players to be the best possible versions of themselves on ice, and he wants the game to be the best it can be — possibly even more than he wants to win. Now, I don’t know about you, but I find that heroic.

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It is definitely not all for one and one for all in Columbus. Torts is a team guy, and when you have players in the room who have expressed no interest in being part of the team, you can imagine how high they rank with Torts from that moment on. Or for that matter, with their teammates, who are committed to the cause.

By contrast, this makes Sergei Bobrovsky my “over” in Columbus: he is widely touted as one of the top three goalies in the league, yet has never pulled his team through in the clutch. Now, it is more likely than not he is incurring the disdain, if not wrath, of his teammates. If your goalie wants out and makes no secret of it, you pretty much think “Forget him” or the less PG version. You sacrifice less to protect him; you have no interest in building his trade case, let alone taking pucks for him. That’s just the way it is.

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New Jersey Devils

The New Jersey Devils are no longer unsung, and although Ray Shero has done this before, I’ll give him the “under”nod for this incarnation of his role. It seems by now most people have realized how well built this team is and it should be no surprise under the experienced GM. But he had to be sharp to pull off that Taylor HallAdam Larsson deal; you also look at the acquisitions of Boyle and later Vatanen, to say nothing of the cadre of young stars he has brought in, while also wisely not biting on the Nolan Patrick pick when many would have.

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As a result, the Devils now have a fast, skilled and well-balanced lineup. To use a JR-ism, the Devils can “out-physicality” teams or beat them with skill. And yes, he did coin that expression, though I’m sure it wasn’t about the Devils at the time. This will be the team in the East that others want very much to avoid in the first round. They’ve also got that underdog mojo going for them that gives other teams the devil of a time.

New York Rangers

The good news for the Rangers is that they’re really not much worse than they were the last several years; the bad news is that they’ve been bad for all of those years, and it’s taken until now for people to acknowledge it. Those outside the Rangers’ bubble have found this highly amusing theater each year.

The Rangers have a legacy of going after the trendy picks; they buy into hype better than any team, and usually it’s a bust. Kevin Shattenkirk was a terrible but very typical Rangers acquisition, and he is proving that so far again this season. There was very little to support the argument for Shattenkirk as a “difference maker” in the first place. I was honestly surprised they didn’t grab Ilya Kovalchuk, if for no other reason than to keep him from going back to New Jersey. Some will point to Rick Nash as a counter-argument, but I say he’s exactly the same argument: he had a decent career there, but what really came of it?

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I always feel bad for Mats Zuccarello and it’s time the Rangers wipe the slate, get a bunch of picks and go from there instead of further pretending. Yes, that includes Zucc, who will bring a strong return, and others like Chris Kreider who will likely bring back more than they should. How long the Rangers will continue to be a joke to those outside of their bubble depends on how long it takes before they pop it.

Philadelphia Flyers

The Flyers are perennial oversung heroes, much in the vein of the Rangers, and the talk of postseason contention is no more warranted than it is for the Rangers. Okay, maybe slightly more warranted. And like the Rangers, nobody really wants to state it aloud or in writing that their yearly hopes are little more than delusional fantasies. This is simply another fan base and management group trying to convince itself to believe in the fantasy of being a contender instead of looking at realistically building a team. Bringing in Elliott should have been enough to tell anyone what they were in store for once again. The thinking behind that gamble tells the story of the franchise in this era.

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I get that Flyers fans feel better having Radko Gudas in the lineup to demolish people, and it helps distract them from their inevitable failure; I even understand the choice. I enjoyed seeing San Jose bring a string of bruisers through year after year, knowing they weren’t a true contender but at least taking comfort that they wouldn’t get abused. But at some point, you have to face the fact that the priority is not winning; it’s only about smashing a few people up en route to losing.

If the Flyers actually want a winning season, it’s time to blow it up. Many actual contenders could do wonders with the likes of Wayne Simmonds and Michael Raffl. But it also means at least considering Giroux, Voracek and the rest — all except Gostisbehere and Provorov.

Pittsburgh Penguins

In Pittsburgh, I’ve heard pundits — okay, one pundit — remark that Derick Brassard is their “sleeper pick.” Sure, go with that. The truth is that Brassard just isn’t a great fit here. I wouldn’t mind being proven wrong, but they’d probably do much better with a Zuccarello or Michael Raffl in his place. I love the Matt Cullen redux, and like Patrick Marleau, he continues to outskate most younger players younger, bringing consummate professionalism and energy to every shift. I’ve always held a place in my pantheon for Kris Letang and I think he’s going to have a resurgent year. I won’t count out Pittsburgh if only because Crosby could will his team to another cup without surprising any of us too much.

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Washington Capitals

When it comes to the defending champs, the Washington Capitals, I’m going to look to their D-corps for an unsung hero, Dmitry Orlov. This guy is creative like most Russian skaters; he stick handles and shoots like an elite forward and is dangerous whenever he gets the puck in the O-zone. I look for him to play a more noticeable role this year.

Look for your Atlantic Division “overs-and-unders” coming soon . . . From the Quiet Ice.

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