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Canucks shine in topsy-turvy NHL

Bruce Penton looks at the unpredictable start to the NHL season
bruce penton sports

In the National Hockey League, ‘V' stands for victory. ‘V’ also represents two of the best  teams in the Western Conference, Vancouver Canucks and Vegas Golden Knights.

The Canucks, a team that in recent years has been an also-ran and a playoff non-contender by mid-November, are a near-juggernaut in the early going of the 2023-24 season. Edmonton Oilers, predicted to be a legitimate Stanley Cup contender, were so bad to start the NHL season that they’re already on their second coach.

Welcome to the upside-down world that is the NHL.

In the pre-season, Canadian teams in the NHL seemed to be be pegged into three groups: The Oilers and Leafs were believed to be contenders; Winnipeg Jets and Calgary Flames would be middle-of-the-road teams; and Montreal, Ottawa and Vancouver the usual doormats.

Ha! How has that changed? The Canucks are one of the league powers, with superstar defenceman Quinn Hughes leading the way and coach Rick Tocchet getting the most out of a fast-paced, talented offensive unit that has by far the best goals for-against differential in the league. And the Oilers? Well, you should probably say a little prayer for Connor McDavid and Co. up there in the City of (gulp!) Champions.

As a harbinger of things to come, Edmonton opened the season with back-to-back losses to Vancouver, including an 8-1 thrashing in the opener. Things didn’t get much better and while the best player in the game, McDavid, was nursing some sort of nagging injury, he went an unheard-of eight games without a goal.

The team hit rock bottom with a 3-2 loss to San Jose Sharks, who, to that point in the season, had only one victory. That loss set in motion the firing of coach Jay Woodcroft, even though the actual termination of employment came one day after the visiting Oilers beat Seattle 4-1. Unfortunately for Woodcroft, who served for 133 games and compiled a 79-41-13 record, that win did not represent a stay of execution. The Oilers replaced him with Kris Knoblauch, who had been coaching in the American Hockey League and who had been McDavid’s coach in the junior ranks with Erie.

The Knoblauch era started with a 2-1 record,  and Oilers’ fans were hopeful that the coaching change would continue to turn around the team’s fortunes.
Vancouver, meanwhile, was neck-and-neck with defending Cup champion Vegas for Western Conference supremacy. Elias Pettersson, J.T. Miller and Hughes were among the league’s top 10 scorers and the Canucks’ powerplay, at better than 30 per cent efficiency, was best in the West.

It’s a long grind, this 82-game NHL season, but the upside-down developments in the first month have made fans wonder how the rest of the season will unfold. Will the Oilers bounce back? Will the Canucks continue to roll? We’ll check back in February or March.

  • Headline at “Lakers crushed 128-94 by youth movement Rockets. To be fair, LeBron James said he couldn’t practise all week due to MeTV’s Matlock marathon.”
  • From the Canadian parody website The Beaverton: “Oilers struggles blamed on carbon tax.”
  • Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel, who wrote a column about the “obscene Buyout Bowl. If schools can pay middle-aged multimillionaires NOT to coach, why can't they pay athletes who do all the work and take all the risks?”
  • Bianchi again: “Question: If Tom Brady is the GOAT with seven Super Bowl rings, is Philip Rivers, who recently welcomed his 10th child into the world, the rabbit?”
  • Brandon Kravitz, on X: “The Texas A&M job is essentially the LIV Golf of college football. Big time pay day with nothing to show for it in the end.”
  • RJ Carrie of “Last week I had cardiac failure, was in ICU, had 2.5 litres of fluid and blood drained from a lung, was intubated and close to death. Even I looked better than the Argos did in their playoff game.”
  • Headline at the “LIV Golf Announces Fans Concerned Over Israeli-Palestinian War Can Make Donations To Saudi Royal Family.”
  •, after the Oakland A’s officially cemented plans to move the franchise to Las Vegas: “VegA’s”
  • From a guy who goes by @Bazecraze: “The one thing I’ve learned from the World Cup is that Europe still hasn’t mastered the haircut.”
  • Steve Simmons of Sunmedia in Toronto: “Can Johnny Gaudreau have a do-over in free agency? In 97 games with the Columbus Blue Jackets, he has 22 goals and 58 assists for a respectable 80 points. In his final 97 games as a Calgary Flame, he had 45 goals, 90 assists for a spectacular 135 points.”
  • Simmons again, with a pro and con about Regina: “My favourite Grey Cups have been in Regina, which might be the least interesting city in Canada and the greatest place to have a football celebration.”
  • Haven’t had a chess anecdote for a while, so here’s Matt Kirshen: “I was playing chess with my friend, and he said, 'Let's make this more interesting.'  So we stopped playing chess.”

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The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the position of this publication. 

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