We have just entered the third month of the NHL 2021 season. Fans are hoping to God above that the league has figured out its COVID issues (because we are still in #CoronaSZN). Certain teams got off to a hot start and have remained hot while others have gone tepid or remained ice cold. There are certain questions that need to be answered and some of them are huge. Let’s look at the biggest questions in the NHL (currently).
Q1: Will Jack Eichel Be Traded Before the Deadline on April 12?
Wow, we’re really gonna try to answer one of the biggest questions in the NHL right off the bat, huh? Before the season, Eichel reportedly said that if he didn’t get any help this season, he would be out of Buffalo. As of this writing, the Sabres are in last place in the MassMutual East Division at 6-10-3 (15 points). It will be a tall task for the Sabres to make the playoffs in a division that features Boston, Philadelphia, Washington, the New York Islanders, and a suddenly resurgent Pittsburgh. If the Sabres keep losing, I would expect them to move on from Eichel. However, he carries a $10M cap hit ($2.5M base, $7.5M bonus). Yikes. There are plenty of NHL teams who would like a player like Eichel on their team. For the Sabres to move him, though, they would ask for a LOT back.
Q2: Which Coach is Currently on the Hottest of Hot Seats?
I would argue that Columbus Blue Jackets head coach John Tortorella is on the hottest of hot seats currently. The Blue Jackets have earned only one point in their last five games and three in their last eight. Their offense has been super streaky; take for example last week’s back-to-back against Chicago. On Tuesday, they scored 5 goals in a shootout loss. Two nights later, they’re blanked by the same Blackhawks team. Against surprisingly underwhelming Nashville, the Blue Jackets scored two goals in a back-to-back. Has Torts worn out his welcome like he has in his previous destinations in Tampa Bay and New York? He does have that track record, but even with his grinding style, it does match success. He reportedly has general manager Jarmo Kekelainen’s vote of confidence, but time will tell for how long.
Q3: Are The Toronto Maple Leafs For Real?
This is another one of the biggest questions in the NHL: are the Maple Leafs for real? If you judge the standings and the division that they’re in, you might say no. But judging from the way they’ve played over the last month, you might say they absolutely are. Take their last two games: the Leafs skunked the leading scorer in the NHL (Connor McDavid) and the high-powered Edmonton Oilers. Most impressively, they did so without Auston Matthews and with their backup goaltender. Toronto currently owns the best road record in the league with an 8-1-1 mark. Whether they continue this pace remains to be seen, but this record has Toronto fans envisioning a Stanley Cup in July.
Q4: Which Team Has Been the Most Surprising?
I picked Winnipeg to finish out of the playoff picture in the Scotia North. But the Jets have surprised a lot of pundits. As of this writing, the Jets are one point behind Edmonton for second place in the North. In the Discover Central, no one expected the Florida Panthers to be in first place at this juncture of the season. But with 30 points, here they are and that has a lot of people talking Joel Quenneville as a Jack Adams Trophy candidate. In the MassMutual East, the New York Islanders have been particularly good. They are bolstered by the play of goaltenders Seymon Varlamov and Ilya Sorokin. And lastly, the Minnesota Wild have been most surprising team in the Honda West. Thanks to the play of rookie forward Kiril Kaprizov, no one can say that the Wild are a boring team anymore.
Q5: Which Team Has Been the Most Disappointing?
In the Scotia North, the Calgary Flames have been the most disappointing. Many picked them to win the division and even be a potential Stanley Cup contenders, but the lack of offense has snakebitten the Flames. In the Discover Central, the aforementioned Columbus Blue Jackets have been somewhat of a disappointment given their recent struggles. One could argue the Dallas Stars have a little of a Stanley Cup hangover, but they’ve only played in 16 games due to COVID issues. In the Honda West, Colorado has been a bit of a disappointment due to a slower than usual start. However, I don’t expect the Avalanche to be in much of a slump for too long.