The Stanley Cup has been hoisted! NHL enters its strangest offseason ever!

Marc Elliott

Anton Lundell (Photo: NHL)

LARSMONT ... Well, my hope for a “seven heaven” went unsatisfied last week as the Tampa Bay Lightning defeated the Dallas Stars in a 2-0 whitewash to win the Stanley Cup. I believed that going into Game six that the Stars may have held a slight edge in the energy department. They didn’t. But it wasn’t as if the Bolts had much more than the Stars did. They had just enough left in the tank to place a firm grip on the game, the series, and the match. I’d say that after an epic Game five win by the Stars in double OT, they may have left their last gasp of a Cup hope on the Edmonton ice that night.

For Tampa, congrats to you, that was as good of an overall tourney performance as I have ever seen under some of the most trying circumstances this game or professional sports has ever witnessed. The big Swede, Victor Hedman, was the Conn Smythe winner and rightfully so. I have observed Big Vic from his days as a Junior age player, and his evolution is complete. The dude is a winner, period. He’s got game. And my congrats also go to fellow St. Paul homeboy Ryan McDonagh! Due to pandemic concerns, the Cup won’t travel to The State of Hockey for any celebration, but all involved will get their day with the Stanley Cup in a central locale. All NHL fans already know how hard it is to win this tournament, and this year it was even harder to do so. Congrats to Coach Jon Cooper and one of his assistants, also a Minnesotan, former Golden Gopher Todd Richards.

THE NHL WILL NOW officially enter the “weird zone.” The Stanley Cup was finally awarded in late September. The NHL Entry Draft will begin tomorrow evening, Tuesday the 6th of October. Then we will have the free agency period and an offseason of sorts as the league figures out some scheduling and logistics issues. Under normal circumstances, the league’s regular-season would likely be kicking off this Wednesday night. Of course, this isn’t a typical year. Right when I would be getting ready to observe the opening faceoff for the season and watch two or three games that evening, there will be no hockey. Not all is lost; I will be watching the MLB playoffs, sans our Minnesota Twins. The boys bowed out rather quickly to the Houston Astros. I knew we were in for it when we left the bases loaded in Game One and two without bringing anyone across. Yup, that was my signal.

My second club, the STL Cardinals, was booted from the proceedings in short order as well. So, I’ve no one left to pull for but will watch nonetheless. I still love baseball too.

But back to the ice. There are still many uncertainties entering into the fall and winter. Scheduling, tournaments, and even regular seasons in the professional and amateur ranks are still up in the air as we continue to struggle with the pandemic here in the States. Of course, if we’d have had any coherent course of action from our Government leadership, we might be ahead of this issue at this time. We haven’t, and we aren’t. That’s a simple and straightforward truth.

Considering this, I’ve never admired the NHL more than I do today. If you were to contemplate the sheer logistics involved to pull off the Cup tournament this year, and not incur one single positive COVID test, you would stand back in complete awe of this. He gets booed lustily many times at public appearances. But, Commissioner Gary Bettman is one smart guy and is the best leader of any professional sports organization at this time. I harbor no questions about that. I don’t agree with how he has done everything during his tenure, but the league and the game have never been better. This league was teetering on financial disaster for decades and was stuck in the dark ages of pro sports. Like it or not, Bettman pulled it out and polished it up. He deserves many thanks ...

THE MINNESOTA WILD will draft in the nine spot of the 1st Round tomorrow evening at the entry draft. Barring any deals between now and the moment they go to make that pick, here are their positions:

1st Round, 9th.
2nd Round, 39th.
3rd Round, no selection.
4th Round, 101st.
5th Round, 132nd.
6th Round, 163rd.
7th Round, 194th.

I have read a few draft projections, and the consensus seems to have the club taking a Center with their first pick, and then going with a D-man, D-man, goalie, and then finishing up with two more defensemen.

I guess this makes some sense to me; the team has been center-starved for awhile now.  The player, the team, is projected to take is Anton Lundell from HIFK Helsinki of the SM-Liiga. He is 6’2” and 181# and is the 3rd ranked European skater by NHL Central Scouting. Lundell also has won Gold at the 2018 U18 level and the 2019 WJC. It also means that Wild GM Bill Guerin must have some faith that the current Wild property and goalie Kaapo Kahkonen can be the tender of the future. I liked what we saw of him last year in a limited proportion, but I need to see more before anointing him as the next big thing.

The club’s big roster is healthy at the Defense position for the time being, and if the projections hold, Guerin may be restocking for the future at this time. Wings are usually available in some abundance, and the Wild has a number of them now. That could be revisited soon.

Overall I am a bit anxious for the new season to begin, although a bit apprehensive about where the team may be at this time. The Detroit Red Wings annual Traverse

City Prospects tourney will not be held this year. That means that an opportunity to see and gauge where your team’s rookies and prospects may be at versus live competition won’t be available this year. For the most part, the Wild have had indifferent results at this event in the past. I’d still rather see it be held than not.

So, with the league entering the weird zone until late December or early January, we’ll have to find other things to keep us occupied other than the things that usually would. My hockey watching marathon evenings will have to wait for now. The draft and free agency signing period will be short term entertainment, but they won’t be the same as live games. As for college, high school, and other hockey levels, most of it is up in the air like a thousand hockey pucks at once.  Where that will land and how is an unknown at this point.

Those in charge of determining that will continue to err on the side of caution as they should. I don’t believe we will ever return to the way things were but may enjoy mapping out a positive new “normal.” Optimism might be the best thing to grab hold of right now ... PEACE