We’re still about five weeks away from the first Avalanche regular-season game, which is still a decent amount of time. You can forget sometimes how long the NHL season is. And the thing is: the real season won’t even start until next spring. I say this kind of thing always with the goal of everyone keeping perspective about what’s ahead. A full NHL season is a grind. (I must be in a mood to use italics a lot on this Labor Day).
First off, Labor Day: I used to hate it a lot. It was always the last day of summer vacation when I was a kid in school, and I just hated having to go back after three months of daily whiffleball with my buddies, waking up at 11, eating frozen pizza for breakfast and blasting Kiss vinyl albums until 2 a.m. on my stepfather’s very, very good headphones. (This, I’m sure, has contributed to what I would estimate to be about a 30-percent hearing loss in my left ear now).
Today, it was just another day for me, although my wife and son both had the day off from their respective job and school. I spent about four hours of the day driving for Lyft, completing a 25-ride weekend in which, if you did, you got a $325 bonus on top of what you made on the rides. I don’t drive much for Lyft, but I think it’s a good summer side hustle where I can get out of the house, drive (which I like to do anyway) and talk with strangers, all the while making some cashola. Lyft is just throwing lots of bonus money at drivers right now, because apparently there’s a big driver shortage. So, I thought, “yeah, I’ll take an easy $325 bonus).”
So, I had a very profitable Labor Day. I may or may not write another installment of the Lyft Chronicles about the ride, but in case I don’t, here are two of the rides: one was a 20-year-old guy who I was driving to his shift at a well-known Japanese hibachi chain. I told him of a place I knew was desperate for a new chef/cook and he, on the spot, decided to chuck his three-year tenure at his job and ask for the number of my buddy who runs the joint, and had me take him back home. He said he wanted a change, and would call my buddy to ask about being his new main cook. He said it was something of an epiphany for him and that it might be fate. He said he was making $78,000 a year at his job too. I said to him, “You sure you want me to do this?”
He said he did. I guess I’ll find out from my buddy whether he’s got a new cook or not, or whether my guy, once he got back home, said, “Wait, what the hell did I just do?”
Another ride was three young people, high as kites, on their way to the Phish concert last night at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park. They were funny and nice, but they also stunk up my car with the smell of cannabis.
OK, one more ride: a guy who was pissed that I picked him up on the wrong side of the road, and made grunting, halting aggravated small talk with me for about 10 seconds until we both settled awkwardly into our roughly six-minute ride to Buffalo Wild Wings in Northglenn, where he was going to watch the Notre Dame football game. Somehow, we chatted about something about the shortage of drivers, which led to something he said about the government, then about Chicago where he’s from originally.
I casually mention that I’ve been to Chicago a lot on business. He asks what I “do” and I say I’ve been a sports writer most of my adult life and cover hockey and been to the United Center a lot. His entire being changes, to him saying what a huge Blackhawks fan he is. I say a couple things like, “I’ve talked a ton to Chris Chelios” and “I once got a picture taken at the organ of United Center/Chicago Stadium, with the famous organ player.”
He starts really rhapsodizing about the Hawks, and starts asking me about this hockey thing and that hockey thing. But the ride is up at six minutes, and he says he wished the ride was an hour or more so he could keep talking hockey. I give him the name of this site and tell him to keep in touch.
So, my original plan for this post: Just some scattered thoughts on the Avs, as I’ve been in my veritable summertime self:
- A guy I trust in hockey told me today that he thinks Jack Johnson, who will come to Avs camp on a PTO, might become a true undiscovered gem for this team. No, it wasn’t his agent. Myself, I’m a bit dubious he can find meaningful minutes or a role here, but we’ll see. My guy I trust, though, is a really big name in the hockey world. (He said, very pretentiously).
- I guess one of my thoughts of upside-down-frown on this is, if Jack Johnson is playing regularly for the Avs at this stage of his 34-year-old life, then there’s probably something very wrong with one of the top-4 guys. It would seem like a net loss, but let’s see what happens.
- I keep thinking about Alex Newhook and the role he’ll probably be asked to play for this Avs team, which is second-line left wing, and I wonder: “Is this too much, too soon for him? If he falters numbers-wise at the start, will Jared Bednar bury him on the fourth line and start a yo-yo career path from there?”
- I don’t play fantasy hockey, but if i did, I’d be taking as one of my top picks, if not the pick, Darcy Kuemper.
- I just think he’s going to have a monster year. I think he’s a real good goalie who will love playing behind this top-6.
- Assuming that top-6 is healthy, of course.
- I think Nazem Kadri will also have a very good year, but I think this is probably it for him in Denver either way. He’ll be a UFA, and it might make more sense to move Newhook to 2C next season.
- I’m a Kadri fan, by the way. I think his last suspension was overly harsh. I think Justin Faulk put himself in a vulnerable position, though the fact is Kadri did hit him too high. But I think it was a split-second thing, and the media that got themselves into a tizzy over it don’t really know much at all about hockey, in the final analysis.
- I think the Avs should go with a fourth line of MacDermid-Helm-O’Connor and crush everything around them. The Avs need a pain-in-the-butt line that gets opponents off their games mentally, instead of vice-versa.
- I do think the Avs will miss P.E. Bellmare’s fourth-line presence, though. I thought he was excellent in the dots and added a strong leadership quality to the team. I worry that ex-Red Wing Helm might just be playing out the string mentally and physically.
- I still can’t quite believe the Avs team of last year didn’t get past the second round.
- I really did buy into the notion that this Avs team would win the Stanley Cup, that they seemed to have everything going for them. The fact that they lost to Vegas, after being up 2-0, still seems sort of unfathomable to me.
- That’s why, to me, there is sooooooo much pressure on a guy like captain Gabe Landeskog this year. And, probably, the next two or three years. If he doesn’t win a Cup – or at least, get to the finals – there is going to be a massive void in his career biography. He got his money this summer, despite another second-round wet-noodle finish for his team. He insisted on being paid champion’s-level wages this summer, but the fact is Gabe Landeskog has only captained his team to a bunch of early-round playoff disappointments.
- The second-round loss to Vegas is a real stain on his and this team’s current legacy. That team was supposed to have “learned from the past.” But it apparently hadn’t.
- There’s just a lot of pressure on this team, period. If Jared Bednar doesn’t get this team past the second round, at least, this season, he’s almost certainly gone. That’s why, to bring this post around to its semi-conclusion, it’s so important to not get too high about anything until late next spring. This team will absolutely be considered a failure if it doesn’t make it past two rounds – and that is a tough thing to do in hockey, for any team. But it’s something this team must do, if it is to retain its highly-paid-, to-the-cap roster.