Wednesday, November 11, 2015

McDavid/Eichel plus, Rex Ryan and a tip of the hat to Phil Housley

Reprinted with permission from

Edmonton's Connor McDavid and Buffalo's Jack Eichel will always be linked together. And that's a good thing. A while back I posted a blog that compared a McDavid/Eichel to the NBA's Magic Johnson/Larry Bird rivalry. In it I mentioned that the NBA at the time was no where near as popular as it is now and the Johnson/Bird was the driving force that brought into the limelight.

Although it's doubtful that the NHL will reach the status of the NBA in the States, 10-15 years of McDavid/Eichel will certainly have a strong, positive affect on a sport who's popularity has been growing steadily for at least a half-a-dozen years.

I also posted a while back that if the Sabres didn't win the lottery and have the opportunity to grab McDavid, I'd have no problem with the Oilers getting the pick even though they'd had an inordinate number of first-overall picks the previous five draft-years. I laid out similarities between the small-market cities while also citing that the two organizations had some real problems when it came to upper management and when you put it all together, they couldn't collect enough talent to make an impact beyond a short-lived playoff run or two. And it was a shame because both cities have a very loyal fan-base.

"In a way, I wouldn't mind the Oilers with Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel as the fans of Edmonton, who seem to be similar to those of Buffalo, deserve it," I wrote nearly a year ago. "They're a dedicated lot and although the people in charge of hockey ops should be held accountable (read fired) for their incompetence (as was the case in Buffalo,) it's through no fault of their fans that the incompetents were either put in their positions and/or lasted as long as they did. That's an ownership problem."

Yeah, it was shocker that Edmonton won the lottery, and if you didn't say to yourself, "Really!!??" then you were probably an Oilers fan. But all along fans in Sabreland knew that they were getting a franchise player who'd have been a first-overall draft pick in every draft post-Sidney Crosby. And having McDavid in Edmonton where he can do his regular season and playoff damage in the western conference allows fans to have visions of a possible (eventual?) Stanley Cup matchup somewhere down the road between him and Eichel without having to go through each other for a Cup birth.

Even though we're barely past the quarter-pole of McDavid and Eichel's first season, McDavid and Eichel have had a profound impact on their respective teams. McDavid was named rookie of the month for October with five goals and seven assists while Eichel matched McDavid's five goals but had zero assists. Both have been predominant in the highlights even though they're being eased into their eventual top-line center roles.

What both have been able to do is give their teams a bona fide one-two punch down the middle. In Edmonton, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is playing top-line center minutes while in Buffalo Ryan O'Reilly is the top-line center. Nugent-Hopkins has 12 points (5+7) in 15 games, good for second on the team while O'Reilly's 13 points (4+9) leads the Sabres.

Both duos have been instrumental in driving both team's offenses as well. McDavid was on the ice for 15 of the Oilers 39 goals (38.4%) while "Nuge" has been on the ice for 20 of 39 (51.2% prior to McDavid's injury. In Buffalo, Eichel's been on the ice for 10 of 31 goals (32.2%) while O'Reilly has been on the ice for 15 of 31 (48.3%.)

Those are pretty significant numbers and it will be interesting to see how McDavid's injury will affect the Oilers. When he went slamming into the boards a collective gasp went through Canada and when he got up in shock, we knew it wasn't going to be good news. Edmonton beat Phildelphia 4-2 on the night McDavid was injured but dropped the next two--2-1 vs. Pittsburgh and 4-2 at Chicago. Nugent-Hopkins was on the ice for all three goals-for and had an assist.

I hope all goes well with McDavid's recovery and that he's on the ice as soon as possible. He's good for the league and the rivalry with Eichel is something that's good for the sport.


Three months ago when defensive end IK Enemkpali was with the NY Jets, he got into an verbal disagreement with quarterback Geno Smith and subsequently broke Smith's jaw. The Jets waived him and he was picked up by the Buffalo Bills the very next day. Bills new head coach Rex Ryan knew all about Enemkpali as he coached him while he was the coach in NY.

Enemkpali served a four game suspension handed down by the league for the incident and has been used sparingly in a reserve role since his return. Today, Ryan said that Enemkpali would  be one of the captains when the Bills face the Jets for a Thursday night eastern division showdown in front of a national audience.

At first glance one would think that Ryan is shoving it in the face of the Jets, which he might be in a way, but he said it's customary for him to use his players as captains when facing their former teams. "I'll get ripped or whatever, but I do this all the time," said Ryan to the press gathered post-practice. "Anybody that's played [against that team], you're gonna see [as a captain]. Will [former Jets tight end Matthew] Mulligan be out there? Yep, he'll be out there.

"I think for them, you put him out there, that was recognized [by] their teammates and their former teammates. So I do, if there's a kid that's on our roster from [New Jersey], it's pretty safe that he'll be a captain also. If there's a guy that went to high school in [New Jersey], there's a pretty good chance he'll be there.

"So that's how I do the captains. If IK went out there by himself, maybe that would be a different statement. But that's not what we do."

Gotta hand it to ole' Rexy, he sticks to his guns despite the potential for a move like that blowing up in his face which is something that happened two weeks ago.

Ryan sent out his entire offensive line to be captains against the Jacksonville Jaguars for a game in England. The Jags offensive line coach is Doug Marrone who coached the Bills for two seasons before using an out in his contract while collecting a $4m in the process. The Bills were favorites against the Jaguars but ended up losing leaving Ryan and the entire organization with a big egg on their collective face.

But, he's at it again and like I said, at least he's sticking to his guns.

Oh, and when the media asked Enemkpali if he'd had any contact with Smith, who's been relegated to back-up behind another former Buffalo Bill, Ryan Fitzpatrick, his reply was, "Next question."


Congrats to former Sabres defenseman Phil Housley who is being honored tonight as part of the 2015 Hockey Hall of Fame class.

Housley was selected by the Buffalo Sabres with the sixth-overall pick in the 1982 NHL Draft. It was the first year of a rebuild with hockey legend Scotty Bowman as the GM and Housley was the first of three Sabres' first-rounders that year (Paul Cyr, 9th and Dave Andreychuk, 16th.)

The scoop on Housley when he was drafted was that he was an offensive dynamo who's skating was reminiscent of Bobby Orr, "He's the nearest thing to Bobby Orr I've seen," said Bowman that day (thx to Adam Vingan of the Tennessean for that quote.)

After going straight to the NHL out of South St. Paul High School in Minnesota, "Wowie" Housley, as dubbed by Sabres broadcasting legend Rick Jeanneret, proceeded to scored 66 points (19+47) on his way to All-Rookie Team status in 1983. He would finish his career in 2003 with the most points for an American-born player (1232) and the most games played (1495.)

For those who'd never seen Housley, Joe Pelletier's Greatest Hockey aptly describes his game, "He was a superior skater, blessed with speed and agility, and a powerplay specialist. He was equally adept at rushing the puck or making the perfect first pass out of the zone. His small stature gave him trouble on one-on-one battles in the defensive zone, and he struggled early in his career with his defensive game, but there were very few defensemen better at the transition game."

Both he and Andreychuk were the best of Bowman's lost-cause rebuild and one would hope that Andreychuk will soon follow Housley to the Hall of Fame (which is another debate for another time.)

Housley's presently an assistant to Nashville Predator's head coach Peter Laviolette and has been in consideration for a few head coaching positions since guiding team USA to the 2013 World Junior Championships in Ufa, Russia. On that team is present Sabres defenseman, Jake McCabe who was named to the All-Tournament team that year (as was Nugent-Hopkins for Canada.)

Congrats, "Wowie" Housley

More on Housley:

USA Today's Kevin Allen did a real nice piece on Housley which you can find here.
Olean Time Herald's Bill Hoppe tweeted a quote from Sabres head coach Dan Bylsma who played in the NHL from 1992-2004:  "[Housley's] skating legs and young face. He's for me like Paul Coffey. [I] feared playing against this guy because you could not catch him, and he was that virtually every night he played. You couldn't catch this guy even if you tried.

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