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Off the Top of My Head: Jack Campbell’s pre-season, the NHL schedule, Georges Laraque, and more

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Photo credit:© Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
Robin Brownlee
6 months ago
On a night when there was a lot to like about the Edmonton Oilers after a 3-1 win over the Seattle Kraken, Jack Campbell once again found a way to grab the spotlight with 35 saves to put the finishing touches on his brilliant pre-season.
While three wins, a 0.99 GAA and a .971 save percentage in 182:12 of playing time against less-than-full NHL line-ups doesn’t constitute a turnaround after an unquestionably disappointing first season in Edmonton, it’s a good place to start spinning a comeback story in tandem with Stuart Skinner.
It’s not just Campbell’s numbers that stand out. It’s how he looks in the crease, how he moves and how he talks. Campbell has a history of being his own worst critic, but it sounds like the confidence that was shredded a year ago as he struggled mightily with the ink still fresh on his five-year, $25-million contract is back.
If that’s not the biggest story with a team that scores plenty of goals but isn’t going to win a damn thing without tightening up defensively and better goaltending, what is? This is the version of Campbell the Oilers were expecting to get to start last season. As the old saying goes, better late than never.

WHAT HE SAID

Oct 6, 2023; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton defensemen Cody Ceci (5) and Seattle Kraken forward Jaden Schwartz (17) look for a rebound in front of goaltender Jack Campbell (36) during the second period at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
“Significantly more comfortable,” Campbell said about the difference between this camp and his last. “I think I made a lot of great changes this summer.  I’ve been kind of in need of change over the years, and it was just time and I’m just feeling really good and really happy to be back here taking the ice with the guys.
“I’d say I had a lot to prove, so not up to my standard, but I’m not focused on that. I’m focused on being me, the new me, and just enjoying it. My play speaks for itself.”
While Jay Woodcroft said Friday after the game he hadn’t given much thought to who he’ll start in the season-opener in Vancouver on Wednesday I’m not sure I’m buying that Campbell’s performance to this point provides options that weren’t always available last season when his game went south.
I think that both goaltenders give us a chance to win,” Woodcroft said. “The reality is it’s a two-goaltender league. I don’t know what the split will end up at the end of the year, but both of them are going to help us win and get to where we want to get to.”

GET THE PARTY STARTED

Veteran writer Pierre LeBrun talked about ways of shortening up the NHL season last week the latest date the 2024 Stanley Cup can be won is June 24 – and I completely agree with him. Simply put, training camps begin too late and last too long, there are too many pre-season games and regular season starts too late.
I’d like to see NHL camps open right after Labour Day during the first week of September and be done, including pre-season games, over the course of 14 days with the season starting the third week of September, not the second week of October, as is the case now.
Long gone are the days when players showed up to training camp to get into shape. Players today arrive in shape, so there’s no need to stretch camp beyond 14 days. In that context, eight pre-season games are too many. Aside from revenue, there’s no good reason for that many. Four games are plenty.
Like I said above, start the season the third week of September and you’ve got a chance to have everything finished by the last days of May. In 2006 when the Oilers lost to Carolina in seven games, it was June 20 when I flew out of Raleigh the day after Game 7. This season’s Cup final lasted until June 13.

WHILE I’M AT IT

So, some fine young man broke into Georges Laraque’s card shop in Laval on Thursday night and Georges is looking for information about who it might be.
While I hope somebody provides info to help the cops get this guy, history shows that many of these smash-and-grabbers get a slap on the wrist – if anything. These days, there are swarms of shoplifters caught on video swiping stuff by the armful in broad daylight. No real consequences, so no fear. That’s frustrating.
Having had my first car stolen and taken for a joyride by a kid who laughed out loud when we caught him two weeks later trying to swipe it from in front of our house again, I can relate. He bragged that the cops couldn’t do much because he was only 14, and he was right. Of course the punk shut his face pronto when my brother said maybe we’d take care of it ourselves while waiting for the police to arrive.
I’ve got to admit it crossed my mind that it’s too bad Georges wasn’t in the store when this gentleman broke in so they could discuss things then and there, but that’s just me.

AND . . .

A tip of the cap to Stan Smyl, who announced last week he ‘s stepping away from hockey operations with the Vancouver Canucks after 45 years as a player, coach and manager.
I’m showing my age here, but I remember The Steamer as the MVP of the 1978 Memorial Cup with the powerhouse New Westminster Bruins before joining the Canucks, who had drafted him 40th overall that summer.
Smyl, now 65, captained the Canucks and he played 896 career NHL games, all of them with Vancouver. The Canucks made his No. 12 the first number retired by the team in 1991.

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