McKenna’s Musings: NHL Coverage by TNT, Andrew Brunette and the Vezina Trophy Race

What crosses my mind…

The TNT show is FUN.

Yes, I used all caps. Does that mean I’m screaming? May be. But I’m excited about it. For as long as I can remember, American broadcasting has produced a banal, personalityless hockey product. Of course, we got to know some of the people on TV. But do we really? I would say no.

Look at what Paul Bissonnette has done for the broadcasting of TNT. Her quick wit and effervescent personality lifted everyone on set. He’s not afraid to laugh at himself or wear a coyote on his head.

This is what television should be. Entertainment. People listen to a distraction from everyday life. They want to encourage their team. Scream at TV. Get some laughs. Most importantly, they want to feel like they’re part of the conversation. It doesn’t have to be hockey highlights and breakdowns for three hours.

That’s what TNT did so well. They have created an environment where on-air talent can launch. Dress up in costumes. Make jokes. Tweet at each other. But when the time comes to analyze the product on ice, the knowledge is there. It is relevant. And people pay attention.

I live in St. Louis, Missouri. Many of my friends are die-hard Blues fans. But that was the extent of their fandom. Maybe they turned on a national show once in a while. No more. They watch TNT to see what Biz does next. It became a date.

There are old school hockey players who can’t stand it. They think it’s selfish. Foolish. Like a clown. This Biz just wants attention. May it ruin the image of the NHL.

The reality is that they are the fools. Be with the times or get out of the way. Hockey is a game. It’s supposed to be fun.

Who should be considered for the Vézina Trophy?

For my money, it’s a five-man race. Given that the NHL season is less than halfway over, I can’t predict a winner. This is somewhat unusual, as at this stage there is usually a clear favourite. Although I think Igor Shesterkin has been the best goaltender in the NHL this year, who knows if he can sustain his extraordinary game until the end of April. Here are my suitors:

Igor Shesterkin (New York Rangers)

Juuse Saros (Nashville Predators)

Tristan Jarry (Pittsburgh Penguins)

Jack Campbell (Toronto Maple Leafs)

Andrei Vasilevskiy (Tampa Bay Lightning)

It hurts Shesterkin that he hasn’t played as often as the other goalies on my list. He’s logged minutes in just over 20 games this season: the other four are all near 30. Vezina trophies are usually awarded to workaholics.

In that regard, no one fits the bill quite like Juuse Saros. He has played in more games than any other NHL goaltender this season. His 20 wins are tied with Andrei Vasilevskiy for the NHL highs. Saros has outstanding traditional and advanced stats. And the Central Division-leading Predators thrive on the confidence of their goalie. What’s scary? It improves with the seasons. The Vézina could be his to lose.

Tristan Jarry’s 1.91 goals-against average leads the NHL. The Penguins have played without star players for much of the season. Jarry was their net rock. Do you want proof ? Compare Jarry’s .932 save percentage to the .888 posted by replacement Casey DeSmith so far. As the Penguins get closer to full health, Jarry’s job should get a little easier. But throughout the first half of the season, he was Pittsburgh’s MVP.

I don’t know if Jack Campbell is recognized enough for what he did in Toronto. His .935 save percentage is no accident. He added a layer of technicality to his game without losing the creativity and athleticism needed to be a game changer. Campbell’s four shutouts are impressive considering he plays behind an aggressive team like Toronto. The Maple Leafs are giving up chances. But so far, Campbell has had the answer.

As for Andrei Vasilevskiy. Well, it’s Andrei Vasilevskiy. Voters need an excuse not to write his name for the Vézina.

Does anyone question Florida Panthers head coach Andrew Brunette now?

If so, I haven’t heard it. When Joel Quenneville stepped down as Panthers head coach earlier this season, it seemed obvious that general manager Bill Zito would eventually have to find a replacement. At least that was the story.

There was a time when I wondered about Brunette’s future as a head coach.

In early November, the Panthers lost four straight games and were scheduled to play at home against the lowly Islanders. I saw this match as a must win for Brunette and her team. The Panthers responded with a 6-1 win. It was the start of a four-game winning streak.

Florida has been consistent ever since and currently finds itself at the helm of the highly competitive Atlantic Division.

I like that Zito trusts Brunette enough to give her a leash. Of course, there will be growing pains for any bench boss lacking experience as a head coach. But the only way to learn is to go out and do it. Brunette has already had two full seasons as an understudy in Quenneville. He knows the systems. He knows the expectations. And the players respect him.

The Stanley Cup playoffs are the next hurdle in Brunette’s coaching career. But it starts very well.

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