The Gaping Hole Left Behind
The second night of the NHL season was a night for more than a couple of teams to pat themselves on the back for free agent money well-spent.
By December, of course, those same teams may be lamenting their personnel purchases. But this is October, and this was one night.
Flashy Martin Havlat, the $6 million Blackhawk, was a thrill-a-shift in his Chicago debut. Brendan Shanahan scored twice for the Rangers, including his 600th. Vancouver won in Detroit with its new king of the nets, Roberto Luongo.
Petr Sykora scored twice for the Oilers. Branko Radivojevic scored for the Wild, while Curtis Brown scored the OT winner for his new team, the San Jose Sharks.
Even the Leafs were part of this, albeit in a more subtle way. Pavel Kubina, after missing the opener due to suspension, looked strong, mobile and skilful on the Toronto blueline in Thursday's shocking 6-0 romp over Ottawa.
More important, his presence allowed the Leafs to play Bryan McCabe and Tomas Kaberle 21:50 and 22:17, respectively, after both skated six minutes more in the season opener at the ACC.
With McCabe, in particular, a little less ice time could mean a great deal more quality. He was certainly markedly better and much more energetic on Thursday compared to Wednesday.
For every purchase, however, there's also a team that lost that player, which brings us to the Senators.
This is a deep, strong team, well-coached and well-managed and almost certainly still one of the Eastern Conference's top four or five squads.
But after watching them closely in person for two nights, it seems obvious that the loss of Zdeno Chara has significantly altered the appearance and overall effect of this hockey club.
Havlat added excitement and secondary scoring, yes. But Chara added everything.
The 6-foot-9 Chara took all the guesswork out of the game for the Sens. The other team's best player would hop over the boards, and Chara would follow.
He could not only neutralize such players, he could physically punish them. Chris Neil and Brian McGrattan are useful secondary weapons, but Chara was out there all the time, laying the lumber and the elbows on the other's teams most important athletes.
Now he's gone, and there's an awful lot more Christopher Schubert and Anton Volchenkov where Chara once was. For two nights, Mats Sundin seemed to have a lot of open ice without having to look around for the towering Slovak.
Would it have been the same if Ottawa had kept Chara and let Wade Redden walk? Not quite as yawning a hole would have resulted.
The Sens will adjust. But the point is, they'll have to.
Without Chara, they may be successful, but they'll have to be very different.