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New Jersey Devils left wing Tomas Tatar (90) reacts after scoring a goal against the Arizona Coyotes during the first period of an NHL hockey game, Saturday, Nov. 12, 2022, in Newark, N.J. (AP Photo/Noah K. Murray)

Instead of the usual NHL Power Rankings, I’m doing something new (and probably a little more unhinged) this season — Blackburn’s Big Board, a weekly check-in on the hockey things that I currently care about. It’ll go a variety of ways, including teams that are earning my attention, players of note, storylines generating buzz and any other hockey topics that my weird brain finds compelling.

Best team in the world this week

The only team that had claimed this title this season was the Boston Bruins, and they could easily make a claim for the throne again this week. After all, they remain the top team in the league with a 14-2-0 record and the best goal differential (plus-30) in all of hockey. But since we’re highlighting the best team in the world this week, we’re allowed to lean on recency bias.

And the hottest team in hockey at the moment is the New Jersey Devils.

I was one of many people who expected the Devils to be better this season, a relatively safe bet considering the health and goalie struggles that sank the team last year. That being said, I don’t think many anticipated the team looking this good.

They have the NHL’s longest winning streak with nine consecutive victories and sit atop the Metropolitan Division. The stats back up the success too, as the Devils rank second in the league in shot generation and first in shot suppression and have the best expected goal share at five-on-five.

Things are going so well in Jersey that fans are just openly apologizing to coach Lindy Ruff during games. Hilarious.

(Ruff was frequently made a punching bag for the Devils’ past struggles and plenty of fans called for his job as a result.)

So why the sudden turnaround? Again, probably the easiest places to point are the health and the goaltending. The Devils' core offensive trio of Jack Hughes, Jesper Bratt and Nico Hischier has been able to consistently stay in the lineup for the first time in … basically ever.

On top of that, they’re actually getting some saves, which, as it turns out, are pretty conducive to winning hockey games at the NHL level. Vitek Vanecek has been relatively average to this point (.909 save percentage and 0.7 goals saved above average over nine games), but that’s still an upgrade from last season when New Jersey finished dead-last with a .886 team save percentage.

The outstanding question is less “How?” and more “How sustainable?” Will the team’s key pieces stay intact and will the goaltending remain satisfactory, especially with Vanecek assuming the majority workload? That’s no guarantee. Also, I think we’re all sort of waiting for the Devils to come back to earth just a little bit, but there’s no denying that this is a fun ride and an unlikely Best Team In The World This Week winner.

Lindy is certainly soaking it up as best he can.

Worst team in the world this week

From this column two weeks ago:

“Also worth pointing out that the Sabres are 6-3-0 with a plus-12 goal differential and sit second place in the Atlantic Division through October. Now, we’ve seen this story with Buffalo before: Hot October and then the wheels start to fall off ... but, hey, maybe this year is different? Maybe this team is actually something?

“Oh god, I’m absolutely going to regret putting that in writing.”

If you can believe, it turns out I do regret putting that in writing. Since hitting “publish” on that Big Board, the Buffalo Sabres have lost five out of six, including five straight. They now sit seventh in the Atlantic and 22nd overall. The wheels are officially off the wagon.

Making matters worse, they were visited last week by former captain and current arch-nemesis Jack Eichel, who recorded a hat trick in front of his former supporters as the Vegas Golden Knights took a 7-4 win. Eichel wasn’t shy about soaking up all the hate and giving some back in a top-notch Revenge Game effort.

I’ve always stood on the platform that sports are better when hate and heels are infused. It makes for great theater, and that’s what Eichel provided in his return to Buffalo. Unfortunately for Sabres fans, it came at a time when it couldn’t have possibly felt more like salt in the wound.

Best play in the world this week

You knew I was going to find a way to sneak in the Bruins here somehow, right?

The Borje Salming tribute(s)

I quickly wanted to highlight the amazing tributes that the Toronto Maple Leafs delivered over the weekend. Salming, who spent 16 seasons as a prominent defenseman for the Leafs before becoming the first Swedish-born player to be inducted into the Hall fo Fame, was diagnosed with ALS in July and has seen a rapid decline in his health since. Over the past few months, the disease has taken the 71-year-old’s ability to speak and has left him with limited movement in some of his limbs.

On Friday night, before the Leafs hosted the Pittsburgh Penguins in the annual Hockey Hall of Fame game, Salming was joined on the ice by several other HHOFers including Darryl Sittler, Mats Sundin and Lanny McDonald. That pregame ceremony provided a moment that was simultaneously heartbreaking and heartwarming, as Sittler helped Salming — a good friend and former teammate — raise his arm to salute the crowd’s standing ovation as both men broke down in tears.

Then the following night, Salming received a video tribute and dropped the puck between two fellow Swedes in Oliver Ekman-Larsson and William Nylander ahead of Toronto’s game against the Vancouver Canucks. Maple Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe also honored Salming by starting the game with a lineup that featured all six of Toronto's Swedish-born players.

Great work all around from the Leafs. Godspeed to Salming in his fight against one of the most cruel diseases imaginable.

NHL celebrity owners

If you’ve even lightly paid attention to the NHL over the past week, you’ve probably seen the reports that actor and good ol’ Canadian boy Ryan Reynolds is interested in buying the Ottawa Senators. I think that would be great for the league from a publicity and general interest standpoint, and it also got me thinking about what other celebrities I’d like to see buy a team.

Here are a handful:

  1. Kodak Black: I just want to see what he does with his own personal owner’s box.
  2. Elton John: He’s British and lives in Atlanta. If that’s not a hilarious precursor to being an NHL team owner, I don’t know what is.
  3. Elon Musk: He can afford to buy all 32 teams, and he can’t possibly be worse at that than owning Twitter.
  4. Hugh Jackman: Listen, if Ryan Reynolds owns a team, then Hugh Jackman has to get one too.
  5. Frankie Muniz: He’s an Arizona Coyotes season ticket holder and, famously, the Coyotes have not had the best ownership history. Plus, he’s a Short King and a close personal friend (pictured below). And who doesn’t want to be friends with a team owner? It’s OK to be a little selfish sometimes.

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