Thank God Hockey’s Back (NHL Preview)

It's been an offseason to forget in the NHL

If you thought the NBA offseason has been hell then you don’t have the slightest idea about rough. The NHL’s offseason has been a public relations nightmare. The summer was supposed to be about the celebration of the Boston Bruins winning the Stanley Cup after 40 years of futility. Instead every other day there was a tragedy on the ice.

Rick Rypien, Wade Belak and the KHL Lokomotiv franchise’s plane crash that killed all passengers aboard including former NHL-ers Ruslan Salei, Pavol Demitra and Brad McCrimmon to name a few cast a shadow of the sport and brought sadness to everyone over the sport.

Add that to the fact that Rangers bruiser Derek Boogaard died towards the end of last season and you understand the somber mood that the NHL might seem to be in.

When looking at ESPN fashion guru Paul Lukas’s annual uniform design review there were less designs for jerseys and more decals and patches for fallen players. It’s like the NHL has become a graveyard instead the coolest game on earth.

If any sport needs to start their season and get back to the brilliant play on the playing surface it’s this league. Ever since the lockout 0f 2004-05 the NHL has been on a roll. The talent on the ice is the highest that it’s been since the mid to late 90’s with the emergence of the Paul Kariya’s, Keith Tkachuk’s and Mike Modano’s of the world.

The NHL has so many great players playing at a high level that it’s becoming hard to keep up with all of them. At first it was the hype of Alex Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby and Dion Phaneuf. Then came Steven Stamkos, Corey Perry, Bobby Ryan, Patrick Kane and Ryan Kesler. Now we have kids like Ryan Nugent- Hopkins, Taylor Hall, Tyler Myers and others who are crowding the ice and making noise.

The Bruins are ready to repeat.

It’s not like the NBA in terms of star power but it’s a beautiful thing to watch when the games are flowing. There are great players on every team in the league and most are under the age of 27.  Every night in every city there is a reason to watch a game just to catch one of these young studs whether it’s Drew Doughty in Los Angeles or Jeff Skinner in Carolina. Even with the sports brightest star status still in doubt (Sidney Crosby is still having post-concussion issues) the league is as strong as it’s ever been and is staring one of its most competitive season in decades in the face.

This year there is no real clear cut favorite. Gone are the days of Detroit being the front runner in the league every year, nowadays they’re not even the favorites in their own division. There are 10 to 14 teams that have a realistic chance at winning the Stanley Cup this year whether it is because of their goaltending, offensive prowess or just the fact they have all of the right pieces in place to make a run at the cup.

The right pieces meaning the right balance of youth and experience. In the modern NHL the young teams win championships as seen with the Penguins, Blackhawks and Bruins in the last three years. Yes I know Tim Thomas is old as dirt and Zdeno Chara is no spring chicken, but the work put in by guys like Milan Lucic, Tyler Seguin and Brad Marchand helped this team win the Stanley Cup last year. Unlike in other sports where the older teams win the titles the young ones take the crown in the NHL.

So who has the best shot at winning the crown this year? Well in order…

NASHVILLE PREDATORS

Now I know what you’re thinking… who the hell will score goals for them? Their leader in goals had 23 and their points leader scored 50. The Predators are the NHL version of the Baltimore Ravens in the 2000’s, they can’t score to save their lives, but no one can score on them. The backline led by Shea Weber along with Vezina finalist Pekka RInne were in the top 5 in goals allowed per game and the teams tough defensive play gave teams fits. If they get two goals a game they could win another 44 games and find themselves fighting for the crown.

BUFFALO SABRES

They can score in bunches thanks to Thomas Vanek and Drew Stafford. Tyler Myers heads a steady backline and Ryan Miller is one the game’s best goalies. They failed to take care of the Flyers in the first round of the playoffs last year but if Miller stays on top of his game they can go very far.

MONTREAL CANADIENS

Team Teemu and the Ducks have a shot at the crown.

 

Once upon a time the Habs had more titles than the New York Yankees after raising their 24th Cup in 1993. Ever since they’ve been one big roller coaster, which has included numerous changes in net and on the bench and they haven’t had a real identity for a long time. Now they seem settled on Carey Price who came through big for them last year shaking off an up and down 2009-20 season that had him on the bench in the playoffs. This team isn’t too loaded with playmakers but it gets the job done with guys like Tomas Plekanec and Mike Cammalleri as well as dark horse Norris candidate P.K. Subban patrolling the blue line. They can make a run as long as they can hold onto a lead unlike how they did last year against the Bruins.

SAN JOSE SHARKS

I don’t care what they do in the regular season anymore. I don’t care if they win the Pacific division, if Joe Thornton scores 200 points and Patrick Marleau and Logan Couture score 90 goals. This team should’ve won a Cup by now and their time is running out. If they don’t get it done this year then they never will.

PHILADELPHIA FLYERS

Is Ilya Bryzgalov finally the answer in net for the Flyers? He better be. The Flyers let go of fan favorites and team leaders Jeff Carter and Mike Richards to clear space for Bryzgalov. Sure they acquired L.A. Kings power forward Wayne Simmonds (who Flyer fans will love) and Brandon Schenn  (who from preseason reports looks like a beast) but you don’t replace Richards toughness and Carter’s skill overnight. I’m still not a fan of either trade but if the Flyers get back to the finals then it proves that maybe I really don’t know anything about hockey.

LOS ANGELES KINGS

I probably jumped the gun last year in making them Stanley Cup favorites, but they are close. Acquiring Richards from the Flyers gives them a much needed veteran presence in the locker room and they have Doughty, Jack Johnson and Anze Kopitar flying around and making things happen. The only question is will Jonathan Quick be their full time net minder or will it be Jonathan Bernier?

PITTSBURGH PENGUINS

Without Crosby the Pens had 98 points last year and took the 4th spot in the East (without Malkin also) so once Crosby comes back how do you think this team will fare?

(This Crosby injury by the way is really bad in both a game play and P.R. sense for the NHL. The league needs Crosby on the ice because he is the NHL. Crosby is the league’s most recognizable face and its best player. The league needs him on the ice as much as it needs Ovechkin. When Crosby is on the ice the game changes. He is the best passer and best scorer in the league and can change a game at the drop of a hat. If the Pens had him healthy in the playoffs they may have hoisted their second cup in three years. Once healthy the Pens once again become the league’s scariest team and might be the best team in the league… once he comes back.

His injury is the reason why Brendan Shanahan has been so harsh when it comes to physical play. This isn’t like the NFL where Roger Goodell is turning the game into flag

40 and still going strong.

football, the suspensions that “Shanaban” is handing out are necessary in order to change the culture of the game and protect the players. After the injuries to Crosby as well as Nathan Horton and Marc Savard it has become clear that the league needs to crack down on these types of hits. Hopefully it discourages this type of play and quick. Because if Steven Stamkos gets a Crosby type of injury then the game will really be in trouble.)

DETROIT RED WINGS

I mean when are they not a player for the Cup?

Also let’s pay homage to Nicklas Lidstrom. This is probably his last season in the league and it looks like he can play another five. At age 40 Lidstrom is still better than most of the defensemen in the league and is probably the front runner for his 8th Norris trophy. What he did in replacing the irreplaceable Steve Yzerman as captain in Detroit and leading them to another title in addition to all that he’s done in his career has to put him in the top 10 players all-time right?

NEW YORK RANGERS

I probably just jinxed my team putting them in the top 7 and I’m probably overvaluing the acquisition of Brad Richards (which will help immensely) but after watching this team play together for two years I think that they will contend for a title this year. The Rangers youth movement has been a huge success with Ryan Callahan, Marc Staal and Brandon Dubinsky leading the way. The Rangers are a tough team that is defense driven but can score goals when needed. They just needed more consistent scoring and a veteran to get them over the hump. Enter Richards. Richards was a member of John Tortorella’s 2004 Tampa Bay Lightning championship team and is one of the game’s best scorers. His presence will help Marian Gaborik get back to scoring a ton of goals, should push Cally and Dubz to the 30 goal mark and should keep the Rangers ship steady in those late months. I’m saying they’ll win it all, but they will be a serious contender.

WASHINGTON CAPITALS

Hey Bruce Boudreau, you don’t get it done this year then you may want to update your resume.

VANCOUVER CANUCKS

The thought of Daniel Sedin taking four shots to the face and Roberto Luongo falling flat on his face in key situations is still fresh. If they didn’t get tougher this offseason then they’ll be done in a hurry.

CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS

The trades after the title killed their chemistry for the first half of last year. Once they got it going they looked like a machine. The key is Corey Crawford in net. We know Kane, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Sharp will score, but the reason they were able to turn things around was because of Crawford’s play in net. He is primed for a breakout year and the Blackhawks are looking at a return to the Cup.

BOSTON BRUINS

With Richards the Rangers can contend.

 

Okay, your city won its 7th title in all four major sports in 10 years… now go away. That wasn’t really analysis more like I’m sick of Boston and its championship reign.

ANAHEIM DUCKS

No one, and I mean no one will stop them from scoring goals especially of Ryan Getzlaf stays healthy all season long. The Perry-Getzlaf-Ryan line is the scariest line that the NHL has seen in a while. They can all go for 50 goals and 100 points and they make it easy. It helps when your 40 year-old second line winger can still get you 30 goals and 80 points to help back you up. I don’t know what fountain of youth Teemu Selanne has been drinking from but he needs to share it with others. However it always comes back to goaltending and Jonas Hiller decides whether I’m right about this team making the Cup finals or not. With him in net last year they would’ve won the pacific division. In that period in between before Ray Emery almost saved them the Ducks could’ve scored 10 goals a game and it wouldn’t have mattered because they still would’ve lost. Hiller’s health means so much to this team because they have no real second option behind him. It also doesn’t help that he is one of the top 6 goalies in the league. This team’s title hopes hinge on him, if he’s healthy then put them down for a June reservation. If not, then it’s another first round exit.

TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING

Yep, I just picked the Lightning to win the Stanley Cup. They have a 41 year-old goalie, I don’t know if their defense can stop the puck from going in the net and Vinny LeCavalier is still possible trade bait… and I don’t care. This team could’ve made the Stanley Cup Finals last year if not for a road game 7. This year I think Stamkos and company won’t fade late in the season like they did last year, which ultimately cost them home ice. They are settled in net and Roloson is a big game goalie who knows how to win also they can score with the best of them. Steve Yzerman put this team together in his image and if that’s the case then I have no doubts that they will be tough enough to get to and win the Stanley Cup.

The first puck is set to drop in a few hours and I’m more than excited. After a long offseason with so much tragedy and heartbreak it will be a welcome relief to see some of the best players in the world on the ice and making magic happen.

The league deserves some good news and good times after a few months of so many bad ones.

ATLANTIC- RANGERS

Stamkos is ready for a run at Lord Stanley.

NORTHEAST- BRUINS

SOUTHEAST- LIGHTNING

EC PLAYOFFS- CAPS, HABS, SABRES, FLYERS, PENS

ECF-  LIGHTNING- BRUINS

CENTRAL- BLACKHAWKS

NORTHWEST- CANUCKS

PACIFIC- DUCKS

WC PLAYOFFS- SHARKS, KINGS, PREDATORS, RED WINGS, BLUES

WCF- DUCKS- BLACKHAWKS

SCF- DUCKS- LIGHTNING

HART TROPHY- STEVEN STAMKOS

VEZINA- HENRIK LUNDQUIST

NORRIS- NICKLAS LIDSTROM

CALDER- RYAN NUGENT-HOPKINS

SELKE- JONATHAN TOEWS

JACK ADAMS- JOHN TORTORELLA

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