After a long awaited work stoppage, we can finally say that the NHL is ready to pave way on this years hockey season. We have waited a grand total of 113 days for this particular one to come, and how sweet it is. The day we have all been waiting for, since the Los Angeles Kings lifted Lord Stanley’s mug on June 11th last summer. The day that was supposed to come September 15th last spring. The day that all Hockey crazed fans, sport their respective colors, throw their war paint on, and slap their favorite players sweater on their backs; has finally come. Personally, words can’t even describe how happy I am that I can finally sit in front of the TV and watch a freakin’ hockey game. The KHL, and AHL games were OK for a while.. But I want to see some guys that go out there and play the sport, everything on the ice, blood sweat and tears. I’m not taking anything away from other leagues, but it just wasn’t the same. After 113 days of waking up depressed, driving to work with a bad attitude, and coming home ready to explode; my phone buzzed with the best wake up alarm in the world ” SCORE CENTER UPDATE : NHL and NHLPA come to tentative agreement on new CBA.” Not going to lie.. I woke up immediately, threw my Rangers jersey on, went downstairs, grabbed a beer out of the fridge, and started to play NHL 13. Don’t worry It was past 12, plus its 5 o’clock somewhere, so why not? By the way, god bless anyone who did the same thing.
On a more serious note, I’m actually pretty happy with some of the stipulations set up in the new CBA. Especially the agreement for a cap to how long you can sign a particular player, with the exception of your own players. Lets be real.. One of the main reasons we got into this lockout mess was because owners were pleading they had no money, meanwhile they’re signing players to 10-15 year contracts (cough.. cough.. Minny I’m talking to you..). We’re not stupid, we know you sign players to lengthy contracts because you want to circumvent the cap, its a solid loophole, but c’mon.. we all know that if you sign Kovalchuk to a 17 year contract, he’s going to be making nothing when he’s what.. 40? Seven years is nice, with an option of eight years to resign your own player is perfect.
Now, getting back to the issue of teams complaining that they have no money, where are these teams located again? We all know the trouble that the Coyotes are having in Glendale, and to be honest, there shouldn’t be a team there. If it were up to me I’d clip 5 teams from the league. There’s no use for teams in Miami, Phoenix, Columbus, etc. Face it, if you’re in a small market, you’re going to have trouble managing a franchise, and especially gaining favor in a franchise if there isn’t a heavy interest. Although NHL franchises are there for sport and entertainment, it’s still a business, and should be ran like a business. At the same time, if you’re a good businessman you’ll be able to run a franchise the way it should be ran regardless of the market you’re in. If I had it my way I’d cut the salary cap from the NHL, or raise it as much as I could. I’m not a fan of parity, because it puts restrictions on bigger markets to make things “fair.” You don’t see the New York Stock Exchange putting limits on how many shares Google can sell so that Yahoo can make some sales, do you? That being said, if you have the money to spend on a player you should be able to go out and get him regardless of how much you want to spend, as long as its within the seven year length of contract.
Enough of this new CBA, because I’m sure its bringing up bad memories, so lets get into some season previews. I’ll give you my top five from each conference, and whether you agree with me or not, is up to you. Just remember where you heard it first.
EASTERN CONFERENCE :
Bruins – Just a year removed from capturing the cup, this is one of the deepest teams in the NHL. Not to mention Tuuka Rask has been waiting a while to get the nod for the starting position in bean town. You also can’t forget how solid they are down the middle, Bergeron, Krejci, Kelly and Campbell. They’re not all guys that will put up 50-60 points, but they’re all solid, sound two way players (maybe with the exception of Krejci). With Chara anchoring the back end, and with what rookie Dougie Hamilton showed in this years WJC, its hard not to think that the Bruins will be extremely tough to score against.
Penguins - Its hard not to pick the pens to be at the top of the conference with the forwards that they put on the ice. The fact that they were able to steal James Neal in a trade with Dallas last year, doesn’t help the Atlantic division, or the East for that matter. Of course Crosby’s health will always be in question, but I think he’ll be back this year and more solid than ever, and if Malkin can put up a season half as good as what he did last year, it looks scary. The only qualms I have with the pens is how weak they are on the back end, and the departure of Jordan Staal. Sutter is a good replacement, but Staal was such a great role player for the pens, it will definitely be tough to replace. Kris Letang, and Brooks Orpik will have to play a lot of minutes this year, especially if Paul Martin can’t bounce back.
Capitals - When you have an electrifiying player like Alexander Ovechkin two things are certain : speed, and goals. When you score goals, teams are playing catch up, and speed kills. With that combination its hard not to count the caps out for the South East crown. I’m sure Ovi will bounce back from last years performance, but we will also have to see how he plays without his soviet counterpart. They made some nice acuisitions for Ribeiro and got Wolski on the cheap as well. The problem with the caps is how they play defense. They remind me of the West Virginia Mounaineers; score, score, and forget about defense. If Braden Hotlby can have a solid season, they should be alright in the defensive zone, but otherwise they will have the Hurricanes and Lightning nipping at their heels for the top spot in the division.
Rangers - *THIS IS NOT BECAUSE I’M BIASED* The Rangers may have the best team on paper out of any in the NHL (with the exception of the Kings.) But don’t we see this every year? They go out and get their big name guy, whether its through free agency or trading. This year it happened to be Rick Nash, and let me tell you, Glenn Sather is some sort of sorcerer for pulling off this trade. He gave up next to nothing to get him. Dubinsky and Anisimov were great role players, but easily replaceable with the talent the blueshirts have in their farm system. The only reason I placed the rangers out of contention for the Atlantic title is because they relied heavily on Lundqvist last year, and one can only assume that his play will drop off at least a little bit after last years performance. This is not to say that they won’t contend for a the chance to win the division title. The real test will be when they open the season against the Bruins January 19th. Defensively the Rangers are solid, their biggest issue was scoring goals. If you put Nash, Gaborik, and Richards on a power play, that just doesn’t seem fair. But I’m talking to you Mr. Nash, you’ll definitely be in the hot seat this year, and you better believe fans will get on your ass if you don’t reach expectations.
Flyers - I was having trouble picking a fifth spot for the east, but I eventually picked the flyers. They remind me of the caps but they play a little more defense. It’s tough to contend with their top six forwards, especially since they’re so young but still SO good. The only problem I have with the flyers is their goaltending and defense. I truly believe Bryzgalov will get over his humongous big five hole, and have a solid season next year. Although they lost James Van Riemsdyk, in a trade that sent him to Toronto (RIP), they were able to bring back Luke Schenn. He’ll be a nice replacement for Matt Carle, after he signed with the Lightning, but this remains to be seen. I think a change of scenery, and playing with his younger brother will rejuvenate him a bit. They also have some problems with Pronger, who hasn’t made much progress with his injury, as well as Timonen, who isn’t getting any younger. These guys will undoubtedly score goals, but there are still some question marks on their back end.
Kings - As I mentioned before, the Kings have one of the best teams on paper, and they definitely proved it on ice last year, capturing their first Stanley Cup ever. With Jeff Carter and Mike Richards reunited for a full season, I see no reason why Carter wouldn’t produce an unbelievable season for the Kings. Not to mention they have one of the most hard nosed, in your face captains in the league in Dustin Brown. Also, the Connecticut native (203, what up?), Jonathan Quick may not have the same season he had last year, but you know he’s going to be tough to score against. Himself and Lundqvist will be battling for another Vezina trophy, and you can take that to the bank. The kings are so deep defensively, anchored by Drew Doughty. By the way.. lets not forget the kid is only 23 years old. He got a taste of the the cup last year, and you can believe he’ll be itching for his chance to grab another one this year.
Canucks – The big question with the Canucks is, where will Roberto Luongo be at seasons start, or end for that matter? As of right now, they have a goalie capable of winning games for them, and a more than capable tender in Corey Schneider to back him up.. or even start if Luongo isn’t there. The Sedin twins will still be producing with their telekinetic powers, and with role players like Kessler and Burrows producing as well, you know they’ll be putting the biscuit in the basket. My favorite, and one of the most underrated players on the Canucks roster last year was Manny Malholtra. The guy is just an all-around great, two way forward. He doesn’t post big numbers, but chips in when he has to, and plays sound defense. Not to mention he’s a stud in the face-off circle. Jason Garrison was an excellent acquisition for them, and can absolutely fire bullets from the blue line. Now that he has a solid core of defenseman to feed him the puck, he should have a solid year.
Blues – The blues learned a lot from last years playoffs. Especially after they were bounced by the kings in the second round. They have a solid offense, and with rookie Vladimir Tarasenko to make his debut they’re only adding to it. I’d like to see Chris Stewart bounce back from last years performance, and I think he can. At 6’2, 228 LBS, there is absolutely no reason this guy isn’t scoring more goals. Speaking of Stewart, the trade that brought him to St. Louis also brought stud defender Kevin Shattenkirk, and they definitely made out like bandits in this trade. Shattenkirk, Pietrangelo are both young guys and are more than capable of holding down the fort, and chipping in a few points as well. The only problem I have with the Blues is their goaltending situation. Jaroslav Halak had a less than ideal year last year, and will need to rebound (no pun intended) to make sure he solidifies his job in Missouri.
Wild – This was a tough decision, because with the acquisitions of Ryan Suter and Zach Parise they will most definitely be in contention for the Northwest title. Adding Parise definitely solidifies their offense, but you also can’t forget that they have guys like Heatley, Koivu, and Setoguchi. Upfront the Wild should be solid, but on the back end they are a little scattered. Adding Suter certainly helps them out, but after Suter you have Jared Spurgeon, and Justin Falk. Two young guys that still need to grow into their own. I’m not saying that they aren’t capable of doing their job, but it will tough because there will be absolutely no room to take a night off. Niklas Backstrom will also need to bounce back from injury, and have a solid season, but we’ve seen the numbers he’s put up in the past, and is definitely more than capable of doing that. *Shout out to Josh Harding* the guy is a straight warrior.
Blackhawks – You can never count the Blackhawks out, ever. They are solid all the way through their lineup, that is until you get to the goaltender situation. Corey Crawford was given the starting position last year, and suffice it to say.. he stunk the place up. He’ll need to have a hell of a year to bounce back from last years performance, and early playoff exit. It will also be interesting to see how both Marian Hossa will be, returning from his injury.
My opinion? I hope Raffi Torres steps in front of one of Hossas shots and gets his bell rung, but that’s just me. I think he should be just fine, but we’ve all seen how difficult it has been in recent history for players to come back from concussion symptoms. What will also be interesting is how Patrick Kane will bounce back from last season, especially with all the controversy surrounding his supposed drinking problem. I mean hey.. I’d party with the guy. In all seriousness, I think he’ll grow out of his juvenile stage and start to become a solid hockey player beginning this season. The Hawks defense is unbelievable. There’s a reason Ducan Keith and Brent Seabrook were put on the legends team in NHL 13. Not to mention they still have Niklas Hjalmarsson, who is only 26. All three complimented by two veterans in Oduya, and Rozsival, as well as young gun Nick Leddy. They should definitely be a fun team to watch.
Well folks, there you have it. Let the fun begin. It took us a while to get to this point, but we’re finally here. Whether you’re a Devils fan or a Rangers fan, a Hawks fan or a Red wings fan, I think we can all agree that we’re all happy to have the best sport in the world, with the best fans back. Even though we all had to wait, it couldn’t have came soon enough. See you January 16th baby.