Friday, October 02, 2009

The N.H.L. is Back!

The N.H.L. opened the season last night with four games and Joe Sakic getting his jersey retired in Colorado. Today St.Louis plays Detroit in Stockholm, Sweden while Florida and Chicago get together in Helsinki, Finland. The Rangers begin tonight in Pittsburgh and then all three of the New York locals are at home tomorrow.

It should be an interesting season. Fifteen years ago I could name the top eight teams in the league, but now there are so many similar teams, it's really hard to predict who will be standing alone with the Stanley Cup in June.

The season is condensed due to the Olympics in February. I hope that this is the last year that the NHL sends its players, because although the action is great, I don't think it has helped the league. This year the Olympics are being held in Vancouver so it makes sense for the pros to be there from a t.v. standpoint with time zones.

Thus as a result of the Olympics I'm going to say that we will not see Detroit (the oldest team in the N.H.L.) and Pittsburgh in the Finals for the third year in a row. Both clubs will be heavily represented in February and both teams have played a lot of hockey over the last two years, which can't be discounted.

I think it would be hard enough for either team to get back to the finals, but with the Olympics it makes it damn near impossible.

So who is ready to rise in the N.H.L.? I love Chicago and with the additions of Marian Hossa and John Madden they could be ready to take the next step in the playoffs. The Hawks are also the youngest team in the league, which usually I don't put all that much stock in, but with this year's grueling schedule youth is more of a factor. Calgary should be fun with Brent Sutter taking over as head coach. As far as rookies, look out for Swedish right wing Nicklas Bergfors of the Devils and of course the Islanders number one overall pick in this year's draft, John Tavares.

In regards to the Rangers, I don't really know what to expect from them. Head Coach John Tortorella has to manage Henrik Lundqvist's playing time, because "The King" will be a major factor in the Olympics for Sweden. I'm not sure about the team's on-ice chemistry and I wonder if Dan Girardi will be better in the regular season then he was during the pre-season. I like their blueline overall, but it may be a bit inexperienced. Up front, Marian Gaborik has to stay healthy for this team to have any shot.

Some things to watch...
Phoenix Coyotes bankruptcy situation. Ah whatever happened to the days when the Yotes were the Winnipeg Jets and winning Avco Cups in the old W.H.A?

How much of a factor will the Olympics have in terms of injuries?

The salary cap is expected to be lowered significantly after this season, so that will definitely impact trades, etc.

What coach gets fired first? Wayne Gretzky doesn't count. If either of these two teams gets off to a slow start, I think Randy Carlyle in Anaheim or Claude Julien in Boston could be walking the plank. Lindy Ruff in Buffalo is also a possibility.

Where to go...
I thoroughly enjoy Michael Landsberg's Off The Record show on TSN. For reading, Andrew Gross does a nice job covering the Rangers here and then there is always Hockey 24/7. Don La Greca and E.J. Hrdaek and company break the game down on NHL Radio here.

One thing you may not know...
In the N.H.L. general managers refer to one another as managers.

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