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The Moron’s Guide to the 2007-2008 NHL Season

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The NHL season is upon us again and that means Canada’s GDP will drop by half a percentage point for the next few quarters.

I reckon that only a handful of teams, parity notwithstanding, have a legitimate shot at winning what many regard as the toughest trophy to win in North American sports – the Stanley Cup. The big question this year is whether we will see the free-wheeling NHL we saw in the year following the lock-out or a return to defensive and physical hockey that marked the league prior to it.

I’m not one much for prognostications – seriously, how can anyone really know? Yet, here are some thoughts on selected teams that are garnering attention.

Let’s begin with the defending champs Anaheim Ducks: This just in: There are no plans to change their name to the Los Angeles Ducks of Anaheim. Even with the loss of youngster Dustin Penner, and veteran quacks Scott Niedermayer and Teemu Selanne – the Ducks are legitimate favorites to repeat. Brian Burke is a slick GM who would fit right in as cast member of Law & Order and Randy Carlyle – a former Norris trophy winner – is a good coach. On that note, will the Ducks do as so many teams in the modern sports era and not make the playoffs after winning or reaching a final? Or will they be the first team to win back to back Cups since the 1997-98 Detroit Red Wings?

Let’s follow them with the finalists the Ottawa Senators: Last year was finally a breakthrough year for the Senators. Interestingly, they achieved this with arguably less talent than previous Senators editions and with an unproven goalie to boot – or skate. Whatever. They also reached the Stanley Cup final with their top defenseman, Wade Redden having an off year. Look for the silky, smooth Jason Spezza to be even more of an offensive threat this year. Hail, Caesar! Or is it Hail, Stephen Harper?

Never mind the bollocks, the Pittsburgh Penguins are hogging all the attention for this season. Sidney Crosby this, Evgeni Malkin that. Jordan Stall this, Ryan Whitney that. Rick Kehoe this…enough of that. While they are still a work in progress, the Pens are a “dynasty” in the making (a dynasty to the extent the salary cap era will allow it). If they are not a dynasty, they are a definite Stanley Cup contender.

Other Legitimate contenders? Hmm, how about the San Jose Sharks? They don’t quite have the level of grit needed but if they find their edge watch out. TheTampa Bay Lightning are too talented to ignore but easily forgettable for some reason, the Calgary Flames (assuming head coach Mike Keenan doesn’t lose his last marble and trade goalie Mikka Kiprusoff– remember Roberto Luongo? Anyone?), and New York Rangers are also teams to be wary of.

In the "who knows?" corner, we bring you the Philadelphia Flyers: Yeah, they made a big splash in the off season but will it be enough? Simon Gagne is the new face of Philadelphia Flyers hockey and he’s prettier than Bobby Clarke. More importantly, can Martin Biron become Philly’s first stable goalie since Ron Hextall? The Detroit Red Wings remain a power but the team has looked for an identity since the retirement of legend Steve Yzerman. Talent or coaching is not the issue in Hockeytown: it’s the age and lack of grit. The Buffalo Sabres, hockey’s version of the Oakland A’s, lost the bulk of their scoring and leadership in Daniel Briere and Chris Drury in the off season. However, they never cease to surprise. Lindy Ruff is an elite NHL coach – with a soft spot for conspiracy theories – and there’s enough depth on this team to for someone to step up.

Most likely to rebound? Try the Carolina Hurricanes who did the no-show thing last season after winning the Stanley Cup in 2005-2006. Eric Staal’s dramatic drop off in points from 100 to 70 and Cam Ward’s dip from his playoff form in the nets was a symptom of all that went wrong for them. Now they have a fresh start.

Don’t forget: the Minnesota Wild and Dallas Stars. Both are disciplined, diligent and tenacious machines. Wild head coach Jacques Lemaire is the hidden coaching gem in the NHL.

On the rise: Los Angeles Kings: Lotsa young talent to get excited about in LA. Question: Are they ready for the San Fernando valley or Beverly Hills? Colorado Avalanche: There’s a new deputy in Denver and his name is Paul Stastny – son of the great Petr. It’s always a nice thing to have a legend like Joe Sakic to help guide things along. Chicago Blackhawks: Things-are-a-changin’ in Chicago. The fiercely unpopular owner Bill Wirtz has passed away and for many this is a metaphor for better things to come. Maybe even local television blackouts may be lifted. Doormats, the St. Louis Blues may no longer be. A consistently successful franchise with a strong fan base, the Blues have fallen on hard times in recent years. They have reloaded and boast a solid core of youth and experience. While we’re at it, the Washington Capitals may be better than people think.

Don’t under rate: New Jersey Devils. New Jersey has been the most consistent and successful club in hockey since 1995 when they won their first cup. Led by the mad genius, Lou Lamoriello they have won the cup three times and earned four trips to the finals in 12 seasons. Don’t count ’em out even with the loss of Scott Gomez and Brian Rafalski. If Lou-Lou doesn’t pull the rug from under him, new head coach Brent Sutter can make a difference.

How can we leave out the Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens? The short of it is that there are too many “ifs” surrounding these two classic clubs.

The Habs, however, have a better nucleus of talent to look forward too. The most successful of all hockey franchises the “Dynasty” has fallen on hard times in recent years. But the youth movement is alive and well once again. The problem with Montreal is off the ice with excessive expectations and a parochial and hyperbolic media that seems to have a negative effect on the team. The treatment of classy, but utterly dry, captain, Saku Koivu has been nothing short of spectacularly mean-spirited.

The Leafs for their part have some positives here and there. What they miss in talent, they make up on physical play – something the Habs sorely lack. Where they can’t make miracles is with their lack of speed. Does Mats Sundin deserve better? And what to make of the Boston Bruins? Your guess is as good as ours. Good talent yet there’s something missing. Anyway, with the New England Patriots playing like they are and the Red Sox in the baseball playoffs, Boston fans may be willing to shrug at the Bruins until they get it together.

As for the rest, Columbus Blue Jackets (starring dead weight maestro Nikolai Zherdev), Florida Panthers (gotta like Ollie Jokinen's name), Edmonton Oilers (they'll always have the mall), Atlanta Thrashers (I would change the name to 'Wedding Crashers'), Nashville Predators (who are more like prey these days given the ownership problems), New York Islanders (back at the bottom you go), Phoenix Coyotes (this pack is young and needs to learn how to hunt) and Vancouver "Roberto Luongo" Canucks, don’t take it personally, there’s just not enough space to insert everyone.

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About Alessandro Nicolo

  • http://www.roblogpolitics.blogspot.com RJ

    The Red Wings always have a reasonable shot at winning the President’s Trophy…before the inevitable post-season collapse.

    Call me insane, but I think this is Toronto’s year. (And no, I have absolutely nothing to back that claim up.)

    BTW, what’s up with Nashville? They looked pretty good last season, although they got beat down in the first round of the playoffs. What sort of difficulties does the ownership there have?

  • alessandro

    While anything can happen, one could be fairly confident in thinking that Toronto is not coming out of the East. Too slow and they’ll need Toskala to play over his head.

    As for Nashville, on the ice they lost some key players and leaders like Kariya, Timmonen, Hartnell and Vokoun. Like Toronto, goaltending is a question mark. Still lots of talent there. Lots.

    Off the ice, the local ownership was thought to be settled but it turns out the new group could not secure government involvement and this apparently has put them back to square one. Not good.

  • http://www.maskedmoviesnobs.com El Bicho

    Just got back from London where the Mrs and I caught the second Ducks v Kings match-up. The fans were into it.

    I think my Sabres will be rebuilding because I don’t yet know how they are going to replace those goals.

    I am so bored with hearing about Pitts until they accomplish something.

    Rangers now with Drury would be my pick to watch in the East, but Ottawa getting so close should be even more driven.

    I am curious who is going to step up as leaders now for the Ducks. I know repeating isn’t likely, but I haven’t seen any off season moves that impress me by anyone else, so I’ll stick with them coming out of the West.

  • alessandro

    El Bicho, you’re tired of all the talk about the Pens but are willing to give the nudge to the Rangers? As for the Pens, two words: Sidney Crosby.

    But I agree, with Tom Renney as coach and with the additions of Gomez and Drury the Rangers are a threat. Above Lundqvist in nets is big time.

    In the west, San Jose is expected to challenge. Even though they lost Toskala and Hannan. Minnesota and Calgary are legitimate contenders in my eyes and of course Detroit. Colorado is probably going to surprise. Many questions surround the Ducks but given his performance in the playoffs Getzlaf may be the player to step up.

    I think the west will be marked by the rise of the young teams like the Kings and Blackhawks.

    Did you go to London specifically for the game?

  • alessandro

    “above all” Lundqvist is in nets I meant to say.

  • http://www.maskedmoviesnobs.com El Bicho

    “you’re tired of all the talk about the Pens but are willing to give the nudge to the Rangers?”

    Yup. Are they mutually exclusive? I don’t hear as much talk about the Rangers, and at least they have players who have already accomplished something. I am more a fan of the actual as opposed to the potential. Much like the pre-anointing of LeBron. I hadn’t heard about Gomez. I might put $ down on the Rangers to win it all when I go to Vegas at the end of the month.

    I think the Kings will be cursed for years because of the fan’s treatment of Gretzky when he left.

    We have always wanted to go back to London because we only passed through last time. The game was the catalyst, but after we started our planning and with the exchange rate, we considered selling our tickets, but had a good time.

  • alessandro

    The Habs will kick their sorry Rangers asses!

  • nicolas

    “at least they have players who have already accomplished something.”

    that means absolutely NOTHING. gomez and drury’s postseason successes would only be meaningful in the context of discussing the rangers, if they had the success with the rangers. which they hadnt.

    the rangers HAD to have either gomez or drury just to cancel out nylander and cullen leaving. the fact that they signed both is nice, but it doesn’t mean anything other than the fact they still think they can buy a good team. which they haven’t quite done yet.

    philly could be really good or really awful, depending on how quickly their young players develop and if they reach all of the potential they have available.

    the devils don’t look so great, but they can never be ruled out (at least not until they start getting dominated during the season).

    the islanders will probably suck, but the atlantic should still be the most competitive division this season.

  • http://www.maskedmoviesnobs.com El Bicho

    “that means absolutely NOTHING.”

    you might want to amend that to read “that means absolutely NOTHING to you” because you aren’t comprehending what I have written. Previous accomplishments absolutely mean something to me. It’s not like I claimed it was a guarantee of the Rangers success this year.

    However, if I have to hear talking heads blather on with their meaningless predictions, I am more willing to listen to them talk about players like Gomez, Drury, et al, who have accomplished something over guys like Crosby, who could very well be the next Gretzky, but hasn’t accomplished anything yet. All Crosby, all the time is not yet warranted nor fair to those who have actually had accomplishments in the league.

  • alessandro

    Forget Drury, Gomez, Crosby. The Rangers have Lundqvist and an argument can be made that he’s better than Marc-Andre Fleury. The Rangers are a legitimate threat. They also have Tom Remmey who’s an under rated coach. However, this year the Pens can make noise. They made some last year.

  • ducks_girl

    *possible* loss of Neidermayer and Selanne. I think Scotty is just hanging out so that they can ding his salary enough to get under the salary cap — otherwise, why wouldn’t he just have said he’s not coming back yet? I think Selanne might be waiting on him to come back… His kids are enrolled in school in OC still… Hopefully they’ll come back. Jet lag is a valid excuse, but they played horribly tonight. We need Nieds and Teemu and Jiggy back in the net.

  • alessandro

    Yes, *possible* loss. I heard the earliest Niedermayer is coming back is January.