After a year without hockey, it should be time to celebrate the return of the game. Here is a top ten list of good things about the new NHL season.
10. Quite simply, that its back. It could be the fact that hockey was gone for a whole season, but it’s so great to have highlights every night, plays of the week, and heated rivalries due to more inter-divisional play.
9. Enforcement of obstruction. How much fun is it to see wingers enter the offensive zone with speed and not be held up by oafish thugs not moving their feet, taking away potential scoring chances created by speed? Power plays aren’t necessarily what you want to watch for an entire game but they have been a showcase for talent so far in the season.
8. The extra four feet in the offensive zone. The power plays have a new dimension to them. Every power play focuses on creating two-on-ones. More space means more room to do that. Teams that chase or force the puck quickly, can be easily beaten. Extra room means more goals, which means more happy fans.
7. Equal footing for Canadian Teams. The salary cap has meant some big names have moved North of the border. This should mean that Canadian teams will be more competitive as a whole. Calgary started off slowly, but no one in hockey expects that to last. The Oilers are struggling out of the gate, but Chris Pronger is an elite defensemen who will learn to adapt to the new rules. Edmonton should have one of the league’s best D-corps before the season is over, and their goaltending can only get better. Vancouver could be the best team in the west (Detroit and Nashville might have something to say about that). Montreal and Toronto should easily make the playoffs, Toronto through veteran players with something to prove, and the Habs through speed and a quality batch of young players.
Ottawa is the favourite for the President’s Trophy and the Stanley Cup. They look extremely strong with one of the best first lines in hockey, an amazing D-corps, and a rejuvenated Dominik Hasek. Captain, Daniel Alfredsson, is possibly the smartest hockey player in the league.
6. Seeing Wayne Gretzky behind the bench of the Phoenix Coyotes. He needs to be in the game, and we need him there. It is so great to see him care that much about winning a game. That passion for the W hasn’t left him. It’s too early to tell what kind of coach he’s going to be, but seeing him jump around when the Coyotes score, yell at the referees, and give interviews with a big smile on his face, because he can’t hide his excitement, is great for the Great One, and great for hockey.
5. Enthusiastic fans. We can put aside our year-long debate about whose fault the lock-out was and enjoy a quality product on the ice.
4. Tag-up offside and no red line. Two rules that speed up the game. Teams will probably adapt and lessen the impact of the long pass, but it is still exciting for fans and great for the flow of the game. Teams are quicker to want to go on offence as coaches allow their forwards to stretch a bit. The tag-up offside rule simply means less whistles and more flow.
3. Small forwards doing well. A look at the scoring leaders illustrates the success small players are having with the new rules. Granted, last season’s scoring champ was Martin St. Louis, but guys like Steve Sullivan and Paul Kariya of Nashville are really benefiting. Daniel Briere of Buffalo and Marc Savard of Atlanta, look dangerous nearly every shift.
2. The shootouts. Will Hasek go the whole year without letting in a goal? What is the move to finally beat him? Who has the best move, and who is the best at penalty shots in the NHL? I sympathize with the Pat Quinn’s of the world who hate deciding a game on something that isn’t really involved in an ordinary hockey game. Having said that, the game needs fans. Deciding the game with a shootout showcases the player’s, and goaltenders’ talent like very little else.
1. The Rookies! Sidney Crosby has looked incredible. He has boatloads of speed and finesse, and may top the 100-point mark this season. (Although I could get a few assists playing between Mark Recchi and Ziggy Palffy.) Alexander Ovechkin has looked even better. He plays with no one of the calibre Crosby skates with, yet he has managed many highlight goals already, and has the capability to score on nearly every shift. Dion Phaneuf is rock-solid, and may already be Calgary’s best defensive defensemen. But there are others. Thomas Vanek of the Sabres has looked scary at times and Chicago rookie Pavel Vorobiev has amazed fans with an impressive release, not to mention fluid and fast skating combined with good hockey sense.
The season has only just begun, and there will be kinks to iron out along the way, but at least there is a game to talk about.
The game is definitely more entertaining than the trap-infested product of the previous years, and entertainment, after all, is what brings the fans in and keeps the whole thing going.