Oh, won’t summer ever end? That’s a question only devoted hockey fans could possibly understand. And while the wait during the summer months seems long, it makes you wonder how we ever got through the lockout. Nonetheless, the time is here. Players are ready to lace up their skates and begin another journey with hopes of nabbing the ultimate prize: Lord Stanley. After what can potentially be described as one of the most exciting off-seasons to date, with some of the biggest names in hockey tossed around left, right, and center, each NHL team is set to prove that they’re equipped to go all the way.
WHO TO LOOK OUT FOR IN THE EAST:
Let’s start, respectively, with the defending Stanley Cup champions, the Carolina Hurricanes. This team had one hell of a run last season. They’re going to have to depend on their young guns this year to make up for the loss of some of their seasoned players like Mark Recchi and Doug Weight. Center Eric Staal, is coming off a phenomenal rookie season and goaltender Cam Ward stole the show from Martin Gerber, walking away with the Conn Smythe Trophy for Most Valuable Player in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. We’re just waiting to see if they’ll keep it up. If they do, watch for history to repeat itself.
The Ottawa Senators, though their dreams were crushed prematurely last time around, have still got a roster enviable by any standards. Despite the loss of Zdeno Chara to Boston, Martin Havlat to Chicago, and Dominik Hasek to Detroit, with names like Daniel Alfredsson, Dany Heatley, Wade Redden, Jason Spezza, Andrej Meszaros, and Martin Gerber in the lineup, there is no question they are a force to be reckoned with.
The New Jersey Devils have still got the best goalie in Martin Brodeur. In New York, the Rangers have seasoned veterans in Jaromir Jagr and Brendan Shanahan. Daniel Briere and Chris Drury will lead the Buffalo Sabres with their speed.
AND IN THE WEST:
In the West, look out for the Anaheim Ducks, Nashville Predators and Calgary Flames, who seem to have made the most advantageous off-season transactions. They’ve got the defensive forwards and goalies to make things happen, and look for one of them to make a run for the Cup. The Ducks have got veterans Chris Pronger, Scott Niedermayer and Teemu Selanne working together while in Calgary, Jarome Iginla and Alex Tanguay are looking to make an impact. With Mikka Kiprusoff backing them in nets, it shouldn’t be a problem. The question in San Jose, is how will fellow Sharks and 2005-2006 offensive leaders Jonathan Cheechoo and Joe Thornton compliment each other? In Vancouver, twin turbo takes over the number one line in Daniel and Henrik Sedin.
THE BIG “600”:
600 goals. Sounds like a lot doesn’t it? Well maybe not to these guys. In fact, that’s exactly what Brendan Shanahan (598 career goals), Jaromir Jagr (591), and Joe Sakic (574) aim to do this season. Let the race begin.
THE YOUNG GUNS:
Ovechkin and Crosby, Crosby and Ovechkin. Though their teams both had disappointing finishes last year, their efforts can be described as anything but. Not since Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux has the league been graced with young talent of such magnitude. As spectators, they make the game interesting and watching them go at it for those points – whether they are actually competing with each other or not – is always a thrill. Look forward to seeing what Alex the Great and Sid the Kid have up their sleeves.
RULES, RULES, RULES:
The changes made prior to last season saw the league’s penalty minutes and power-play goals sky-rocket. A more exciting game or simply a strategy to appease a bigger market? You be the judge. However, one thing is for certain, it is a faster game and the players must either adjust or get out of the way.
OUR TEAM, OUR SPORT:
Former Canadiens captain Guy Carbonneau, who had an outstanding hockey career in Montreal, winning three Frank Selke Trophies as the league’s Top Defensive Foward, has stepped into a new role as head coach. He’s now behind the bench calling the shots, and with 18 years of playing experience and three Stanley Cups behind him, it is safe to say that this guy knows a thing or two about hockey and what this team needs.
After this September’s annual training camp all but one of the rookies were sent to the Canadiens’ farm team, the Hamilton Bulldogs. The sole survivor of the cut was 19-year-old Guillaume Latendresse, formerly of the QMJHL’s Drummondville Voltigeurs. In just two preseasons with the team, Latendresse has shown he’s got skill and is already a fan-favourite.
Cap’n K is back. The high stick that struck Saku Koivu in the eye during the first-round of the playoffs against Carolina rendering him temporarily blind and sending fear into the hearts of fans that they’d have to watch the puck drop without their beloved Captain is no more than a bad memory. Koivu has proven in the past that he can overcome any obstacle and this is no exception.
Of course the buzz is still revolving around the addition of power-forward Sergei Samsonov. A hot commodity as a free agent following Edmonton’s surprising playoff run, the Russian left-winger’s speed and persistence will undoubtedly raise the stock of the Habs’ red line.
In a last-minute move made by General Manager Bob Gainey on Saturday, the Habs stirred up their roster by trading forward Mike Ribeiro to the Dallas Stars in exchange for Finnish defenceman Janne Niinimaa.
Huet, Huet, Huet, Huet! Montreal’s new favourite netminder has got a brand new contract and one great big reputation to live up to.
Also, keep an eye out for Chris Higgins. In a season that saw Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin crack the 100-point margin, Higgins’s efforts may have been obscured, but this young player, who came in second in team scoring behind only Michael Ryder, has all the talent.
The regular season will officially kick off Wednesday night at 7 p.m. Eastern time as the Buffalo Sabres attempt to dismantle reigning Stanley Cup champs the Hurricanes in Carolina.
The NHL saw a soar in ticket sales in the 2005-06 season after the hockey withdrawal epidemic that shook North America during the 2004-05 lockout. Will this season be as successful? Only time will tell, but beware of the next outbreak of hockey fever.