So far the NHL has given us some interesting stories in it’s first October games in two years. We’ve already seen Teemu’s potential last game in Winnipeg, Schneider vs. Luongo, and a great nickname for a potential star in Teenage Mutant Ninja Hertl. However, this all seems to be the appetizer for some interesting story lines to come because I know I can’t talk about a 19 year old celebrating when he realizes that his boyhood dream is becoming a reality for long.
So while teams play out their remaining 78-80 games here are the burning questions facing the 53% of the league that plays in the Eastern Time Zone.
Have you ever heard of regression? Last year’s strange 48 game all in Conference schedule led to some really strange things happening and for the first time in recent memory, the Eastern Conference was more unpredictable than the West. Somehow, the Maple Leafs, Islanders, Senators, and Canadiens all massively exceeded pre-season expectations in the Eastern Conference, not to mention the universal prediction of 30th overall turned everyone’s second favourite team joins them this year.
Any of these five teams that were punching outside of their weight class could very well crash back to reality like Florida did last year, or maybe they could be developing well ahead of schedule. It feels like the Isles and Sens are for real, but it’s so damn hard to tell.
Do the Red Wings want everyone to hate them? One of the great things about realignment this year is the renewal of the great Toronto-Detroit rivalry which was unfortunately sacrificed in favour of the Toronto-Montreal rivalry a few years back.
The Red Wings get thrown into a division with three other “Original Six” members, which always sparks some kind of a rivalry. If that’s not enough, they go out on the first day of free agency and sign the captains of two other division rivals. Let’s not forget that one of their greatest players of all time is the general manager of yet another team in their division. That really just leaves the Buffalo Sabres as the only team that the Red Wings don’t want to hate them. I fully expect Ken Holland to pour some sugar into Darcey Reiger’s gas tank.
How will the Capitals do with real competition? The other great things about this years realignment is the death of the worst division in sports. Despite producing the two least likely Stanley Cup Champions of the last decade, the Southeast division has been a laughing stock for pretty much all of it’s existence. The division consistently sends one team to the palyoffs, and has never sent more than two to the dance.
Last year this division had three out of the five worst teams in the league and despite playing borderline ECHL teams, the Capitals almost missed the playoffs last year. Were it not for Ovechkin’s Herculean effort the final champion of the Southeast division would have been Winnipeg. Let that sink in for a minute.
The Capitals get reunited with their old Patrick Division rivals which include some pretty great teams in Pittsburgh and the New York area (you know the actual Metropolitan area…) with the always pesky Flyers and the completely unknown Blue Jackets. It remains to be seen if the Caps can actually hang with the big boys especially now that all the teams in the old Atlantic division get to beat up the Carolina Hurricanes as many times as they do.
Pressure, is it coming pushing on you, pushing down on me? Perhaps the three most intriguing goalies this year are Marc-Andre Fleury, Ryan Miller, and Tim Thomas. It’s no shock to say that they have all had some pretty big falls from grace the past couple of years. All three are clearly looking to write their own redemption stories. Honestly, I don’t think that any of them will do it, at least not for the current teams that they play for. The only way that Miller or Thomas get a feel good moment is if they get traded from the terrible, terrible teams they are stuck behind and move on to a contender. Fleury on the other hand feels like a lost cause. He need a new home, a fresh start, and he needs it to be someplace out of the limelight. It’s too bad Yzerman insists on not having a real goaltender because he would be perfect in Tampa. My crazy prediction for the year is for Tim Thomas to regain form, play fantastic and get dealt to Pittsburgh for their playoff run. If Thomas doesn’t turn the corner, they will grab Jaroslav Halak. Miller meanwhile will continue to mope about something dumb or another before getting traded somewhere West – hopefully Colorado so we can have crazy Patrick Roy yell at emo Ryan Miller.
Can we redo 24/7 from a few years ago? Seriously, the Red Wings are the most boring organization in sports. Yeah they’re great, yeah everyone wants to be like them – big freakin’ deal. Sure the Leafs are a bit of a shit show, but after losing such reality TV stars in the making in Brian Burke and Mikhail Grabovski, I kind of don’t care too much about their personalities, especially if James Reimer doesn’t get too Jesusy.
Can we please get a glimpse into the Rangers and Flyers this year? The Rangers under Vigneault are going to be fascinating to watch – I want to see the look on Rick Nash’s face when people tell him that he can actually play offence. But there’s no team more interesting this year than the Flyers. Three games in and they already fire their coach only to replace him with a retired goon? This team has the potential to be an absolute train wreck this year and I have a feeling this may be the last year for Paul Holmgren as a General Manager. Buying out Briere and Bryz was smart, bringing in LeCavalier was well thought out, bringing in a 700 year old offensive defenceman to shore up a blueline that it still missing Chris Pronger was not quite so smart.
How does it end? Because I never got around to doing a pre-season predictions let’s give this a go:
- Boston Bruins
- Detroit Red Wings
- Ottawa Senators
- Montreal Canadiens
- Toronto Maple Leafs
- Tampa Bay Lightning
- Florida Panthers
- Buffalo Sabres
- Pittsburgh Penguins
- New York Rangers
- Washington Capitals
- New York Islanders
- Columbus Blue Jackets
- New Jersey Devils
- Philadelphia Flyers
- Carolina Hurricanes
As much as I want to put the Blue Jackets in the playoffs, let’s have Montreal play the fun-killer this year nabbing the 2nd Wild Card spot from everyone’s second favourite team. But because Pittsburgh will have a better record than the Bruins that means that Montreal will slide into the Metropolitan division’s playoff bracket and the Islanders will go into the Atlantic. Everyone will be surprised and confused despite the fact that this was well explained when the realignment plan was unveiled, but hey most hockey writers thought Alex Ovechkin played two positions at once last year.
Extending the predictions, will get us a second round filled with the Bruins and shocking Sens and a Penguins-Rangers show down. It’s hard to bet against goaltending so the Eastern final will be the Bruins and Rangers, and for the first time since 1994 and for only the fourth time in 50 years the Rangers will play for the Stanley Cup.