Holy crap hockey is already back. I feel like it was just a few days ago that the Hawks stunned the Bruins in that classic series. I know most of you won’t follow hockey closely until football season is over but I figured I would give a brief overview until you join back up in February just in time for the Olympics. (If you do want to get fired up about hockey here are all of the OT winners from last year’s playoffs and SB Nations preview.)
The Schedule: No lockout this year so we have the normal 82 game schedule which seems like a bit much now. The lockout sucked but once hockey came back the 48 game sprint was exciting and produced a lot of drama. We will just have to get used to passively paying attention for 3 months.
So with the new divisions depending upon if you are east or west you play each team in your own division four to five times, each team in the other division in your conference three times and each team in the other conference twice in a home and home. (Confusing? Just think Division= 29-30 games Other Division= 24 games Other Conference= 28 games. It is math)
Of course there is a three week break built in for the Sochi Olympics in February so there will be no All Star Break. (Olympics>>> All Star Game) The season kicks off on October 1 and goes until April 13th.
New Playoff Format: The playoffs will start on my birthday of April 16th and run until mid June as is normal for the playoffs. (Unlike last year which ran until late June)
The main thing here is there will be a new format with the three top teams advancing within their own divisional playoffs and the remaining two spots in each conference going to the top two remaining teams regardless of their division.
There will then be divisional playoffs the first two rounds with each winner playing in the conference championship. (It will look at lot like 1992 (Yes thats a year the Pens won the Cup.) Here is something to further explain because I know I have done a crappy job.
Anyway, the whole point is that you will have to beat divisional opponents in the first two rounds of the playoffs just to get to the conference final. This means the hate will be through the roof as you are bound to see teams you hate early in the playoffs. Hate is a good thing in hockey. HATE!
Big Picture Storylines
1. The Olympics in Sochi Russia. The NHL players will be back in February and after the classic finish in 2010 there is excitement brewing among the US team. (Other than the jerseys. Did they let ADIDAS do them?) Jonathan Quick is the odds on favorite to win the goalie job and there will be expectations for this team. Here is a projected roster.
2. Russia’s Anti-Gay laws: This will end up being the story of the Olympics and expect hockey to take center stage. There have already been comments from athletes on both sides of the issue and with hockey being the most popular tempers will flare when a hockey player makes a comment one way or the other.
3. New Divisions/playoff format– Already been discussed but the Wings and CBJ come East and the Jets move West.
4. Hybrid icing/other new rules (goalie pads/visors)- Hybrid icing was used through the preseason and has been adopted. There are other new rules which include smaller pads for goalies and all new players to the NHL have to wear visors. (which I mean come on? Why did it take this long?)
5. Outdoor games– There are six of them this season including two at Yankee Stadium leading up to the Super Bowl and on in LA. (I have no idea how it will work.) I personally enjoy these games and plan on going to the Pens/Hawks ones. It is a good way to draw attention to the non fan during the regular season and are a lot of fun to go to.
People opposed to them say it takes away from “tradition” and is a money grab. The event is six years old so it has no tradition and hello, this is America of course they are making money. Just be happy hockey is doing something to promote itself.
1. Luongo- Somehow its a year later and we are in the same position. Schneider got traded to NJ and Luongo is still the starting goalie for the Canucks. (Also Luongo has reinvented himself on twitter @stombone1 and is one of my favorite current athletes. On a team filled with d bags and THE D bag coach in Torts he is like a shining star.)
2. Alfie: Alfredson left Ottawa for the Wings in a stunning turn of events. Alfie was a Sens lifer and pulled a heel turn with lots of finger pointing on both sides. Add to the fact the Wings and Sens are now divisional rivals and we have some bad blood for these two. Should be fun to watch someone else deal with the delusional Sens owner and fans.
3. Cap Going Down and then back up- The salary cap went down from $70 mil to $64 mil so teams won’t have a bunch of room to work with midseason but is expected to go back up after the season is finished. Somehow this was necessary for the owners.
1. 24/7 makes its return with Wings/Leafs. We will all find out that the Wings are as boring and good as we thought they were and that the Leafs organization is the trainwreck we all know it to be. Should be a lot of fun.
2. Torts in Vancouver. I mentioned this earlier but John Tortorella is the head coach of the Vancouver Canucks. You are not reading that wrong and it will be a clown show. Watching him handle the Sedins will be a trip.
3. Yes they named a division the Metropolitan Division. No I don’t think Jim Delaney had anything to do with it. Yes my team is in this division and I will refuse to call it by this just like I have avoided Leaders/Legends at all costs. People in charge of things are dumb.
East Preview (*Division winner)
1. Boston Bruins*: The Bruins won the East for the 2nd time in three years last year but had some major shakeups in the offseason. Gone are Tyler Seguin and Jaromir Jagr and enter Loui Eriksson and Jarome Iginla. (Which will be weird but not that weird since he was a Pen for 3 months.) They also gave a big contract to Tukka Rask after his performance that got them to the Cup Final. They still have one of the deepest bluelines in the league and the road through the East runs through them.
2. Pittsburgh Penguins*: Why hello there. The last time my beloved Penguins were on the ice they were swept out of the ECF by the Bruins and scored a grand total of 2 goals all series. Hard to believe a team that led the league in goals and all that talent couldn’t score but it happened. So what did the Pens do to change anything? Nothing. Bylsma, Malkin and Letang all got extensions which you could argue those make sense but the Pens kept Marc Andre Fleury which is puzzling considering his playoff meltdowns in recent years. Vokun played well in his stead but he is out indefinitely with blood clots so who know when he will be back.
They also brought back defensman Rob Scuderi from the Kings to shore up the defense. The one subtle addition was adding longtime coach Jacques Martin to the coaching staff to clean up the defense. The Pens will be one of the top teams but all eyes will be on MAF in the playoffs once again.
3. Detroit Red Wings: Well look who jumped East after all these years. I will have more on the Wings and their move from the West but after a bumpy regular season they showed serious promise in the playoffs beating the Ducks and taking the Hawks to seven. Playing all of those young guys paid off and now they have experience as they will try to take down the Bruins and the eastern Canadian teams. The Alfie move made a lot of buzz but getting Stephen Weiss should give them depth up the middle. If Darren Helm ever gets healthy then look out.
4. Ottawa Senators: Hey the Wings new rival, how about that? The Sens and their fans were in an uproar over Alfie but they probably ended up on the better end of the deal by trading for Bobby Ryan from the Ducks. Ryan is in his prime and should give Spezza a good scoring winger moving forward. The Sens got to the 2nd round last year despite being hit with injuries everywhere including stud defenceman Erik Karrlson. With him being healthy I expect the Sens to push the Bruins and Wings all year.
5. New York Rangers: I bet the happiest men in hockey are Henrik Lundqvist and Rick Nash as they are free from Torts and his miserable style of coaching. Now they have former Canucks coach Alain Vigneault who should open up the Rangers so they can actually score goals and not just block shots. A lot of their success will come down to whether Brad Richards can regain his form after his disastrous 2013 season. I expect Chris Krieder to start to meet his potential as well.
6. Washington Capitals: The Caps can no longer feast on the extinct Southeast division and must now actually play real teams to get in the playoffs. Ovie rebounded from his rough start to win MVP (should have went to Sid but what do I know) and showed he can play right wing. Coach Adam Oates is no dummy and will have his team put in successful situations. They scooped up Gribovski to fill their number 2 center role after letting Ribero walk. Always fun to clean up Toronto’s mess.
7. Tampa Bay Lightning: I am picking TB to make the playoffs which seems like a huge mistake and I regret it already. Still, they have plenty of talent and are now rid or Vinny’s horrible contract. I guess the main reason I am putting them here is Stamkos obviously but also rookie Jonathan Drouin who appears to be a stud winger. (Update: Drouin didn’t make the team to start the season. Might need to cool it here.) If they play any kind of defense they can make the playoffs. That is a big if though.
8. New York Islanders: No longer the laughing stock of the league (that would be Calgary) the Islanders made the playoffs last year and pushed the Pens to six games. Now captain John Tavares was an MVP candidate and has lived up to the hype of being the first pick a few years ago. I still think they should have upgraded in net as they are going to ride or die with Nabaokov once more.
9. Philadelphia Flyers: It is sad to say but the Bryzgalof era is over in Philly. We were having so much fun too. The Flyers used their buyouts on both him and Brierre and added Ray Emery and Vinny Lecavalier which is an upgrade but in no way fixes their horrendous defense. They will attempt to outscore everyone and I am sure be involved in some absurd trade at the deadline even though they are already bumped up against the cap.
10. Montreal Canadiens: The Habs over performed last year on their way to a division crown but flopped in the playoffs. Their defensive style will keep them in the playoff hunt but I am not sure if adding Brierre is enough to get them back in the dance. Their success will come down to goaltender Carey Price and how he performs.
11. Toronto Maple Leafs: The last time we saw the Leafs this happened which caused almost all of central Canada to go into a state of shock. Since then the Leafs have done Leafs things and used their buyout on Grabovski and gave David Clarkson an absurd contract which only made Clarkson, his agent and Don Cherry happy. The also traded for goalie Jonathan Bernier from the Kings which will either solidify their goaltending situation or cause an entire riff in the locker room with Reimer and his attractive wife. Its too bad Brian Burke won’t be around for 24/7. Maybe they can just have a Burke cam in Calagary even though they have nothing to do with the Winter Classic.
12. Columbus Blue Jackets: The CBJ move East as they wanted and are not a raging tire fire they once were. Thanks to some solid moves and Bobrovsky being a rock in net the CBJ should contend for a playoff spot. (Even though I should have no feeling towards this team at all I still hate them because they are located in Columbus. Maybe I will make a trip and see my team actually win in that city. (I MISS YOU DREW HENSON.))
13. New Jersey Devils: Quite the offseason in Jersey as Kovalchuk quit the team and moved back to Russia and they somehow got Corey Schneider from the Canucks for just a first round pick. So basically this team will win all of their games 1-0. I assume this is Marty’s last year but I could be wrong.
14. Buffalo Sabres: Sucks to be from Buffalo
15. Florida Panthers: At least it’s warm in Florida
16. Carolina Hurricanes: Creating a fantasy team built on Staal brothers and Alex Semin may not be the best idea.
1. Chicago Blackhawks*: I can only imagine the amount of partying done by the Hawks players this summer. I was there in 2010 when they won and it seemed like every night there was some story about them out doing something stupid. Now all that partying comes to a halt as they have to try and defend their title. They have done some revamping with their bottom six forwards and gave Crawford a big contract but I don’t see any reason not to pick them as the favorite in the West. The only thing stopping them is it is so tough to repeat.
2. Los Angeles Kings*: I am just keeping the top two teams in each conference. While this may seem boring the Kings still have Jonathan Quick so I have no reason to change. They still have a loaded roster from a team that won the Cup two years ago. The only real issue I see is getting Kpotar back to his 2012 form and losing Rob Scuderi who is the piece. (Or at least I hope he is.)
3. St Louis Blues: The Blues struggled all year last year after winning the division in 2012. They also just can’t seem to beat the Kings who have bounced them the past two seasons. Still they had a nice offseason locking up their young blue line of Shattenkirk and Pietrangleo and maybe they can get something out of former Canucks Lapierre and Roy.
4. Anaheim Ducks: They finally traded Bobby Ryan and Teemu is back which is the most important thing in the world. With the Ryan trade the Ducks added to their already solid young core and it is only a matter of time before Pittsburgh native John Gibson takes over in goal and starts to push Quick as the best American goalie. While I may not get to party with them again this season they will always have a special place in my heart.
5. San Jose Sharks: They traded for Tyler Kennedy from the Pens so we all know this means they are going to win the Cup now and he and mattress world girl are going to ride off into the sunset and go make computer chips in Silicon Valley.
6. Vancouver Canucks: I am seriously considering get NHL Center Ice just to watch the circus up in Vancouver. The Sedins + Torts + Luongo = magic. I have a feeling there will be lots of solid Torts pressers this year. Get your popcorn ready
7. Minnesota Wild: All that free agent money went to good use as the Wild made the playoffs. They were dispatched rather easily by the Hawks though in five games. The key will be for all the good young talent the Wild has stockpiled to help supplement the big names. Also it will be interesting to see how another set of media members handle Matt Cooke.
8. Dallas Stars: No team moved more pieces around in the offseason than rookie GM Jim Nill and the Dallas Stars. Nill was a longtime member of the Red Wings front office and swung deal that brought Gonchar and Seguin to Dallas. Add to that rookie stud Nichushkin and I think the Stars have enough to make the playoffs.
9. Edmonton Oilers: I still can’t put this team in the playoffs despite all of their young talent. Maybe Taylor Hall will make the Stamkos/Tavares leap this season and join the elite guys in the league but I will believe it when I see it. I still have little to no faith in their goaltending.
10. Nashville: I want to put the Preds higher but I still have no idea how they are going to score goals. Adding Stalberg and Nystrom isn’t the way to become an offensive juggernaut. Still they got to add Seth Jones to pair with Shea Weber to form one of the best defensive tandems in the league.
11. Colorado Avalanche: They added Mackinnon to an already impressive group of forwards but their defense is garbage. If you combined the Avs forwards with the Preds D and goalie you would have a team to challenge the Hawks. Unfortunately for them they can’t do that. (Its against the rules.)
12. Phoenix Coyotes: This team is staying in Glendale for some reason. Should be in Seattle playing as the Seattle Easter Eggs.
13. Winnipeg Jets: Won’t be as bad as the New York Jets which isn’t hard.
14. Calgary Flames: Dumpster Fire
Meaningless Predictions: I will forget I made these
1. Best Record- Blackhawks: So much fun with the Red Wings away
2. Most Goals- Stammer: This is like clockwork
3. MVP- Crosby: Stay healthy please
4. Norris- Suter: Should have gotten it last year
5. Vezina- Quick
6. Rookie- Drouin
7. Gold Medal: USA!: Jonathan Quick is an American Hero
8. East champ: Pens over Ottawa: Suck it Eugene Melnyk
9. West champ: LAK over Hawks
10. Champ: LAK over Pens in 6: The Summer of Quick
11. Conn Smythe: Quick