October 7, 2010

Previewing the 2010-11 NHL season

by Dan Bilicki In: Ice Hockey

Ice hockey returns and it is 19 degrees outside, what a great concept. Yes, global warming and the game of puck don’t go too well together, but at least you can still wear your favourite team’s jersey outside without having to cover it up with a jacket. Or you could be living in Phoenix or Florida, where the few people that attend games have to put on their sweaters to keep warm.

But enough about the struggling economics of the southern teams, today is a day to celebrate the return of the fastest game on ice… except for that ridiculously fun looking Red Bull Crashed Ice event.

So what’s going to happen this season? Well, in the National Hockey League, it’s a bigger crap shoot than any of the other major sports. There are very few sure things and there’s always a couple of players who jump into the upper echelon of stars, only to fall back to earth the next season. There’s always one or two backup goalies who come in for an injured starter and absolutely light it up. Sadly, there’s also the odd star who takes a ruthless elbow to the head and is concussed for months. That’s just hockey for you, and here’s who I think will be the big winners and losers.

Winners
—The Bruins, who made a nice playoff run and were rewarded with the No. 2 overall pick thanks to the Leafs. They have another — likely — nice pick coming this season too.
—The Capitals. They’re just going to keep on winning and winning and scoring and scoring. then the post-season will come around and that’ll cease.
—The Sharks: They finally landed a playoff proven goaltender to help guide them through the post-season. If Antii Neimi can guide them through the regular season first that is.
—Whoever watches the Winter Classic. Pittsburgh hosting Washington at Heinz Field is going to be the best edition of this thing yet.
—Leafs fans, who get to pick up the Toronto Sun and find several pages everyday about all things Leafs. This season the sports section will be Leafs overload.

Losers
—Sheldon Souray, who has already been demoted to the AHL and the Oilers can’t seem to trade.
—The Oilers, who will spend another year in the doldrums.
—Goons. They are really just losers who can’t do anything but fight. Try to get some skills boys.
—The Blackhawks. After that huge Cup win, they had to gut their team this summer to keep their kids around. It’ll be a long road back for them.
—The players forced to compete outdoors in Calgary in February. Why make the guys play outside when it’ll likely be around -20 degrees?
—Fans of the Coyotes and Avalanche. The sophomore slump will probably hit these two overachievers hard. Although, the playoffs aren’t out of reach.

And a few predictions for the road…
Division winners
Southeast: Washington
Atlantic: New Jersey
Northeast: Boston
Pacific: Los Angeles
Northwest: Vancouver
Central: Detroit
Eastern conference finals: Bruins over Penguins
Western conference finals: Red Wings over Sharks
Stanley Cup: Red Wings over Bruins.

Awards
Art Ross: Alex Ovechkin, WAS
Hart: Jonathan Toews, CHI
Norris: Brian Campbell, CHI
Vezina: Martin Brodeur, NJD

Wouldn’t be surprising: Marc Savard misses a ton of time while still recovering from a concussion.
Surprise I’d like to happen: Outlaw fighting or give stiffer penalties for it.
We’ll all be surprised, but it will happen: A non-playoff team from last season starts off really hot, followed by ‘Where did *blank* come from?’ headlines.
We’ll all be surprised, but it will happen 2: A superstar will be put on the trade block.
Biggest surprise: The Toronto Maple Leafs make the playoffs. And don’t get swept.

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