NHL PreviewJill Matusiak
As baseball nears the end of its season, three things come to mind: back to school, back to football, and back to hockey. So dust off your jersey and stock up on beer because it is going to be one hell of a season!
Let’s take a look at the competition this year, division by division.
Will new coach Peter DeBoer, goalie (and fossil) Martin Brodeur, outrageously expensive Ilya Kovalchuk (15-year/$100 million contract), and left winger Zach Parise be New Jersey Devils’ perfect combination this year? With Parise as a possible free agent at the end of this year, and the Devils lacking the funds to afford him (thank you Kovalchuk) it seems only time will tell… and the clock is ticking.
What’s new for the New York Rangers? The Blueshirts got the biggest free agent that was out there during the off-season – 31-year old Brad Richards -- for a 9-year/$60 million contract. With the retirement of former captain Chris Drury, newcomer Richards or, most likely Ryan Callahan, the hardest working Ranger, will take the captaincy.
New York Islanders will be better than last year since injuries ruined their whole season last term. However, the goalie position is a question mark because they don’t know who is going to play the part.
Philadelphia Flyers traded captain Mike Richards to the Los Angeles Kings and Jeff Carter to the Columbus Blue Jackets this offseason. On the other side, thy gained Ilya Bryzgalov as goaltender, with the belief that he will help lead the team to the Stanley Cup.
Your team is only as strong as your…. Wait a minute. Where’s Crosby? The Pittsburgh Penguins have found themselves in quite the pickle, to put it nicely. They don’t know if their (and possibly the league’s) best player, Sidney Crosby, will be able to play due to concussion problems and complications. So with Crosby out in the beginning of the season, Evgeni Malkin better have a big year because he will need to help carry the team.
Ah, the Stanley Cup Champions of 2011 – The Boston Bruins! Will they do it again? Having won the Vezina Trophy for setting the save-percentage record as the best goalie in the league for 2011, can Tim Thomas do it again? It’s unlikely he’ll put numbers up like that because, let’s face it, he’s 37. But who knows! Realistically though, he’ll most likely split the games with backup goaltender Tuukka Rask.
Back from injury, much needed Derek Roy returns to give the Buffalo Sabres a running start. Goalie Ryan Miller needs to have a better year, though. Sidenote: He’s a former Vezina winner for 2009-2010 season.
Montreal Canadiens will go as far as their goalie Carey Price will take them and they will look to finally get past their fierce rivals, the Boston Bruins, for the Northeast division title this season.
Ottawa Senators will be one of the worst teams in the east. Enough said. Moving on.
Toronto Maple Leafs will certainly be better than last year now that they’ve picked up John-Michael Liles to improve their defense and power play.
Nineteen-year old Jeff Skinner looks to improve after winning the Calder Trophy as best NHL rookie during the 2010-2011 season. If the Carolina Hurricanes are able to put up enough goals, they could be a dangerous team to play this year.
Florida Panthers signed the most free agents during the offseason trying to revamp their team including Tomas Fleischmann, Marcel Goc, Scottie Upshall, Sean Bergenheim, Ed Jovanovski, Matt Bradley, Jose Theodore, as well as Tomas Kopecky, Brian Campbell and Kris Versteeg.
Tampa Bay Lightning’s Steven Stamkos looks to have a big year after signing his new contract. Dwayne Roloson is still the goalie but he’s getting older.
Washington Capitals finally got the veteran goalie they were looking for in Tomas Vokoun. Can he finally get them the Stanley Cup they’ve been so close to winning these past years?
Formerly the Atlanta Thrashers, Winnipeg Jets reside in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. They’re the same team in a new home.
Young Corey Crawford will start in the net for the Chicago Blackhawks this season. Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews will be looking to have big years themselves. Patrick Sharp got a new contract during the offseason and hopes to produce wins.
Rick Nash of the Columbus Blue Jackets finally has a center to play with in Jeff Carter, who was traded to Columbus by the Philadelphia Flyers. Power play will also be better thanks to James Wisniewski.
On the Detroit Red Wings, Henrik Zetterberg will be healthy this year. He and Pavel Datsyuk should lead the team to the playoffs.
St. Louis Blues will be better than last year having signed veterans Jason Arnott and Jamie Langenbrunner.
Nashville Predators have one of the top goalies in the league—Pekka Rinne. With Shea Weber as one of the best players on the team, it looks like the Predators will have an exciting season ahead of them.
Jarome Iginla will lead the Calgary Flames in points. He is still one of the most consistent players in the NHL.
Colorado Avalanche are a very young team with a lot of talent. They also picked up goalies Jean-Sebastien Giguere and Semyon Varlamov. They’re in for a good season.
Edmont Oilers haveof the the best young players being that they had the first draft pick two years in a row. The cream of the crop includes Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, and Linus Omark.
Minnesota Wild traded Martin Havlat for Dany Heatley but lost Brent Burns to the Sharks as well. Look for Mikko Koivu to have a big year this season.
Having just missed the Stanley Cup and having their city almost burned to the ground, the Vancouver Canucks will try to get back to championship form. The Sedin twins will dominate this weak division yet again.
Anaheim Ducks’ line of Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, and Bobby Ryan is the best in the NHL. Corey Perry won the Hart Memorial Trophy (MVP) last season.
Dallas Stars will have a tough time in their division due to the Kings getting better and the Ducks poised to make a playoff run.
Mike Richards joins a young and talented Los Angeles Kings team. Anze Kopitar is due for a big season, and the Kings are a serious cup contender.
The loss of their goalie Ilya Bryzgalov to the Philadelphia Flyers will devastate the Phoenix Coyotes. Look for Shane Doan and Keith Yandle will lead the team in scoring.
Martin Havlat arrives in San Jose from Minnesota and will anticipate a big year playing next to Thornton of the San Jose Sharks.