September 28, 2009
Hello. What We Learned is a feature that will run through the entire season and aims to recap the weekend's events and boils those events down to one admittedly superficial fact or stupid opinion about each team. Feel free to complain about it.
By this time next week, the new NHL season will have been underway for a few days. And that's really good news, isn't it?
Over the next couple days, just about every major, minor and inconsequential sports outlet will roll out its predictions for the upcoming season. ESPN will inevitably predict that the Rangers are the favorites to win the Stanley Cup. It will be the 29th year they will have done so.
TSN will say that a Canadian team is, in fact, the odds-on favorite to win it all, before conceding that, OK, maybe half of the other 24 teams in the league have a chance of being better than the worst Canadian squad (Ottawa). Then Sportsline or somebody will predict the Lightning will win the President's Trophy because they haven't seen a hockey game in, like, six years.
I'm not interested in those things. Where everyone ends up at the end of the year isn't as fun as everyone getting their feelings hurt along the way.
(Coming Up: The Stars start the excuses early, Nathan Horton(notes) doesn't adjust well to the time difference, why Milan Lucic(notes) is a public menace, Philly actually puts a thug on waivers, the five things the Blackhawks need to worry about, and Peter Forsberg(notes) begins his 40th big comeback.)
Here are 20 bold predictions for the NHL season.
2. The Coyotes will make the playoffs but the Ducks won't.
3. Someone actually challenges Alex Ovechkin for the Rocket Richard.
7. The Lightning will still be really bad.
10. Patrick Kane(notes) will beat up an airline pilot, a train conductor and ship captain and help the Blackhawks win the division. Meanwhile Jonathan Toews(notes) will make a series of hilarious faces.
11. The Flyers will set a franchise low in match penalties (with 128).
14. Regardless of how well the season finishes, Red Wings fans will be aggrieved by some perceived slight.
15. Bob Gainey will get the ol' heave-ho.
17. Buffalo will miss the playoffs and both Lindy Ruff and Darcy Regier will be fired. No, I'm kidding, of course they won't be fired.
20. The Central will be the best division in hockey.
It's really easy to do stuff like this. Try it at home and impress your friends and coworkers with what they'll assume is your hockey knowledge.
What We Learned
Anaheim Ducks: Brendan Mikkelson(notes) found himself in an odd spot on Friday night: up front. He got 15 minutes of ice time and finished a minus-1. Not so bad, considering San Jose walloped the Ducks 6-0. "We think it's imperative to have a defenseman or a forward that can interchange positions," said Randy Carlyle. Interesting that they'd stress that.
Atlanta Thrashers: I think the Thrashers just might have their top line pieced together. In the two games during which they've been grouped, the line of Ilya Kovalchuk(notes), Nik Antropov(notes) and Bryan Little(notes) have combined for nine points. Yikes. The same article also reveals that the Thrashers are very likely to sign Maxim Afinogenov(notes), whom they invited to camp on a tryout basis.
Boston Bruins: Blake Wheeler(notes) doesn't really understand how to endear himself to Boston fans. One of his first tweets on the Bruins' official Twitter feed simply said, "Favre > Brady." He caught a bit of hell for it, as you'd expect.
Buffalo Sabres: And The Holdout No One Cared About has, at long last, come to a merciful end as Mark Mancari(notes) signed a one-year, two-way deal and will almost certainly stay in the AHL all year. Even in a hockey-mad city like Buffalo, this is what passes for hockey news in September.
Calgary Flames: When the Flames cut Theo Fleury(notes) the other day, the 41-year-old seemed genuinely shocked by the turn of events. "Did I work my butt off eight months for . . . two weeks?'' he asked. He's holding a press conference in Calgary later today to announce his future plans, but he proved in his preseason appearances that he could easily stick with an AHL team if that's what he wanted to do.
Carolina Hurricanes: Brandon Sutter(notes) and Jamie McBain(notes) were assigned to the AHL yesterday, and I'm a bit surprised that Sutter got sent down. He played 50 games in the NHL last year (though the only real highlight was when Doug Weight(notes) clobbered him into next week), and now he's being sent down in favor of Tim Conboy(notes)? Not sure I get that.
Chicago Blackhawks: The Chicago Sun-Times offers its five things the Blackhawks need to do to win the Stanley Cup this season. The last one is "not worry about the fact that Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Duncan Keith(notes) all need to be re-signed in the offseason." Yeah, who would worry about something like that?
Colorado Avalanche: Oh look, it's Adrian Dater firing up the Peter Forsberg hype machine for the second time in a week, no doubt in hopes of getting his beloved to come back to Denver, where they can frolic in the snow all winter long. Where earlier in the week he was simply attempting a comeback, now he has NHL scouts "drooling." When his ACL, MCL and PCL all fly out of his knee like snakes-in-a-can while he's putting on his skates come Nov. 1, we'll see how they're feeling about it.
Columbus Blue Jackets: After getting folded up against Minnesota last Monday, Jason Chimera(notes) has been cleared to start skating today. They're not yet sure if he'll be good to go come the Jackets' opener on Friday.
Dallas Stars: The Stars are already creating cause for concern down in Big D. Look at these Eeyore quotes after they got stomped by St. Louis 5-0 on Saturday. There could be a real problem again this year.
Detroit Red Wings: The Red Wings seven Swedes will get heroes' welcomes when they play in their home country later this week. Meanwhile, Valtteri Filppula(notes) and Ville Leino(notes), the teams' two Finns, will be pelted with garbage and called derisive names wherever they go.
Edmonton Oilers: During camp last year, the Edmonton media said Ales Hemsky(notes) looked primed for a breakout statement season. He didn't. So maybe the fact that he's been uniformly uninspiring all September bodes well. But probably not.
Los Angeles Kings: It's looking more and more likely that pesky winger Rich Clune will make the final cut in Los Angeles. Sandpaper? You bet. He racked up 224 penalty minutes over 73 games in his last two AHL seasons but also has a bit of an agitator skill about him.
Minnesota Wild: Remember how you couldn't get tickets to a Wild game if you tried? Yeah, well, now you can feel free to go any night you like. It seems as though they're very much expecting that their 342-game sellout streak will be snapped at some point during the season.
Nashville Predators: The Predators are really looking forward to the season starting, because maybe by then, they'll be able to ice a full team. Four players: Steve Sullivan(notes), Colin Wilson(notes), Joel Ward(notes) and Wade Belak(notes): all have groin injuries.
New Jersey Devils: Poor Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond(notes). Only one preseason game and the Devils went out and signed another enforcer. Looks like he'll have to do what he does best: resemble a caveman, punch people and have a really long name: down in the AHL.
New York Islanders: The lease for the Lighthouse Project has, at long last, been officially agreed upon, and will be formally signed in the coming week. All that's left now is for the town of Hempstead, N.Y. to either approve or reject the deal and determine the Islanders' fate.
New York Rangers: It seems as though both Enver Lisin(notes) and Artem Anisimov(notes) have made the Rangers outright, but will not get significant minutes. Hmmm, a floaty Russian like Lisin playing for Torts? What could possibly go wrong?
Free tip: Do not anger Milan Lucic.
Philadelphia Flyers: End of an era. Randy Jones(notes) was put on waivers as the first step to getting his $2.75-million cap hit off the books. But it begs the question, who is going to attempt to cripple Patrice Bergeron(notes) and have Flyers fans falling all over themselves to defend it come Winter Classic time? Smart money's on Chris Pronger(notes), sure, but I've got Riley Cote(notes) as the darkhorse candidate.
Phoenix Coyotes: Dave Tippett, unlike his predecessor, apparently cares about the defensive aspects of the game. Goes a long way, I guess, toward blanking a pretty full Sharks lineup 2-0.
Pittsburgh Penguins: Brooks Orpik(notes) believes the Penguins actually lost very little in the offseason. I'll give Rob Scuderi(notes), the guy that pretty much saved the team's Cup chances with a HUGE Game 6, the bad news.
Toronto Maple Leafs: In a move that was a shock to almost no one, Nazem Kadri(notes) was sent back to London. Also not a surprise that Christian Hanson(notes) and Jonas Frogren(notes) were sent to the Marlies. But after last night's game, Ron Wilson also announced that Viktor Stalberg(notes), who scored six goals in eight preseason games, would make the team. So at least one rookie's onboard.
Vancouver Canucks: An argument in favor of the shootout:
Two slapshots and a pretty sweet shootout winner. Would that they were all required to be like this.
Washington Capitals: There was apparently some question as to whether or not Chris Bourque(notes) would make the Caps right out of camp. I guess that goal he scored in his first game back from a concussion-type injury will help us figure out the answer.
Play of the Weekend
Yeah, I guess.
Gold Star Award
How about Doug Murray scoring a hat trick on Friday night against Anaheim Friday night? Hell, the last defenseman I remember getting a hat trick was when Tomas Kaberle(notes) and Mathieu Schneider(notes) both did had one within a week of each other in like 2006.
Minus of the Weekend
This week the award goes to not a person, but a thing. Steve Lepore reported that the NHL Network would no longer air every Hockey Night in Canada of the season. What's the matter, need to squeeze a few more replays out of that 2009 Stanley Cup Final?
We'll almost never get the late game, and we won't get Coaches Corner and the Hotstove ever week. Granted, we'll get a couple extra games a week instead, but this is still a terrible decision that, like all decisions made by the NHL, will only serve to upset hockey fans. It's not like they couldn't do both.
Good work as always, National Hockey League.
Perfect HFBoards trade proposal of the week
I'm going to go ahead and let you guess which team user "kingbrath" supports as he posts this LA-Calgary trade proposal.
Los Angeles - Brown, Frolov, 2nd 2010
Calgary - Iginla, Conroy, 3rd 2010
Take your time and think about it now.