New category, in honour of the season: as you may have noticed, I can be a little obsessive about the game. And it provides those folks who aren’t hockey fans (those exist?) early warning to stay away, already!
First, new rules (nod to Bill Maher):
Tag-up offside: sustained attack, good addition.
Goalies playing the puck: cuts down on roaming goalies. Bummer.
Smaller goalie equipment: why not, so long as it protects?
Two-line pass: more assists for goalies, to make up for the increased goals against.
Moved bluelines: coaches will deal with it, just like with the two-liners.
Shootout: fucking hate it. Play hockey or don’t, this ain’t a skills competition.
On to the teams:
Biggest hello: Niedermayer. Top three D-man in the league.
Biggest goodbye: Rucchin. Heart, soul and a few goals all gone.
Watch for: Ryan Getzlaf. Raw power forward.
Watch out: Giguere. He’s a butterfly goalie, and smaller equipment will affect them most.
Note: Smaller goalie equipment and an offensive game play (courtesy new coach and GM) mean more goals against, but how about for? Niedermayer will help.
Biggest hello: Hamrlik. Lots and lots of power play time.
Biggest goodbye: Gelinas. Fast, clutch and good in the room.
Watch for: Phaneuf. He was ready last year.
Watch out: Er… I guess some toughness is gone (Oliwa and Gauthier), but McCarty is more skilled than either. Sauve not my first choice for backup, Krahn’s not ready.
Note: Sutter has the reins in an iron fist: no “morning after” effect for this team.
Biggest hello: Khabibulin. Money. Aucoin a close second.
Biggest goodbye: Berard. Better with one eye than most with two and glasses.
Watch for: Aucoin to get 30 minutes a game.
Watch out: Who’s scoring for these guys again? No first line, here.
Note: Daze has to play better than last season – it’s the only direction for him to go.
Biggest hello: Turgeon? Hoo, boy…
Biggest goodbye: Forsberg. Arguably the leagues’ best player.
Watch for: Liles. He can run a power play, but can he get the ice time from Blake?
Watch out: Mighty old centers here in Sakic and Turgeon…
Note: These guys were hammered by the salary cap, and lost two terrifying figures in Forsberg and Foote. Youth has got to step up this year or they’re toast.
Biggest hello: Foote. See Niedermayer, above.
Biggest goodbye: Cassels. Someone has to get Nash the puck.
Watch for: Brule, if he makes it. Zherdev is going to bloom if he’s on the first two lines.
Watch out: Denis, Leclaire or Prusek will have to force their way to #1. Going with three backups isn’t going to work.
Note: This is a small, fast team; if the rules are called like they’re supposed to be (heard that before?) their goals will increase markedly. Nash is a game breaker.
Biggest hello: Skoula. Reliable D-man can rest Zubov for a few minutes.
Biggest goodbye: Matvichuk. Few points, few penalties, lots of ice time.
Watch for: Lots of pressure from rookies to get that 5-6 D-man spot.
Watch out: Modano had a horrible year, and an old team got older and slower.
Note: Of all the southern teams, Dallas has the most fanatical and knowledgeable fans. They wanted Modano back, they got him, they’ll be back to the rink right away.
Biggest hello: Delmore. Power play only, but there’s going to be a lot of those…
Biggest goodbye: Hull. A salary-cap loss, that’s 25-30 goals to replace.
Watch for: Kronwall. Led the AHL in defenceman scoring last year.
Watch out: Osgood and Legace? A trade may happen come the playoffs.
Note: New coach and some contract awkwardness could get Datsyuk off to a slow start. Good special teams here means the team will do just fine.
Biggest hello: Flip a coin, Peca or Pronger.
Biggest goodbye: Brewer. Pronger’s better, but Brewer’s close, and younger, cheaper and healthier.
Watch for: Peca to be allowed to attack more than ever.
Watch out: Where are the goals?
Note: A fast team, as always, but not much finish here. They’re going to need help from their D. Both goalies are going to be under the microscope for lack of experience.
Biggest hello: Pavol Demitra. This man can score.
Biggest goodbye: Palffy. So can this one. Oops.
Watch for: Garon and Labarbera are very good goalies. Surprise!
Watch out: Injuries everywhere, including Roenick’s 10th (at least) concussion.
Note: Roenick is always good for a sound bite, and that can’t hurt in LA.
Biggest hello: Rookie Mikko Koivu. Better skilled than his older brother.
Biggest goodbye: Brunette. A team leader.
Watch for: Mikko Koivu. Yes, I mean it.
Watch out: Defence-first coaching with offence-oriented new rules.
Note: The team speed is better, and they’ve got some good youth, but Lemaire may have to adjust to them instead of the other way around.
Biggest hello: Kariya. Has to return to form, though.
Biggest goodbye: Orszargh. Fun name to say, reliable 15 goal scorer.
Watch for: Fighting majors. This team’s as unpleasant as sand in Vaseline.
Watch out: Penalty killing. They should play with eight defencemen.
Note: Kariya has underrated leadership; if he scores points like he can, so will the rest of the team.
Biggest hello: Gretzky.
Biggest goodbye: Langkow. Expected to be a first-line centre: he’s not.
Watch for: Scoring from four lines.
Watch out: Gretzky behind the bench.
Note: I’m not convinced a genius can really communicate that well with mere mortals. Seriously, what’s he going to say to Denis Gautier? Might work out, but…
Biggest hello: Patrick Lalime. A step up from Osgood.
Biggest goodbye: Demitra, Pronger, MacInnis, Mellanby, Baron, …
Watch for: Weight to play until his legs explode.
Watch out: How many defencemen can play forward?
Note: The defence still looks good, despite the salary cap losses, but the forwards are seriously lacking.
Biggest hello: Goc? Not much needed, really.
Biggest goodbye: Ricci. Tremendously respected around the league.
Watch for: Why change what works? At least six 20 goal scorers, likely more.
Watch out: Cheechoo may get bitten by the so-called “Sophomore Slump”.
Note: If the Sharks decide to go to Europe for another right winger, they could have a new “Kraut Line” that’s actually composed of Germans.
Biggest hello: Carter. If he gels with the Sedins, then they all get ice time and points.
Biggest goodbye: Sopel. Vancouver’s highest scoring defenceman last year.
Watch for: Kesler. Thought to be a defensive specialist, he got 30 goals in the AHL.
Watch out: A thin defence – injuries to Ohlund or Jovonovski will hurt, bad.
Note: Auld is the best passer of Vancouver’s three goalies, and he’s getting tired of Winnipeg; he should stick, with Johnson as insurance.
So who’s making the playoffs? Who knows? With all the changes to personel, teams are going to need a little time to gel. That means that the best coaching is going to have the biggest advantage early. Other than that…
Eastern Conference tomorrow.