Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Season Preview: Top Five Reasons to Look Forward to the Upcoming NHL Season

Yesterday, I detailed my top five reasons that the Capitals will reach the Cup Finals this year. Today, I am detailing my top five reasons that hockey fans should be counting down the days until October 6, the NHL's opening night (for the record, I am keeping track, and as of today, there are 92 days). This season promises to be even more exciting than the last. Read on to find out why and if you think I missed anything, let me know in the comments!

Top Five Reasons to Look Forward to the Upcoming NHL Season

1. Familiar Faces on New Teams
The past few weeks saw some blockbuster trades and signings. The Wild and the Sharks linked up to provide some of the most interesting trades so far in the offseason, with the Sharks acquiring Brent Burns, a 2012 second round pick, and Martin Havlat and the Wild acquiring Charlie Coyle, Devin Setoguchi, the 28th overall pick in 2011, and Dany Heatley. In my mind, the Dany Heatlery trade is really interesting for a couple of reasons. In Heatley, you have a player with a tremendous amount of talent, a guy who has scored more than 40 goals four times in his career and who has twice surpassed 100 points, but on the flip side, his production slipped after he demanded a trade to San Jose after the 2008-2009 season. Could a change of scenery be just what this former Calder trophy winner needs to breathe some life back into his career? Or will this noted playoff underachiever continue to decline with each passing year? Only time will tell.

Another player who will be one to watch in 2011-2012 is this year's best-available UFA, Brad Richards. Richards just signed a massive, front-loaded deal with the New York Rangers to the tune of $60 million over the next nine years. The craziest thing about this contract isn't that Calgary was offering even more money, but that Richards has never been a 30 goal scorer and that he has never scored 100 points. Can Brad Richards thrive under the scrutiny of the piranha-like New York media, playing for former coach John Tortorella? My prediction is that Brad Richards will turn out like Chris Drury and Marian Gaborik, and get progressively worse as his time in New York wears on. His contract, like most Glen Sather contracts, will turn out to have been a mistake. Brad Richards is a great player, but joining the Rangers seems to make some players simply forget how to play hockey.

2. Jaromir Jagr
Jaromir Jagr shocked a lot of people by snubbing Mario Lemieux and the Penguins and signing with the Flyers. He claimed that it wasn't about the money, but rather that he thought he fit in better with Philadelphia's roster than Pittsburgh's. I think the Jagr ordeal will add a lot of fuel to the fire of the rivalry in the Keystone state, but the Penguins should be glad that he picked Philadelphia. Jagr has spent the past three years in the KHL, where he was not facing NHL-quality opposition. He never had to play an 82 game season, and I will be surprised if he plays a full season for Philadelphia. Jagr still has an amazing scoring touch, but I don't know how well he will hold up against NHL defenders. He's probably not going to look as ageless as Teemu Selanne and Nicklas Lidstrom, and the Flyers are stupid if they think he will be a replacement for Jeff Carter and Mike Richards. I am not sure why they signed Jaromir Jagr; at least in Pittsburgh he would have been a source of warm and fuzzy nostalgia.

3. HBO 24/7: Flyers and Rangers Edition

HBO 24/7: Penguins and Capitals was one of the finest documentaries I have ever seen. I had high hopes going into it, since I was already a big fan of HBO's Hard Knocks series about the NFL, and it exceeded every one of my expectations. A 24/7 series following the Rangers and the Flyers should be terrific for five reasons: Larry Brooks, Sean Avery, John Tortorella, Maxime Talbot, and a friendly fellow by the name of Chris Pronger. Larry Brooks and John Tortorella have a hilariously adversarial relationship which should play out nicely on camera. Sean Avery was born to be on a show like this, and look for him to shamelessly self-promote his various off-ice ventures at every chance he gets. Maxime Talbot, as much as I despise him as a player, was great on the first edition of 24/7, and I can't wait to see what new facial hair and/or sweaters he will have in store for viewers this time around. Chris Pronger is crazy, and his interviews are golden. Chris Pronger, uncensored on HBO, will be awesome.

4. The Return of the Winnipeg Jets
Unfortunately, I am too young to remember the glory days of the Winnipeg Jets first-hand, but I am nonetheless extremely excited for the Jets to return to the NHL. The Jets might not be very good to start off since most of the roster are coming over from Atlanta, but sometimes playing in front of a passionate fan base can give a team the confidence needed to start winning. Losing feels worse when there are more people paying attention to you, and the fans in Winnipeg are going to be among the most ravenous in the NHL. Winnipeg will have a tough travel schedule for now, but with league realignment in 2012-2013, the Jets are a welcome re-addition to the NHL. The Jets have the perfect combination of nostalgia for older fans and novelty for younger fans.

5. The Possible Cancellation of the NFL and NBA's Seasons

With the very real likelihood that the NFL and NBA lockouts will continue long enough to jeopardize part or all of both leagues' seasons, and with baseball ending in the fall, sports fans in the US and beyond could suddenly find themselves with nothing to watch; this is the perfect opportunity to expand the NHL's fan base. Hockey combines the hard hits of football with the speed of basketball, and if the NHL works to increase their exposure in non-traditional hockey markets and makes an even bigger spectacle out of events such as the All-Star Game and the Winter Classic, they can capitalize on the mismanagement of the NFL and the NBA for their own benefit.

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