Friday, September 30, 2011

Winnipeg's Back!

Today is the final day of the 2011-12 NHL Season Preview, which means that hockey isn't far away now.  And what better way to end this preview than with the team everyone is clamoring to see in the Winnipeg Jets.  No, these are not father's Jets, as this version was once the Atlanta Thrashers, but you know the people of Winnipeg will be selling out the games this season, something that was a rarity, if at all, in Atlanta in recent years.  The face of this Jets team is Andrew Ladd.  He actually led the team in scoring with 59 points, and as captain and two time Stanley Cup winner, he is the ideal fit to be the face of this team.  Zach Bogosian had a rough year last year, but given that he's a second pairing defenseman behind Dustin Byfuglien and Tobias Enstrom, the pressure should be off for him to rebound.  Evander Kane is entering his third season, and many are expecting a breakthrough season for him.  He already has the mindset to succeed, now, his physical skill set has to match that.

Prediction: 13th in East

Movie: Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge

They're baaaaaccccckkkkk!!!!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

championships...without the capital C

Since the dawn of the last decade, the Washington Capitals have not made it past the second round, and last year was as disappointing as it got.  Down years offensively across the board, as well as players not contributing forced the team to shore up those problems.  Everything begins with Alex Ovechkin, who did not break the 100 point barrier last season.  He did show some improved defensive play, but now the task will be improving upon that while not taking away from the offense.  Part of Ovechkin's dip in numbers can be attributed to a steep drop in numbers for Nicklas Backstrom.  He failed to break 70 points, and those struggles continued in the playoffs, where seemingly everyone not named Alex Ovechkin struggled.  Backstrom will be counted upon to get the offense going from the center position.  Troy Brouwer brings a championship and grit to a team that lacked it last year when it counted.  He made life easier for the likes of Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp, and Jonathan Toews, and now, he will do the same for Ovechkin, Backstrom, and Alex Semin.

Prediction: 1st in East

Movie: Shock

The last movie of Mario Bava, it is one of those movies that relies on scare factor to get reactions.  The Caps' have Ovechkin to provide that for opposing teams.  Doesn't always work, in both cases, but it's worth a shot.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

So Close...

The story of the 2010-11 Vancouver Canucks was one of high expectations, but was also one that fell one game short of the Stanley Cup.  Naturally, the only way to get that bad taste out is to get back to the Finals, but it will be easier said than done.  Ryan Kesler was the best player in the playoffs last year, but he will miss the first month of the season after off-season surgery.  He is the player that teams build around, and it will be interesting to see how the team comes together in his absence.  All eyes remain on Roberto Luongo after he fell apart in the Stanley Cup Finals.  Sure, he had his games, but the maddening inconsistency came to life in the Finals and before that, in the first round against Chicago.  If the pressure wasn't unbearable before, then it's about to be turned up by quite a bit.  Chris Tanev appeared in a few playoff games in Dan Hamhuis' absence, and acquitted himself nicely with a good showing.  With Christian Ehrhoff's departure, Tanev is the leading candidate to replace him, particularly if Keith Ballard doesn't find his way out of Alain Vigneault's doghouse.

Prediction: 1st in West

Movie: Suspiria

Excellent opening sequence, and good middle, but ultimately, an ending that falls short of expectations...that's the Dario Argento movie and the Canucks in a nutshell.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Time to Believe Again?

Since the lockout, the Toronto Maple Leafs are one of two teams to have never made the playoffs.  Last year, however, they were in contention until the last two weeks of the season.  Yes, there is hope in Leafs Nation, but they will need more offense before they can truly believe.  Phil Kessel is good for 30 goals a season, which is the surest thing the Leafs have.  What is not sure is Kessel's ability to handle the Toronto media, a relationship that can be considered up and down on many  nights.  The eyes of Leafs Nation are squarely on James Reimer.  Promoted from the Marlies of the AHL mid-season, he won his first game on New Year's Day, and nearly led the team into the playoffs.  Now, with a full season of opposing teams preparing for him, what does Reimer do for an encore?  The sure bet with Reimer is that he seems to have the mentality to deal with life in Toronto.  Nazem Kadri was supposed to stick on the Leafs' roster last year, but uneven play had him with the Marlies for a time.  This year, he will once again, have an opportunity to stick with the Leafs, this time as a third line center, at best, since Mikhail Grabovski and Tim Connolly have the top two center spots filled.

Prediction: 10th in East

Movie: Slap Shot

Okay, so this isn't horror, but is there any other way to describe where Toronto wants their style of play to go?

Monday, September 26, 2011

True Blue Lightning?

Though the new look was unveiled in the middle of last season, the 2011-12 Tampa Bay Lightning will officially be wearing the new look this season.  Better than that, the Lightning looks like they'll be christening the look with a winning product on the ice.  Everything the Lightning does centers around Martin St. Louis.  With all apologies to Steven Stamkos, St. Louis was the team MVP last year, and has been a great influence on Stamkos.  Even as he nears the twilight years, he will still be a great locker room presence.  Speaking of Stamkos, he will be under a brighter spotlight, since he showed that he can be a streaky scorer last season, despite netting 40+ goals.  Remember, at one point, it looked like he could be a goal a game prodcuer, so there is room for him to improve.  This is the year for Victor Hedman to become the top defenseman on the team.  Steady improvement on offense (however little) and solid defensive play should make him a fixture on the blue line for years to come.

Prediction: 6th in East

Movie: Let Sleeping Corpses Lie

A ripoff of Night of the Living Dead, this movie more than holds its own.  This year's Lightning has the potential to be as good, if not better, than last year's team.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Shark Bites

The San Jose Sharks shed the label of underachievers in the playoffs with their second straight appearance in the Conference Finals last year.  Now, the next step has to be the Stanley Cup Finals.  The central figure in the Sharks' hopes is Joe Thornton, the captain.  He shed his own underachiever's label last year, playing hurt yet producing in the playoffs.  He will be asked to continue leading the way for the Sharks.  Martin Havlat was acquired for his speed and penchant for producing in the clutch.  He's never been the superstar that some have expected him to be, but he is a good player who should feel more comfortable in San Jose.  Another off-season acquisition that should help is Brent Burns.  Too often, the Sharks had Dan Boyle providing blue line help on the offense and no one else.  Burns will help ease the burden and should at least, be good for 15 goals.

Prediction: 2nd in West

Movie: Jaws

What else do you expect?

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Making Blues

Last year was to have been the St. Louis Blues' breakthrough season, but thanks to injuries, it never happened.  This year, it is the same song and dance, as the Blues will once again, have the young talent, but health will once again be a question.  Jaroslav Halak getting back to his form of two seasons ago would be a nice start.  He was inconsistent, but like just about all of the roster, was also battling injuries.  A return to health and knowing what it takes to play 60+ games will benefit him this year.  T.J. Oshie is in the last year of his contract, and he hasn't played to expectations.  Another inconsistent year, and he will likely be seeking a new team after the season.  Alex Pietrangelo became the offensive force from the blue line that since departed Erik Johnson never became.  So, naturally, the pressure is on for him to continue to put up good numbers, and I think he will, since Kevin Shattenkirk will take some of the pressure off of him.

Prediction: 6th in West

Movie: The Birds

Unexplained forces are causing the birds to go crazy and attack people.  Unexplained forces brought injuries to the Blues last year.  This year...

Friday, September 23, 2011

Penguin Dancing

Injuries pretty much derailed the 2010-11 Pittsburgh Penguins' run to the Stanley Cup.  More specifically, injuries to Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby, two of the best players in the league, did the team in.  A return to full health would benefit the team greatly, as both Crosby and Malkin are the difference between just making the playoffs and winning the Stanley Cup.  James Neal was a midseason acquisition, but failed to produce his goal scoring totals in Pittsburgh. Injuries at center has a lot to do with it, so this year, he should be back to his usual totals of around 30 goals.  Marc-Andre Fleury was the reason the Penguins almost made it to the second round last year.  In fact, he was the MVP of the team, as he held the team together with his best regular season yet.  Consistency will be key for a repeat year.

Prediction: 2nd in East

Movie: None.  However, it is an excuse to break out this 1996 commercial that qualifies as horror.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Marooned in the Desert

The Phoenix Coyotes are a team in perpetual flux, with an unstable ownership situation that has been ongoing since the lockout and an offense that is almost nonexistent.  So, how did they make the playoffs the last two years?  Simple: defense and goaltending.  This year, they'll be considerably weaker in one of those categories.  It won't be defense for as long as Keith Yandle is around.  Last year was a breakthrough year for him, as he led all defensemen in points scored.  That's the entire league of defensemen, not just the team.  His play in his own end is improving, which should only help.  Goaltending is suddenly a question mark, as the starter coming is could be Mike Smith.  I don't know about you, but if you pick up a player that almost sabotaged the Tampa Bay Lightning's chances of making the playoff chances last year, one would think that the Coyotes are taking a big gamble, but then again, the defensive system should benefit Smith if his head is right.  Phoenix did very little to solve their offensive woes, and there isn't one that can stand out immediately.  The best bet, if he can get his contract situation settled: Kyle Turris.  With only 25 points over 65 games in the regular season, he was also one of the few bright spots in the playoffs, managing 3 points as the Coyotes were swept out of the first round.

Prediction: 13th in West

Movie: REC

The movie that ended up being remade into Quarantine here in America, the basic story is that firemen report to an emergency, only to have to fight for their lives after being locked into a building full of unsavory character.  The Coyotes: well, they practically fight for their playoff lives every year in front of a handful of fans that presumably were forced to attend the games.  (Just kidding, so please don't send any complaints.)

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Rebuilding the Flyers

After a season in which the Philadelphia Flyers barely got by the Buffalo Sabres, only to get smoked by eventual champion Boston Bruins, the Flyers have basically made over half the team, but the goal remains the same.  Losing about 90 goals will hinder the team's offense, but it looks like Claude Giroux is ready to be the lead man.  He followed up a solid 2010 playoff run with an equally impressive 2010-11 season, and looks to be the man on offense.  Is there anyone under more pressure than Ilya Bryzgalov?  Nine years for a goaltender sounds like a lot (and it is), but given the recent struggles of the goaltending in Philadelphia, Bryzgalov will almost certainly be counted upon to provide stability not seen since the Ron Hextall days.  Help for Giroux will be a major need, and it would stand to reason that James Van Riemsdyk is also ready to take the next step.  The kid gloves are off for him, so expect 25-30 goals this season.

Prediction: 5th in East

Movie: Silent Night Deadly Night

A movie so controversial that it was pulled within a few weeks of hitting theaters, yet also a total train wreck that you just can't turn away from.  The Flyers made their share of controversial moves and will once again, be a team no one wants to not watch.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Rebuilding Sens Army

The 2010-11 Ottawa Senators were a disaster the likes that were matched only by the first years of the franchise.  To that end, the Senators decided to go into the youth movement head first for this coming season.  Jason Spezza will have to assume more of a leadership role since Daniel Alfredsson is nearing the end of his career and coming off of back surgery in the off-season.  Spezza is the best offensive threat on the team right now, and knows a thing or two about playoff success.  Goaltending was a problem for much of last season, and it wasn't until mid-season acquisition Craig Anderson arrived that the Sens showed signs of life.  Ottawa is notoriously tough on goaltenders, so it will be interesting to see which Anderson shows up: the one that struggled in Colorado last year or the one the Senators got to see on a daily basis.  Former first round pick Nikita Filatov didn't quite find his game in Columbus, but he has pledged to be ready when the Senators take the ice on opening night.  If he can find his offense, then the Senators will have a steal on their hands.

Prediction: 15th in East

Movie: Demons

In the Lamberto Bava movie, all hell breaks loose in a mysterious theater when the events of the movie begin to be mirrored within the theater itself.  The Senators' youth movement may be a mirror of the chaos that will undoubtedly be there this season.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Bright Lights, Not So Bright Future

The 2010-11 New York Rangers once again, rode their star goaltender to a playoff spot, but had to wait until the last day to find out.  Once there, they were promptly taken out in five games in the first round. Great goaltending can only go so far, but without a decent offensive output, the Rangers are doomed.  The goaltending in question?  Henrik Lundqvist, and on an elite team, he can put a team over the top.  On the Rangers, he has been the only reason the Rangers are even in the playoff race annually.  To fix what ails the offense, the Rangers went out and got the big fish in this year's free agent pool in Brad Richards.  If healthy, he could be a major help in that regard.  The problem?  He hasn't always been healthy, which is to say that Rangers fans will undoubtedly be rubbing rabbit's feet twice as much with Richards and Marian Gaborik.  That, more than the pressure, will be something to watch for with Richards, who does bring big game experience with him, having won a Stanley Cup and Conn Smythe in 2004.  Derek Stepan was a revelation as a rookie last year, and certainly, he will be under pressure to increase production this year.  However, with Richards on board, Stepan won't have to shoulder the load alone, which should help in furthering his development.

Prediction: 8th in East

Movie: The New York Ripper

New York is a much different place at night, and certainly, the Rangers are a much different team this year, with Richards and Michael Rupp on board, as well as (gasp) the Rangers spending wisely.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Beacon of Hope

The New York Islanders' season was one of hard luck, and that extended to an off-season in which there were rumors of moving after a proposal for a new arena was rejected.  Despite the troubles, there is talent, and at the head of that group is John Tavares.  The first overall pick in 2009, he hasn't taken the jump that Steven Stamkos did in his sophmore year, but looking at the talent around him, it is clear that he is making his teammates better.  One of them is Michael Grabner, a cast-off from Vancouver who scored 34 goals on the way to a Calder Trophy nomination.  40 goals is a realistic number for him this season.  The Islanders' issues last year was injuries, and none was more significant than Mark Streit...before the regular season started.  His return instantly gives the Isles' more offense from the blue line.

Prediction: 11th in East

Movie: Zombie Doom

The movie, originally called Violent Shit III, is set on an island, and the last ones standing didn't even appear in the movie until halfway through.  The Islanders...well, there's Rick DiPietro, who hasn't played a full season in a while.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Thawing Out

The New Jersey Devils were a dysfunctional mess last season, particularly in the front office.  That's not news.  What is news is that the Devils missed the playoffs, thanks largely to a miserable start to the season in which the head coach was fired before Christmas, and an old coach was coaxed out of retirement to finish the season.  Much of the offense (or lack thereof) was missing when Zach Parise went down with an injury.  He will be motivated, as he is not only coming back from injury, but also a new contract, as it is up after this season.  The Ilya Kovalchuk saga of last year clouded the Devils for much of the year, and he put up his worst goal totals in his career.  Expect him to post closer to 40 goals, as there are fewer distractions this time around.  Adam Larsson will likely make the jump from draft stage to Devils opening night roster, as the Devils are woefully thin on the blue line.  Then again, he could spend one more year in Sweden.  Either way, he bears watching, as he could step into a second pairing, at best.

Prediction: 12th in East

Movie: Lisa and the Devil

Movies such as the Mario Bava directed Lisa and the Devil bring fright to people.  The Devils in recent years, bring fright to their fans with their play, particularly when it counts the most.

Friday, September 16, 2011

New Look, Same Philosophy

The Nashville Predators underwent a major facelift this Summer, opting to modify their logo and a (much needed) complete jersey makeover.  Of course, this hides nothing as far as the on ice product, which finally broke through in the playoffs, getting past the first round for the first time in franchise history.  The defense first mentality is nothing if the entire team isn't committed, and that begins with Shea Weber.  He was in the headlines for arbitration, so his long term future is in question.  What is not in question is his on-ice ability and a slap shot from the blue line that few can match.  Acquired in a trade deadline deal from Ottawa last year, Mike Fisher didn't put up the numbers expected of him.  A full bill of health, as well as a full season in Nashville should put him in as one of the top threats on offense.  More offense is needed, and there is a breakthrough season waiting for Colin Wilson or Nick Spaling.  Safe money says go for Wilson, a former first round pick.

Prediction: 7th in West

Movie: Gamera

A giant turtle with rocket boosters.  How does that compare to a team that has a saber-tooth tiger logo?  Besides the animal theme?  Maybe you don't appreciate either right away, but that will change in time.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Canadien Pride

Prior to last season, there were many within the Montreal Canadiens' fanbase that were predicting disaster after trading away 2010 Playoffs hero Jaroslav Halak.  Despite being eliminated in the first round by eventual Stanley Cup Champions Boston Bruins, Montreal took the Bruins to seven games thanks to Carey Price.  No one knows the pressures of being a goaltender in Montreal better than Price, and last year, it seemed that he finally turned a corner in dealing with the Montreal fans and media on the way to propelling them into the playoffs.  No player is under more pressure to perform than Scott Gomez.  With a season worst in points scored, it is clear that the Montreal faithful isn't very happy with Gomez, and after trade rumors involving Gomez failed to materialize, this could be his final year in Montreal.  Lars Eller was a central player in the Halak deal, and despite putting up pedestrian numbers, he could be the playmaker Montreal desperately needs.  That is good news for the likes of Mike Cammalleri, Erik Cole, and Andrei Kostitsyn.

Prediction: 7th in East

Movie: Nightmare on Elm Street (original)

Dreams can turn into nightmares, as the people in the Freddy Krueger franchise figure out soon enough. Montreal always has dreams of raising the Stanley Cup every year, but their version of Freddy Krueger ends all that.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Wild Days Ahead

After another year of missing the playoffs, the Minnesota Wild fired their head coach.  That was only the tip of the iceberg for the Wild entering this offseason, as they suddenly became the Minnesota Sharks (or is that the San Jose Wild?).  The centerpiece of the Wild's offseason was Dany Heatley.  Acquired in a trade, he has a lot to prove, and it seems that he is eager to redeem himself after a season low in goals scored (since the 2003-04 season).  Nicklas Backstrom is still the team's central figure if they want to make the playoffs, and certainly, if he could find his 2008-09 form, the Wild would be better for it.  Brent Burns' departure in a trade for Devin Setoguchi will open the door for a Wild rookie on the blue line, and this could be the year Marco Scandella steps in.  He won't provide the numbers Burns did, but if he finds himself on the second pairing, the Wild would be happy.

Prediction: 10th in West

Movie: Silent Night Deadly Night 2

The Wild have been horrible for the last two years, but much like the movie, there will be no shortage of interesting things happening this year.  And I think you know what clip from the movie is coming next:

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Back in Black

Last year's Los Angeles Kings were supposed to take the next step forward.  That didn't happen, so they decided to accelerate that process by a little.  For all of the moves they made this offseason, everything hinges on the health of Anze Kopitar.  Before he went down with a season-ending injury, Kopitar was on his way to a career high in points.  The Kings were clearly not the same team after he went down, and it showed in the playoffs.  Entering the last year of his contract, all eyes will be on Dustin Penner.  Acquired in a midseason deal, he was a disappointment, and given that he doesn't utilize his size nearly enough, this could be a make or break year for him.  Given the uncertainty of the Drew Doughty contract situation, someone will have to step up as the number one defenseman if he misses time or doesn't have his game up to par.  That responsibility could fall on the shoulders of Jack Johnson, who put up a respectable 42 points.  This could be a breakout year for Johnson, particularly if Doughty struggles again like last year.

Prediction: 5th in West

Movie: Predator 2

Like the sequel, the Kings have the star power to succeed.  Where the Kings hope to change things is the actual success compared to the second Predator movie.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Extreme Makeover: Panthers Edition

After the 2010-11 season, the Florida Panthers decided to undergo a major facelift, with half of the roster that will suit up for the 2011-12 season being new and bringing back the red as its home jerseys.  At least people are talking about the Panthers now.  Will it bring success?  Only time will tell.  For all of the new faces on the team, the one player that will undoubtedly be important to everything coming together is Stephen Weiss.  Having been with the team since he was taken in the first round in 2001, Weiss will now have to assume the leadership role in the locker room if the Panthers wish to end the decade long streak of missing the playoffs.  Brian Campbell was brought in not just because he helped the Panthers get to the cap floor, but also because he could provide a spark from the blue line, and almost by default, be the power play quarterback.  Tomas Fleischmann was traded from Washington to Colorado and instantly found success in his new place last year.  However, health problems cut his season short, and Florida is now his new place.  If he's healthy, expect him to rediscover that offensive spark that was found in Colorado.

Prediction: 14th in East

Movie: Friday the 13th (original version)

Like the movie, the Panthers will have a bunch of new faces in camp.  Unlike the movie, many of those new faces won't be slaughtered by a man in a hockey mask.  However, there will be a man in a hockey mask for the Panthers.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Digging for Black Gold

Today is 9/11, and if you are looking for something that relates to that day, please go to the previous post I made.  Once again, remember those who were lost that day and those who put their lives on the line to help out in that time of tragedy.  Thank you.

Last year was a growing pains period for the 2010-11 Edmonton Oilers.  Kids such as Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, and Magnus Paajarvi helped usher in the team's commitment to youth.  Hall was on his way to 70 points last year before an injury in an ill-advised fight late in the season ended his year.  He will be counted on to spearhead the offense once again.  For all of the youth on the team, it would be nice if the Oilers could have some quality goaltending, and that falls squarely on whoever wins the starting job, whether it is Nikolai Khabibulin or Devan Dubnyk.  Someone has to win the job, and neither has pulled ahead to this point.  Ryan Nugent-Hopkins could conceivably be sent back to juniors, so if you're looking for someone to watch for, look at Ryan Whitney.  Before he went down with an injury, the Oilers were actually respectable.  Whitney is the team's best option for offense from the blue line, and the depth is woefully thin after him in terms of decent offensive options.

Prediction: 15th in West

Movie: Children of the Corn

Youth rules a town in the Stephen King novel turned movie, and youth also rules the Oilers' roster.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Remembering 9/11

Tomorrow marks ten years since 9/11, when in four separate instances within a few hours, planes that were hijacked were flown into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and a field in Pennsylvania.  This was a day that changed America, and many will take time to remember those who were lost in those attacks.  Sports wasn't immune to this, as not only were the baseball and football games were postponed in the days following the attacks, but the hockey world also lost two contributors on the Flight 175 that was to have headed from Boston to Los Angeles.  Los Angeles Kings director of pro scouting Garnet "Ace" Bailey and amateur scout Mark Bavis were on that flight that ended up hitting one of the World Trade Center towers that fateful morning.  Bailey had a fairly distinguished career as a player and would win seven Stanley Cups in his life, two as a player and five as a scout.  Bavis had been an assistant coach at Harvard and Brown.  He also had a hand in the Kings' drafting current NHL players Mike Cammalleri and David Steckel.  Both Bailey and Bavis are connected not just for 9/11, but the legacies they leave behind.  Many fundraisers were done in their name and they have all been designed to help kids be the people that Bailey and Bavis were: guys that led by example through their actions.

As the day nears, let us remember those who perished on that day and to carry on the legacies that they have left behind.  Let us follow the examples of the Bailey and Bavis families and continue to honor those as they would have wanted.

Spinning Their Wheels

Since 2009, the Detroit Red Wings have been eliminated in the second round by the San Jose Sharks in consecutive seasons.  Yes, the team's window of opportunity may be closing, but the key elements are still there and have at least one good season left in them.  None is more important than Nicklas Lidstrom, who at 41, can still play top level hockey.  He was the team's most important signing this offseason, and his Norris Trophy from last year is proof of how much he means to the team.  No player is under more pressure than Jimmy Howard, who is competent, but needs to step his game up come playoff time.  Being more consistent in the regular season would go a long way to helping in that regard.  There's no real candidate for a player to watch for, but if you're looking for a bounce back candidate, look no further than Ian White.  He bounced around with three teams last season and had a disappointing year.  He won't have to carry the load this year, so he should be able to produce respectable numbers once again.

Prediction: 3rd in the West

Movie: Stephen King's Christine

With the Winged Wheel as its logo, it's only natural for the Red Wings to be tied to a movie about a killer car.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Bad Times in Big D

Last year, the Dallas Stars needed to win against the Minnesota Wild on the final day of the season to make it into the playoffs.  It didn't happen, and gone with the Stars' chances of making the playoffs was Marc Crawford as coach and Brad Richards as its star player.  This year, Dallas will rely heavily on Kari Lehtonen to keep the team in games on many nights.  He had a good year, as he managed to stay healthy for a full year and kept the team in many games.  Now, he will have to repeat that performance.  One player on the spot for the Stars this season is Sheldon Souray.  Buried in the minors last year by the Oilers, he is looking to prove that he can stay healthy and that he can still put up the numbers from the blue line.  Richards and his 77 points will sorely be missed, but one player who could take the lead on offense is Loui Eriksson.  He was an All-Star last year, but this year can be his opportunity to prove that his numbers were more than a product of having Richards as his center.

Prediction: 14th in the West

Movie: Hell of the Living Dead

Remember Dawn of the Dead?  Meet the worst knockoff of that movie.  Now, it would not be surprising if the Stars were to follow up last year with a total stinker.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

The North Shall Rise Again

Before I begin the Columbus Blue Jackets season preview, I would like to send out my condolences to those who lost loved ones in the plane crash in Russia yesterday.  This affects not just those who knew them the best, but also those who have cheered from the stands.  Now, a moment of silence. *stops for a minute*

Thank you.

The 2010-11 Columbus Blue Jackets lost in a lot of ways, from the disaster that is their third jerseys to on the ice, where they once again, missed the playoffs.  This has caused a sharp decline in attendance, forcing GM Scott Howson to scrap the "grow from within" approach.  Even with the acquisitions of Jeff Carter and James Wisniewski, everything still centers around Rick Nash.  He was the best player on the team last year, and too often, he was the only player producing.  Carter's arrival combined with the continued development of Derrick Brassard, Antoine Vermette, and R.J. Umberger should see Nash's numbers go up.  All of Columbus' hopes for a playoff spot hinges on goaltender Steve Mason.  Since his Calder Trophy year in 2009, he has struggled mightily.  The acquisitions this offseason give him fewer excuses for not performing, and all eyes will be on him to get back to his rookie numbers.  Carter's arrival should help ease the transition for Ryan Johansen, who will likely fill a third line role when the season starts.  He brings a winning pedigree with him, as the Portland Winterhawks, the team he played for last season, made it to the WHL finals.

Prediction: 11th in the West

Movie: Dead Snow

A movie about reanimated soldiers?  Could this mirror the Blue Jackets' fortunes, minus the killings?

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Day the Hockey World Stood Still

"I like you, but I am beginning to like this place less and less."  A quote from Dario Argento's Tenebre, it could just as easily be used when talking about hockey, as in having to go down this road again.  This Summer has not been kind to hockey.

This morning, as I was putting the finishing touches on today's team for the 2011-12 NHL Season preview, this bit of news came across the wire from Dignity After Hockey, a group that aims to help those who gave their all for the game they love with their lives after retirement from the game.  Around 8 AM (local time here in Kansas City), news of a plane crash that claimed the lives of many of those in the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl team: players, coaches, personnel.  Obviously, this was not how I wished to start the morning, and in many respects, the hockey world came to a crashing halt today.  Like many of the KHL teams, the Lokomotiv team had its share of NHLers, including Pavol Demitra, Josef Vasicek, Ruslan Salei, and coach Brad McCrimmon.

Demitra was possibly the most accomplished member of the team, having established himself as a star in St. Louis and Minnesota.  More recently, he was a star on the Slovakian team in the 2010 Olympic Games.  Vasicek was best known in the NHL for his years with the Carolina Hurricanes, where he a part of two Stanley Cup Finals teams and winning it all in 2006 with the Hurricanes.  Salei was a former first round pick that liked to play physical.  He is best remembered as a Mighty Duck, but also spent time with the Panthers, Avalanche, and Red Wings.  Karlis Skrastins spent time with Nashville, Dallas, Colorado, and Florida, and was best known for being an iron man, appearing in 487 straight games at one point.  McCrimmon played 18 seasons in the NHL before becoming an assistant coach after retiring.  He had recently taken the Lokomotiv coaching job this past May.

Also in the crash were Karel Rachunek, who spent time with Ottawa, New Jersey, and the New York Rangers.  Assistant coaches Alex Karpovtsev and Igor Korolev also had spent time in the NHL as players, and goaltender Stefan Liv was a part of the 2006 gold medal winning Sweden team and was a one time Red Wings prospect.

Today has been a hard day in the world of hockey, as many of the players, coaches, and personnel on the plane had at some point or another, had an impact on their fellow players and fans alike.  Regardless of how you feel about the players or team itself, every one of the people on the plane were a part of the game that they loved.  Condolences and prayers go out to all of their families, and may they find their way to the heavens.

Digging Out

Until the All-Star Break last year, the Colorado Avalanche were in contention for a playoff spot.  Then, injuries and some red reels goaltending did them in.  This year, the Avs hope to get back some of what was lost.  All roads begin and end with Matt Duchene, who was an All-Star last year, and figures to be the central figure in the team's hopes for a playoff spot.  All eyes this year will be on Semyon Varlamov, who was acquired for a first and second round pick from the Washington Capitals in the offseason.  He's good, but is also injury prone, one reason why he was the odd man out in the Caps' goaltender system.  Gabriel Landeskog figures to make the direct jump from the 2011 NHL Draft stage to the Avs' opening night roster.  The most NHL ready prospect in the draft, he provides a big body that could chip in 50 points right away.  I'll cheat here and add a fourth player to watch for here, and say that Erik Johnson is someone to watch for to finally develop into the player he never became in St. Louis.  10 points since coming to Colorado compared to 19 in 55 games for St. Louis suggests that he could be the top offensive threat from the blue line.

Prediction: 12th in the West

Movie: Jack Frost

The horror version, not the family friendly one starring Michael Keaton, and what else but snow ties the two things together.  Now, if the Avs provided a promotional night featuring this clip, I'd be sold right away.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Jets Unveil New Look

Today marks the unveiling of the new Winnipeg Jets jerseys.  It was done with much pomp and circumstance, with the Wing 17 in Winnipeg as a backdrop.  So, let's get to the nuts and bolts of this look.  As you can see, the home jerseys are a darker shade of blue, with white and light blue striping on the sleeves and the waist.  Personally, I wouldn't have minded seeing the two shades of blue reversed, but it's not horrible.  The road whites are actually unique in the sense that the sleeve stripes go all the way around, even with the shoulder striping going all the way down.  This is unique, and is actually a nice attention to detail.

The lettering on the player names is decent, but it is the numbering that really sells me on this jersey.  Modern design done right: stylish, yet not complicated.  You have seen the primary and shoulder logos a month ago, and that was an expected thing.  I would definitely buy the road whites, but give me time on the home jerseys.

Woodhead's Revenge

The 2010-11 Chicago Blackhawks were nothing like the team that won it all the previous year.  In fact, they needed a Dallas Stars loss on the final day of the regular season to even be in the playoffs.  Even after taking Vancouver to seven games in the first round, one gets the feeling that the Blackhawks were capable of so much more.  That is why they got the players who can provide grit to keep opposing players off of the likes of Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane.  Toews is the one player the team gravitates around, and certainly, he put the team on his back towards the end of the season.  He wears the "C" for good reason.  The blue line wasn't as productive last season, and some of that responsibility will now fall on Niklas Hjalmarsson.  The Blackhawks matched an offer sheet for him last offseason, and now, he will have more pressure to justify that decision.  Every team needs a guy that can score and get under people's skin.  Dave Bolland is that guy for Chicago, and despite missing part of the season due to various injuries, he is just as important as Toews and Kane, and that was never more evident than when he returned midway through the first round series.

Prediction: 5th in the West

Movie: Creepshow 2

What other part of this movie fits the Blackhawks better than this bit of fun?

Monday, September 5, 2011

Hurricane Watch

One game was the difference for last year's Carolina Hurricanes, as they missed the playoffs after a 6-2 loss to Tampa Bay that would gotten them in had they won.  Essentially, the same pieces are in place, but will it be enough to get them over the hump?  As long as Cam Ward is in goal and is healthy, Carolina will always have a chance.  He's been the best player since the lockout, and can come up big in the clutch.  With a Calder Trophy winning year and rock star status in Carolina, what can Jeff Skinner do for an encore?  You know the sophmore slump is going to be mentioned a lot, and if Skinner  can meet or beat his rookie point total of 63 points, then the 'Canes offense will be better for it.  Carolina's biggest weakness last year was on the blue line, and Tomas Kaberle figures to give the team a veteran presence that will jump start the offense.  Outside of his time in Boston, his track record speaks for itself.

Prediction: 9th in the East

Movie:  Gore Gore Girls

Minus the T&A, the Hurricanes have a lot of visual candy, but you wonder where the ending will take you.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Flicker of Hope

For the first half of the 2010-11 season, the Calgary Flames were in the hunt for a lottery pick in the NHL draft.  A change in GMs later, and they were on the verge of the playoffs.  Like every year, the Flames' offensive hopes rise and fall with the captain Jarome Iginla.  It's hard to dispute where the Flames would be without him, but he does need help.  That help begins with Jay Bouwmeester, who hasn't been the offensive presence from the blue line that Calgary thought they were getting when they acquired him a couple of years ago.  Mikael Backlund had a respectable rookie season, and figures to be better centering a line with Iginla and Alex Tanguay.

Prediction: 9th in the West

Movie: Inferno

Much like the Dario Argento movie, the Flames have promise, but ultimately fall short of expectations seemingly every year.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Raising the Stakes

New owner, more money, same expectations:  that is what the Buffalo Sabres are facing as the 2011-12 season begins.  For all the acquisitions this offseason, the hopes for a Stanley Cup parade all hinge on a familiar face in Ryan Miller.  He had a less than stellar year (by his standards), and will look to have a bounce back year. However, he is still the player that can steal games for the Sabres.  Of all the new players on the team, the one that could face the most pressure is Ville Leino.  He doesn't have the history that Robyn Regehr or Christian Ehrhoff have, and at the price he was signed, Leino will be under the gun to produce according to the contract.  The new arrivals, plus the return of Derek Roy, could spell a breakout season for Drew Stafford.  He showed some of what he could do last year, and with the possibility of lining up with either Leino or Roy, Stafford could hit 30 goals this season.

Prediction: 4th in the East

Movie: A Blade in the Dark

Last year, the Sabres had all of the impact of a box cutter as a murder weapon.  This year, they hope it is a lot more than that.

Friday, September 2, 2011

A Heck of a Story to Tell

This time last year, the Boston Bruins were still stinging over the 3-0 series lead against the Philadelphia Flyers  in the conference semis that ended up being 4-3 for the Flyers.  My, how things change in a year.  Stanley Cup Champions for the first time since 1972, the Bruins are now the team with the bullseye on their back.  None has a bigger target on them than Zdeno Chara.  The guy that makes the defense first mentality of the Bruins work, you know that he will also be a target, given the Max Pacioretty incident.  If there's anyone who has the most pressure to succeed this year, it's Tim Thomas.  I know what you're saying, and yes, he came away with considerable hardware after last season.  However, he is 37 and his backup Tuukka Rask is hungry to reclaim the starting job he lost in the middle of the season, not that either goaltender is up to the task.  Looking for the next breakout star?  Look at Brad Marchand.  I know the trendy pick is Tyler Seguin, and he will be great in time, but no one will have a greater impact on the Bruins than Marchand.  His play in the Finals speaks for itself.

Prediction: 3rd in the East

Movie: Army of Darkness

Much like Ash, the Bruins have one heck of a story to tell, and it's just as compelling.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

All Roof, No Foundation

Today begins the 2011-12 NHL Season Preview, and as a theme, all the previews will have some horror movie clip attached with each preview, in addition to the standard previews.

The story of the 2010-11 Anaheim Ducks can best be described as having the firepower up front, but nothing to back it up.  With 99 points in the regular season, the Ducks were exposed by a more balanced Nashville team in the first round.  Anaheim's scoring is spearheaded by Rocket Richard and Hart Trophy winner Corey Perry.  He always put up decent numbers, but last year saw him realize his full potential, and he will look to build on that.  Anaheim's Cup aspirations took a hit when Jonas Hiller went down with vertigo.  His loss exposed an Anaheim blue line that was mostly in the minus category of the +/- statistic.  Great goaltending tends to cover up a lot of weaknesses, and Hiller is definitely an upgrade over Ray Emery, who filled in admirably.  Cam Fowler made the team out of training camp last year, and managed to put up good numbers as a rookie, but like most of his blue line mates, he had an alarming +/- number well below the line.  He will be counted on to take a bigger role with the team.

Preditcion: 7th in the West

Movie: Don't Torture a Duckling:

Though the only thing that ties the two together is the "Duckling" in the movie title and the team name, the potential for the Anaheim team to be great could match the underrated 1972 Lucio Fulci film.