With all the hoopla with baseball and American football it may have been easy to overlook hockey.
The world’s premier league for the sport, the National Hockey League, is already into its second full week of play.
Last season saw many storylines including the emergence of the new face of the league in Sidney Crosby, the return to glory of arguably its most storied franchise in the Detroit Red Wings and shocking decline of one its most surprising teams in the Buffalo Sabres.
Coming into this season a barrage of moves has altered the NHL landscape somewhat but the essential divisions and teams to watch for remain the same.
In this piece I will look at both conferences and look at all the notable teams this year.
In the Eastern Conference the buzz is all about the Penguins and their stellar play. Crosby is the real deal and is forming a deadly combo with Staal and Satan. Management’s decision to not break those guys up should leave many fans happy.
Their underrated defense and solid goal-tending though are the reasons why they’ll be a force once again this time.
However many think the Montreal Canadiens have the talent to make the Stanley Cup. There’s no doubt Montreal has the skill and firepower in Tanguay, Koivu and Kovalev. Plus it doesn’t hurt having the sympathy of onlookers with a cancer survivor in koivu on the squad.
Yet the defense, led by Markov, is apt to handle whatever offense comes their way.
Speaking of offense, the Washington Capitals supplied plenty last year. Most of it came from league top scorer and MVP Alexander Ovechkin. With Federov and Kozlov in tow Washington will certainly make every defence sweat.
However time will tell if new goalie Jose Theodore keeps the squad in games.
The Buffalo Sabres are a team that baffles many experts. The squad went from top to bottom in a season and their confidence is shaky.
True their extra period performances had a big hand in their demise but Miller has to be the difference-maker in goal that he was in 2006.
On the other hand one of the NHL’s models of consistency has been the Ottawa Senators. The team gets the job done with a powerful offense and a stout defense led by goalie Martin Gerber. This season should be no different.
One of the most competitive and deadly divisions is the Atlantic. Apart from the Islanders, every squad made it into the playoffs. Of the group the Rangers were surprisingly good for the second straight year. Look for that to continue courtesy of former Devils star Scott Gomez.
In the Western Conference talk centres around a solid Detroit squad built to capture many titles.
It’s hard to disagree with arguably the league’s best defensemen in Rafalski and Lidstrom; a solid goalie in Osgood and a powerful group of forwards and wingers led by playoffs MVP Henrik Zetterberg.
However the San Jose Sharks are an awesome team that simply ran out of gas in last year’s semi-finals. Marleau, Thornton and Grier lead a solid group of forwards while Blake and company are a rugged but efficient bunch.
However Nabokov’s form will have to continue for San Jose to challenge Detroit this year.
Dallas gave it their all last season and it’s hard to see them going further. Modano and Morrow are obviously the heart of the team but the contributions from Boucher and Turco will loom large for Dallas.
A team many experts are looking twice at are the Chicago Blackhawks. With an improved defense lead by off-season acquisitions Campbell and Huet, Chicago looks to have the fortitude to mix it up with the big boys on the block.
One of the powerhouses they will have to prove themselves against are the Calgary Flames. Led by scoring machine Jarome Iginla the Flames have the firepower to torch anyone.
The scary part about the squad is their defense and goal-tending is only getting better as the games go on.
Another interesting squad to watch for are the Anaheim Mighty Ducks.
Anaheim has to shake off last year’s disappointing showing in the playoffs and keep guys like Selanne and the Niedermayers motivated to repeat their regular season exploits.
In the end hockey is a sport that has had its ups and downs. Last season was one that could have swayed many back to the sport and this year is shaping up to be no different.