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October 5,2011-by Fred Boehm
Ladies and gentlemen, the time has arrived. The long three month off-season is finally coming to an end. Thus, the dawn of a new NHL season. This is the time when fans of the 30 NHL clubs all across North America (yes, even you now Winnipeg) believe this is the year. As for Vancouver Canucks fans, they were just about right. That was until they squandered a three games to one Stanley Cup Finals lead (and lost game 7 at home) to the beloved Boston Bruins. Most experts predicted Vancouver to make it out of the West and win the Cup last season. I don't believe that to be the case this season. We'll let those teams speak (play) for themselves.
FRESH FACES IN NEW PLACES
Free agency and trades this off-season have shaped and are paving the way for teams to make a strong run for Lord Stanley prize this year. The Philadelphia Flyers were amongst the busiest of teams after July 1. Starting in net and moving forward by signing goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov, proceeded to trade All-stars Jeff Carter (to Columbus for Jakub Voracek) and Mike Richards (to the Los Angeles Kings for Wayne Simmonds and rookie prospect Brayden Schenn). Philly lost veterans Ville Leino and Sean O'Donnell, but signed veteran and future HOFer Jaromir Jagr. With a healthy Chris Pronger and Claude Giroux leading the way, the Flyers look to make it back.
The names Connolly, Grier, Niedermayer, McCormick, Ellis, Montador and Lalime are gone. In are the names Ehrhoff, Regehr, and Leino. Add them to a core group of vets like Jason Pominville, Thomas Vanek and Ryan Miller, sprinkle in young talented players like Tyler Meyers and Tyler Ennis and you have quite a dish. And for the cherry on top, coach Lindy Ruff. Sounds to me like quite the recipe for success this season for the Buffalo Sabres. I can definitely see them as contenders in the east with the likes of Boston, Washington and Philadelphia.
There are a handful of other top talented guys playing in new cities this season. The most sought after FA was Brad Richards who was signed in New York by the Rangers. Minnesota and San Jose swapped players with the Wild getting Danny Heatley and Devin Setoguchi. On the end the Sharks received Martin Havlat and Brent Burns. Stanley Cup Champion, Michael Ryder, found a home in Dallas. Other notable players who can make big contributions with their new teams are Simon Gagne (Los Angeles), Steve Sullivan (Pittsburgh), Jamie Langenbrunner (St. Louis), and Brian Boucher (Carolina).
PROTECTING THE PIPES
More emphasis is being placed on goaltending now more than ever, especially in a league that has seen a decline in goals scored. Vezina and Conn Smythe trophy winner Tim Thomas showed us just how valuable it is to have a solid, reliable net minder.
The Anaheim Ducks should get a boost in net with a healthy Jonas Hiller returning from vertigo. As long as "ring-a-dong-dandy" doesn't play in his ears, the Ducks won't have to heavily rely upon backups Dan Ellis and Jeff Deslauriers.
Up the 5 freeway in Los Angeles the Kings have a heated, but healthy battle in goal, as Dean Lombardi likes to put it. "The Amazing Jonathans'" (Quick and Bernier) are stealing the show in Hockeywood. The Kings are strong contenders for the west title with these guys in net.
After being called up late in the season and playing well in the playoffs for Anaheim, Ray Emery was awarded a contract with the Chicago Blackhawks to backup young Corey Crawford. Colorado sured up the presence in net with the acquisitions of Semyon Varlomov and veteran J.S. Giguere. Evgeni Nabokov, signed by the New York Islanders last season, looked good in the preseason and his veteran leadership alone will be good for the youthful Isles. Speaking of young, James Reimer will lead the Toronto Maple Leafs in net and Mark Dekanich looks to battle Steve Mason in Columbus for the starting job.
Don't forget these guys. Pekka Rinne (Nashville), Carey Price (Montreal), Roberto Luongo (Vancouver), Martin Brodeur (New Jersey), Henrik Lundqvist (New York Rangers) and Marc-Andre Fleury (Pittsburgh).
YOUTH GONE WILD
You have all heard the expression "Nice guys finish last.", but what about "Last place teams get nice draft picks?" That saying (which I entirely made up) goes hand in hand with the Edmonton Oilers youth movement. When you hear the name Sam Gagne, do you think good young player or team leader and veteran? The Oil have caught fire (like BP) with their exceptional rookie draft selections. Last year Taylor Hall. This year Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Jordan Eberle, Magnus Paajarvi and Linus Omark. That's quite a darn good bunch of young talent to play alongside guys like Shawn Horcoff and Alex Hemsky. Playoffs may not be in the cards this year, but this will definitely be a fun team to watch this season.
Another team with kids filling the roster are the Colorado Avalanche. A team which surprised us all in 2009-10 by making the playoffs and nearly beating the #1 seeded Sharks, fell back down to earth... Let me rephrase that. They were thrown violently back to earth, finishing second to last only to have the Oilers finish worse. The positive thing about this, is that Avs picked Gabriel Landeskog with the #2 overall pick in this year's draft. Paul Stastny leads the way with other Matt Duchene, Erik Johnson and Peter Mueller following suit. I don't expect to see much improvement in the Avs, but like Edmonton, will be a fun team to watch.
2011-12 introduces a brand new team (not franchise) and a few new uniform changes. Goodbye Atlanta Thrashers, and hello The Great White North and the beautiful province of Manitoba. The Jets have landed. Well not the original Winnipeg Jets (now the Phoenix Coyotes), but the Jets are back none the less. Many were hoping, myself included, that the team would go back to the red, white and blue uni's when the existed. Instead these are the what the Jets will look like. Another team with multiple shades of blue.
Other teams making uniform changes were the Nashville Predators, Florida Panthers new home red jerseys, the Islanders and Oilers changed their road uniforms to the retro style as their home jerseys and lastly the Los Angeles Kings get a new jazzy white sweater reminiscent of the Gretzky years.
The 2012 Winter Classic presented by Bridgestone will be played at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia as the Flyers will host the New York Rangers.
This season is sure the bring the excitement and entertainment for the passionate hockey fans. Drop that puck!
New season. New team. New game tweeks. None of that seems to matter or have much effect on the Team Quad's start to their 2012 season. A new team name and new identity seem to have them skating in the right direction.
In 2011 the team, which was once the Schnoodle Noodles captured the Amature title in Novemeber and rallied in the later month to add to Pro division regular season trophies. Not Much had changed. Just the names
Leading this years cast are talented stars LW Stephen Hawking and RW Christopher Reeve. Those two have more chemistry than Louis Pasteur, Emil Fisher, and Neils Bohr. Centering the terrific winged tandem is journeyman John Demarchi.
Look for updated standings and stats in future articles.
When Los Angeles Kings GM, Dean Lombardi was hired to take over former GM Dave Taylor's duties, he instituted his 'five-year plan'.
The plan was to bring in highly skilled, gritty and tough players with a moviestar appeal visually. Some say the likes of Mike Richards, Jeff Carter (who both played for Lombardi in Philadelphia and also partied like rockstars), Drew Doughty, Matt Greene, and Jarret Stoll fit the criteria.
The Kings franchise, which established playing hockey in the NHL in 1967 had only once sniffed the Holy Grail of sports, the Stanley Cup, reaching the finals in 1993 before losing the the Montreal Canadiens.
For 3/4 of the 2011-12 the Kings showed no reason to believe another year of disappointment was eminent.
But, after accquiring Jeff Cater from Colombus in a trade that sent defenseman Jack Johnson to Ohio and the call ups of rookies Dwight King and Jordan Nolan, the Kings made one of the most remarkable and historic runs in NHL history on their way to capturing the first title in franchise history.
The trade of fan favorite Jack Johnson sent a message of sonic-boom proportions that this was now Drew Doughty's team. And boy down the stretch did he play like it. Puting all fat jokes and "Doughnut" references in the garbage. Drew played like he deserved the eight-year, $56 million contract he got back in September 2011.
Thus, Dean Lombardi's hard work and determination has paid off in more rewards than the first Stanley Cup championship in LA, or the life long dream come true for all the die hard Kings fans, or the lasting effects a champion in Los Angeles (not named the Lakers) will do for hockey in in Southern California, but maybe more importantly is that Hollywoodesque philosophy Dean orchestrated.
The makers of the Box Office hit "The Hangover 1(Las Vegas) & 2(Thailand)" have now partnered with the Los Angeles Kings to make their trilogy complete with The Hangover 3 (Cup in LA). The film is set to star previously mentioned Drew Doughty, Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, Jonathan Quick and Dustin Penner. Cameo appearanced by Matt Greene, Jarret Stoll, Anze Kopitar and coach Darrly Sutter.