North of the 400

North of Toronto, South of a championship

Twenty-nine thoughts, comments and predictions for the 2010-11 NHL Season

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With an afternoon game on a warm and sunny Wednesday afternoon, the NHL season kicked off. No weather can be described as more ‘hockey-like’, except for any kind of weather that occurs during the winter months.

It really seems like the season get longer and longer each year – wouldn’t it make more sense for the NHL to start after baseball ends? Or at least around the time the World Series starts? – but it’s something I’m resigned to. Why fight city hall, as it were.

While I can’t say I eagerly anticipate this day every year, it is nice to have hockey back. It’ll be nice to have stuff on TSN that isn’t a movie I’ve seen a million times, the day’s third broadcast of PTI or poker, the bane of any smart person’s existence.

So, to commemorate the day, here are 29 predictions, comments and general thoughts that all relate to the NHL. Why 29? To celebrate how last spring was the 20th anniversary of Felix Potvin’s joining the Leafs. The Cat, after all, was fuckin’ amazing.

  1. Edmonton will be awful. You knew that already. Will they be awful to watch? I’m not sure. The Oilers this year are going to be young – nine players on their roster have played for three or fewer seasons – and they have two dynamic rookies in Jordan Eberle and Sam Gagner. They’ll be worth checking in on from time to time.
  2. This is the last season for Bob Cole on Hockey Night. Cole’s been shuttled back and forth and I’d argue at this point, he’s their third-string guy (at least) and he’s well past his prime. CBC Sports already has two other playcallers who could supplement him – Dean Brown seems pretty likely to me – and has been hinting at pushing him out slowly. If it wasn’t for the CBC letting Chris Cuthbert go during the lockout, he’d have already retired.
  3. HBO’s reality show on the Winter Classic will be appointment viewing. Their reality show department – the guys who do Hard Knocks and 24/7 – produce some compelling programming and their documentary on the Flyers was solid. I have high hopes for their next hockey venture.
    HBO would be an interesting home for the NHL. I hear their name mentioned on blogs every so often when NHL broadcast rights come up, often with the reasoning that you could mic the players and not worry about bad words. And HBO would be fun to supplement coverage; they can show a deeper look into the locker room another network – NBC, for example – may shy away from. But as a regular broadcast partner? No way.
    Did you know one of HBO’s first broadcasts was a hockey game? I doubt that broadcast exists in any archives, but I think it’d be cool to see.
  4. Speaking of old broadcasts, remember the find of game seven of the 1960 World Series? I bet something from the NHL’s past will pop up; I’m going to guess Darryl Sittler’s 12-point game will finally emerge. It’s rumoured that only one copy exists, but I find it hard to believe he hasn’t dubbed a copy for a friend (or a friend dubbed it themselves when Sittler wasn’t around). There’s no way such a a famous game only exists in one copy.
  5. Rookie of the year: PK Subban, Montreal Canadiens. I saw him play in Hamilton last spring and he really impressed me. He’s got some moves, he can handle the puck and he can check. He’s not bad at scoring either. He looked good in the playoffs last season and he has a much better team around him then, say, Eberle does.
  6. Maybe you’ve heard how the NHL broadcast rights are up at the end of the season. The two likely candidates appear to be NBC and Versus or ESPN, both of whom are completely expected. After all, the NHL is basically Versus’ brand at this point; it’s certainly the first thing I think of when I think of the network. And NBC has somewhat improved their coverage: they haven’t cut away to horse racing in at least two postseasons. So what I think needs to be asked is what would ESPN give them that NBC or Versus can’t?
    With ESPN, the NHL gets additional exposure on SportsCenter. And ESPN does have a higher reach then Versus. But ESPN is more cluttered: hockey would be competing for a spot with the NBA, NFL and the MLB on ESPN – not to mention NASCAR, Tennis and the NCAA. Sure, there’s two networks, but we’ve already seen conflicts threaten to push events – like the US open championship match – off to ESPN Classic, the hinterland of sports networks.
  7. On the other hand, Versus is buried in cable. It’s smaller and doesn’t nearly the same recognition ESPN does. And I think it’s safe to say they won’t be an active challenger to ESPN probably ever. But by staying on the fringe, the NHL does get something: a network willing to schedule around the league. Right now the NHL gets multiple games of the week on Versus, plus a ton of playoff coverage. Do they get that on ESPN, especially when one considers how bulked up the NBA package is now on ESPN. I think they gain a lot more by staying where they are then if they move.
  8. Not really being considered: a move to Turner Sports. I actually think getting TBS to air a barebones NHL package would be a good thing for the league and is something that could work in conjunction with their programming on Versus. The NHL on TBS could be worked in the same way baseball or basketball is on Turner: a game of the week, an in-depth highlights/roundtable show and some playoff coverage. They could air a doubleheader on a weeknight – Wednesday is a good night, although Saturday could also work – and cap the night off with Inside the NHL. It’s not likely to happen, but it’s something I hope the NHL peruses.
  9. Rocket Richard Trophy: Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay (55 goals). Tampa is a team on the rise and he already scored 51 – at 19. There’s no way he goes anywhere but up.
  10. There have been some cool uniform tweaks this offseason. One I liked was the Kings busting out their old Purple/Gold unis with the giant crown. But the best is seeing those old school Capital jerseys again, the ones I used to see Dale Hunter ‘finish his checks‘ in.
  11. The worst: The Flames duds for the Heritage Classic. I know it’s paying tribute to a team from 90 years ago and that’s well and all… but the giant splotches of red and yellow just make me think of a horrible mishap at a deli.
  12. All of the major sports have broadband packs, but the NHL’s has classic games mixed in with it’s package. I don’t think the NBA has that and baseball does, but you have to buy it separately (and it’s tucked away somewhere). The NFL might, I’ve never met somebody who gets their internet streams.
    I wonder why the major sports don’t try and capitalize on the older games: people will buy them on DVD (i.e.: A&E’s World Series sets or NBA Entertainment’s assorted box sets), so I’d assume even casual fans would watch them online for a fraction of the cost. What’s it hurt to throw some old games on with your broadband pack?
    Also, it’d be cool if they had a package where I could choose from a few teams and just see their games for a lower price, like the NBA does. It wouldn’t be too big a difference, since I can’t imagine I’d watch more then a few games a week, and it’d be cheaper.
    My five teams for this imaginary option: Boston, Toronto, Detroit, Los Angeles and Phoenix.
  13. I can’t say I think much of the new arena in Pittsburgh. Their old one had some cool features – like the tunnel you had to skate across the ice to get to – and losing those feels like a chapter is closing, to some degree. It won’t be long now before every ice surface is just like NHL 2010; all the same, except for the logo. I kind of liked the days when rinks were somewhat idiosyncratic: Boston’s was short, Chicago’s was loud and the dressing room had a hole in the roof and Montreal’s had a blue stripe along the boards.
  14. Presidents’ trophy winner: Boston Bruins. The combination of Tukka Rask and Tim Thomas is a great tandem of goaltending and although they’re missing Marc Savard – perhaps for the whole season – their offense is deep enough for them to keep them in the game any given night.
  15. There’s been a bunch of talk about the NHL returning to Canada, but I don’t think it’s likely to come to fruition. The NHL isn’t going to expand any time soon – as it shouldn’t – and every attempt to relocate a team in the past few years has been met with the steepest opposition from the league. So what of the cities? It’s not really their fault the NHL doesn’t want new teams or to move their current ones. But they aren’t ideal locations for a variety of reasons. I’ll rank them in order and break down why.
  16. Quebec City. Likelihood of getting a team: five per cent. Unlike a couple of the floated locations, Quebec City actually did host a NHL team in recent memory. But overlooked in lieu of the giant crowds who showed up for a rally a while back is the troubles the Nordiques had filling their arena, even when the team was in the playoffs.
  17. A second team in Toronto: Seven per cent. Population wise, this would make a lot of sense, since the GTA has a vast number of people. But remember, there’s no arena (nor any being proposed, either) and there’s almost no way the Maple Leafs let this happen. And even if they did, can you imagine the territorial fee the new team would have to play?
  18. Winnipeg: 15 per cent. I did a story a while back I interviewed a passionate Jets fan and even he admitted it would be nothing short of a devine miracle if the Jets returned. And while there is an outside chance – the NHL did draw up a replacement schedule if the Coyotes moved – there’s still some logistical problems: the MTS Centre is too small and the level of corporate support Winnipeg can offer pales to some other options.
  19. Hamilton: 25 per cent. Two blocks here: one is it’s proximity to Toronto. The second is Copps Colosium, which is too small for NHL requirements. Other then those, the Hammer is not a bad option: good sized (and loyal) community, lots of corporate support and when extended out to include the Golden Horseshoe, it’s a good sized TV market. Its no small wonder Jim Balsillie tried to move two teams to the city – if Canada gets another team, it’s hard to imagine a more ideal area.
  20. Vezina winner: Ilya Bryzgalov, Phoenix Coyotes. A safe and conventional pick, sure. But where a lot of the other great goalies have either good teams in front of them – Tim Thomas, Ryan Miller, Roberto Luongo – or are possibly the greatest goalie of their generation (Martin Brodeur), I think Brygalov carries his team. Last season he won 42 games, up from 26 the year before, and posted his best stats yet. He’s on the upswing and since his team is far from great, I’d argue his stats carry a little more cache then the norm. After all, the Vezina winner should be the goalie you’d want on your team the most; I can’t think of anybody I’d like more then Ilya.
  21. All those words on llya has me thinking: has any trade effected a team more then Phoenix’s acquisition of Bryzgalov in the past few years? When Joe Thornton moved to San Jose, he improved the Sharks, but they were already a great team (in fact, they haven’t gone as deep into the playoffs with him). Phil Kessel improved the Leafs, but by the time he was able to play their season was already over. Ilya all but turned around the Coyotes and helped them get their first postseason berth in years last season. He was a hell of an acquisition.
  22. Since Phoenix’s playoff run was a bit of a surprise last season, it’s got me wondering which team could be a surprise this season. Part of me thinks it could be the Islanders, provided they stay healthy. But even that could be a stretch; Nathan Tavares suffered a concussion in the season opener and had to be helped off the ice. Without him, they lose a valuable playmaker – he had a team leading 24 goals at age 19 last season – but they have a decent team on paper. I certainly hope they do sneak into the post season, even if it means a race for the bottom three seeds.
  23. And if that’s a surprise up, who’s a surprise down? I like the Calgary Flames to drop into the bottom of the NHL: they’re getting old, their SRS has been on a downward trend since 2007 and their division is getting tough; against a young Oilers team in their home opener, they looked sluggish and slow. Missing the playoffs last season was no fluke. I think it’s possible they will finish in the basement of their division.
  24. And just because I can, one team that will remain in stasis will be the Buffalo Sabres; I expect them to contend for the top seed in the East, but narrowly lose in the second round of the playoffs.
  25. Art Ross winner: Alexander Ovechkin, Washington Capitals.
  26. Norris winner: Dion Phaneuf, Toronto Maple Leafs. I’ll admit, this is a bold pick. But consider this: if he plays well in Toronto and approaches the numbers he put up in his first few seasons (let’s say 18 goals and 50 points); if he bolsters an already-physical Leafs team with his hard hitting; and if the Leafs even approach the playoffs after being arguably the worst team in the NHL last season, isn’t he at least worth a mention? Another, more orthodox choice: Zdeno Chara, especially if Boston really rips off a good season.
  27. Hart winner: Alexander Ovechkin. Not only is he the leader of the Caps, I’d argue he’s the single best player in the league. A good test for the Hart is the draw of the player: would you pay to see every game of his on your phone or computer, even if you don’t cheer for the team? And if so, how much would you pay? For somebody like Roberto Luongo, I’d pay something small like $10: it would have a few games, but I can’t imagine I’d want to watch every one. For somebody more exciting – a Stamkos or Ilya Kovalchuk – I’d pay more like $30 and see maybe a few exciting games a season. But for either Ovechkin or Crosby, I’d pay way more (I could probably justify getting league pass just for the two of them). Not only are they exciting, but with Ovechkin, one gets the feeling of complete surprise. With him, I’m never sure what I’m going to get or what to expect; after all, he did score once while sliding on his back. I guess giving the Hart to the best player in the league may be a little predictable, but I find it hard to believe anybody is more deserving.
  28. Stanley cup final: Boston Bruins vs San Jose Sharks
  29. Stanley Cup winner: Boston, in five games
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Written by M.

October 11, 2010 at 6:08 pm

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