In case you’ve been camping out in a cave, or perhaps you have been hiding in a cabin in the woods – the NHL is back Saturday!
After all the ridiculousness of terms like ‘Hockey Related Revenue’, ‘Back-Diving Deals’, ‘Caucous Meetings’, and the ‘Mediator’ – we can finally get back to terms that hockey fans actually care about! Wins, goals, hits – and of course the odd scrap. Last week I talked about three story-lines that will be holding my attention early on – here’s a few more as you get amped up for Saturday – and the puck-drop on the 2013 campaign.
Steve Stamkos is one of the finest young players in the game – no doubt about it – maybe the best sniper in the NHL. And, last season he put an explanation point on that mantle, with an incredible 60-goal effort, that made us all take notice.
Despite his personal success though, the Lightning were not a good team, finishing off the pace in the East with 84 points. They missed the playoffs, and Stammer stated he’d trade personal goal totals, for team success. Well, this is one guy to watch – and a determined Stamkos is a dangerous player for all opposition in the NHL. Number 91 wants to get back to the post-season, and in this shortened dash for Lord Stanley, I will certainly be keeping an eye on the Bolts. Stamkos will again lead his team in goals, and I believe he’ll also make a step-up as a leader, to help this club get back where they belong and should be.
The Washington Capitals have long been known for regular-season success, with a faltering playoff mentality. But, last year, the Caps surprised everyone by knocking off the defending Stanley Cup Champion Bruins, in a splendid seven-game set in the first round of the playoffs. Dale Hunter had put together the perfect game plan to dethrone the heavily favoured B’s. Success was coming with Hunter and his formula right?! Well, Hunter decided in the off-season (after losing to the Rangers in another seven-game series), that the situation in Washington was not right for his family, and despite some playoff momentum, walked away.
The Caps have gone in another direction now, and have brought in Adam Oates as bench-boss. Oates was a legendary play-maker in his days on the ice – an assist machine. But can he get Alex Ovechkin to buy in night-in and night-out? Can he harness the skills of Nicklas Backstrom, and newcomer Mike Ribeiro, and get this team over the playoff hump? Time will tell, but I can say for certain – Ovie and Backstrom were incredible together in the KHL for Dynamo Moscow. They have played in some important game action – in all situations – and made Dynamo Moscow one of the best sides in Russia. Both should hit the ground running, and Oates will be grateful for having two of his big guns firing from the get-go.
Into the Wild
If you are a team adrift in the tough Western Conference, with very little hope of getting ahead, what do you do? Well, if you’re the Minnesota Wild, you go out and sign two guys to a whopping $98 million dollars each, that’s what you logically do! You also then turn around and whine about this during the lockout – but I digress. The addition of Zach Parise and Ryan Suter are huge pieces for the Wild. But, does it help the twelfth-place team in the Western Conference from last season, leap-frog up and over eleven teams? Probably not, but both Parise and Suter have playoff experience.
Parise captained the Devils to the Stanley Cup Final last year, eventually losing in six-games to the Kings, but he knows what it takes to win. Suter will play big minutes, and be a work-horse for the Wild, and ultimately sure-up their power-play. Both of these guys instantly make the Wild a more entertaining and noteworthy side. It will also be fun to see what $196 million for two players can do for a floundering organization. Hold on, this ride could be both exciting, and a tad bumpy in this shortened schedule. The pressure will be on for the guys in green – can they deliver? Stay tuned!
That’s just a few more story-lines to keep filed away in the old hockey brain, as things kick into high gear from Saturday! Enjoy the start of the season wherever you’ll be watching, and don’t hesitate to drop me a line here with story ideas, or questions from the entire hockey world. Game on!
You can follow Murph on Twitter @MurphOnIce