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Sunday, September 9, 2007

And Now It's Time To Really Get Going

September 10th means a lot of things to a lot of people. For some, it means Monday Night Football and thanks to ESPN, that means a double-header of games that tries to ensure that most people on the East Coast miss out on a lot of football.

For others, it means the release of the College Football rankings and where their teams are landing. Even for a select few more, it means roasting the comeback of Britney Spears on MTV's Video Music Awards. For those folks, I kindly ask to move to a different webpage than this one; you'll be better off.

For those of us that live, breathe, eat, and die hockey - it means our long, continental nightmare has come to an end for the mean time. Hockey season is about to begin again. The Anaheim Ducks and Los Angeles Kings open their training camps a few days earlier than the rest of the league, mainly because these teams will be taking off for Europe to kick off the NHL Regular Season in London, England on Saturday, September 29th at 12 noon Eastern time.

The Ducks, of course, begin their season as the reigning Stanley Cup Champions while the Kings will start their season looking to build off of the youth movement behind Mike Cammalleri, Anze Kopitar and Patrick O'Sullivan. Unfortunately for the Kings, they don't have a youth movement in goal as they'll turn their Hollywood hopes on semi-permanent minor leaguer Jason LaBarbera to stop the puck.

Hey, anything that keeps Dan Cloutier out of the goal has to be a good idea.

The Ducks, in spite of being the... ugh - champs still have a lot of questions unanswered. Scott Niedermayer pulled a page out of the Roger Clemens and Brett Favre playbook and called a press conference in Anaheim to announce... that he wasn't sure about what he was going to do yet and that he may still want to play in the NHL. Teemu Selanne also hasn't expressed what he wanted to do yet, but from all accounts out of Finland, he appears content to just take it easy.

Of course, this kind of indifference means nothing. We've seen Peter Forsberg pull action like this and use it to "rest" himself up and then finally show up in Colorado to give the Avalanche a boost. It didn't lead the Avs to the title, but it did serve to pick up a team that had been a bit lethargic.

Brian Burke, however, isn't exactly the most patient guy around and he'd much rather get an answer from both Selanne and more importantly Niedermayer so that if there's any additions left to be made to help the team, he can make them without putting the team's cap space in jeopardy. After all, you can't count on either of those guys to offer a friendly discount to stick around and then ask them to bump off guys from a starting line-up that had been busting their humps all season long. That's a pretty good way to submarine clubhouse chemistry.

All is not going to be sunshine and garden variety season previews here though and I'm happy to see that The Hockey News can see what hell the Ducks winning the Stanley Cup hath brought. Soak in this little blurb from The Hockey News Ultimate Fantasy Guide 2007-2008, this came from the Buffalo Sabres team page:

If the Sabres had won their first Stanley Cup title in franchise history last season, many teams around the NHL would have likely altered their style this year in the mold of Buffalo's "Four Lines of Thunder" concept.

That didn't happen, so now it is the Sabres' turn to make alterations. The reigning Presidents' Trophy winners were the most dominant team in the regular season and the only NHL outfit to eclipse the 300-goal mark.

However, the were completely neutralized by Ottawa in the Eastern Conference final. That setback raised questions about Buffalo's ability to win low-scoring, tight-checking contests.

Part of me hopes that this isn't true, but the smart guy in me knows this assessment to be 100% correct. No one will want to mold themselves after the Sabres because "it didn't win the big one" and only helped them get regular season success and nothing in the playoffs. After all, the Presidents Trophy means you're only good when the season only kind of counts.

Instead, what will we likely have? A lot of Anaheim clones. More teams like New Jersey. More teams acting like Ottawa did against Buffalo - locking it down in a defense-only kind of game and waiting things out until its time to go on the power play. The NHL's plan was to improve the game in five-on-five situations all while enforcing the rules as they're written. Of course, the number of power play opportunities increased a lot and the amount of scoring that occurred during the man advantage grew by a lot. These things will happen.

The trend we saw in the NHL Playoffs last season, however, shows me that we're going to see more teams lean that way - especially in the Western Conference where virtually everyone plays that way already and with a team like Buffalo (who was already somewhat of an aberration playing how they did and rolling four lines consistently) losing the scoring talent they did and electing to fill from within (something that's not really a bad idea, Rochester plays the same style Buffalo does and has done very well in grooming their youth) you have to expect that Buffalo's scoring will fall off noticably.

Will Lindy Ruff change the team's style of play? I don't know, I don't believe that he will - but if he sees the writing on the wall that I think I'm seeing - it's inevitable and it will make me weep and want to kick Brian Burke, Jacques Lemaire and Lou Lamoriello in the junk.

Of course, after a display like that - Burke would want to sign me to the team. It's a delicate balance I tell ya.

Some amusing things from The Hockey News Fantasy Guide though, they predict a 128-point season from Sidney Crosby with Evgeni Malkin pulling in 98 points. This guide also predicted that last season Ilya Kovalchuk would emerge with a 110+ point season. Whoops.

They also figure Marc Savard of the Bruins to have a 100-point season. I don't know how he'll do that when he'll likely be in Claude Julien's doghouse after a couple of months. Julien is another of the defense-first, get offense if it happens kind of coaches so Savard's dislike of playing defense will drive him insane.

This guide's most amusing prediction however has to be who they think will emerge in the Stanley Cup Finals. They predict that the final four teams will be Calgary, Anaheim, Ottawa and the New York Rangers with Ottawa moving on to face Calgary and beating them in what they call, "an epic seven-game series."

And we thought an Ottawa-Anaheim final was bad for TV - if this should come true - good luck NHL selling a TV package to anyone. Yikes.

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