This irregular feature will run when I get bored. It will ask one scintillating question about each NHL team.

 

Anaheim Ducks: Can this team take advantage of its abundance of youth to compliment its savvy and skilled veteran core?

Boston Bruins: Is there a single hockey observer anywhere who doesn’t think the team is dangling Matt Bartkowski for trade?

Buffalo Sabres: So ah, how about those Buffalo Bills?

Calgary Flames: Are you the one non Flames fan or executive who expected the team to start the season 2-0?

Carolina Hurricanes: Isn’t it great that the Canes put in a great effort for their goaltender Cam Ward opening night and only allowed 38 shots on goal?

Chicago Blackhawks: If the media doesn’t have Patrick Kane’s off ice antics to talk about, will they actually cover the team now?

Colorado Avalanche: We all know the limited shelf life of firey over the top NHL coaches like Guy Boucher and Patrick Roy right?

Columbus Blue Jackets: Do we blame Bobrovksy’s four goal opener on moving east, a lack of defenders who play defense, or just a fat pay day?

Dallas Stars: Will Alex Goligoski ever get recognized as top defenseman?

Detroit Red Wings: Is there a player in the system 30 or under who can emerge as the next “face of the franchise”?

Edmonton Oilers: Can prodigal son and eco-warrior Andrew Ference lead his band of merry man-children to liberate a playoff spot from and deliver it to their poor fans?

Florida Panthers: With new ownership and oodles of cap space this year, how wide with the tap be opened for established NHL talent in the future?

Los Angeles Kings: Without a proven backup will Quick get overworked in the regular season?

Minnesota Wild: Will the Wild faithful stay true if the team underperforms this season?

Montreal Canadiens: With the soon to be 35 year old Brian Gionta’s star waning and an expiring contract, will the Habs relocate the C to another jersey possibly before moving him?

Nashville Predators: Barry Trotz entered the season the NHL’s longest tenured head coach, will he end the season in his current position?

New Jersey Devils: With the leagues oldest team, and all but one of the free agents brought in this season over 30, does this franchise have a path to the future?

New York Islanders: The Islanders took a big step forward last year climbing into the playoffs and battling Sidney Crosby and the Penguins, can Tavares and Hamonic make themselves household names this year?

New York Rangers: How long will it take Marc Staal, Brad Richards and the rest of the blueshirts to adapt to Alain Vigneault’s system?

Ottawa Senators: Captain Spezza, with Bobby Ryan, Milan Michalek, Jared Cowen and Craig Anderson are more than enough to get this team to the second round of the playoffs right?

Philadelphia Flyers: Who will lead the Flyers in the three categories that have defined the team in recent seasons: missed games, PIMS and suspensions?

Phoenix Coyotes: Is Mike Ribeiro the right centerpiece for the teams offense or just another free agent that will do just ok and move on?

Pittsburgh Penguins: This is the year that Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are both healthy right? Right?

San Jose Sharks: Will Bruan, Vlasic, and Hertl emerge to form the new core of this team with Logan Couture?

Saint Louis Blues: Does this team have enough scoring talent and the right coach to take advantage of it?

Tampa Bay Lightning: Does Steve Yzerman who wants fighting out of the game have a punchers chance of seeing his team in the playoffs any time soon?

Toronto Maple Leafs: When the Olympic break rolls around will we be asking where they will find a center, or marveling at Tyler Bozak and Nazem Kadri as a one two punch?

Vancouver Canucks: With a new coach and system in John Tortorella and a general manager Mike Gillis, who has to be fighting for his own job, how much of the current roster will still be in place after the trade deadline?

Washington Capitals: We can all agree that Alex Ovechkin is good for 50+ goals this season, and Mikhail Grabovski will set a personal high in at least one offensive category right?

Winnipeg Jets: With Evander Kane, Dustin Byfuglien, Blake Wheeler, Zach Bogosian, and more in full stride, the biggest question about this team is once again in the crease isn’t it?

The Washington Capitals welcomed the sixth coach of the George McPhee era. This one is hall of fame inductee Adam Oates. With no real training camp or exhibition period, the Capitals were trying to absorb their new system for at leas the first month of the season. Among his other innovations was moving Left and Right Wing All-Star Alex Ovechkin from the former to the latter. The first half of the season was not pretty.

With guile, wisdom and no doubt some threats Oates got the team to the playoffs. Since last season, the Capitals have waived good-bye to Roman Hamerlik, Tom Poti, Mike Ribeiro and a few other well known faces. Perhaps the best signing this off season was the Capitals picking up Mikhail Grabovski. As compelling in terms of addition is having Brooks Laich and Mike Green both entering the season healthy.

Alex Ovechkin, John Carlson and the crew will open the season with a roadtrip to the windy city where they’ll get to watch the Chicago Blackhawks raise their newest banner. After returning home for a game they will hows the Calgary Flames who start the season without Jarome Iginla for the first time in well over a decade. The Dallas Stars will be their next port of call and they’ll face Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn and the revamped forward group in the Lonestar state. Back home they will have showdowns with Eric Staal and his Carolina Hurricanes and Gabriel Landeskog’s Colorado Avalanche.

Number of days 1-5: 11

Number of cities: 3

Best opponent: Chicago Blackhawks

Weakest opponent: Colorado Avalanche

Home games: 3

Projected points: 7

The Metropolitan division will be brutally tough.  I have no doubt Adam Oates will do everything he can to motivate the team and let them jump on the division lead early. They don’t have any really stiff competition other than the Patrick Sharp, Duncan Keith and the Chicago Blackhawks. While the Dallas Stars are no longer pushovers, and even the Avalanche aren’t a gimmie, this is a better team than four of their first five opponents on paper. They need to prove it on the ice.

Last year the Vancouver  Canucks once again marched through the Northwest Division, and claimed its crown for the regular season. The main event for the shortened 48 game season was not the on ice product, but the circus surrounding Cory Schneider and Roberto Luongo the teams “1A” and “1B” starting goaltenders. A shortened year was spent with neither able to wrest the job firmly from the other, and no trade to save the media beating the story to death.

At the NHL entry draft an amazing thing happened, Schneider ended up getting traded. Mike Gillis sold out his best crease man not for thirty silvers but for just one first round pick, which was used for Bo Hovart. Alain Vigneault was discarded and John Tortorella brought in. Mike Santorelli the former Nashville Predator and Florida Panther were brought in to deepen the pool at center on the cheap. Keith Ballard was paid to go away.

This year the team will open the season with two players suspended, and David Booth on injured reserve. Former Montreal Canadien Yannick Weber will be looking for a blueline job, and both Bo Hovart and Hunter Shinkaruk continue their fight for a roster spot. The young guns may get their shot with the temporary openings, but whether they cross the 10 game threshold is anyone’s guess. The opening fistful of games see’s the Canucks kickoff their season visiting the San Jose Sharks. With just one night rest they will head home to square off with the Edmonton Oilers, before scurrying off to face the Calgary Flames less than 24 hours later. Finally they’ll have a short home stand with a pair of games against the New Jersey Devils and San Jose Sharks.

Number of days 1-5: 7

Number of cities: 3

Best opponent: San Jose Sharks (twice)

Weakest opponent:  Calgary Flames

Home games: 3

Projected points:  5

The pace of the first five games, and the unfamiliarity with the new system mixed with the possible inclusion of two rookies makes the opening handful of games really rough. With just one proven NHL goaltender, the question will loom all season long over how much they can afford to rest Roberto Luongo. The Canucks are actually in a competitive division for the first time in the career of any of their core players. It is probable they are a better than .500 team, but that depends on their goaltending and the Sedin’s staying the entire season and bouncing back to something like  the level they played at leading to their run to the Stanley Cup finals.

The Montreal Canadiens had an impressive regular season edging the Boston Bruins for the division title. Second place in the east was their reward for a job well done. By April the injury bug was already on first name basis with the whole organization. A decimated team went up against the Senators in the first round and bowed out in five games. The playoffs certainly didn’t end the way they wanted, but the regular season has to be counted a ringing success. P.K. Subban went from a contract dispute to a Norris Trophy winner in less than 50 games, Andrei Markov did the seemingly impossible and remained healthy for 48 straight games as well. Max Pacioretty led the team in scoring. Rookies Brendan Gallagher, and Alex Galchnyuk brought intensity, skill, and much needed scoring to the team.

When you enter a season looking to bounce off the eastern conference floor, you can’t ask for much more. This off season they added Danny Briere with a two year deal, and former San Jose Shark and Pittsburgh Penguin Douglas Murray on the defensive end. Looming over the team is an impending cap crunch. If the salary cap stays roughly the same, they are going to need to shed salary to be cap compliant in 2014-5. We saw that work to the advantage of the Blackhawks in the first of their most recent championships, can the Canadiens do that?

This season opens with a divisional rival visiting. The Maple Leafs pay a visit on October 1st, and the bleu, blanc, and rouge next host the Philadelphia Flyers before a three game tour of Western Canada. The Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers, and Vancouver Canucks will all play host to the Habs. The only back to back set is in Alberta, and that’s after four days off and then there’s a two day break before meeting the other team named for residents of Canada.

Number of days 1-5:

Number of cities: 3

Best opponent: Canucks

Weakest opponent: Flames

Home games: 2

Projected points: 7

October promises to be a character test month for the Canadiens. There aren’t many top tier teams on their schedule. Only five of the teams they square off with were in the playoffs last year. Eight of their games are at home, with just five away in the seasons opening 15%. In the opening month, of those non playoff teams the Flyers and Oilers can be said to have improved, while the Flames and Stars are arguably only different than last year.

The biggest obstacle to this teams success lies within their own organization. The conflicts at ice level that received so much attention two seasons ago, did not appear to have been resolved at the end of the playoffs. The rumor mill insists those are not the only conflicts in the organization either. If the majority of the gentlemen working in the CH can pull together, there really isn’t a ceiling on what this team can do.

The Columbus Blue Jackets had a wildly up and down season that saw them in 14th in the West on February 1, in dead last on the 26th, up to 11th and just 3 points out of the playoffs on April 7, in 8th place on April 19th, and ultimately falling short of the playoffs on a tie breaker. On April third, they brought in Marian Gaborik to be the focus of their offense. After the Gaborik acquisition, Brandon Dubinsky would gain 11 points in the teams final 10 games, and Sergei Bobrovsky put the finishing touches on a Vezina winning season going 9-3 in April while giving up just 12 even strength goals in that time.

This year will start off with a lot of new things. They’re in a new division in the newly created unbalanced conferences. Their general manager will have his first full year. Nathan Horton signed during free agency to a long term deal will be one of the new faces in town. As things stand now it will either be new not to see #22 on the ice, or someone else will be wearing it, as Vinny Prospal who lead the team in scoring last year is not signed. Jack Skille is at this moment preparing to take his first strides as a member of the Blue Jackets. Fans and media will only have one Derek (MacKenzie) whose name they’ll have to remember the spelling of.

The Blue Jackets will start the season with a schedule that will tell us as much as is possible to learn about teams in the first few days of October. The schedule has two teams they should beat, two teams that will be very competitive, and only one team that is on paper clearly better. There is only one back to back set in the first five, and those are games one and two in Columbus against the Flames, and then in New York against the Islanders, then the boys have five days to get ready to visit the Sabres.

Number of days 1-5: 11

Number of cities: 4

Best opponent: Boston Bruins

Weakest opponent: Calgary Flames

Home games: 2

Projected points 5+

This year will be an interesting test of the current composition of the Columbus Blue Jackets. They’ll start the year without Nathan Horton, and have to get used to an entirely new division. The good news is that the division is largely mediocre. Carolina, New Jersey, and Philadelphia missed the playoffs last year, the Islanders accumulated exactly as many points and wins, and the Rangers only had one more point. If the team can tread water and stay no more than a game or two below .500 until Horton is back, they can make a late push for a playoff spot.

The unknowns on this team are:

  • Can Bobrovsky play at or near the level he did in the last half of last season?
  • Which Marian Gaborik will we see this year, the 40 goal man or the fragile floater?
  • Can a defense that leans heavily on offensive defensemen keep the team above water in a tougher conference?
  • Will Ryan Murray and or Ryan Johansen emerge to carry a large portion of the teams weight?

The abbreviated 2012-13 season was perhaps a blessing for Calgary Flames fans. They finished 25th in the NHL. Living legend Jarome Iginla departed for playoff pastures, and defensive stalwart Jay Bouwmeester skipped town to play for the Saint Louis Blues. The rebuild began under the same hands that have guided the franchise the last several years. Also subtracted from a fairly week roster were Alex Tanguay, and Cory Sarich who were pushed even further down the ladder of NHL success to the Colorado Avalanche.

This season is unlikely to yield pretty results. On the plus side, Calgary fans will get a chance to watch the development of the next generation. Carter Banks, Max Reinhart, and others will look to make their spot n the roster and a permanent home in the NHL The team starts the season with four eastern conference teams on its schedule, and only the Canucks as a conference rival.

Number of Days 1-5: 8

Number of cities: 2

Best Opponent: Canucks

Weakest Opponent: New Jersey Devils

Home games: 3

Projected points: 3

There isn’t much to look forward to in this season. The team is unarguably weaker even than it was last year. The defense is worse, the goaltending is only so-so and unless two of this years squads centers make a massive leap, they don’t have a first or second line center. If the team is very lucky, they can draft well in June. It will be interesting to see the season holds, and how many of the older players are moved out before the next NHL draft.  Who and what come back in a season of obvious rebuild is anyone’s guess.

Realignment brings together four fifths of the old pacific division,  and three fifths of the former northwest division. These seven teams are tied together for the next three seasons and barring expansion or relocation, the short term future beyond that.

Anaheim: Rumor has it this franchise which is soon to leave its teenage years behind will revert to being the Mighty Ducks. The interesting part is it appears to be for just one game. If this is a market test for occasion based team gear it could be the precursor to seeing the Ducks in a Winter Classic game, likely as the visitors. With any luck Emelio Estevez’s career will be resurrected as well.

Calgary: Barring direct divine intervention, the Flames are not going to burn much hotter than it takes to make smores. The biggest move since their season ended was to pick up the enigmatic David Jones. Yes, signing Sean Monahan, and Corban Knight might help address their abysmal lack of depth at center but even if both young men turn in Calder quality campaigns, this Flames team will struggle to escape the lottery.

Edmonton: For the first time in years, the team might just be on the right path. They addressed a weakness that has been glaring and debilitating both in the draft and free agency, and it appears to be the result of Scott Howson’s handiwork. How else do you explain a team that failed to make a useful defensive free agent acquisition in years suddenly do so and draft Darnell Nurse in the zone he was projected? They might not quite make the playoffs, but they have a better chance their Battle of Alberta rivals.

Los Angeles: While mostly a summer of taking care of their own, the Kings did also grab Dan Carcillo for their bottom six, or likely bottom three. We know Jordan Nolan will have to fight for ice time, and probably still have Sidney Crosby’s picture put up in his place. We know the Kings goalie tandem won’t have the same first name for the first time in years and that Ben Scrivens is unlikely to surpass the twenty starts he had in a season in Toronto.

Phoenix: We know the Coyotes will be in town for years to come. We know Doan, Smith, Ekman-Larsson and company are anxious to get back to the playoffs. We know the team is one of the top three in the new division, as long as they stay healthy.

San Jose: We know that we don’t know anything about who this team really is. We know that this team doesn’t know anything about who they truly are. We know adding Raffi Torres is a positively confusing move as most teams don’t feel they have a dearth of suspensions due to ill advised hits to opposing players. We know the team needs to move some salary somewhere to become cap compliant. We know Tomas Hertl will need to make big adjustments to the way the game is played in North America. We know those last two items might be related.

Vancouver: We know this teams fans are in for a rough season. Even with a full training camp to shake down with the new coach, the radical interpersonal and coaching differences between the new coach and the old are going to make waves. We know the team is no longer in a division where they can mail in 50 games a year and still win the division without much of a challenge. We know they still haven’t solved their issues at center, and that which Roberto Luongo we see this year is anyone’s guess.

Summer is here and the time to restock, rejuvenate and reevaluate teams and staffs is here again. Some teams get better, others stay about the same, and some get worse.

Worse:

The Toronto Maple Leafs are inarguably worse than they were at the end of last season. They took the group that got them to within one goal of the second round and gutted it. They bought out a forward who played 22 minutes a night, they traded away three picks for a guy who has never hit the 20 goal mark. For a team that is clearly trying to reforge itself, that is highly curious. Worse, with all the movement of players in and out, a group that finally played well enough to perform like a team is likely back to being a gaggle of individuals. What is Dave Nonis thinking?

Better:

The Edmonton Oilers have two things they didn’t have last year. The first is a veteran blueliner who had won the Cup recently. The second is someone who was solid defensively, but also know show to get the puck out of the zone. Both of those attributes reside in one Andrew Ference. Reacquiring Denis Grabeshkov will only add to the strength of their blueline. Up front the added playoff tested forward David Perron. He’s a little bit older than the youngest forwards on their team, but close enough in age for him to blend in. Better still, they managed to extend Sam Gagner who has been their best center for at least two or three years without breaking the bank. The addition of veteran Jason Labarbera to their crease only makes a playoff spot that much more likely.

Worse:

For the Calgary Flames adding Karri Ramo and Kris Russell just isn’t enough. Even if they have three rookies break camp with them and garner serious Calder attention, they are not any closer to a playoff team than they were last year. Ramo had a poor start to his NHL career with Tampa Bay and the Flames defense is about equal to what Tampa Bay had then with the benefit of having fewer superstar forwards in the conference to play against he may only be slightly better than he was then.

Better:

The Phoenix Coyotes got better just by stabilizing ownership. They then added Mike Ribeiro as their top center. They added depth forward Brandon Yip, and it is likely Henrik Samuelsson and Max Domi will compete for roster spots at training camp. Adding either of the youngsters to  Vrbata, Ekman-Larsson, Yandle and Ribeiro,  who slid into a roster with Ovechkin and the other highly skilled caps could finally vault the Coyotes offense into the top third of the league.

Some teams do well at of free agency, others are unmitigated disasters. Today we get pretty good ideas as to what teams will look like in the fall, and which teams are going for it now, next year or no time soon.

Anaheim Ducks: Win. Today they traded star forward Bobby Ryan to the Senators for the Ottawa 1st round pick, Jakob Silfverberg a 2nd round pick, and Stefan Noesen the Senators the 1st round pick out of Plano, Tx from 2011. Good move for the Ducks long term who have very little depth and lots of older players.

Boston Bruins: Win. Adding a hungry veteran who now has recent playoff experience, no bad contracts and overall a younger, hungrier  roster than they started last year with.

Buffalo Sabres: Lose Extending a new deal to Matt Ellis isn’t going to push the Sabres into the playoffs.

Calgary Flames: Lose While they didn’t make any horrible signings (for a change) the contracts they did sign for AHL players and guys who will never be stars don’t push the team forward. 

Carolina Hurricanes: Win They signed a very solid 2nd goalie in Anton Khudobin, and resigned Michal Jordan which is enough to make up for giving a contract to Mike Komisarek.

Colorado Avalanche:

Chicago Blackhawks Draw. They reupped with Handzus on team friendly deal, but didn’t have the cap space to land any of the big fish on the market, and they lost their top end backup today.

Columbus Blue Jackets: Draw Nathan Horton is a great addition, the contract term is less than ideal. Signings other than Bobrovsky are non impacting.

Dallas Stars: Draw While there are defensive signings they could have made, and arguably better goaltenders, but with the moves they made on the fourth they don’t really need to do much to improve over last season.

Detroit Red Wings: Draw They opened the floodgates to renewed eastern conference rivalries by poaching Daniel Alfredsson, signed Stephen Weiss long term, but still didn’t shore up a mediocre defense. 

Edmonton Oilers: Win They improve their defense both by the addition of Ference and the subtraction of others, they didn’t give out any horrible contracts or let anyone of value get away.

Florida Panthers: Lose They are in a much, much tougher division this year and for the next couple years and did nothing to fix a woeful team.

Los Angeles Kings Draw No improvements, no idiotic contracts simply adding a depth defenseman.

Minnesota Wild: Lose There was no reason to add Matt Cooke to the roster, it won’t make them a better team, they already have a solid penalty kill and beyond that they traded a roster player for a draft pick and kept to depth defensemen.

Montreal Canadiens Draw Danny Briere is a good get for a pretty thin market. Compared to Mike Fisher and David Booth who have the same cap hit, Briere is not so bad. You can always do more, and you can clearly do worse.

Nashville Predators: Lose Victor Stalberg is a solid get. The other signings for the love of hockey why?

New Jersey Devils Huh? This is the team that was bankrupt not too long ago right? They sign Michael Ryder to a really solid contract, they sign Ryane Clowe to a contact that will be the NHL’s go to punchline for the next several years, they resigned Patrik Elias until he’s eligible for social security. On top of that they have Dainius Zubrus signed until a week past decomposition. These contracts are a bit much to get their hands on Centrum Silver’s advertising dollars.

New York Islanders Win Locking up Travis Hamonic long term for not much money is big enough that all their other moves are irrelevant.

New York Rangers Lose I think Glen Sather overslept and his secretary just signed guys that were once on good teams. Benoit Pouliot, Aaron Johnson, and other players 85% of Rangers fans won’t be able to name at the All Star/Olympic break.

Ottawa Senators Win Getting Bobby Ryan without having to give up any core pieces is pretty spiffy. Sure they lost captain Daniel Alfredsson but in fairness his ability was not at the same level it was five years ago, and he was looking for more money than Ryan who is still in his prime.

Philadelphia Flyers Win (I kid, I kid!) It almost doesn’t matter who they signed because they didn’t hand out an absurd contract on day one (they got Streit and Lecavalier handled early) oh wait, they gave Giroux (multiple concussions) that contract and an eminently redundant no movement clause, because those really mean something in Philly. Emery is a good get, and that’s about it for the positives.

Phoenix Arizona Coyotes Win Adding Ribeiro at center is an upgrade even if you only look at his Dallas years, adding Greiss as a solid backup means Smith might not have to play 70 games.

Pittsburgh Penguins Draw Correcting the mistake that lead to Rob Scuderi being let go after they won the cup is all well and good, but four years too late. They also don’t have enough cap space to add a 12th forward.

San Jose Sharks Lose Over the cap, and undertalented.

Saint Louis Blues Lose No viable movement, and a core that isn’t getting any younger.

Tampa Bay Lightning Lose Nothing says “cluefree” like signing a forward who has never topped 23 goals to a five year five million a year contract and failing to improve the teams biggest weakness.

Toronto Maple Leafs Lose The Clarkson signing is for about three years too long, the Bozak signing is so-so, and the Grabovski buyout is inexcusable.

Vancouver Canucks: Win Brad Richardson is a solid addition at a good price, and Yannick Webber may prove to be a find for their defense.

Washington Capitals: Draw Adam Oates made good strides with the team last year, prospects and getting Karl Alzner inked should get them to as good or better than their place last year.

Winnipeg Jets: Win No free agent signings (shocking I know) but they did pick up a solid forward addition in a trade for a reasonable price.