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?

October 1:

The Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens will get the headlines, but if you want the best game of the night, it isn’t this one. It isn’t The Winnipeg Jets and Edmonton Oilers, it is the Washington Capitals taking on the Chicago Blackhawks in Chicago, you’ve got a banner raising, the return of Russian Olympic torchbearer Alex Ovechkin, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith, John Carlson, Mikhail Grabovski, and Brooks Laich all ready healthy and ready to go.

The star power on both sides is great, goaltending is about equal. This may be the best game of the week.

October 2:

With just three games on the docket, another easy choice. The Toronto Maple Leafs and Philadelphia Flyers both underwent huge roster turnover since last spring. One was a playoff team and may manage it again, the other needs to get into the playoffs or heads will roll. James Van Riemsdyk and Luke Schenn will faceoff against their old teams, and it least one of roster will sport a different goaltender than the last time these two teams met.

October 3:

This is an almost impossible night of coverage to choose from. The Boston Bruins and Tampa Bay Lightning always put on a good show, and this will be the first night on the ice for the Bolts new captain. The Minnesota Wild and Los Angeles Kings should be a good tilt, the jilted former champions versus the rising power looking to wash away the stain of being pushed out of the playoffs so easily. The Saint Louis Blues and Nashville Predators will square off with what could be two of the best backends in the NHL.  But the game of the night will be the San Jose Sharks and their playoff feast the Vancouver Canucks. The changes in the Canucks lineup and coaching will make the game even more compelling.

October 4:

Friday night will be a smorgasbord of NHL action. The game of the night is easily the Ottawa Senators and the Buffalo Sabres. These two division rivals will square off with both hoping to be in the top three in the new Atlantic division. With Boston and Montreal to compete with every point, every game, every shift counts and these teams know it. Ottawa was in the mix last year, but new captain Jason Spezza will want to bring the boys to the top of the standings from the starting pistol to the final horn.

October 5:

Saturday’s game of the night is easy: Original 6 action. The Boston Bruins host the Detroit Red Wings. Both the Detroit Red Wings and Boston Bruins were laid low by the Chicago Blackhawks last June. With the Red Wings playing as an eastern conference team for the first time in a generation, both fan bases will have to work overtime to get this rivalry to something with a bit of hate in it. Kronwall and Lucic will provide devastating open ice hits, Bergeron and Datsyuk will be on display as three zone aces, Tuukka Rask and Jimmy Howard will be in the crease making their case for inclusion on their nation’s Olympic rosters for Sochi, and Zdeno Chara and Henrik Zetterberg will be captaining each ship in the first of five regular season battles.

Three years ago the first chapter of the Taylor Hall vs Tyler Seguin saga came to a close as the NHL entry draft closed. Both gentlemen went home with a team, they were in fact drafted one and two. In the steeplechase that is an NHL career, each has had his own obstacles to deal with. Hall has had to play on a team that has a lot of talent at forward but has proven enormously bad as a collective. Worse, Hall has battled injuries that have caused him to miss 41 games. Tyler Seguin’s career has seen him win the Stanley Cup, and be exiled not much later.

This season a new chapter begins. Both Taylor and Tyler will be playing center. And for the first time in three years they will be playing the came competition on a regular basis. With the injury to Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and the trade from Boston to the Dallas Stars the two will faceoff three times this season. Both will have training camp and the early part of the season to adjust to the new role as Seguin slides in from the right, and Hall moves in from the left.

November 13th when the Dallas Stars visit the Edmonton Oilers will be the first time these two faceoff in the NHL playing the same position. To date, the comparisons are stark. Taylor Hall has been the better offensive power plant. Despite the lost games, Hall eclipses Seguin in all offensive categories. Seguin has had far better health, and more career accomplishments. At 21 he’s already been part of a Stanley Cup win, and collected 42 games of playoff experience.

This season represents the best head to head comparisons fans have gotten since they joined the NHL. Their teams are about equal in quality, each will be learning the center position at the NHL level. Both have new coaches as well.

With the time without hockey drawing to a close, this is the perfect time for perhaps the most radical change to increase scoring. In the past each NHL rink was unique, different sizes, different angles, and board heights that varied widely. Unfortunately those days are no more, and you an hardly tell where a game is being played unless you can see the log at center ice. While I would be the first to cheer the return to unique arenas like the Old Boston Garden, the Aud, and the Montreal Forum, it just isn’t practical.

Instead, I propose moving all faceoffs not following a penalty to the home team in the third period be moved to the offensive blueline of the home team. When it comes to driving ticket sales, and viewership in each city, nothing works like winning. Supercharging the ability of the home team to score goals by giving them sixty feet of  ice will make teams that struggle to draw a bit more attractive to casual fans

There are two types of teams that struggle to score goals. Teams like the Edmonton Oilers have been in recent years that have a great deal of difficulty getting the puck out of their own defensive zone, and teams like the Saint Louis Blues or Nashville Predators who either aren’t in the top half of the league in offensive depth, or  who play a system that doesn’t lend itself to aggressive offensive pushes.

You can also read parts one two and three.

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 Edmonton Oilers were a very interesting team to watch last season. Many of the younger players have a low enough NHL game total they could, and did play in the AHL during the lockout. This made them one of the more cohesive teams when the season started. Over the course of a year that ended with a lot of changes in the front office, they improved from 23r to 19th in goals against year over year. Their goal differential was just a couple short of Minnesota and San Jose who both made the playoffs. They took a step forward, a small one and it remains to be seen if all or even most of the changes work out favorably.

The Oilers schedule to start the year is a bit odd, they open the season October 1st at home against the Winnipeg Jets then have four days off before going to Vancouver who will also be under a new head coach. They then head back to Edmonton to defend their ice against the New Jersey Devils and Montreal Canadiens. Last of their opening fistful of games is trip east to throwdown with the new look Toronto Maple Leafs.

Number of days 1-5: 11

Number of cities: 3

Best opponent: Montreal Canadiens

Weakest opponent: Winnipeg Jets

Home games: 3

Projected points: 4+

With a new coaching staff, a new general manager, and new editions to the roster, there will be a longer than normal shakedown cruise at the beginning of the season. Dallas Eakins will certainly want to get to know all his players and how the work best under his system. Andrew Ference and Denis Grebeshkov will certainly have a word or two to drop into the ears of their teammates. David Perron will be adjusting not just to a new coach, but an entirely new city, and team as well. The younge players will be adjusting to the trade of Shawn Horcoff.

With the experience and quality added to the blueline, the biggest factor in where this team is on April 13th will be who, if anyone steps up and claims the team as their own. Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall and Sam Gagner led the team in scoring last year and are by almost any measure the best players on the team if the or others can get the team all pulling in the same direction before Thanksgiving, the team has a reasonable chance to make the playoffs for the first time in the career of all to many of this teams young players. Two, or even three of the teams players emerging not just as stars but as superstars is will put this team in the post season and on the right path for years to come, if not, it will be same old same old.

The 2010 draft class was universally viewed to possess two elite forwards, and numerous quality NHL players. Taylor Hall and Tyler Seguin were talked about all year long, and at the draft the pair were selected first and second. Both launched their careers the autumn of their draft year, and both had international celebrity status before they ever took a shift. The other 208 men taken in that draft are determined not to be afterthoughts.

Jeff Skinner vs Tyler Seguin

Entering the year Skinner leads Seguin in goals, assists and points with a line of 188gp 64g 67a 131p to Seguin’s 203gp 56g 64a 121p. Over the course of the season, assuming both play a roughly equal number of games: Expect Skinner to increase his goal lead.

To date, 40 players drafted in 2010 have played at least 1 game in the NHL.

This season: 15 more players drafted in 2010 will play in the NHL.

Quinton Howard of the Florida Panthers: Scores 5+NHL goals.

Ryan Johansen of the Columbus Blue Jackets doubles his career point total with 33 or more points this season.

Charlie Coyle of the Minnesota Wild has as many goals this season, as he had points (14) last season.

Carolina Hurricanes defensmen Justin Faulk scores 10 goals.

Anaheim Ducks forwards Emerson Etem and Devante Smith-Pelly combine for 25 goals.

Taylor Hall gets his first NHL 30 goal season.

Last year at about this time we took a look at some of the players expected to break their own personal glass ceiling.

 

David Perron: since the end of last season Perron has been traded to a a new address, but during the year is of course the story we’re after. The previous year was clearly his best on a points per game, and at a .912 ppg and a slide back from an elite level isn’t surprising. Unfortunately Perron’s slide was a bit worse than taking him back to average. His career PPG is .582, last seasons .520 probbly wrote his ticket out of town.

Sam Gagner: With another year of rising stats, it gets harder and harder to overlook Gagner. At just under .80 ppg on the season, arguing that Gagner is not capable of being a top flight center. The Oilers have possibly more problems than solutions, but Gagner is clearly not one of the problems. The only thing he needs to do now is peg the meter at over .70 fo a whole season.

Bryan Allen: Allen had an utterly average offensive season last year. His hits and blocked shots were right on the mean. And for just the fourth season in his career he got a taste of the playoffs. This time he doubled his career playoff games played. In game two against the Detroit Red Wings he picked up his first playoff point an assist.

Justin Falk: In his first full season withe Wild Falk was pushed aside by the emergence of Jonas Brodin. The arrival of  Ryan Suter also pushed out a player or two. Between his own still developing maturity, the lockout, and  the arrival of others Falk took a bit of step back last season. This year he will be a member of the New York Rangers.

Anton Khudobin: Playing  nearly a third of Boston’s games Khudobin put up  a very solid .920% with only sporadic stars on a Bruins team that never seemed to get out of third gear. At times he outplayed Tuukka Rask who signed an enormous contract this year. The Boston Bruins went on to the Stanley cup finals, in part because Khudobin’s solid play allowed them to protect Rask from the injuries he’s shown he is prone to him the past. This season he will be sharing the crease with the injury challenged Cam Ward in Raleigh.

Brandon Sutter: Last season was his second best goals per game season, and his first (s0rta) full season in Pittsburgh. The playoffs saw him gain just 3 points in fifteen games, but given how poorly the team did in the second round, it is unlikely much of the blame falls as the feet of one of the scions hockey’s first families.

Jiri Tlusty: If there is one player spotlighted last year who had the year I projected it is clearly this one. I projected a 20 goal season, before the lockout became every NHL fans living nightmare. I’m not sure even his biggest fans expected him to succeed wildly not just in having his best ppg total on the season, but simply his best career season.I’d pegged hi for 25g/55p across an 82 game season, in the truncated 48 game he had 23 goals, and 48 points both career highs. With the depth around him at both win and center, how high he flys this season will be limited only by how hard he works.

Look for a guide to next seasons potential breakouts in the coming weeks.

The NHL is enriched every year with the sagas of aging players who continue to contribute to their team, the NHL and the whole hockey community at an advanced age. But what makes those stories so heartening is the fact that they are so rare. For every Teemu Selanne there are twenty guys who didn’t make it to 30 in the NHL. For every Tim Thomas or Keith Aucoin who have played more games NHL after age thirty than before, there are two dozen guys who play their whole career without being an NHL regular. This is the time of year when for young player hope is ratcheting to an all time high as they put in the work to take a job at training camp. For others, it is the time to give up the dream.

Tim Connolly‘s most recent NHL game was in the 2011-12 season. Last year he played just 28 AHL games. The veteran center was a mainstay of the Buffalo Sabres for years during the last half of the Lindy Ruff era. Originally a New York Islander, it has been almost that long since Connolly was able to play a full season. The number 5 pick in the 1999 draft last played all 82 games in the 2002-3 season. He’s 9th in games played in his draft class, and 6th in points. Connolly is only 32, but health and the salary cap coming down for the first time in years may just have pushed him firmly to the outside.

Brenden Morrow was an iconic player for years in Dallas, last year he was traded to Pittsburgh where his offensive numbers might convince you he’d managed to turn back the clock a decade or more. Unfortunately his foot speed didn’t show up, and his leadership qualities alone haven’t been enough to help him land an NHL job yet. One of the dwindling few who played in the IHL, the former Olympian sits sixth in his draft class in points, 29 behind Sergei Samsanov. Have we seen the last of Morrow as an NHL player?

Steve Montador is one of hockey’s best known vagabonds. At 531 regular season NHL games, the undrafted blueliner has played more games than many 1st round picks. At one point his skill set was topped by a crisp pass and solid skating. Neither of those were what earned him respect in his six NHL stops. That was left to his willingness to standup for his teammates and take horrific punishment for the logo on the front of the jersey. In 2011-12 he played just 52 games on a crowded BlackHawks blueline. In 2012-13, he played exclusively in the AHL.

Roman Hamrlik What you want from a 1st overall pick is longevity, and quality play. Roman Hamrlik was taken first back in 1992, he’s played 218 more games than Sergei Gonchar who has piled up the second most NHL games. In points, as a defenseman he’s fifth overall. He’s played on both sides of the Battle of Alberta, played for the Rangers and Islanders, skated for Montreal and the Washington Capitals after starting his career as the Tampa Bay Lightning’s first ever draft pick. Age and various injuries restricted the 39 year old to just 18 games in the regular season and two post season appearances this year. As high as the heat was turned up under now former Rangers head coach John Tortorello, it is hard to say if Hamrlik got a fair shake or not.

Dan Cleary was a part of the championship days of the Detroit Red Wings, and more recently a part of the days when making the playoffs was an open question. The 13th overall pick of the 1997 draft started with the Chicago BlackHawks but has spent almost the entirety of his career a member of the Wings. 10th overall in scoring in that draft he’s 131 game short of playing his 1000th NHL game. IF he can find a two year NHL deal and play 66 games each season he’ll hit that exalted number. The Belleville Bulls alumni has been slightly healthier than usual the last two season playing all 48 regular season games this year, fourteen playoff games and 75 games the previous season. The versatile winger isn’t precisely expensive, and it i certainly possible a team who wants a playoff tested veteran will sign him.

Vinny Propal is probably the most interesting name on the UFA list. At 38 the two time Olympic medalist was the leading scorer on the Columbus Blue Jackets last season. He’s been remarkably healthy in his career, and the third round pick came up through the AHL unlike a lot of those picked ahead of him. He’s currently 8th overall in games played for the 1993 draft class. Sitting just 3 points out of fourth for the draft classes scoring, that, and the lack of a Stanley Cup championship are likely enough to keep the fires burning, and make him a viable option for a team who needs a veteran forward.

Some of these gentlemen, and their age-mates on the outside looking in will undoubtedly sign an NHL deal before too long, if they do it’ll be just another chapter in some storied careers.