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 west is a very intruiging mix this year. Because of how few teams there are in the west, the races will be very, very tight after the number two slot in each division.

The Pacific Division:

The Phoenix Coyotes:

Good news is there is no more ownership drama. The better news is the roster was filled out a little bit more with the addition of the fiesty Mike Ribiero and at least currently with David Rundblad on the backline.

Bad news is they are an above average roster on paper in a division with several teams who are on paper better.

Anaheim Ducks:

Good news: Depth was added to the forward group over the summer, last years home grown young players are more developed as well.

Bad news: With the exile of Bobby Ryan, this team that was for so long Getzaf, Ryan, Perry, up front will have to recreate their on ice identity.

San Jose Sharks:

Good News: The teams core group is still intact.

Bad news: With the exception of Logan Couture and Marc-Edouard Vlasic, this group is aging rapidly, and prone to breaking down in the playoffs.

Los Angeles Kings:

Good News: The roster is changed very little since they won the cup. Tyler Toffoli is in, Dustin Penner is gone.

Bad News:  They are bad news for their opponents.

Vancouver Canucks:

Good news: No more “1a and 1b starters”, better depth at center.

Bad news: A backup that no one can name or recognize who hasn’t proven he’s NHL ready

Edmonton Oilers:

Good news: The defense has finally been upgraded. Finally.

Bad news: They still need to learn how to play defense as a team.

Calgary Flames:

Good news: Leadership finally acknowledged they need to rebuild.

Bad news: The job they are doing with that rebuild is still iffy.

 

Top three teams:

Anaheim Ducks, Los Angeles Kings, Vancouver Canucks.

If the Ducks can get solid performences from the guys after Getzlaf, Perry and Selanne, like Kyle Palmeri and Matthieu Perreault upfront, and on the backend Cam Fowler and Hampus Lindholm the division is there to be taken. If they can’t the Kings will grab 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.

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 San Jose Sharks ended last year the way they do almost every season. They showed lots of flash and polish, but eventually ended up disappointing everyone on the ice and in the corner office. They made the playoffs, and swept the Vancouver Canucks, then went to the mat with the Los Angeles Kings. Patrick Marleau was again smothered, failing to register a single point in the final five games against the Kings. Logan Couture didn’t tally a single goal in the final three games of that second round series, and Niemi did all that could be expected of him giving up more than two goals in the series just once. Per usual, Joe Thornton got too much blame and little to no credit.

Then the off season came, and went. No major changes. The forward additions are Tyler Kennedy and possibly one of the half hundred young and unknown quantities like Tomas Hertl, Freddie Hamitlon, or James Livingston. The long anticipated breakup of the team core never happened. At least part of that is due to the contracts or performances making players unmovable. A new backup goalie will need to emerged as Thomas Greiss has vacated the scene.

The first five games of the Sharks season will be very interesting. They meet up with the Vancouver Canucks and their new coach John Tortorella  twice, Raffi Torres, Thomas Greiss and the Phoenix Coyotes, and then play host to the Daniel Alfredsson-less but Bobby Ryan enriched Ottawa Senators.  With four of their first fist-full at home and no back to backs, they have a good shot at swimming to the front of the division early.

Number of days 1-5: 9

Number of cities: 2

Best opponent: New York Rangers

Weakest opponent: Phoenix Coyotes

Home games: 4

Projected points: 7

With three of their opening five games against teams with new head coaches, the Sharks have the chance to jump on teams not quite used to a new system. The team has been in “win now” mode for at least the last half decade, it is time to produce or get off the pot. Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, and Dan Boyle are all on contracts that expire at the end of the season. As things stand today, they are slightly over the salary cap so an early season, or late preseason trade if one or two of the younger players push someone out the door isn’t out of the question. They have the tools to have a good regular season, but that hasn’t been in doubt for many years.

One thing you can’t help but notice if you pay attention to the support structure (fans) for any entertainment is that there are cliques within each and every fandom. Fans will split off any given group into factions, and the diffusing of energy can lead to groups struggling, or even going to extent. In science fiction and fantasy the filers and gamers herd together and neither herd spends much time with the media folks, the cos play and the literature folks don’t have much to day to each other, and all of them are convinced the SMOF’s are insane. With in each of those top level groups you have smaller but still significant groups.

Among sports fans, you have team fans, and fans of the sport, and then casual fans as the top level groups. Below them are fans of players, eras, coaches and styles of play. On Facebook when those factions break down, there are new groups created. The San Jose Sharks group is over 7000 members strong and growing. The largest Boston Bruins group is about 10,000 members with several smaller groups, the Montreal Canadiens language split means their are two groups with five figure memberships and then several groups with a few hundred members.

The largest National Hockey League related group on Facebook that can be found? That one is dedicated to the appreciation of Gary Bettman. In fact there are two other similar groups with large membership. The Fire Gary Bettman Movement!!!…  group boasts about 25,000 members. The similarly named The Fire Gary Bettman Movement page has eclipsed the 8,000 member mark. And the succinctly named Fire Gary Bettman page has over 6,000 likes.

By comparison, Roger Goodell who heads the NFL as their commissioner’s anti-fans have mustered less names to their cause ,about 7000 less likes for the largest page. The two largest groups don’t even contain 5000 members. If only this were as simple as 25000 vs 18000. The NFL dwarfs the NHL in viewer-ship. If we go with there being one NHL fan for every four NFL fan in north America, that just further underlines how much more of the NHL fanbase Gary Bettman has ticked off. Mix in the fact that there are more NFL cities than NHL cities, and you’re talking a level of personal animosity towards the NHL commissioner that is staggering. The percentages aren’t worth calculating. In both absolute terms and Bettman is enormously more reviled by the people it is his job to cultivate than his National Football League counterpart.

While a sports league is structured differently than a major corporation like Blackberry, there are similarities. When public sentiment turned against the founders of Blackberry, its directors and stockholders acted to protect their investments and with the hope of reversing their fortunes. Despite years of this sentiment expressing itself even at the happiest of occasions, the NHL owners extended his contract despite the lockout, which memory says is the third work stoppage of his tenure.

The question then becomes; Is Gary Bettman legitimately the cause of all the perceived ills, or is he simply the stalking goat of the owners?

The Phoenix Coyotes summer overshadowed the season. The single most important event to happen since the franchise landed in the deseret, owners took over who were committed to keeping the Coyotes in Glendale. The team’s season wasn’t what they wanted. Oliver Ekman-Larsson continued to grow and develop. Mike Smith was a cornerstone, and Keith Yandle led the Coyotes in scoring.

The draft and the summer were good for the team too. Max Domi is the biggest name on the prospect list, but Henrick Samuelsson, Connor Murphy and Andy Miele will try and steal some of the limelight and earn a spot on the roster. With a roster that so lacked in offense last year (21st), anyone who can play responsible two way hockey and put the puck in the net has a good chance of making the roster this year.

The Phoenix Coyotes will open the season at home, and then go on a road trip that crosses the continent. After hosting the New York Rangers at home, they will travel to face the San Jose Sharks, Detroit Red Wings, New York Islanders, and Philadelphia Flyers. That’s four playoff teams, five cities and three timezones.

Number of days 1-5: 8

Number of cities: 5

Best opponent: Detroit Red Wings

Weakest opponent: Philadelphia Flyers

Home games: 1

Projected points:  5

The future is now for the Coyotes, with five years to become a profitable, team and build a fanbase that will make future lean years both rare and survivable; the clock is ticking. They have draft some interesting talent, they have some All-Stars, and a good coach. Ownership should take the most important marketing measures and add one or two talented players through trade to put this team on the map locally, and internatiionally. The first week of the season will be tough, the month perhaps better a bit better with only has two back to back sets. Shane Doan, Mikkel Boedker, Zybnek Michalek and the rest of the teams most reliable players will need to step forward and hold the line for Coyotes to be playing in the third week of April.

Injuries were the definition and demise of the Ottawa Senators season 2012-13 season. Players who made it through the regular season healthy were as rare as honest politicians. Scoring was perhaps even rarer with only three players crossing the ten goal mark and a 27th place finish in goal for. As bright spots go, aside from unexpected depth at goaltending, there wasn’t much to speak of. Certainly, when you consider that half the games were played not by starter Craig Anderson but by two backups it is safe to say none of the shine on this season would require you to shade your eyes.

The off season saw the aging face of the Senators Daniel Alfredsson leave in a huff for a team just across the border.  General Manager Bryan Murray brought in the long scapegoated Bobby Ryan in exchange for depth. Arguably if the Senators had managed to massage Alfredsson’s ego enough to get him to stay the team would have had the most offensive depth it had seen in at least half a decade. But for now, this team belongs to Craig Anderson, Jason Spezza, Kyle Turris, Cory Conacher, and whomever else can carve themselves a piece of the pie. Among the most curious moves of the NHL off season was the signing of Joe Corvo, even at the rate he’s signed for, there are better uses for money.

The regular season opens with the Senators on a six game road trip. The Buffalo Sabres are the first team they will try to beat on the road, then fellow Ontario team the Toronto Maple Leafs. After that a tour of California, facing the Los Angeles Kings, San Jose Sharks and finally a home coming for Bobby Ryan in Anaheim to drop the puck against the Ducks. Four out of five made the playoffs last year, and two back to backs will keep things lively for Paul MacLean and company.

Number of days 1-5:

Number of cities: 5

Best opponent: Anaheim Ducks

Weakest opponent: Buffalo Sabres

Home games: 0

Projected points: 4+

October does not have a pretty schedule in store for the Ottawa Senators. That said, many coaches like early road trips as both a bonding aid, and a way of eliminating home life distractions. Paul MacLean is one of the best coaches in the NHL, and while most of the team is the same as last year, the loss of Alfredsson’s leadership will make a difference. If the team manages to find time to sign Jared Cowen and return him to the line up, Cowen, Eric Gryba, and Patrick Weircioch can apply those hard earned lessons from last season and go about making up for the defensive deficiencies of the offense only Erik Karlsson.

The Los Angeles Kings were cheated of much of their time in the limelight by the dragging, soul sucking lockout. They made their return to the ice with a strong regular season. Finishing seventh overall in the NHL, in a very top heavy western conference. To the surprise of no one Anze Kopitar again led the team in scoring. Jeff Carter racking up 26 goals in 48 games was eye opening and clearly signals good things to come. Dustin Brown played his usual game popping in 18 goals and dishing out 156 hits. Slava Voynov garnered further attention leading the blueline in scoring, and Drew Doughty erased the last of the viable criticisms of his defensive game.

The post season saw them and the Saint Louis Blues batter each other to bloody and bruised ruin for six games. When the first round ended it was time for a dance with the San Jose Sharks. This back and forth series sent the rivalry to a new level, and went seven games. In the western conference finals they faced the retooled Chicago Blackhawks, and were dethroned in double overtime. Very little has changed for the Kings. Jonathan Bernier was traded away while Dustin Penner and Rob Scuderi were lost to free agency.

The first five games for the Los Angeles Kings don’t contain any juggernauts, there aren’t even any trap games. They’ll open up in Minnesota against the Wild, then fly north to face the Jets. The next two games are at home against the Rangers and Senators, and they finish the opening five with a trip to Raleigh to square off with the Carolina Hurricanes. No back to back games anywhere in the opening set, and only one team with a fair chance of winning their division this year.

Number of days 1-5:

Number of cities:

Best opponent: Minnesota Wild

Weakest Opponent: Carolina Hurricanes

Home games: 2

Projected points: 7

The Kings don’t have a particularly difficult October schedule. If they can integrate the new additions quickly, they have a better than even chance of leading the division when the month is over. Tyler Toffoli had his baptism by fire late last season and in the playoffs, but with Simon Gagne gone, and Dustin Penner elsewhere as well, he Matt Frattin, and anyone else who can earn a roster spot in camp will have an open door to making themselves a fixture of the game time roster.