The City of Brotherly Love played host to three of the four horseman of the Apocalypse last season, or at least the Flyers locker room did. Players that weren’t injured were often ill, and despair cloaked the stands and fanbase days into the season. Four different goaltenders saw action during the season, and only one of those four, Steve Mason, is with the organization today. Ilya Bryzgalov was bought out as the end point of a debacle, the other two just went away.  Thirty-five skaters played for the team last year.  Thirteen of those skaters were defensemen and none of those played in every game. Of the 22 forwards, five were goalless, seven managed not even an assist. If you’re just tuning into hockey, it will not surprise you to learn the Philadelphia Flyers did not make the playoffs.

The off season saw Bryzgalov bought out, and also the wizrd of playoff points Daniel Briere. Thanks to a cap situation that looks like Medusa, the list of players signed in the off season reads like a who’s who of has beens and almost weres. Vincent Lecavalier was bought out by the Tampa Bay Lightning and yet it only took the Flyers days to decide he needed a five year contract with a no movement clause big enough to make him their second highest paid forward. In the 11 years since Kris Newbury was signed he has totaled no more than 11 games in the NHL in any season. Jay Rosehill possesses no qualities that don’t exist elsewhere on the roster, and where they do exist they come with more skill. While Mark Streit isn’t a bad player, he’s a +35 contract for four years at more than five million a year. This is a guy who is going to be 36 before the winter holidays, and owns very little playoff experience.

The first five games for the Flyers season aren’t all that bad as schedules go. They start the season at home hosting the Toronto Maple Leafs before jetting north to face the Montreal Canadiens. The Habs are the first half of a back to back that ends in Raleigh against the Carolina Hurricanes. Then the Broad Street Bullies head home for games against the Florida Panthers and Phoenix Coyotes.

Number of days 1-5: 10

Number of cities: 3

Best opponent: Montreal Canadiens

Weakest opponent: Florida Panthers

Home games: 3

Projected points : 3+

Players like Wayne Simmonds, Scott Hartnell, and the often injured Claude Giroux mean the Flyers have a chance to win any game on the strength of their offense. The depth of the defense, the adaptability of their coach Peter Laviolette, and the quality of play of netminders Ray Emery and Steve Mason will be the key points of the season. Youngsters like Scott Laughton, Nick Cousisns and Mark Alt will take aim at the heavens, but for this team to succeed they need good health and veteran contributions in their own zone.

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.

Last season the Bruins went to the Stanley Cup finals despite an indifferent regular season. They had to fight like mad the last 20 minutes of playing time in game seven of the opening round to beat the Maple Leafs. In the second round laid the wood on the New York Rangers and beat them in five games. The Eastern Conference finals were almost a joke as the Penguins were taken to the wood shed and chastised. In the playoffs we saw two things that led to off season moves; the emergence of the young lions Torey Krug, Matt Bartkowski, and Dougie Hamilton and the waning of Tyler Seguin’s star. Gone are young forward Tyler Seguin and good guys Andrew Ference and Rich Peverley. In there place will be some combination of the young lions on the blueline and future hall of fame inductee Jarome Iginla and the return on Seguin, Loui Eriksson.

The Boston Bruins are starting the season with four out of five games at home. In that span they play their two home games against new division rivals the Detroit Red Wings, and also host the Tampa Bay Lighting and Colorado Avalanche. They will take to the road to visit the new look Columbus Blue Jackets who will still be without defector Nathan Horton.

Number of Days 1-5:  11

Number of Cities: 2

Best Opponent: Detroit Red Wings

Weakest Opponent: Avalanche

Home Games: 4

Projected points: 6

The revamped forward lines will need a longer shakedown cruise than the preseason can provide. They don’t know who will be on their third line or where. At this point the still don’t have a clue who their backup goalie will be. With their solid defense and top shelf coaching they can expect to be in the  playoffs and the second round is pretty much theirs for the taking. Exactly which of the young defensemen steps up and retains a position in the lineup. Gregory Campbell and Patrice Bergeron as the most notable injuries late last year both project to be in the lineup and 100% opening night.

The Nashville Predators had an enviable stretch of year where they made the playoffs and even advanced to the second round. That run was ended last year, and ended cruelly with a lottery placing. If you’d asked most hockey observers before the season what their best and worst case regular season finishes would be they’d have topped around fourth in the west, and bottomed out at ninth or maybe tenth. A 14th place finish in the conference was literally inconceivable.

Last year has past and all things have some silver lining. The team managed to bafflingly leave the draft with its biggest prize in Seth Jones as three teams bungled their future. Colin Wilson accumulated another 25 games of NHL experience, and Craig Smith added 44 of his own. They added Victor Stalberg after the season. Ann Arbor’s native son Austin Watson got his first season of professional experience including four crucial playoff games for the Predators AHL affiliate, and 2009 second round pick Zach Budish finished his fourth year at University of Minnesota before diving into the AHL and getting immersed in nine regular season games and a half dozen second season contests.

When you come down to it there are two things that need to  happen for the Predators to  hunting in the second round, and perhaps beyond. The first is an offensive upgrade. There is certainly some young talent with upside on the roster, and one or two more who will push for a spot. But none of them are likely to make the impact of a veteran forward, with skill, grit, and something to prove. The second is finding a way to get  Pekka Rinne enough rest to be fresh when the playoffs come without sacrificing too much playoff position by playing an untested backup.

Austin Watson and Zach Budish, even Taylor Beck can come in and dazzle Music City fans from October to May, but is any of them going to satisfactorily fill the leadership void with both Hal Gill and Ryan Suter gone? And while Magnus Hedberg had a very good season in Milwaukee last year that was his first dose of hockey on this side of the pond. Even less experienced in North America is Marek Mazanec who hasn’t even played one game in the AHL, ECHL or CHL in his career.  What’s a playoff hopeful club to do?

Fortunately there are two ready made solutions available. In goal we know that most goalies playing sixty five or more games a season just run out of steam sometime in late April or early May. So a veteran goaltender who doesn’t have to be jollied along and who can pick up 25+ games or so during the season and let Rinne, who may also be headed to the Olympics in Sochi, relax would be ideal. A two time Vezina trophy winner, Jennings Trophy winner, multiple time All Star, and Conn-Smythe winner would count as veteran in anyone’s book right? It just so happens one Tim Thomas who additionally owns a Stanley Cup and spent time in playing in Finland is between gigs. If there’s any goalie in the world who history tells us performs better with his back to the wall and something to prove than Thomas, I don’t know who they are.

At forward the solution is even less risky. The pride of Belarus, Mikhail Grabovski was bought out with reasons that could only make sense to a member of whoever is currently in the Maple Leafs brain trust. A gritty forward who owns a personal single season goal total higher than every Predators forward not named Hornquist, and who has proved  his proven he belongs in someones top six with a tough nosed , two way game that has earned him respect in both his own and rival fan bases.

Given that both men absolutely have something to prove and Grabovski at least has his buyout money firmly in pocket, it is unlikely the total cost of signing the pair would cost north of four million for a year. Thomas and Grabovski would insulte the development of young players, add leadership and on one or two year contracts be as close to risk free as the NHL gets. The upside of each could be quite high. and if they are only average at the deadline they can be flipped for picks or prospects from a team who thinks they will play better in their system.

Realignment has stirred the pot and the results in this division are curious at best. The big idea is clearly to draw fans into the arenas of all of the NHL’s second and third tier teams. In this case however, six of the teams are sorta close to each other, and the other two are at the other end of the continent. The shattering of the leagues second worst division brings the Florida Panthers and their Sunshine State companions the Tampa Bay Lightning into a division with all five members of the old Northeast division and a escapee of the former central division the Detroit Red Wings.

Boston: We know the Bruins would not have moved on from Tyler Seguin if they’d won the Cup this season, or if he’d actually shown up in games on a consistent basis. We know Iginla and Chiarelli are going to feel the heat if former Flames captain starts off with his usual October anemic start. We know who plays on the teams third line, and for that matter where Daniel Paille plays are questions that will be asked again and again all season long.

Buffalo: We know the first post Lindy Ruff season will not be same old same old. We know the team still hasn’t named a captain. We know that at least on paper it is hard to call this a better roster than last years. We know the hope that Tallinder will help turn Myers around might just be all that has kept Darcy Regier employed. We know that any 23 man roster that can find room for John Scott isn’t likely to be playing in May.

Detroit: We know that with their move east and the alleviated travel burden some of the older players might have better than expected seasons. We know that its likely Daniel Alfredsson will not get warm second, third and fourth visits to his old team. We know this team isn’t significantly better than it was last season, and that it is playing in a tougher division and conference than last year. We know that Lidstrom’s jersey retirement is likely to be nearly as lengthy and mind numbing as if the Habs were retiring a number.

Florida: We know that adding Steven Pinizzotto, Jesse Winchester, Scott Gomez, Bobby Butler, and Joey Crabb to a team does not constitute a significant upgrade of NHL talent regardless of where you finished in the NHL standings the previous year. We know they are hoping one or two prospects surprise the this year by earning a roster spot in camp. We know that with this roster we’re as likely to hear loud, boisterous fans of the visiting team in Sunrise as we are fans of the Panthers.

Montreal: We know the core of this roster should be better than it was last year in the playoffs, even allowing for injuries. We know that whatever tension there is in the locker room, most notably between a certain pair of long time forwards and an unnamed defenseman carries over to the ice and hurts the team. We know this team would be much better with a backup goalie who can be expected to play well in twenty or even twenty five games a year. We know Briere as a part of the package is probably the best improvement for the teams playoff chances they could have added. We know Emelin should go back to hitting and playing physically in exactly the manner he made a name for himself in, perhaps with one or two exceptions.

Ottawa: We know that Daniel Alfredsson will likely be cheered when he first takes the ice as a member of the Red Wings, and soundly booed after that. We know that if Jason Spezza ever wants to build a legacy for himself in Ottawa now is the time. We know that the team is better than it was last year by adding Ryan’s health, allowing for maturation of Zibanejad, Cowen, and Weircioch, even if they did bring back Joe Corvo. We know that Anderson is likely off to the Olympics in Sochi.

Tampa Bay: We know someone other than Steve Yzerman knows what he is doing, what we don’t is if anyone understands what he is doing. We know the best way to describe the teams defense would be Hedman, aging, aged, fragile and unknown. We know there are 157 inches of question mark in net, those inches answer to the names of Ben Bishop and Anders Lindback. We know that even with 5 NHL seasons to his name, including a run to the eastern conference finals, there are only four younger forwards on the Tampa Bay Lightning roster than Steven Stamkos.

Toronto: We know the off season deck chair shuffling didn’t address the teams major issues; resiliency, defensive coherence. We know Joe Colborne is unlikely to contribute as much in any zone as Grabovski, and certainly won’t be as much of an impact player overall. We know Phil Kessel will probably continue to light up Tuukka Rask as he couldn’t Tim Thomas. We that someday Leafs fans will get a general manager who can build a winner, won’t they?

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.

This is an occasional feature that will take a look at multiple issues, each in 100 words or less.

Blake Wheeler’s new contract with the Jets makes him the teams highest paid forward. Overall, this isn’t a bad deal. Its the first major deal under the new CBA for the team, and Wheeler has over the last two seasons put up good numbers, and stayed healthy. The soon to be 27 year old has missed just five games in his five seasons. With the Cap likely going up again in 2014-15, the only real question is will Wheelers recent roll in scoring keep turning into the post season (should the Jets ever get there).

Billy Jaffe the busiest man in hockey broadcast took time out to coach Team USA at the Maccabiah tournament in Israel. After smooth sailing in the preliminary rounds the boys ran into a tough team Canada and came home with the Silver.

Two hockey personalities recently got contract extensions. Joel Quenneville got a three year extension. Dave Nonis got a five year deal. In case you’re wondering the the good deal belongs to the coach of the Chicago Blackhawks who won two Stanley Cup’s in four years. The deal means the Blackhawks get to keep the bench boss three more years. The deal no one with any sense understands is the one belonging to the guy who’s first major moves were to smash flat a playoff team that only needed tweaking to become a contender.

Colby Armstrong who has played for the Montreal Canadiens, the Pittsburgh Penguins, Toronto Maple Leafs and Atlanta Thrashers is taking what will at least be a break from his NHL career. Armstrong who was traded from Pittsburgh in the wake of a night out on the town with Sidney Crosby, is known for strong two way play and is off to play in Sweden for Vaxjo.

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.

 This is a feature that will run about every two weeks (during the regular season)with improbable stats and situations in the National Hockey League.
The off season’s changes restack the decks for teams and make forecasting each season equal parts intriguing and infuriating. With the NHL draft and the bulk of NHL free agent signings done, we have a passable idea who 15 or more of the names penciled into the opening night lineup of each team will be.
Players:
  • … that Daniel Alfredsson would leave the Senators, and not go to one of the top contenders at the deadline but to the once again division rival Detroit Red Wings in free agency, even knowing Bobby Ryan was being traded to the Sens.
  • … that of Simon Gagne, Nathan Horton, and Rick Dipietro, right winger Nathan Horton would be the one set to begin their season late due to major injury.
  • … over two weeks into free agency Thomas Hickey and Dustin Penner would be signed to NHL deals and Mikhail Grabovski would not.
  • Matt Duchene who has won nothing, would sign a contract for more than Dustin Brown who has his name on the Cup.
  • … Tuukka Rask who coughed up a lead in the dying minutes of a Stanley Cup Final game seven would sign a contract making him the highest paid goalie in the NHL.
  • … Seth Jones would actually get passed on by three different general managers at the NHL entry draft.
  • Tyler Seguin‘s twitter problems and eviction from the Boston Bruins locker room to the Dallas Star’s would be eclipsed so quickly by the exit of Ilya Kovalchuk.
  • … Sam Gagner would be headed towards arbitration with the Edmonton Oilers who has only been their best center the last four seasons.

Teams:

  • … on July 22nd the Columbus Blue Jackets would have the 8th highest cap hit of an NHL team.
  • … after years of saying that Jonathan Bernier was a big part of their team for years and years the Los Angeles Kings would trade him for an unproven Ben Scrivens, and a fringe NHL’er in Matt Frattin.
  • … the Toronto Maple Leafs would be retaining portions of two salaries, and have bought out two new players in addition to the ones they entered the year having b
  • ought out recently and the general manager who did all four of those things would still have a job.
  • … the Colorado Avalanche’s off season accomplishments would include, passing on a consensus franchise defenseman at the draft, waiving the defenseman who lead their team in TOI last season, and only ‘improving’ their defense with the importation of Cory Sarich.
  • … The Winnipeg Jets, a Canadian team, who have the most cap space would also have the most players elect arbitration.
  • … that with the additions of Andrew Ference and Denis Grebeshkov and the addition by subtraction of others the Edmonton Oilers would have the NHL’s most improved blueline.