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.

Last season was a distinct retreat from the pre-lockout trip to the Stanley Cup Finals. The injury report reads like a who’s who of New Jersey Devils players; Ilya Kovalchuk, Bryce Salvador, Adam Henrique, Martin Brodeur, and more. Worse, the players on the ice didn’t execute. The Devils finished 28th in goals for, without a solid defense, the team would have finished even worse.

The off season was a very mixed bag. The NHL Entry Draft saw the Devil’s select blueliner Steven Santini with their second round pick, and forwards Ryan Kujawinski, Miles Wood and Myles Bell in the middle rounds. Draft day was highlighted in the hockey sense by Lou Lamoriello stunning NHL observes by uprooting Cory Schneider for a single first round pick (which the Canucks used on Bo Horvat). The emotional highlight was Lou Lamoriello acquiring a 7th round pick and passing off the microphone so that Martin Brodeur could make the call to draft his son Anthony into the Devil’s family.

With the ‘retirement’ of Ilya Kovalchuk, and Henrik Talinder, Johan Hedberg among others exiting the organization as well, there will certainly be some new jersey numbers on display this season. Continuing his tour of the old Atlantic division is Jaromir Jagr who enters on a one year deal, Michael Ryder, and Ryane Clowe join the squad. If the roster currently on the Devils site is any indication they intend to make camp very competitive. Twenty-six forwards, sixteen defensemen and five goaltenders grace the roster.

The opening five games will be challenging. They contain two different back to backs, four road games and three teams who were in the playoffs last year. The New Jersey Devils challenge the Pittsburgh Penguins on the road to open the season, then travel home the next night for the Brooklyn New York Islanders. Then they set out for an extended road trip that starts with the Edmonton Oilers and Vancouver Canucks back to back before a pair of off days and a date with the Calgary Flames.

Number of days 1-5: 8

Number of cities: 4

Best opponent: Pittsburgh Penguins

Weakest opponent: Calgary Flames

Home games: 1

Projected points: 4+

The opening fistful of games will likely be rough. The schedule is as tight as last years compressed schedule, there are a lot of new players, and two back to back sets. If the Devils  win two of three against the Penguins, Islanders, and Canucks they are likely bound for the playoffs. On the other hand if there’s one thing decades of October hockey has taught us it is that the standings don’t much matter until late November.

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 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.