Wednesday, September 14, 2005

The six teams to watch closest this season

1. Pittsburgh Penguins
And not simply for Sidney Crosby, though certainly he himself will be a player to keep your eyes on this season. But this coming season will be especially important for this franchise, who not too long ago looked to the embarassment of the league, both on the ice and off it. They took perhaps the most aggressive approach this past offseason, signing, among others, Zigmund Palffy, Lyle Odelin, John LeClair, and tough guy Andre Roy as well as trading for goalie Jocelyn Thibault and inking veteran Mark Recchi last summer. A very Glen Sather approach to team building. It will be interesting to see how it works out. On paper, they seem to be at least contenders for a playoff birth, something a year ago Pittsburgh hockey fans would've taken with a smile, and some even suggest that the Pens will be contenders for Lord Stanley. I wouldn't hold my breath waiting for that.

2. Phoenix Coyotes
The primary reason is obvious, and may be the story of this season: Wayne Gretzky, probably the greatest hockey player of all-time, getting behind the bench. With no prior experience. Though we all have an opinion, no one really has a clue how it's going to turn out. I have an unfortunate feeling that it won't go well, and that seeing Gretzky's legacy get tarnished will be like a car crash - we can't look away, no matter how much we want to. Of course, having conquered the on ice aspect, he could do the same as a bench boss. That in itself is reason enough to keep your eyes on the Coyotes. In addition, much like the Penguins, the Coyotes were players on the free agent market both this offseason and last. Like Pittsburgh, they pretty much had to, as fan interest was dwindling and they have a new, expensive building to pay for by filling. And like the Pens, much of their moves can be looked at with a raised eyebrow. They had the advantage of players wanting to play in Arizona due to the year round golf that can be played, and were able to use it overcome the fact they've been a pretty depressing franchise for some time, but many of the people they brought in have all sorts of question marks surrounding them. In a way, it's almost put up or shut up for this team and their fans.

3. Ottawa Senators
Clearly, I have a bias. But all the ingredients are there for an interesting team. A new head coach who, based on his words anyway, will have a philosophy about as opposite as the previous guy as you can get, yet will try to do so with much of the same team who lived under the previous regime and their strict approach. A new goalie, who's also over 40 and has played less than 20 games in 40 months. And a new sorta franchise player, replacing the previous one, and bringing tons of baggage with him. You're telling me you won't want to follow how the Sens do?

4. Toronto Maple Leafs
Because it could go either way and I wouldn't be the least bit shocked. How the Leafs will fare this coming season depends on who you speak with. Some think they will be contenders, and some predict a spot in the Eastern Conference basement. Either one won't make me bat an eye. I think they'll be somewhere in the middle, fighting for one of the last playoff spot. With two players always one hit away from retirement and a 40 year old goalie of their own with a back less stable than a house of cards, it should be a fun year to be a Leafs fan, though not for the reasons they would probably like.

5. Detroit Red Wings
A few weeks ago, I talked about how it looked like the Wings would be tumbling down from their high horse and position as infinite dominators. They've since inked one young sniper, but are still without another. Because they play in a weak division, in a time when divisional play is getting a huge emphasis, they'll do alright, but no longer will the Red Wings be penciled into a top position in the league standings. How will "Hockeytown" respond, having been spoiled by years of greatness, to a team that will not be head and shoulders above the rest?

6. Edmonton Oilers
For years, Kevin Lowe said that if given the opportunity to operate on a level playing field with the rest of the teams in the league, the Oilers would contend. Well, we shall now see, won't we? To his credit, his did break character and go out and acquire two impact players to solidify his chances, bringing many cat calls about how the broke Oilers now could afford to spend $10 million on two guys. It'll be intriguing to see if either of the new Oilers can bring the team to the promised land.


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At 8:47 AM, Blogger just'cuz said...

I'm not sure how the Leafs will do this year, even the Leafs' media are worried:

At 10:15 AM, Anonymous David said...

I saw watch the Atlanta Thrashers. They could be real good anc ould surprise a lot of people. If they can sign Kovalchuk that is. A line of Kovalchuk-Savard-Hossa could be the best offensive line in the whole NHL. And Kari Lehtonen in goal is a HUGE improvement over what they had in Dafoe/Nurminen in 2003-04.

At 12:41 PM, Blogger Mike said...

I've been looking forward to seeing the Thrashers too. They should be fun to watch this year.

At 12:42 PM, Blogger Mike said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 3:07 PM, Blogger CMcMurtry said...

The fact that we don't really know how the Leafs will do is what makes them interesting to me. I mean, I *think* they'll do alright, but like I said, it really could go either way and I wouldn't be all that surprised.

Coupled with a GM-coach relationship that seems to have all the ingredients for turmoil and a relentless media that covers the team, it will be very fun to watch how it unfolds.

At 1:17 PM, Blogger Tom L said...

Agreed about Toronto. I'd use the word 'interesting' to describe being a Leafs fan as in the Chinese curse, "May you live in interesting times."

Good list Chris.



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