Top Five Storylines for 2009-10 That Aren't Being Talked About
Though many have deemed this offseason to be somewhat stale and uneventful, there are plenty of interesting topics currently brewing as we prepare for the 2009-10 NHL season—some of which are, for the time being, getting minimal acknowledgment.
So far this summer, most of the talk aimed at next season has centered around a handful of subjects: what jersey Dany Heatley will be sporting next year, how many games will Marian Hossa miss in his first season in Chicago, John Tavares' inevitable debut with the New York Islanders, etc.
Beyond that, however, there are storylines of equal or slightly lesser value to the aforementioned three that aren't getting anywhere near the amount of warranted recognition by comparison—outside of their respective markets, that is.
Some of these storylines could become hot topics once they start playing out at the beginning of October.
So, without further ado, here are my top five hot topics that are currently flying under the radar.
5. The Montreal Canadiens' "Petits Garçons"
If you look up the word "overhaul" in any recent editions of a dictionary, you might just find the emblem of the Montreal Canadiens accompanying it.
After cutting ties with forwards Alexei Kovalev and Saku Koivu—and with cap space to burn—GM Bob Gainey went out an got himself a brand spanking new first line for the upcoming year.
However, whether or not it ends up being a good thing, this new line definitely comes in a small package.
Mike Cammalleri, Brian Gionta, and Scott Gomez (who I'm dubbing "The Midget Line," clocking in at 5'9", 5'7", and 5'11" respectively) have been newly-anointed as the Canadiens go-to guys, and will have to live up to the expectations of the fanatical Montreal faithful.
Gomez will perhaps have the biggest target on his back for the fans, as he enters the Habs dressing room with one of the worst contracts in the league and high expectations coming off of a disappointing season with the New York Rangers.
Cammalleri, meanwhile, notched 38 goals last year with the Calgary Flames, and will be looked upon to repeat said success in an environment without Jarome Iginla feeding him passes all year.
Finally, Gionta (pictured, the short guy in the middle), will look to rekindle the success he had in year's past alongside Gomez when the two played together in New Jersey—the same brand of success that allowed him to tally 48 goals in 2005-06.
As one of the smallest lines in the league, however, it will be interesting to see how the line plays in soft-minute situations, or how long the trio will last during the year.
4. Saku Koivu in an Anaheim Ducks' Uniform
Without mincing words, the 2009-10 NHL season is going to be a bittersweet one for Saku Koivu.
This year marks the first season that Koivu will hit the ice wearing any other jersey than that of the Montreal Canadiens. Similarly, for Habs fans, watching the team take to the Bell Centre without Koivu—the team's longtime captain, who spent 13 seasons with the storied franchise—is going to feel slightly awkward in its initial stages.
The native of Turku, Finland has been through thick and thin with the club—battling through numerous playoff runs, enduring unwarranted criticism for his lack of proficiency in speaking French, and even surviving cancer.
Unfortunately for the Montreal faithful, they will have to wait one more year until their beloved former leader makes his return home, as the Canadiens and Ducks meet only once this year in Anaheim.
On the flipside, he will enjoy a new lease on life in southern California as, for the first time in ten years, Koivu will enter a season without having to worry about captaincy duties.
Nevertheless, Anaheim's newest Duck will have the pleasure of playing alongside Finnish teammate and good friend Teemu Selanne, forming one of the most dangerous second lines in hockey and solidifying a formidable top six up front.
3. Where Phil Kessel Will End Up
With all the talk of Dany Heatley going to the New York Rangers, then going to the Edmonton Oilers, then not going to the Edmonton Oilers, then going to the San Jose Sharks, another big name has been mentioned in trade talks all summer that are receiving minimal fare next to the disgruntled Ottawa Senator.
Boston Bruins forward Phil Kessel—who had 36 goals last year, a spectacular playoff performance, and is seven years younger than Heatley—is currently a restricted free agent seeking a raise from his entry-level deal.
However, he'll be hard-pressed to receive a contract from the Bruins, who only have approximately $1.7 million left in cap space. Therefore, one of the likely options is that the Madison, Wisconsin native will be dealt.
Because of the mysterious smoke-and-mirrors act that has Heatleygate taking the forefront, little insight has been given in the national media regarding where Peter Chiarelli's head might be at.
Is he thinking about trading Kessel and getting some young pieces in return? Is he contemplating moving another one of his big contracts to retain Kessel's services? Not much insight has been given on the matter.
Regardless of which scenario plays out, this topic will start garnering a lot more attention in the coming months as the Bruins will be forced to make a move.
2. The Versatility of Marian Gaborik's $7.5 Million Body
After suffering his second injury-plagued season in recent years, all eyes at Madison Square Garden will be on newly-signed forward Marian Gaborik.
Coming into the 2009-10 season having played just 17 games last year—and with a $7.5 million per season price-tag to boot—the major concern will be whether or not the Slovakian superstar's hip holds up after major surgery last year.
According to Rangers GM Glen Sather, the team expects Gaborik to be in tip-top shape come training camp, having already conferred with the doctors who performed his hip surgery.
And if he is, in fact, as healthy as has been reported, expect Gaborik to come out flying with the Blueshirts. In his last four seasons with the Minnesota Wild, the eight-year veteran has clicked at just over 1.0 PPG.
That being said, the risk is still immense bringing in a player with Gaborik's injury history.
If his hip injury finds its way back to the forefront—or even if he re-aggravates the groin injury that kept him out of the lineup for parts of 2005-06—the Rangers forward corps thins out significantly, and his large portion of cap space will leave the team with little room to maneuver in finding a suitable replacement.
1. The Debut of Victor Hedman
Now, I know what you're thinking: Victor Hedman's NHL debut is, in fact, a huge deal.
But with the amount of talk that John Tavares' eventual first go-round with the New York Islanders has been receiving all summer, you'd never know it.
Which is truly a shame because Hedman actually stands poised to leave a more lasting impression in his rookie campaign.
Having spent the last two years playing for MoDo of Sweden's highest professional men's league, Elitserien, the 18-year-old will join the Tampa Bay Lightning this year already capable of handling the pro ranks.
Though many still worry about Hedman's ability to adapt his defensive play to a tougher North American-style, the towering Swede will likely be paired alongside countryman Mattias Ohlund (one of, if not the most underrated signing of the offseason).
The former Canuck will most definitely teach his young prodigy how to effectively rub out opposition and keep players away from Mike Smith or Antero Niittymaki's crease.
If Steven Stamkos' rookie year in the NHL taught us anything, it's that John Tavares' debut will likely be filled with some wonderful progress, but mostly growing pains. In that respect, Hedman's first foray into the big leagues has a better chances of achieving immediate results.
By season's end, if he properly utilizes his size and helps Tampa Bay achieve a respectable record, don't be surprised if Victor Hedman's name is being engraved on the Calder Trophy.