Takin' a T/O With BT: Early Season NHL Woes Are Nothing to Fret About

xx yySenior Writer IOctober 8, 2009

PITTSBURGH, PA - OCTOBER 07: Ilya Bryzgalov #30 celebrates with Adrian Aucoin #33 of the Phoenix Coyotes after posting a 3-0 shutout against the Pittsburgh Penguins at Mellon Arena on October 07, 2009 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

Fortunately for me, James Duthie and myself are thinking along the same lines. Unfortunately, he's a lot cooler than me.

Each and every year, fans everywhere anticipate the NHL season.

Everyone wants to see their big free agent acquisition get acclimatized to his new surroundings or which draft picks outshine proven veterans and earn themselves a spot in training camp.

On top of that, you’ve got the prospective title defense, the wonderment over a “Stanley Cup hangover,” and nay-sayers praying that they get to utter the phrase “bust” or “sophomore slump” as early as possible.

But what exactly do these things mean so early on in the regular season?

Coming out of the gate last year, the defending Stanley Cup Champion Detroit Red Wings went 2-1-1 in their first four games. It’s a very respectable record, but the St. Louis Blues owned the division with a 3-1-0 record, while the Wings were just a point ahead of 2-2-0 Nashville and Columbus.

Obviously, that situation wasn’t ideal for an established team such as the Red Wings, but the season didn’t end that way for them, as they were able to finish eight points ahead of their nearest division opponent, the Chicago Blackhawks.

Those exact Blackhawks started the season with one of the worst records in the NHL at 1-2-1, and ended up finishing fourth in the conference.

In fact, the ‘Hawks were one of two teams who started the season with just one win and ended up making the playoffs (the Calgary Flames were the other), while the Philadelphia Flyers started the season 0-3-1 and ended up tied for fourth in the East (fifth in the conference).

On the positive end of the spectrum (record-wise and early on), five teams started the season without a regulation loss, and only one—the San Jose Sharks—ended up being anywhere near that successful by the end of the year. The New York Rangers and Montreal Canadiens stumbled to the end of the year and low seeds in the playoffs, while Minnesota, Edmonton, and Buffalo fell short of the playoffs.

Two weeks doesn’t make a season, even though you can trace a missed playoff birth back to some missed opportunities early.

In other words: Just because New Jersey, Carolina, Detroit, and Vancouver are lining the bottom of the league right now, doesn’t mean that things will necessarily stay that way.

The likelihood of Roberto Luongo and Martin Brodeur struggling enough to keep their teams in the basement of their conferences is unlikely, and if Detroit misses the playoffs then…well…I guess whatever happened after the 1989/90 season will happen again.

If it involves a sequel to The Forbidden Dance,I’ll be worried, so here’s hoping we don’t chance that.

Up at the top, while the Colorado Avalanche will be hard-pressed to continue leading the West and the Phoenix Coyotes could win the Cup and the big "for sale" sign on top of the team would still get all the headlines, it’s a team that looks down at the rest of the East that may have trouble holding on.

While the Montreal Canadiens started the season off with two wins on the scoreboard (and were victimized in a big way against Vancouver), it’s a big loss on the ice that’s going to hurt them moving forward.

Last year, Andrei Markov was the big producer on the Montreal power play and he nearly led the team in scoring. This year? He’s out until after the Olympic Break thanks to Carey Price's Rick Flair impression.

Heading into the trade deadline last year, the Habs added Mathieu Schneider as insurance on the power play. Over the offseason they added Jaroslav Spacek in hopes of off-setting that offensive loss, as Schneider walked via free agency, but now Spacek is going to have to step up in a big way.

With Markov out, Montreal is going to have to look to Spacek to lead the defense offensively, while call-up Yannick Weber and recent signee Marc-Andre Bergeron will have to get their legs quickly and start contributing.

All of this brings up a very good question, though: If you can’t bank on the health of our stud defenseman, the spoils of a hot start, or a slouching contender, what can you bank on?

Well, you can probably bank on two Russians: Alexander Ovechkin will always score goals, and Evgeni Malkin will produce. Remember, Ovechkin came up with 56 goals last year after a slump to start the year, and he’s already started the season hot, making 70 a very likely possibility.

Malkin, meanwhile, started last year with three points in four games—a slow start for an eventual 113-point scorer—and he’s got just (I repeat...JUST) two points (as if that’s disappointing) so far this year.

You can also bank on the fact that, no matter what happens, the Sedins will finish within five points of each other—something that’s happened five of eight times over their careers.

And if Marian Gaborik wasn’t the second-highest scorer on my fantasy team, I’d tell you that he’s due for an injury.

But he is, so he’s not. And he’s going to score 40 goals this year. That's just the way it is.

For fans frustrated by slow, disorganized starts, remember that your teams are still trying to integrate new faces into the system, while those players are antsy themselves.

Last year, the Tampa Bay Lightning opened up the season on a troubling losing streak after remodeling their team in the offseason.

Granted, they didn’t climb the standings over the next 76 games, but there were plenty of auxiliary distractions—meaning that a team like the Toronto Maple Leafs, who continue to look a little cris-crossed in their own zone, should be able to fix that fairly soon.

Misguided illusions about fantasy-impacting injuries and fretting over team defense after two of the top four on your team just finished their third game in new colors aside, putting too much stock in the first week of the season isn’t an ideal strategy for fans. It’ll lead to a ton of indigestion, lost sleep, and grey hairs.

In other words: Wait until Christmas to ask for that Just for Men colour gel.

Bryan Thiel is a Senior Writer and an NHL Community Leader for Bleacher Report. If you want to get in contact with Bryan, you can do so through his profile, or you can email him at bryanthiel74@hotmail.com. Also, be sure to check out all of his previous work in his archives.


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