NHL 2011-12: One Thing Each NHL Team Is Rooting for Next Season
Whether your team is among the favorites to win the Stanley Cup or at the bottom of the standings, there are storylines and intrigue awaiting every team during the 2011-12 NHL season.
We all have something to root for. If not, we wouldn't watch.
For the contenders, it's simple: You root to see your team's captain shaking hands with Gary Bettman before lifting the Cup over his head.
For the bottom-dwellers, hopefully you have some young prospects whose continued development you can root for.
Either way, we will all be watching as the puck drops again in 49 days.
So here is a list of what each team's fans, coaches, executives and players should be rooting for in the 2011-12 NHL season.
What are you rooting for?
The Anaheim Ducks are not a real threat to win the Stanley Cup this year. However, with two of the top 15 players in the Western Conference, one of which is the reigning Hart Trophy winner, they will be a playoff contender.
The Ducks are always hanging around, and can be a tough out in the playoffs.
So what do you root for in 2011 with the Ducks?
You root for the chance that Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Jonas Hiller can catch fire in the spring and maybe surprise someone in the playoffs. They have the talent and experience to upset the balance of power in the playoffs.
Being a Bruins' fan is pretty easy these days. First off, you get to claim Bobby Orr and the great history of an Original Six franchise, and now you get to hold the Stanley Cup over everyone else’s head.
On the ice, the Bruins are still loaded. Tim Thomas shows no signs of age slowing him down, and you have a good young crop of players like Milan Lucic and Tyler Seguin who are still just scratching the surface of their prime.
The one thing you root for in Boston this year is the repeat. Hasn’t happened in a while so history is against you, but as a Bruins fan, that’s just how you like it.
The Sabres are always an interesting team. Never truly terrible, and yet never top of the league. They hover around mediocrity.
The Sabres have always been generally likeable, they have a long-tenured coach in Lindy Ruff, and an excellent goalie who charmed everyone with his play in the Olympics. They just haven’t been able to get over that hump.
If you are rooting for Buffalo this coming season, you are rooting for the retooled blue line to step up, and get Miller back to his Vezina form which should make the Sabres more than just merely likeable.
It could make them a threat to the upper-echelon Eastern teams, and that is worth rooting for.
It is looking like another long year for Flames' fans in 2011. You might want to root for it to be 1988 again, but since that’s not going to happen, we’ll need to find something else.
With not much hope of playoff contention, Flames' fans can still hold onto watching their captain and leader Jarome Iginla. No matter what motley crew of castoffs are band-aided next to him, Iginla still plays each shift like it’s Game 7 of the Stanley Cup.
With questions out there about whether the team should trade him for prospects, Calgary fans can root for one more winter watching one of the best players ever to wear the flaming C leave it all on the ice for them.
The Hurricanes have gone from reaching the conference finals in 2008-2009 to missing the playoffs for two straight years. This trend is a bit concerning as they have now missed the playoffs four out of the past five years.
The Hurricanes have some pieces with Eric Staal and Cam Ward, and making a playoff push is not entirely out of the realm of possibility. It may come down to what they can get from their supporting cast.
Hurricanes' fans should be rooting for the rest of the team to step up and get them back into the Stanley Cup playoffs this season.
The Blackhawks struggled at times last year, and had to back into the playoffs one year after winning it all. After losing to their arch enemies in the first round, they have to consider 2010-11 to be a disappointment.
They have made more changes this offseason which have come with mixed reviews. On the plus side, they have replaced some error-prone youth with solid veterans. Others may counter that they’ve become older and slower.
The truth will come out during the season, but when you have a roster with names like Toews, Kane and Keith, you are in the hunt.
Chicago fans should be rooting for the Blackhawks to regain their 2009-10 form, and push for the Western Conference crown.
After a surprising playoff appearance in 2009-10, the young Avalanche fell back down to earth last season. They have a couple of young stud players in Stastny and Duchene which are worth watching Colorado for, but it is looking like a long year in Denver this year.
In the offseason, they picked up former Washington Capitals goalie Semyon Varlamov for an astonishing first-round pick in 2012 and an additional second-round pick. This move had the hockey world snickering as it seems the Capitals pulled a fast one on Colorado.
Colorado fans should be rooting for that No. 1 pick in 2012 to end up a bust for the Capitals, if for no other reason than to save some face.
Columbus Blue Jackets
Since joining the Blue Jackets, Rick Nash has been one of the best players in the NHL. He is perennially a 30-goal scorer which, unfortunately, has not translated into success for his team.
The Blue Jackets have long been searching for a running partner for Nash to try and make a playoff push. Columbus seems like a region that would go nuts for a contending hockey team.
This year, they picked up Jeff Carter from the Flyers to try and give Nash some hope this season. Jackets fans are rooting that Carter meshes well with Nash, and Columbus can crack the top eight in the West.
It has been a rough offseason for the Dallas Stars. Confusion and uncertainty in their ownership situation has led to very few moves, and most likely cost them Brad Richards.
So where do they go from here?
The Stars came within one game of making the playoffs when they lost to Minnesota on the last day of the season. Even with the loss of Richards, they still have some good players.
With what has transpired in the owner's box this year, the best thing the Stars can root for is for some stability to come to the organization in 2011.
Detroit Red Wings
Red Wings fans root for the same thing each year, winning the Stanley Cup. If the team fails to do that it is a disappointment, and conspiracy theories abound.
This year is no different.
Detroit continues to be one of the top three teams in the Western Conference, and again will be in it when the fur flies in the spring. They got a boost this offseason when all-everything defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom decided to return for one more year.
For Red Wings fans, nothing would be sweeter than seeing Lidstrom hoist the Cup one last time.
The youth movement is well under way in Edmonton. Last year, their fans watched first-round draft pick Taylor Hall take his first baby strides on NHL ice. He made some strides which should help him with a more productive 2011.
This year, it’s Ryan Nugent-Hopkins' turn to take a few spins.
Since a playoff run is out of the question for the Oilers, their fans will be rooting for the continued progression of the young guns.
One has to wonder how many Panthers fans there are out there that are rooting for anything. In many ways, Florida has become an NHL wasteland. A place where good players get shipped away, and no free agents want to play.
Live there? Yes. Play? Not so much.
This offseason, the Panthers shelled out a lot of money on some pretty questionable contracts. Ed Jovanovski for $4 million a year?
What few fans they have should root that those contracts turn into money well spent instead of anchors that weigh the franchise down, and perhaps out of town.
Los Angeles Kings
The Kings have been knocking on the door for a couple of seasons now. They have a couple of budding young stars in Anze Kopitar and Drew Doughty, and seem ready to contend for the Stanley Cup.
They made a big trade this offseason bringing in former Flyer Mike Richards to help them make that Cup run. There were rumors that Philadelphia parted ways with Richards because he embraced the party lifestyle too much.
The Kings are rooting for Richards to not discover the Los Angeles club scene.
The Wild are another of those teams that seem to struggle to break free of NHL mediocrity. They are never truly awful, but don’t make the playoffs consistently either.
They play a solid defensive style of hockey, and have a good net minder in Nicklas Backstrom, but have struggled to put the puck in the net. To help their woeful offense, they picked up Dany Heatley from the Sharks this year.
Heatley was pretty good during the regular season for the Sharks, but his poor playoff performances forced the Sharks to move in a different direction. The Wild gave up Martin Havlat, but Heatley should be an upgrade.
Wild fans should hope that Heatley gives their offense a much-needed spark to make the Wild a playoff contender.
The Canadiens lost their opening round playoff series last year to their hated rivals in Boston. That series went seven games, and easily could have gone either way.
Nothing would have been better to Montreal than knocking the Bruins out of the playoffs. Imagine how cocky P.K. Subban would have been if they had pulled it off.
The Canadiens were a lower seed last season, and probably are looking at another lower playoff seed. While not Stanley Cup contenders, Montreal fans should root for one more shot at Boston in the playoffs.
The Predators had one of their most successful seasons in 2010 as they finally advanced past the first round of the playoffs. They managed to catch the attention of the Nashville fanbase, and their building was electric.
Hoping to capitalize on that momentum this offseason, they hit a minor snag with the Shea Weber contract arbitration.
They lost that, and it remains to be seen how hurt the star defenseman's feelings were over the matter, and whether he sticks around in Nashville. Further depressing Predators fans is the fact that Ryan Suter and Pekka Rinne’s contracts are up next.
Nashville fans need to be rooting that they find a way to keep all these key players in Music City.
New Jersey Devils
The Devils had a horrifying season in 2010-11. They went from being a top seed in the Eastern Conference, to losing games like crazy to start the season. They fired one coach, found a replacement for the season, and now are onto coach No. 3.
The Devils did catch fire in the second half and almost made an amazing comeback, falling just short of the playoffs in the end. Can they capitalize on that momentum?
There are questions about what is left in Martin Brodeur’s gas tank, and what is going to happen to Zach Parise.
These unknowns put more pressure on the over-paid Ilya Kovalchuk. The Devils need to be rooting that he lives up to that contract.
New York Islanders
The Islanders days of glory in the 1980’s are long, long in the rear-view mirror. It’s a shame that one of the NHL’s greatest dynasties has fallen so far.
The Islanders have some good young players in Jonathan Tavares and Michael Grabner and the future looks like it might be pretty bright again. Sadly, the team just lost a key vote for a new arena, and the relocation vultures have been circling.
There are a lot of good hockey fans in Long Island who deserve better, and need to be rooting for the team finding a way to stick around.
New York Rangers
The Rangers are the annual free-agency big spenders. Most of those big signings have gone horribly wrong, and have made the Rangers the butt of many jokes in the NHL.
This year, they made the biggest splash once again by landing Brad Richards. The Rangers hope that Richards can team with Marian Gaborik and become a lethal top-scoring line.
The worry is that both Richards and Gaborik have had some injury problems in the past. Injuries to either could derail what will be an interesting season in the Big Apple.
Rangers fans should be rooting for a great season out of their team trainers.
What to say about the Ottawa Senators. It wasn’t so long ago that they were in the Stanley Cup Finals.
They are, to put it simply, a mess. Their stars from the finals' team are aging, and one former player is accusing the local media of being lousy drunkards. Things have been better in the Canadian capital city.
Senators fans should be rooting for a quick and painless end to the season.
The Flyers shocked the hockey world when they traded their two best players, Mike Richards and Jeff Carter, on draft day. These were the core guys who led them to the finals just a year ago. Why would they trade them?
There has been a lot of talk about too much partying being the reason. Whatever the truth is doesn’t matter, those guys are gone now.
The Flyers still have reasons to be excited. They have a couple of young players like James Van Riemsdyk and Claude Giroux who can step up to replace the lost offense.
They also coaxed Jaromir Jagr to spurn his former team to sign with them, and managed to get Ilya Bryzgalov in their net to shore up their goaltending problems.
With Bryzgalov in net, Flyers fans should hope that he finds Philadelphia’s park system adequate.
The Coyotes have been dragged through a tough offseason. The trouble really started at the end of the season and during the first round of the playoffs.
It seemed like a sure thing that they were moving back to Winnipeg. Players were starting to comment on it, and fans in Winnipeg were salivating.
The commissioner stepped in to save hockey in Phoenix…for now. It still remains to be seen where they end up.
On the ice they suffered some losses in free agency, and will be hard-pressed to repeat their past two playoff appearances.
The well-tanned hockey fans in the desert are rooting for having a team to root for next year.
Love them or hate them, the Penguins are a marquee team in the NHL. With the biggest NHL star in Sidney Crosby on the roster, it’s not hard to see why.
They are a pretty good team to top it all.
Last year, it seemed like everyone wearing a Penguin on their sweater missed games due to injury. Despite that, they made the playoffs, only to lose to the Lightning in seven games in the first round.
If healthy, they are a cup contender. If not, they are an also-ran.
The Penguins, and in many ways the NHL front office, are rooting that Crosby’s concussion is healed, and they get a full season out of their leader.
St. Louis Blues
The Blues are a hard team to figure out. Hard to figure out because it is hard to understand what they have going for them.
They have a couple of good players. David Backes is as good as they get, although you have to wonder how good he’d be if the Vancouver Canucks had managed to steal him a couple of years ago.
Last year they made a big splash by acquiring Montreal hero Jaroslav Halak, and while he was OK, it wasn’t enough to vault the Blues into the Western Conference playoffs.
They aren’t getting there this year either, and Blues fans should be rooting for good promotion nights at home games, there may not be many more reasons to attend.
San Jose Sharks
For some reason, the San Jose Sharks are still wearing the playoff choker label around their necks. The fans and media who are still living in 2009 need to realize that getting to two consecutive conference finals is anything but choking.
Do you think the Toronto Maple Leafs fans would take that?
The Sharks are not chokers, and this year they may put that tag to rest for good as they are loaded. In desperate need for a puck-moving defenseman, they were able to nab Minnesota’s Brent Burns, and in a separate move they parted way with playoff ghost Dany Heatley for Martin Havlat.
These are good moves, and Sharks fans should be rooting for that choker tag to be buried as they win the Western Conference.
Tampa Bay Lightning
Tampa Bay general manager Steve Yzerman proved last year that he just might be as good an executive as he was a player. He pulled all the right strings last season, and got the Lightning to within one goal of the Stanley Cup finals.
In the offseason, he faced the big challenge of finding a way to keep young superstar Steve Stamkos in the fold. With the rest of the league salivating over their chance to get their hands on Stamkos, Yzerman was able to get Stamkos his money.
The Lightning should be contenders again. They are relying on a goalie that may have been playing in the pre-goalie mask era; we are still trying to confirm this.
Tampa Bay is rooting that Dwayne Roloson keeps taking his vitamins in 2011.
Toronto Maple Leafs
The Toronto Maple Leafs missed the playoffs again in 2010. Shocked?
Didn’t think so.
One almost has to feel sorry for the diehard Maple Leafs nation as they pour their heart into a team that, at times, seems to be trying to lose. All this losing is not healthy.
They rolled the dice two years ago by bringing in Phil Kessel from Boston. Kessel has been good, but Toronto has had to sit back and watch the Bruins take two high first-round draft picks from them, and win it all last year.
Since making the playoffs seems like impossible, Toronto fans are rooting for Tyler Seguin to put in a 20-point season in 2011. Just so they don’t have to hear about it anymore.
The Canucks managed to find a way to have a magical season in which they won the President’s Cup, the Western Conference, and got within one game of winning it all, into a negative experience.
Most Canucks fans feel sick.
Sick because of what happened after Game 7 in the streets. Sick because they were so close. Sick because they had a 2-0 and 3-2 lead in the series. Sick because they got blown out in every game in Boston. Sick because they allowed the Bruins to push them around.
In 2011 the Canucks fans are rooting for the wizard to give them a heart.
Like the Penguins, the Capitals are the other marquee NHL team. Like the Penguins, they get shoved down our throats a bit by the league.
It is beginning to appear like Alex Ovechkin has yet to meet an endorsement deal he doesn’t love.
All that exposure would be tolerable if they actually won something. The Capitals have been under-achievers the past two years.
Seemingly sick of it, they went out and retooled their already good team this offseason.
Capitals fans are rooting for the product on the ice to match the hype.
1996. That was the last NHL game played in Winnipeg. Jets fans had to watch their beloved hockey team move to Phoenix.
After the NHL tried hockey in Atlanta again, and failed again, the fans in Winnipeg have their Jets back. They inherit an Atlanta squad that missed the playoffs, but isn’t totally devoid of young talent.
None of that matters, though.
For the first time in 15 years, Winnipeg fans get to root for an NHL hockey team again. Everything else is secondary.