NHL 2011-2012: The 10 Feel-Good Stories We Are Rooting for This Season

Andrew EideCorrespondent IAugust 30, 2011

NHL 2011-2012: The 10 Feel-Good Stories We Are Rooting for This Season

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    Every NHL season has its share of great stories. In some cases these stories seem like they were written by Hollywood script writers. They are feel-good stories, stories that make you smile no matter which team you root for.

    The 2011-2012 NHL season is set up to have its own share of these stories.

    Granted, to some of the more passionate fans they aren't all good stories. After all, if you root for the Montreal Canadiens you probably aren't interested in anything good happening to Toronto. 

    But, to the general NHL fan there are good stories abound.

    Will they all happen? No, they won't, but there is a chance that they will, and if so, they will be great stories for hockey and the NHL.

    So here are 10 feel-good stories worth rooting for this upcoming season.

    What stories are you rooting for?

10. The New York Islanders Make the Playoffs

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    The Islanders had one of the greatest dynasty’s in all of sports in the 1980’s when they won four consecutive Stanley Cup Finals. That feat has yet to be repeated, and their history includes all-time greats with names like Bossy, Gillies, Potvin, Trottier and so many others.

    Their recent history hasn’t been as great as they haven’t made the playoffs since the 2006-2007 season when they lost in five games to the Sabres.

    Since that season they have suffered through a string of fifth-place finishes and no playoffs. To make matters worse there is new uncertainty to the future of the franchise as they have failed to secure funding for a new arena.

    There are amazingly passionate and loyal fans on Long Island who deserve better than this. They witnessed one of the great runs in sports and to see them going crazy during a Stanley Cup playoff game again would be a just reward.

    There are some reasons to think that the Islanders could make the playoffs this year. They have some young talent surrounding a super star in the making in John Tavares.

    So here’s hoping the Islanders find a way to make it into the playoffs this year, it would be a great story.

9. Sidney Crosby Gets Healthy

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    The NHL buzz the past few weeks has surrounded the health of Sidney Crosby. Has he recovered from his concussion of last year? Has there been a setback? Will he ever be the same player he was?

    These are all questions that are swirling around as the season opener looms.

    Love him or hate him, Crosby is one of the top players in the league and easily the most recognizable one. 

    Having one of the games brightest stars suffer a career threatening injury is never good, despite how you feel about him or the Penguins. Yes, the NHL will go on with or without Crosby but seeing him come back and be the player he was will be a great story and ultimately better for the sport.

    So, here’s hoping Crosby can clear the cobwebs and come out flying in 2011 and beyond.

8. The Winnipeg Jets Make the Playoffs

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    The new Winnipeg Jets are already a success. It’s been 15 years since there has been NHL hockey in Winnipeg and the anticipation for the season is at a fever pitch.

    Stores are selling out of new gear, and there is a buzz on line waiting to get a look at the new sweaters which will only lead to more sales. With all this excitement, what about winning?

    As great a story the Jets are already, having them get into the playoffs would be the icing on the cake.  Imagine how rowdy the MTS Center would be for a playoff game.

    Can the Jets pull this off?

    It is probably a long shot for this year, but the Jets do have an assortment of young players who are on the come. Captain Andrew Ladd already has two Stanley Cups and is only 25 years old and winger Evander Kane seems like he is ready to bust out as a top-flight NHL scorer.

    They have some deficiencies on defense, which they will have to address, but they only finished 13 points out of the playoffs last year, so it wouldn’t be a huge shock if they pulled it off this year.

    If they can, it will be one great story.

7. Henrik Lundqvist Wins the Vezina

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    In many ways New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist flies under the radar. Despite playing in the biggest market in the NHL, he rarely gets his name mentioned when the best goaltenders are being discussed.

    He is one of the best goaltenders in the NHL.

    Lundqvist has been nominated three times for the Vezina trophy but has yet to bring it home. It’s time he gets his just reward.

    After all, this is a guy who has won an Olympic gold medal and is the heart and soul of the Rangers. He is their workhorse, averaging just under 68 games a season and has won 213 games for the Blueshirts.

    Perhaps it’s the Rangers lack of big time success that has hurt him, perhaps he wears down due to his work load, but the reasons he hasn’t won aren’t clear. You have to wonder, if last year’s 2.28 goals against and .923 save percentage wasn’t worth even a nomination, what would be?

    It would be great to see one of the best goaltenders in the game to finally get rewarded after a great season with the top goaltender trophy. 

    With the addition of Brad Richards and an emerging young defense perhaps this is his season the Rangers and Lundqvist make some noise.

6. The Toronto Maple Leafs Make the Playoffs

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    Let’s face it, the Toronto Maple Leafs are one of the most, if not the most, popular franchises in the NHL. The Maple Leafs nation is loud and strong.

    Because of the team’s lack of on ice success it is sometimes easy, and downright fun, to poke fun of Toronto fans.

    Sometimes they make it easy for us. After all, the Maple Leafs are the featured team on Hockey Night in Canada despite their lack of success and year after year we hear from their fans how this is the year.

    Sadly it hasn’t been their year since 1967, the last time they won the cup, and they haven’t made the playoffs since 2004.

    Despite their obnoxiousness, the Maple Leafs fans are dedicated, proud and loyal hockey fans. They’ve suffered enough.

    Seeing Toronto make the playoffs would be a great story for the NHL this upcoming season.

    Besides, you can still chirp that Maple Leafs fan you know during the playoffs, it will be even more fun than it was before.

5. Jaromir Jagr's Mullet Returns to Form

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    Jaromir Jagr was a big time NHL star in the late 1990s and early 2000s. After taking a three-year vacation in the KHL, he returns to the NHL after signing a free agent contract with the Flyers this summer.

    As much as fans loved watching Jagr race down the ice and rip a deadly wrist shot, we also loved watching his magnificent mullet fly in the wind.

    The mullet has been long out of style, but in many ways, so has Jaromir Jagr. His last NHL season, with the Rangers in 2008, saw him only manage 71 points. For his standards, that is low. Coincidentally, he had shortened his hair back by then as well. 

    Perhaps it’s not a coincidence?

    As interesting a story as his return to the NHL is, the return of the mullet would be even more fun. 

    Here’s hoping we see mullet wigs in Philadelphia this season. 

4. Barry Trotz Wins the Jack Adams

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    Without question Barry Trotz is one of the best head coaches in the NHL. He has won over 450 games and made six playoff appearances in the last seven years. That includes three seasons where he led his team to 100-plus points.

    The fact that he has done this in Nashville, where ownership has been less than eager to open up the wallets to keep star players in town, is truly remarkable. 

    Trotz has been the only coach Nashville has known and has turned the Predators into a perennial playoff contender. He has had to do it on a shoestring budget.

    It is arguable that any other coach has done more with less than Trotz. You have to wonder what Trotz could accomplish with a loaded roster.

    He is a master of getting the most out of his roster, and has developed some of the games top-notch defensive players.

    He has been nominated for the Jack Adams award, given annually to the league’s best coach, but has yet to win it. It seems that every year he loses out to a guy who is coaching a team with a much deeper roster.

    Having Trotz finally get his due and win the Adams this year would be a great sight to see for one of the games best bench bosses.

3. Jarome Iginla Gets to Play Meaningful Hockey Games

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    The Calgary Flames have missed the playoffs the past two seasons and prior to that they have not made it out of the first round since their Stanley Cup Finals appearance in 2004. Their playoff prospects for this season seem to be pretty bleak again.

    You have to feel sorry for Jarome Iginla.

    The Flames' all-time leading scorer is as tough and consistent a star as the NHL has, and it is a shame that he is mired on a dysfunctional franchise. It would be a great story if somehow Iginla was able to play meaningful hockey this season.

    Since Calgary is not a playoff team, it seems the only way Iginla will get to do that is if he is traded.  There has been speculation the past year or so about whether Calgary is ready to do that.

    On one hand, trading away the face of your franchise is tough, but if he could bring in a package of prospects that allow you to rebuild it might be worth it.

    That kind of trade would undoubtedly be to a contending team.

    How great would it be to see Jarome Iginla playing deep into the playoffs once again?

2. Shea Weber Stays in Nashville

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    Weber is quickly becoming one of the more dominant forces in the NHL. A big, bruising defenseman who can move the puck and has a cannon of a slap shot, he may soon be the best in the NHL.

    He has become the face of the Nashville Predators and has helped sparked the interest in the NHL down south.

    The Predators have a history of not being able (or willing) to shell out the dollars to keep their key players under contract. As Weber became a restricted free agent this offseason, there was a lot of speculation that they would have to watch another good player walk away.

    Weber had been public with his desire to stay in Nashville, but after the club couldn’t re-sign him this off season he won a big arbitration hearing to the tune of a one-year, $7.5 million contract.

    This has sprung new speculation that the Predators might be better off moving Weber than risk losing him next season when he becomes unrestricted. Especially since Ryan Suter and Pekka Rinne’s contracts are also looming.

    Despite what you think of the Predators, seeing good players leave a team because the team can’t afford them is always hard.

    The league is always better when teams can keep their core intact.

    Hopefully, the Predators can find a way to make it work and keep their star players intact.

1. Joe Thornton Wins the Conn Smythe

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    It’s become sport the past few years to label Joe Thornton as a choker. Sure the Sharks have had a couple of notable playoff gaffes, but the Thornton as a choker label is hardly fair.

    After all the past two years, he has had good playoffs and led the Sharks to the Western Conference Finals in both years. In those two runs he put up 29 points in 33 games which are hardly choker numbers.

    The Sharks are loaded again and have made a couple of key moves this offseason that have them poised at another swing at the Cup. Bringing in Brent Burns from the Wild gives them another much-needed puck-moving defenseman which was a big problem in their loss to Vancouver this past season.

    With the Sharks one of the favorites to get to and win the Stanley Cup, it would be great for Joe Thornton to finally shake the choker label and win a Conn Smythe.