As the new year gets ready to begin, there are hopes and fears in every NHL city. Will the star player stay healthy? Will the star defenseman ever sign a contract? And will Sean Avery ever shut his mouth?The game is in wonderful shape, and the financial well-being of the league is improving all the time.
With that in mind, let's look forward to this season and beyond.There are some questions that need answers, some issues that need to be worked out and some random thoughts that need to be voiced.
Here are 25 bold predictions for the 2011-12 season and beyond.
I'm not saying that hockey players will be circling the ice with a facemack like Ray Lewis (though I would pay to watch that), but the padding and physical protection provided by football helmets today is significantly better than hockey has been afforded.
Frankly, the NFL has put more time and effort into the padding in their helmets than the NHL. If a 350-pound man can land on one of these things and you can stand back up, certainly it can take the impact of a hockey player.
Right now, the pads used in hockey are closer to football. By moving towards lacrosse-style pads, the NHL would provide similar protection but also use softer (and less) material on the torso. This change would open up flexibility for players and also remove a lot of the added weight on a hit provided by an elbow or shoulder.
In the last four years, three of the Original Six have won a Cup (Detroit, Chicago and Boston).
Looking at the current state of each of the Original Six organizations, it's easy to see that all six could be in the playoffs this year and one could be the champion (many analysts are picking Boston again, while others on NHL.com have picked Chicago and Detroit).
This is a no-brainer.
However, where will they go? And what will that do to realignment?
One simple fix is to move the Coyotes to Kansas City, where there is already an arena and a fanbase ready for the NHL. KC is close enough to Phoenix/Glendale that it could happen without impacting divisional alignment any more.
This move makes sense. The fans in Minnesota had an incredible rivalry with Chicago in the 1980s, and continue to have a natural rivalry with Chicago and Detroit in football. Moving the Wild to the Central isn't a wild idea.
However, it takes a team out of one conference and overloads a division...
The Red Wings want to make the jump to the Eastern Conference, but it's hard to see how the league could/would break up a great rivalry like the Wings-Blackhawks. Not to mention leaving Chicago as the only Original Six team in the West.
As I said on the previous slide, the natural rivalry between Michigan, Chicago and Minnesota makes sense on too many levels to break it up. Detroit will stay put.
Moving the financially-struggling Jackets to the Eastern Conference makes sense. They could replace the Thrashers, and the move would improve their chances of competing sooner by getting them away from the Blackhawks and Red Wings.
Not only does he have more clear rules to enforce, but his use of video descriptions of how/why he's handing out specific game numbers is a level of transparency that Colin Campbell never afforded the league or fans. The dumber players like James Wisniewski get, the stronger Shanahan's pimp hand can become.
There has been a lot of discussion surrounding the NHL's involvement in the next Winter Olympics, and there is enough exposure for lower levels of talent for the league to take a step back from the games.
However, Ovechkin has already indicated that he will participate no matter what. The key to this slide, also, is "only NHL player" to participate; there's a good chance that a few players, like Washington's Alexander Semin, are playing overseas.
He's done a brilliant job of selling the Chicago Cubs and, now, the Blackhawks, and clearly understands how to put butts in the seats. Giving him the control of the entire league isn't a far stretch of the imagination, and could be a great move for the future of the game.
This should be a no-brainer for the league, and now that Ohio State is facing the potential of a few years without a bowl game, the NHL should jump on this opportunity.
Putting a superstar like Rick Nash on center stage in a stadium that could put 100,000 people in it to watch a hockey game—at a university with a strong hockey program—could be the perfect way to jumpstart the Jackets.
The league gave Chicago the Winter Classic before they realized any of their potential. Perhaps they should take the same step in Columbus.
And if the league wants to take the marketability of the event one step further, send Detroit to another Classic. Why not put a team from Michigan on the ice against a team from Columbus, OH? Having the Wolverines and Buckeyes play the next day could make for an incredible, two-day event between the NCAA and NHL.
Two of the elite scorers in the NHL, they have now alternated seasons at the top of the game.
But moving forward, their opponents will continue to follow the model put in place by Chicago and continued by Boston: If you harass and beat up the Sedins, they're less effective.
This isn't to say they're going to suddenly fall off to 50-point players, but expecting either of them to lead the league again is a lot.
At some point, the two sides need to realize that he's their only player and, in order to rebuild an organization that doesn't have a lot of young talent coming, they're going to need to trade the face of the franchise.
And looking around the league, there could be teams on the fringe of doing something special with a lot of cap space—Florida for onethat isn't afraid of making a huge deal or taking on major salary.
To date, Crosby has played in 412 regular season games. He has played in more than 80 games as many times, twice, as he has played in fewer than 54 in a season, and the lost second half of last year and subsequent disappearing act for the summer has left fans wondering when we'll see him again.
There really isn't a track record of superstars, or, as his doctors called him at their recent press conference, "Ferraris" like Crosby that have come back from a major concussion issue before, so it's hard to know what he'll look like when he does return to the ice.
To say Crosby's career is half over might be harsh considering he's only 24, but his past is rough enough to have questions moving forward.
It's no surprise that he's had injury issues the last few years, and Pronger plays a physical style of hockey that isn't likely to compromise. With the veterans turning over in Philly, Pronger is now the old man captain of a pretty young team.
Retirement would likely put him in the same Hall of Fame class as Teemu Selanne and clear substantial cap space for the Flyers moving forward.
Yes, a defenseman in Florida will get the attention of the league.
With all of the moves made by Panthers GM Dale Tallon this summer, they should be in position to make some noise long enough this year to keep Gudbranson in front of the media. With veteran depth on the blue line, including Brian Campbell, the situation for Gudbranson is similar to the one that nurtured a wonderful season out of Cam Fowler in Anaheim last year.
In his rookie season last year, Crawford put up fantastic numbers across the board (33-18, 4 SO, .917 sv pct, 2.30 GAA). He did so with an admittedly subpar season from many of the key players in front of him, especially then-reigning Norris Trophy-winner Duncan Keith.
If the blue line improvements made in Chicago pay off, and their depth up front continues to mature together, Crawford's numbers should only improve. A Vezina in Chicago isn't a wild expectation.
He showed elite talent last year, and now has been essentially handed the reigns of the Flyers team. With increased opportunity will come increased expectations, but he has never been afraid of someone expecting performance. It might not be in 2011-12, but Giroux is a safe bet to put up monsterous numbers soon.
He's put up solid numbers in his career without having ever played next to a good center; in many ways, Nash is the second coming of Jarome Iginla.
But that comparison died when the Jackets acquired Jeff Carter to skate next to Nash, and now the young captain is expected to help Columbus take the next step. If they do, and he puts up huge numbers, he'll be hard to ignore next summer in Vegas.
If you look at his first couple seasons, they compare favorably with Patrick Kane and Steven Stamkos. In fact, a solid prop bet would be that Tavares could post 50 in one of the next two seasons if he stays healthy. He's an elite talent and can do incredible things with the puck.
Even with an escalating cap, the Ducks have a lot of money locked up in one incredibly talented line with Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Ryan. Of the three, though, the one that might be most easily dealt is Ryan...and the potential to bring back an elite package of players/picks might be too much for the Ducks to ignore in a year or two.
It might cost them Ryan Suter and Pekka Rinne, but hanging onto their captain should (and likely will) mean the Preds take on a major financial commitment this season.
He's put a lot of time and effort into building the team in Toronto, but it might be time for a change if the Leafs don't see the postseason in the coming spring.
Burke has made some fantastic moves and locked up some elite talent, but the players on the ice have to perform or there will be a scapegoat. Burke has always owned his mistakes and might prefer to walk away than fire his coach.
Yes, he wears the "C" in Toronto, but the Leafs don't need his body or contract on their blue line any more. With Luke Schenn already a star and kids like Cody Franson, Keith Aulie and Jake Gardiner ready to follow suit, the blue line depth in Toronto is more than adequate to have a winning team down the road. Selling on Phanuef might bring back enough value to make him expendable at the deadline.
Unless the league somehow works into the next CBA a soft spot in the cap for superstar players, Ovechkin's salary is going to he a handicap to Washington. There will never again be a trade that impacts the game like the Gretzky trade did, but the Caps putting Ovechkin on the market could stir the dimensions of the game beyond recognition.