Puck Drops Soon, 15 Teams, Hockey to Be Top Sport in US? HTR's New Plan

The puck drops on October 4. We’re under a month to go and this Sunday will mark 21 days before the show.

What will happen between now and then?

A quick view of the Eastern Confernce.

Will hockey finally regain popularity in the US? How?

HTR’s new plan, and the reason why there will not be an official HTR Season Preview. This plan involves the likes of great HTR members such as nordiques100. So, you ought to read this.Well. I can tell you that I finally see how life gets busy as you grow older. It is amazing that I joined HockeyTradeRumors.com at 18 years of age, and in two years it will mark my 10th Anniversary on HTR.com. At 18, and the following years, I somehow managed to find so much time to contribute on here. I had a day of classes, stuff to do, play a little outdoors, play some PlayStation, and dedicate time on here. Life was just easier back then. Now, at 26 years of age doing my MBA, I relish moments of peace and quiet, with relaxation. Just laying on the beach, or next to my pool, and enjoy the moment. I relish sleeping time. I’ve become more active in other areas of my life, such as world economics, finding internships, keeping in touch with more people I get to meet, and even dedicate time to learn about politics in general.

That’s what happens when you grow older. Your mind opens up to more ideas and what not. Still, whenever I find the time to sit down at my desk, with my computer, thinking hockey like an analyst, I devote my mind to HockeyTradeRumors.com. While it’s true that other things in life take away hockey from my mind, nothing will ever take the passion and heart that lives, breathes, bleeds, or whatever else, hockey. I. Love. This. Game.

So, this Sunday will mark a three-week countdown till the puck drops.

What’s to happen between now and then?

Mats Sundin

As if you have not heard enough about him. Here is what I think. Mats….if you are still thinking about playing or not in this league, then evidently you are not retiring. If you retire by the end of this month, then I will always respect you as one of the best players to have played the game, but with huge disappointment. This is when I actually question Sundin’s ability to lead. Are leaders so undecisive? No. Now of course Mark Messier took a long time as well, but it’s quite different when you are #2 in the hockey world. Quite different when you have six Stanley Cup rings. And, quite different when you are just Mark Messier. You do what the hell you want. Sundin, you are 37 years of age. You missed the playoffs the past three years. Your beloved Leafs team is heading in transition mode for a retooling of the franchise. You have not won a Cup. You have not shown a big drop in production. Ok, what I am getting at is….. retirement? Are you nuts? Nuts Sundin is what I will call him if he retires. Talk about an incomplete career. Talk about a quitter. Now of course, he lives in a free country up in Canada, and in Sweden, and in the US if he is to play for a team here. I have no right in telling him what to do. But, as a fan, I think this guy should give his career a shot at winning the Cup, or at least….steal the moment of a last, and memorable, playoff game. Mats, your career deserves a chance, don’t give up on it.

Will Sundin retire or play? Maybe Brett Favre should give him a call. Did anyone see that TD throw against the Dolphins? Talk about a legendary athlete. And, Favre won the Superbowl before. Favre is also 40 years old or so. Sundin, you’re still 37 years young. Why on earth retire? So, my personal feeling is that Sundin will be back for another year. I think the guy loves this game too much. Now that I said that he will come back, which jersey will he wear? Well, I still think something is brewing in the Big Apple. While “hockey experts” have put the Rangers down as barely making the playoffs, I call this team Cup worthy. It’s a playoff winner with leadership, veterans, speed, youth, hunger, size, and one of the league’s top goaltenders. Remember folks, any team that has such a goalie that is tops in the league and makes the playoffs always has a shot at the Cup. Add Sundin to the Rangers and it’s a scary team with it’s top five defense, and a rejuvenated offense.

Montreal would also be the ideal spot for Sundin. But, I am just not so convinced with their defense, and if you were in Sundin’s shoes looking for a last shot at Cup glory, would you trust working your ass off for 82 games, plus playoffs, and depend on a rather young-rookieish goalie in Price, who was not brilliant in the playoffs this year? I wouldn’t. No attack towards Carey Price and the Canadiens. I just wouldn’t do it. Would you? If you had to choose between an experienced, yet still young, goalie in Lundqvist, who has won the Gold Medal with you, who has been a three-time Vezina finalist, or a youngster prone to rookie-like mistakes in Price, who would you pick?

Anyway, I think the best case scenario right now would be for the media to be as quiet as possible about Sundin. Give little coverage to it. The guy won’t make a decision any time soon, so what’s the point? No more rumors. From this day on, no Sundin talk unless break, and factual, news comes out.

Will Glen Murray play again in the NHL? What would he bring to a team? Well, a good shot, size, and usefulness in creating traffic around the net. That’s about it. He has clearly lost a step in speed. I think he’d be okay on a young team needing depth, and a veteran helping hand too. He may find a new home around pre-season. If not, then chances of him retiring are quite big.

Mark Parrish needs to understand that a lot of teams spent their money this off-season, and few teams are waiting to see what happens with Sundin. Hey Mark, patience is virtue. He is a good player. He brings good character. Is a pain in the ass around the net. Has pretty good speed. I would have liked to see him play in Florida and that situation could still be a possibility. His kind of game would fit well with the Panthers. Still, other bigger players are the Canucks, much in need of depth, or Nashville, or Atlanta. Teams want to see how training camp, and early pre-season, goes for them. If no NHL teams show much interest, which would shock me, then I’d expect Parrish to either play in Russia or Switzerland.

Some teams are still over the cap, and one team that will be mentioned a lot in the coming weeks is Philadelphia. Is it time to say goodbye to Mike Knuble? Umm, yes. Aging, medium size contract as far as money goes, and he is very tradeable. I’d take him on any team, unless you are the Tampa Bay Lightning who plan on having forwards play defense and goaltending! If not Knuble, then what about Simon Gagne? This guy is probably the Flyer mostly unspoken of. He suffered a severe injury, carries a hefty contract. Would you take a shot at him? I would.

Defensemen! Who wants a defenseman!? Get your defenseman here! That’s what GM Jacques Martin of the Florida Panthers will be selling before the season opener. The current defensive line up: Jay Bouwmeester, Brian McCabe, Keith Ballard, Nick Boynton, Brian Allen, Karlis Skrastins, Cory Murphy, and Noah Welch. Either Skrastins, Murphy, or Welch will be dealt. I’m leaning towards Murphy because of his offensive upside. A team that would fit him greatly? The Ottawa Senators. They have no offense on their defense now, unless Filip Kuba repeats a 15 goal season he had a couple of seasons ago. But, Murphy, the Ottawa native, playing for the Sens? Makes great sense. Expect a trade to happen for the Panthers once again.

The Eastern Conference Teams (these are not predictions)

Montreal

Their defense allowed 222 goals last season. Definitely not impressive. Nonetheless, the young talent, good veteran group, and good coaching make this team a solid one in the East. Some questions arise though, such as: Will Kovalev repeat his offensive burst from last season, or will he be inconsistent as he’s been throughout his career? Will Mark Streit’s 60+ points be missed? Who replaces them? Will Price/Halak hold up to an 82 game schedule? This team has the youth. Has the talent. Has the depth. All can lead up to a good run. For the Cup? No. Not now, not yet. If you’re talking a few years from now though? Montreal is a scary team.

Pittsburgh

Of course they will finish well in the East with Crosby and Malkin alone. My problem with this Penguins team is the lack of forward scoring depth. Last season, they ran the wing with guys like Armstrong, Christensen, Roberts, Hossa. To replace that this season with Miro Satan and Ruslan Fedotenko is quite a turn off. By all means, Satan can score 70 points again and have a 30 goal season, all because of Crosby or Malkin. Fedotenko will be a good 25 goal scorer, but he doesn’t bring much else to the game other than strength and ability to score 25 goals. Matt Cooke was a good addition to this team, but I don’t see how he replaces Ruutu’s impact. Can the guy even stay healthy now? Pittsburgh also had one of the worse defenses in the East last season, allowing 247 goals. I don’t see the offensive being stronger than last season, and the defense is the same. Can M-A Fleury pick up where he left off? Or, will he falter as he did last year, which caused a blessing because Ty Conklin had a spectacular stretch with the Penguins.

Washington

Yes, everything evolves around our new Alexander the Great. Ovechkin, to me, is the best player in the league right now. Single-handedly led his team to the playoffs. That was impressive. Still, it won’t just be about Ovechkin this season. I expect Nik Backstrom to have a monster season. Washington’s defense still does not impress me as far as keeping the puck out of their own net. Mike Green will help the offense big time, but the Caps are also gambling with Theodore. If Theodore is average and the defense does not improve the 242 goals allowed last season, I would not consider them a playoffs lock. Hopefully Michael Nylander will play as much as possible. Vik Kozlov needs to be more productive. This team will heavily rely on Theodore. It all depends on Theodore more than Ovechkin. Ovechkin can’t play goalie. Well, I think the guy can do anything on the ice so who knows? But, if Theodore does not pan out, then this team is either barely making the playoffs or barely missing the playoffs.

New Jersey

The past two seasons I expect this team to miss the playoffs. Will this be the year? I won’t fool myself again, so the answer is no. The Devils system and Brodeur’s goaltending leads this team to the playoffs and it will do so again; however, Devils brass needs to acknowledge that Brodeur is no longer a 70+ game goalie. He was an average goalie this year in the playoffs against the Rangers. Can you believe that? Brodeur, average? In the playoffs? Give the guy a break. He is aging! Kevin Weekes is very capable of playing 15 games, or even 20. Keep Brodeur fresh for the playoffs. Devils additions of Rolston and Holik were superb for character, but not so much for speed and contract. Why not speed? Holik is not as effective in this new NHL. He is only getting older, and did they really need him? This is where the Devils expose their organizational weakness within the farm system. Contract? Rolston’s contract is fairly big but very lengthy. The guy will be paid aroun $5M when he is nearing age 40, and I doubt he’d be scoring 25+ goals at that stage. This is time for Travis Zajac to step and and follow Parise’s footsteps. Parise has made many GMs and scouts look foolish since his draft day. What a player he is. What a player he is! Love the guy, yet hate him because he is not a Ranger. Ah, the envy. The Devils will be just as good this season and their playoffs performance depends on how much Brodeur is pushed.

New York Rangers

Lots of changes in Manhattan. It may take time for the new players to connect and be on the same page, but it’s tough to not be happy with this current Rangers team. After all, who wouldn’t want to see their team get younger, faster, and bigger? Naslund, Zherdev, and Fritsche bring speed. Voros and Rissmiller bring size. All of them, save Naslund, are younger than the previous Rangers. Also, ask any Rangers fan if they rather have Voros or Hollweg. Rangers could have beaten the Penguins if it was not for untimely mistakes, but in the end, let’s face it. Rangers got beat with speed and youth. Another problem, Jagr was a puck magnet. Too many passes to Jagr and while the guy turned out to be a playoff monster the past two years, it did not help the Rangers as a team. This year, the Rangers are much more team oritented and less dependent on a star in Jagr. The youth brings a lot of energy. While I think the Redden signing was too big a contract, there’s no doubt in my mind that the Rangers got themselves exactly what they needed on the defense, which allowed just 199 goals this past season. Redden eases the weight on Rozsival. Redden also brings a new dimension on the blueline to bring the puck out quickly. He is only 31 years of age, still prime time for a d-man, and he’s helped lead the Senators to a Cup Finals. Rangers will be a mystery, as usual, but as a Rangers fan I am satisfied. No question the Rangers have a bright future.

Philadelphia

This team oozes potential because if great all-round depth. There is still a move or two to be made for budge cap purposes, but the Flyers are look to reclaim their Eastern Conference domination. The offense is potentially great and we all hope Gagne has a good comeback year. The defense is skilled, well sized, and tough. Goaltending, well…. I’ll put away my bias opinion of Martin Biron. I was always a Biron fan. Let’s face it though, it’s not like he is one of the best in the league. Still, if on a hot streak, which should happen more frequently, then Biron is very hard to score on. Flyers can only hope it happens a lot in the season, but epsecially in the playoffs. A note to other EC teams. Beware of the Flyers.

Ottawa

Like I have said for some time, since the Anaheim days, Bryan Murray is a team killer. He destroys teams whenever they reach accomplishments. The Ducks made the Finals, and he put them out of the playoffs. The Sens made the Finals, and he will put them out of the playoffs. This team went from having one of the best defenses in the league, to an average defense in the league. To lose Chara, Redden, and Mezsaros in a span of what…. three years? Embarrassing. And to replace them? No one. Sure, Filip Kuba may turn it around and score 15 goals. Guess what? It was a pathetic, horrible trade unless that first rounder turns up to be a good top six forward. Otherwise, the Sens traded away a young, skilled defenseman, easily 2nd pair and PP unit, for an upcoming UFA in Kuba, who’s had a below average year, and Alex Picard who is a solid depth d-man at best. So now the Sens have a defense that is below average as far as offensively skilled. Defensively they have two rock solid d-men in Volchenkov and Jason Smith. Goaltending? Gerber is an average goaltender. Offense? Mostly a one-line team. Is anyone really scared of this team? I’m not. Would I be shocked if the Senators miss the playoffs? No.

Boston

Anyone can argue that this team is only getting better this upcoming season. Sure, a lot depends on goaltending, but talk about a solid tandem in Thomas-Fernandez-Rask. Defense is shaping itself nicely with Chara as the cornerstone. Offense is well spread out. They made the playoffs without Patrice Bergeron. If the guy comes back strong, then playoffs are a lock. Lucic is bringing a nice package of size and skills. Youth is skilled. Kessel is a volcano ready to burst at any given moment. I like this Boston squad. And Ryder over Murray? Great idea. I am not a fan of Ryder, he got way overpaid, but over Murray? Makes absolute sense.

Carolina

It is hurricane season this year and so far Gustav, Hanna, and Ike are hitting the US coast lines. The past two years we did not see hurricanes hit the US Southeastern states. The past two years, the Hurricanes missed the playoffs. You know where I am getting at? Thought so. The hockey gods are making this claim: The Carolina Hurricanes will storm through the season and enter the playoffs. Eric Staal needs to further improve from his comeback year last season. Sergei Samsonov may play as a big difference. The defense is well built now with Pitkanen. Cam Ward needs to play more consistently throughout the season. This team was supposed to make the playoffs in 2008, but the Panthers spoiled their party and beat them to allow the Caps to claim the SE title. Where was the character? Lost to Ottawa. The Canes will miss Commodore and Stillman, but not greatly. I actually expect Tuomo Ruutu to have a breakout year (hoping he plays 75 games). This team is well balanced and it has to make the playoffs. There’s no excuse. Erik Cole will also be missed, but I have a lot of faith in Pitkanen scoring 40+ points as a Cane. Corvo also did a heck of a job in Carolina, lookout for his point totals (hint hint, FANTASY LEAGUERS). I also liked the addition of Josef Melichar. He is steady and blocks a lot of shots, which they really need to do. There is no question that Washington and Carolina will battle for the division title, but all depends on Washington’s Theodore because if he comes out playing solid goaltending, Caps lock it, but not by much over Carolina.

Buffalo

So, the year of negative distractions is done. No more Vanek contract talks. No more Drury, Briere talks. No questioning of Miller’s fututre with the Sabres. Now the Sabres are back on the right path. I think their major weakness is the defense. It’s not necessarily the one that gets you to the playoffs, but anything is possible. The offense on the other hand is quite impressive and less pressure is on key players like Pomminville and Derek Roy. They may squeeze in the playoffs, but I’d give them one more year before reclaiming that Eastern toughness. This is a team with a very good future.

Florida

A new coach is good news, especially when a good number of his young players know him and his reputation. Florida finally has the best defensive outlook that it’s had in years. From the net forward, they have a top 10 NHL goalie in Vokoun. Then Jay Bo, Allen, McCabe, Ballard, Boynton, Skrastins, Murphy, Welch. All are regular NHL’ers. It’s so solid that one of them has to go. McCabe’s addition was huge for the Panthers as they get a fired up McCabe looking to prove a lot of people wrong. The offense is where it hurts for the Panthers. Losing Jokinen will be very costly. Stillman will help, but I don’t expect anything more than 55 points from him. Horton will need to improve his point totals. Same with Weiss. Can Booth repeat another 20 goal year? The answer is, he MUST. The good thing about the Panthers is their youth. Obviously Shawn Matthias is well expected to make the team after an impressive, albeit short, stint with the NHL club. Michal Frolik is also expected to make some impressive appearances. I say some appearances because I think he will need a year, or maybe half a year, of AHL conditioning. There are no more soap operas in South Florida. The only way that this team makes the playoffs is with its defense. Goaltending and defense must win games, and it certainly has that potential.

Toronto

I can’t wait for an all new season of Leafs Soap Opera TV. What else is there to say about this team that we all don’t know? We know. We know what’s to happen. End of story.

New York Islanders

Garth Snow got a high approval rating from me since he came in office. Ok, now I sound like I am talking politics. Will I? Hmm. Anyway. I have to admit that Snow has greatly disappointed me this year. He has done nothing to improve this team. And when I mean nothing I really mean NOTHING. NADA. In fact, you can argue that he made it worse. I thought he was going to put them in a good direction, but right now I don’t even know what direction he is taking. Someone will be picking Tavares in June 2009.

Atlanta

Add this to the “is this the year” NHL ad. Is this the year that the league’s worst GM gets fired of a decade of failure?” I honestly believe that some of our HTR members could do a better job than Waddell. Honestly. This guy has been awful. On top of that, I still won’t forget his average Team USA roster from two years ago that he hand picked. Can he PLEASE trade Ilya Kovalchuk this season? It’s not fair that the guy is doing all that he can, and yet Waddell has done nothing for him. So, Atlanta ownership has two options. Fire Waddell this season, or trade Kovalchuk. Who wouldn’t want to trade with Waddell? The guy loses every trade. He’s lost every trade he’s ever done. If you clone him and make his clone trade with him then he’d still lose. Worst team of the season. Hard to tell if they will even win 20 games. That’s how bad I see them.

Tampa Bay

So like I said. Forwards will play goaltending as well as become ice dancers on the ice. Ok, creepy and scary thought. Good to know I can think of my fantasy wife Manuela Arcuri. Right. So, back to hockey. Tampa Bay has a well stacked team, but defense and goaltending are still questionable. I love the future of the D with Matt Carle and Andy Meszaros, but they are not the strongest defensive types either. Can Kolzig finish off a nice career? Ehhh, come on Olaf. Time to hang them up. How about Mike Smith? Solid back-up goalie. Yes. Back…..up….go….leee. The offense is great. The coaching? I think I’ll get shivers down my spine watching Barry Melrose’s mafia style jackets and poorly done mullet hair. I mean really. What was the reason behind hiring Barry? There were so many coaches out there. I just did not get that. I guess they figure he was better than puckhog Brian Engblom, whose hair I also have trouble looking at. Yes, it’s that disturbing. Tampa Bay is a real coin toss. They can either surprise everyone, and Stamkos shows himself as another future star, or they can flop and miss the playoffs. It’s anyone’s guess.

And now….

Will hockey finally regain popularity in the US?

If Americans want that to happen, then there is one way to do it. Ready? Vote for Sarah Palin. Cross out the name John McCain, cross out the letters (D) and (R) and vote Sarah Palin. Really, I am serious. No political talk here. I am a conservative, but McCain did not have my vote for many months. In fact, I was hoping for Democrat Evan Bayh, but really. I have been wishing for four years of total anarchy in the USA, until Sarah Palin came in. A Vice President with potential as President was a hockey player? Doesn’t matter what party. How….cool, would it be to have a hockey fan in the White House?

I mean really. Forget politics and jokes. Can you guys imagine the publicity this can get? The marketing potential that it is for the NHL? For the Washington Capitals? For Alexander Ovechkin? At first I thought not to bring this up, since Julie Robenhymananerhymer from Hockeybuzz.com did it in her column. But, what the hell? It’s HOCKEY! One thing I love about us hockey fans is that we are well connected and very united. I love when celebrity, stars, or high profile names in general, are related to hockey. I will never forget that photo of actress Tia Carrere wearing a Maple Leafs dress. Anyway, here’s to Palin, winner or not, for being a cool hockey player, fan, and mom.

On to the business side of things. HTR.com staff has decided to name nordiques100 as the only writer, only editor, vice-administrator, (main) administrator, owner, and founder of the Web site. He gets everything.

Don’t tell me you believed any of that. So seriously speaking. As I talked earlier about not having the time to do certain things, us HTR staffers are realizing how tough it is to not just maintain the Web site, but to keep it active. It’s not easy. Trademan is a husband and father. Lint07 is busy paying oddly dressed women in the streets of Montreal. I kid you not, his favorite one is named Lagrand Genitaleux. Weird name; doesn’t sound feminine. And me, well…. I am soon to meet Ivanka Trump and hopefully I can ask her out on a date. I hear she is single.

Don’t tell me you didn’t believe any of that.

We are planning to form a team. A special team that is. Since we are so greatly creative in naming things, we’re goint to call this team………………. ready?……………….

HTR EXPERTS

Yes, yes. Thank you for the applauses. I know, genius creativity.

Now, there is a reason why I mentioned HTR member nordques100 earlier. He is the kind of writer we are looking for. I truly believe the guy knows a lot about hockey. Has good overall knowledge of just about the whole league. He writes very well. nordquies100 is already selected as our first pick on the HTR Expert team.

Now, what does an HTR Expert do? Basically we expect him/her to be an expert. Give good, unbiased analysis on whatever topic. We expect an HTR Expert to be quick to analyze a trade or any news breaking story that’s big in an article. Now, no admin power is given. What is given is our trust in the expert to make this Web site better and better each year. If a trade goes down, one of us expects at least one expert to have a submitted story by the end of the day. So, say Sundin signs with the great and scary Atlanta Thrashers, we expect to see an expert’s article submitted.

I am still deciding on whether or not to open comments for members to post on the article. I guess I’ll make the expert choose on that.

Now, these are writers that we respect. These are writers that bring quality to this Web site, and nordiques100 is the perfect example. Hopefully he will accept this offer. We don’t just want quantity (cough cough LeafyMcLeaf!), but quality. Good analysis on hockey. Length of article is not such a big issue, but the quality is.

This project won’t start anytime soon though since Trademan is currently very busy and has to prepare the topic button for HTR Experts. So until he does that, nothing will commence, which in a way works for me so I have more time to look at other candidates.

This project also opens up a new possibility in the future where we will have assigned affilited team writers; where articles would required on a daily basis. Things may change here at HTR.com, in quite a big way, and all for the better.

If you have any more questions, do leave me a private message on here. And nordiques100, do contact me whenever you can.

That’s it for today. The 15 Western Conference teams will be included in my next article for later this week. I hope you enjoyed this column.

Thanks for reading as always,

Micki Peroni

Vice-Administrator