I hope everyone had a great holiday and you were able to spend time with family, friends, and of course the NHL. As I was preparing to do my top ten power rankings this week I also thought about New Years, making resolutions, and what in the world 2012 could bring. I mean come on according to the Mayans this is it, the last year on Earth. That being said I thought I would change formats this week and kind of write a New Years 2012 blog that is full of 10 thoughts and predictions going forward into the New Year.
1. The World Juniors- Today starts one of the most exciting tournaments in all of sports that nobody (outside of us hockey die hards) seem to pay any attention to, the World Juniors. In case you are one of those people who have no idea what I’m talking about the World Juniors is an under 20 hockey tournament using the top young players in the world representing their country. Last year Russia was able to take the gold and this year all eyes are on Team Canada and Team USA to see if either one can reclaim the gold. The key to the US is Jack Campbell, goalie for USA and Dallas Stars prospect has been on the team for a few years and even has a gold medal to his resume but can he again bring USA to the promise land? As for Canada look out for Devante Smith-Pelly who is a young prospect in Anaheim’s system and has been able to put up really big numbers for team Canada and who’s brilliant amateur right-wing play has Canada as the team to beat. Will it be USA? Will it be Canada, Finland, Russia? If there’s anything I love more than the NHL it’s Olympic hockey and although this isn’t quite it, it’s as close as we’re going to get until 2014 so sit back and give it a look, I guarantee you’ll be hooked.
2. The Winter Classic- This game has become the biggest game of the year for the NHL ever since Buffalo hosted Pittsburgh in the first ever Classic. This year the matchup isn’t just a great rivalry but also a battle between two NHL power houses as the Rangers take on the Flyers. I have been talking for weeks about this matchup and although the focus will as much be on the outdoor environment as the game, there is also a very somber reminder about the recent concussion craze. Remember it was last year’s classic in Pittsburgh that really messed up Sidney Crosby and this year with Pronger not being a part of it due to his own concussion I think the NHL is hoping everyone gets out of this game in one piece. Onto the game and I am going to make a quick prediction that the Flyers win a tight and very physical game 4-2. On another note for the upcoming year’s Classic. I have heard rumors about the Big House in Ann Arbour hosting next year’s game for the Detroit Red Wings. Now if you know me, you know I’m not quite the fan of the Wolverines as I grew up a Buckeye, but the biggest stadium in America hosting hockey’s biggest game of the year gives me goosebumps. The prospect of that whole stadium being decked out in red, or is it scarlet Cal, just makes me smile…
3. The All Star Game- I know the All Star game isn’t nearly as intriguing as the Winter Classic or the World Juniors but I am putting it up here for a few reasons. First off I love the fact that Ottawa is hosting the game so that the attention is back on Canada but even more so in today’s age of computers and fantasy sports you have to be nuts to say that any other league has a better All Star format. Once again the NHL will allow the fans to vote the players into the game but then it is up to the player captains to choose the teams in their own fantasy draft. Last year Team Staal was able to hold off Team Lidstom but even more exciting to myself was actually the draft and all the questions that went with it. This year look for that same excitement as we get closer to the game. Who will be the captains? Who will be the first pick? Who will be this year’s Phil Kessel as Mister Irrelevant? Will the Sedin brothers be on the same team? All Star Games in general have kind of lost their flair and excitement and the NHL has managed to bring that attention back with this format. I for one hope they stop they yearly speculation and that they make this a permanent staple for their yearly game.
4. Concussions- They are the uncomfortable subject matter that nobody wants to talk about with but everyone is forced to deal with. No other league in professional sports has been hit more with the concussion bug than the NHL. Hockey’s combination of speed, hitting, and intensity not only factor into this but the big story continues to be the quality of players that have been plagued. We as hockey fans are still dealing with the loss of Crosby but this year we have lost Pronger perhaps for good along with other stars such as Ryan Miller being effected. Everyone seems to have opinions on how to solve it such as the red line rule, not letting goalies go out and control a pick, and even taking fighting out of the game. However the biggest question seems to be why are the biggest names in hockey the ones who seem to be the most effected? This will be a huge topic going into this year’s CBA and it’s an issue that could potentially change the game forever.
5. The CBA- It’s those dirty little three words that makes every fan run the other direction screaming; Collective Bargaining Agreement. That’s right the current CBA is set to expire September of 2012. You don’t even to be a hockey fan to realize just how devastating the last lockout was, costing the NHL way more than just a season and a Stanley Cup Champion. The last lockout burned all the NHL’s American TV rights and set hockey back to the stone age everywhere south of the border. Luckily they have done a great job building their fan base back up with rule changes and turned the Little Engine that Could “Outdoor Network” into what is about to become our newest 24 hour sports network with their partnership with NBC Sports. What makes most fans sweat is the fact that Donald Fehr is now in the negotiations. If you don’t remember Mr. Fehr, he is one of the main reasons that baseball is left without a World Series Champion in the mid 90’s. Most fans, owners, and players have faith that the NHL will be able to avoid any work stoppage like the NFL and MLB with their newest deal but the hockey world will be holding their collective breath come September that hockey doesn’t go the way of the NBA or even worse. Hopefully the Mayans were wrong and the hockey world won’t end in 2012. Talks are set to kick off just after this year’s All Star Game.
6. Oh Canada- 2012 will be going on almost ten years since Canada last won the Cup as the Montreal Canadians beat Wayne Gretzky and the Los Angeles Kings in the 1992-93 season. Don’t forget the Canadians are the equivalent to the New York Yankees when it comes to Championships as the Canadians are second to the Bronx Bombers with 24 Championships to the Yanks 27 and the Yanks have won 5 since the Canadians last Title meaning that prior to the mid 90s the Habs were ahead by a significant margin. Let’s also say it isn’t on just the Canadians as none of the other Canadians teams have hoisted the Cup although some have come close, most recently last year’s Canucks team and they still seem to be one of front-runners this year to drink from Lord Stanley’s sacred cup.
7. What ever happened to- How many teams could you say that about this year? Thus far the 2011-2012 season has had a ton of great stories with teams like the Wild and Panthers but what about those other so-called “powerhouses” from last season? Teams such as the Washington Capitals are in such disarray that they fired Bruce Boudreau who was picked up by another team who has fallen off the radar, the Anaheim Ducks. Can teams such as the Lightning even sniff the playoffs let alone come close to last year when they came within one goal of the Cup against the Bruins? So far this season the coaching carousel has been all over the place as teams are already scrambling to make the playoffs. Can teams like Buffalo, Montreal, and Carolina head some major turnaround? Will the Lightning actually make a trade to get a goaltender who still remembers how to stop the puck? Questions like this are what make me come back to the NHL year after year and 2012 will be no different.
8. The Nordiques?- After a bit of a time off the Winnipeg Jets have returned and are actually battling for a playoff spot from the number nine spot in the East. Winnipeg sold every single ticket they had within 15 minutes when they heard they were getting their hockey team back and with teams such as the Coyotes, Blue Jackets, and even the Islanders struggling to put bodies in the seats it seems to be only a matter of time before Quebec joins into the mix as getting their team back, the question is who will be making the trek up north? At this time with as much drama has been going on in Phoenix it seems only logical they would be the team to go but I thought that about the Jets when Atlanta took their last chance of a hockey team and shipped them up north. I don’t know if that move will happen this year but I could see it happening really soon the question is which team will head up. My early money is with the Coyotes although I wouldn’t be completely shocked to see the Islanders go if they can’t get their arena situation worked out.
9. Realignment- Next year is bringing drastic realignment to the NHL along with new playoff formatting due to the addition of the Winnipeg Jets. For the most part the four new divisions stop unnecessary travel such as Detroit and Vancouver having to visit each other on a regular basis and it allows each NHL team to visit every single team in the league on a yearly basis which will definitely add excitement to fans across the league. The most intriguing part for me is the playoff format where two teams from each of the four divisions square off in the first round of the playoffs. This is great from an intensity point of view as these will be natural rivalries where each team knows the other and has been squaring off all season. On the flip side there is concern over the same two teams always making the playoffs such as the Wings and Blackhawks from the one division. Either way it will definitely be interesting to see how this all plays out moving forward.
10. The Cup- As fans of the NHL there is really only one question that matters on a yearly basis, who is going to win the Cup? Who will it be this year? Will the Bruins repeat? Can the Hawks win two in three years? Is it possible without Pronger for Philly to finally get over the hump or will it be a team that swoops in the second half of the season and upsets everyone? It’s hockey and I can’t wait to see how the rest of the 2011-2012 season plays out. Have a safe New Years everyone.