Excitement at the start of a new NHL season has produced many plot lines, on ice and off. Here’s what has happened in the league so far, and how it will come to bear on the rest of the season and into the future.
1.What’s happening with Sidney Crosby?
Crosby hasn’t returned to action yet, but it seems likely or highly possible he’ll dress at some point after a layoff of more than ten months. Crosby will return to become the game’s greatest player, of that there is no doubt. But the big question is, how long can he play without suffering another, potentially career-ending concussion? Some players have gone years; others merely a handful of games. It will be almost agonizing to watch, but the game needs number 87, the smartest, most dynamic player since Gretzky.
2. What’s wrong with Ovi?
Alexander Ovechkin currently has six goals and 13 points in 13 games, sitting 41st in the NHL’s overall scoring. Those aren’t the numbers Washington owner Ted Leonsis envisioned for a player in his prime and in the middle of a 13-year, $124 million contract. Ovi is being checked too easily and isn’t delivering leadership to the Caps, but on the flip side the team has won nine of its first 13 games. Does “Great 8” need to be downgraded to “Good 8”? Does he need Crosby in the league to fuel a rivalry which pushes him to greater heights? He hasn’t delivered much in the playoffs, and now he isn’t delivering in the regular season, either. What gives?
3. Will George Laraque make a difference?
The former enforcer has written a book, and it is a doozy. It isn’t a “tell all” on the scale of baseball star Jose Canseco’s book several years ago, but it’s a “tell lots” which has the potential to do a lot of good – and a lot of damage. Laraque claims many NHLers took performance enhancing drugs in his day (which wasn’t very long ago). He doesn’t name names, but the question is, does the league and players take these allegations seriously, or will his claims be ignored and trivialized?
4. Where are the great goalies?
Some teams are winning, some losing, but there are no goalies taking charge. Martin Brodeur, long the pillar of strength in the blue ice, has been injured and playing poorly ever since the Vancouver Olympics, really, while other goalies are struggling mightily this year, from Tim Thomas to Dwayne Roloson, from Ilya Bryzgalov to Nikolai Khabibulin. Who are the great goalies of the game today? Not Roberto Luongo or Steve Mason or Henrik Lundqvist. Struggles abound in the crease around the league.
5. Are the Oilers for real?
Three letters say it all – RNH. Those are the initials of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, perhaps the unlikeliest of the young three to make the Oilers at 18. The number-one draft choice in 2011 follows Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle, the three forming the youngest, most dynamic line in the league today. Coach Tom Renney has a great opportunity and responsibility – to make these Oilers like the ‘80s Oilers, develop them and tutor them and build them into Cup champions. They are for real right now, sitting fifth overall in the league and playing exciting hockey. Can they keep it going?
6. The Shanny Effect
Brendan Shanahan made a name for himself during training camp, handing out many suspensions of longer duration and for lesser crimes than his predecessor, Colin Campbell, as head disciplinarian for the NHL. Shanahan hasn’t been as busy during the regular season, but that’s because the players are listening. And how many serious head injuries have we had so far this season? Not nearly as many as this time last year. Shanahan is proving tougher suspensions work.
7. Has Don Cherry lost it?
Don Cherry’s allegiance to Canada’s military is beyond reproach, but his hockey senses have become so scrambled you have to wonder if he got into one too many fights during his lengthy minor-league career. He referred to former tough guys Chris Nilan, Jim Thomson, and Stu Grimson, as “pukes” because they had the temerity to suggest the game has become too violent. Cherry’s rant verges on idiocy. The players even hinted at legal action, forcing Cherry to publicly back down. Cherry is a hero to the military, but he is a dinosaur to hockey.
8. Look at all the great players now in the front office
Joe Nieuwendyk was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame on Monday night, and he is one of a large number of former great players who has remained involved in the game. Consider also Tampa Bay GM Steve Yzerman, Pittsburgh owner Mario Lemieux, Edmonton GM Kevin Lowe, and San Jose GM Doug Wilson. But Nieuwendyk is the most recent arrival, and his Stars, while doing poorly at the box office, are in first place overall with eleven wins in 14 games.
9. How are the Jets doing?
The Winnipeg Jets returned to the NHL after a 15-year hiatus and are pretty much what everyone expected. On ice, they’re a struggling team. In the city, they are the number-one team that produces a sellout every night. Now that ownership is solid, the team can build and develop in the years to come and hopefully form a great rivalry with Edmonton and Calgary as it once did. So far, so good.
10. Realignment – and Quebec?
While the NHL needs to get Winnipeg out of the Eastern Conference, doing so for the next season might prove difficult as the Phoenix Coyotes situation needs a resolution. That is, if the Coyotes move to Quebec, a west city will need to go east, which would make for an easy swap with Winnipeg. But all is quiet on the Quebec City front as the city works out a new arena deal and potential NHL owners patiently, and quietly, wait. But in the end, the Coyotes drama will play a part in realignment as much as the Jets presence in the east does.