Thursday, July 21, 2005

Still on the NHL tip 

Everything you want to know about what to expect this coming season. Me? I'm freaking out at the prospects of as many as 400 (!!!) free agents needing to find a team. The New Jersey Devils' John Madden says, "Hockey is going to be fun again." Damn right. Some clubs have as few as four (!!!) players under contract. Madness. Here's something I like:

Which teams are in great shape?

Likewise this is a relative term, but teams with a good nucleus of talent plus room under the cap to add crucial elements should be considered blue-chip franchises moving forward, and they include Atlanta, Calgary, Los Angeles, Edmonton, San Jose, Buffalo and Nashville. Ottawa may not have a lot of money to spend under the cap, but is solidly positioned, as is Philadelphia. It will be a struggle for the Lightning to replicate their Cup-winning team, but the core should be there, which means they're poised for a run at No. 2. Montreal's best players are restricted free agents, but the Habs should likewise ice a young, talented squad.

Gotta love that. Kings have a strong core of players already under contract and who wouldn't want to play in Southern California? Big things abound, hopefully, for the Kings.

In addition to the free agent frenzy, the full on lottery for the Sidney Crosby sweepstakes. He's only 17 and still has little exposure in the States, but rest assured he is being touted as the next Gretzky. Essentially, he's the LeBron James of hockey. We've heard "the next Gretzky" phrase trotted out before, just as the NBA has numerous "the next Jordan" disappointments. But Crosby, by all accounts, is different. And by lottery, I don't mean just the bottom ten teams jockeying for the top pick. I mean everybody! Every single team! It's unprecedented and it all goes down tomorrow. Also, the draft will snake, fantasy style.
What about the draft?

It's likely the NHL will announce the draft lottery or at least some details of the draft at its "we're back" press conference that will follow official ratification of the new deal -- likely late next week. Suffice it to say all 30 teams will have at least a chance at getting the first pick, and a chance to select the incomparable Sidney Crosby. Teams that have not qualified for the playoffs in recent years are expected to be given a better chance at getting the top pick, although there is significant opposition to this from GMs who want it to be a 1-in-30 proposition. The draft process will deviate from previous drafts in that teams will draft 1-30 and then 30-1 in the next round. There also will be a draft event to try to take advantage of the media interest in Crosby, likely over the course of one day in either Ottawa or Toronto. Look for that to take place the last weekend of July.

Yo! Throw in the impending rule changes such as the streamlining of goalie equipment, the elimination of ties, and potentially the elimination of the red line - allowing two line pass - and the NHL has become a far more attractive product than before.

It's like a rotisserie league, now. If I had the money, I'd buy in and get myself a Stanley Cup. If I had the money.

Oh, and then there's this:
Will Wayne Gretzky coach the Phoenix Coyotes?

Yes, the ratification of a new CBA will mean the official announcement of the Great One's becoming the Great Benchboss is just around the corner. And while there will be a lot of moaning about the move putting his greatness in jeopardy that, too, is a red herring. Gretzky will be a fine coach on a team destined to be just a little better than mediocre. Still, desert fans should finally fill that new building in the middle of nowhere if only for the opportunity to see Gretzky bawl out golfing buddy Brett Hull for loafing on the backcheck.

Perhaps more frequent visits back to the land fire and suffering are in order.

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