The start of the 2011-12 season is less than 72 hours away.
Season previews abound this time of year, so I figured I'd throw my hat in the ring and take some creative license while I'm at it. Because there's nothing that says "hockey season previews" like poetry - haikus, specifically. Or something like that.
So welcome to Open Mic Poetry Night here at the Chateau du Stoosh. Cue your favorite light jazz or adult contemporary tunes, kick back, pour a drink and OK WHO LET MIKE GREEN IN?!?! Should've guessed this was his scene. Probably parked the Vespa on the lawn, too. Can someone ask MacIntyre to throw him out?
This is a probably a good time to say that there will be not one but two TWS posts today as well. We'll do the Western Conference here and then get to the Eastern Conference later on.
So without further delay, the 2011-12 Western Conference and why we'll watch...
Perry gets fifty
and fans everywhere will watch
Teemu’s farewell tour.
Why We Watch: Corey Perry scored 50 goals last year. He showed the goal-scoring race in the second half of the season the same mercy that Ken Hitchcock shows a toilet after Fajita Night at Don Pablo’s. He teams with Bobby Ryan, Ryan Getzlaf and Teemu Selanne to form one of the West’s most potent arrays of top-level scoring talent. He also talks shit about as menacingly as Rube Baker from Major League II.
Mr. Parkman, you're a great ballplayer, and I'd just like to say you're standing on the tracks and the train's coming through, butthead.
The other big story in Anaheim will be the farewell, no-seriously-he-really-means-it-this-time-for-real tour of Teemu Selanne. 31 goals and 80 points last year AT THE AGE OF FORTY. He may be the only player in the NHL who no one really hates. When he scores against your team, you can’t even really be mad at him. You let out a sigh as you stew in quiet acceptance, shrug your shoulders and probably wish there was a way Ray Shero could’ve convinced him that Pittsburgh was just as nice as Anaheim is in January.
Iginla has been
here forever. Can Jay please
Get him a center?
Why We Watch: Because like Selanne, Jarome Iginla has achieved almost universally-respected veteran status. Because Calgary's late 80’s-era throwbacks are one of the best throwback sweaters out there. Because despite the fact that we KNOW some of the names have changed, it still seems like they’ve been icing the same lineup for the last eight years (pretty sure Denis Gauthier, Robyn Regehr, Craig Conroy and Shean Donovan are still on this roster somehow). Also one of the best crests in the league, and the Sea of Red is something to see when you can catch Calgary on a Hockey Night in Canada broadcast.
Carcillo and Kane.
Not even sure the Q-Stache
Offsets that much douche.
Why We Watch: Because Patrick Kane is one of the easiest players to dislike in the league. Because Jonathan Toews is the best player in the league who looks like he hates every second of his career. Because from a “young talent” standpoint, they’re reminiscent of the Pens, right down to the four straight years of top-ten picks (Barker – 3rd in ’04, Skille – 7th in ’05, Toews – 3rd in ’06, Kane – 1st in ’07). Do Red Wings fans give Hawks fans as much crap about their team tanking for draft picks as Flyers fans do to us?
Because there aren't many things more chill-enducing than the National Anthem at a Hawks game. Because their jerseys are classic. Because there's always a chance they'll make Jeremy Roenick cry on national television again.
Bang bang bangity
Bang bangity bangity
Bang Bang (Bang Bang Bang)
Why We Watch: For those who have no idea what this means, here you go…
Because anything that is both tribute to Jason Segal and a victory celebration is aces. Because Matt Duchene is that damn good, and Gabriel Landeskog probably will be, and very quickly at that. Because Erik Johnson could be (read: better be) the next Rob Blake. Because even though they’ve been out of the game for a while now, I still keep expecting to see Joe Sakic and Patrick Roy skating out in those Avs jerseys.
Three months later and
Jeff Carter still can’t believe
Holmgren traded him.
Why We Watch: Because they may be our new neighbors and rivals in the Eastern Conference soon. Because Rick Nash is turning into this generation’s Jarome Iginla. Because RJ Umberger is from Plum, in which case we need to make “Did You Know RJ Umberger is From Plum” a drinking game if re-alignment goes through and we see these guys four times a year. Because no roadtrip may have ever scarred a franchise quite the way the Pens’ visit to Columbus and the subsequent takeover of Nationwide Arena by Pens fans did last year. Because if Derick Brassard and Ryan Johansen don’t work out, they’re on the verge of striking out with more first-round picks than the Cam Bonifay Pirates.
No Richards, you say?
Well, there’s Ryder and Souray.
Sure, that’ll end well.
Why We Watch: Because Loui Eriksson is one of the most underrated skill wingers in the league, and still has the most unreal draft photo ever.
We also watch because Steve Ott is the type of player you’re glad the Pens only have to see a couple of times a year. Because Alex Goligoski could parlay a bigger role in Dallas than he ever would’ve had here into becoming one of the best pointmen on the powerplay in the league over the next few years. Think I’m joking? His 5 goals and 10 assists in 23 games after being acquired by Dallas projects to 18-36-54 over an 82-game season. That would’ve been good for 4th in the league in scoring among d-men last year and tied him with Visnovsky for 2nd in the league in goals scored by a d-man.
Last time the Red Wings
played a year without Lidstrom,
Sid Crosby was three.
Why We Watch: Because they’re becoming the NHL’s version of the Steelers’ defense. Because Kris Draper has retired and will never have to worry again whether Crosby shakes Lidstrom's hand. Because Elroy has decided to dive into retirement as well. Because Pavel Datsyuk is one of the best three centers in the game, and you get the sense that he’s probably not going to lose many steps at all between now and 40. Because despite the older age of some of their core players, they’re still one of the teams in the West that no one really wants to see in the postseason.
Reminds Taylor Hall each day,
“Please don’t drop the gloves.”
Why We Watch: Because with Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Jordan Eberle and Magnus Paajarvi, they’re shaping up to be the next “Pens/Caps/Blackhawks” success story of a team that turned a few tough years into high draft picks and hopeful success in coming seasons. Because Hall should become to Edmonton what Stamkos has been to Tampa. Because if there’s a management team that could possibly screw this rebuild up, it could be Kevin Lowe (author of the Dustin Penner Offer Sheet) and Steve Tambellini. Because after playing his way off of Philly, Chicago, Atlanta and San Jose, Ben Eager now attempts to do the same in Edmonton.
Mike Richards in town.
Kings fans, please get used to lots
Of Pierre McGuire.
Why We Watch: Because we want to see what all the fuss is about, as this team has been talked about for a couple of years now as a contender on the rise. Because we now only get to renew the Mike Richards hate a couple of times a year, tops. Because Malkin will be traded there any year now, for real. Because Doughty is going to have to win the Norris and maybe even the NHL scoring title to win back some goodwill after that holdout.
Wonder which Penguin
Defensemen Clutterbuck tells
To retire this year?
Why We Watch: Because Mike Yeo is the new head coach. Because their third jerseys are awesome. Because the “who has the crappier power play” jokes when the Pens play the Wild will be overdone five minutes into the first period. Because this Dany Heatley experiment really won’t work out well, will it?
Nashville fans hoping
All those new jersey sales mean
Money for Weber.
Why We Watch: Because we won’t be able to avert our eyes from these new gold jerseys.
You know what? Better this than a dark blue jersey with something in a circle logo, because no one's ever done that before.
But we'll also watch because Shea Weber has a slapshot that seems capable of leaving a . 50 caliber-style exit wound. Because it seems like every time the Pens have played Nashville, the game is entertaining as hell. Because there isn’t a franchise that could use a star-caliber forward or two more than Nashville.
If we ran the ‘Yotes,
It would be “Jets Throwbacks Night”
Why We Watch: There isn’t a team that makes better chicken salad out of stuff that you really don’t want to know than the Coyotes the last few years. Problem is that the head chef got the offer everyone knew he couldn’t refuse from the desperate new posh steakhouse in Philly. So he’s gone and they’ve turned the kitchen over to a couple of kids they just hired from Outback named Mike Smith, Jason LaBarbera and Curtis McElhinney. Dave Tippett’s trap system has produced results and wins and overachieving of all sorts in the desert, but that was with Head Chef Bryzgalov. This could get ugly, especially if Kyle Turris keeps complaining about having to close on weekends. Could be time to start looking for that new venture. Wonder how Quebec City is this time of year?
So how many more
Division titles does it
Take to get a Cup?
Why We Watch: To see how large the build-up will be for the inevitable San Jose playoff fall. To count vowels among the Finnish goaltending tandem of Antti Niemi and Antero Niittymaki. To see the world’s largest hockey helmet ever created for Douglas Murray’s head and no, I wouldn’t say that to his face, either. To see if the addition of bonafide all-around d-man Brent Burns helps come playoff time (it should). To see what Joe Thornton does after finally getting the “not a playoff contributor” monkey off his back. To watch Logan Couture develop into one of the league's best young scoring threats. To watch Patrick Marleau attempt to become the only player to score more than 35 goals and 70 points for four straight years and STILL be despised by half his team's fanbase.
That’s Captain Backes
To you now pal. And get well
Soon, David Perron.
Why We Watch: Because Inglorious Backes will beat you savagely about the head and neck with his shiny new captain’s “C” if you don’t. Because that shrieking sound you hear is the cries from defensemen who go get the puck out of their corner only to see the blue-and-gold clad 18-wheelers named Backes and Chris Stewart barreling toward them. Because of Kevin Shattenkirk’s bald spot.
Thought they chanted “Luuuuu”
But after last June, it’s tough
To tell anymore.
Why We Watch: Because the Canucks are the most despised team in the West if not the entire league, judging solely by my Twitter feed last April, May and June. Because there may not be a goalie who is a greater walking, talking subplot than Roberto Luongo, and this could be it for him in Vancouver if this ends poorly. Outside of Ilya Bryzgalov, there may not be a goalie in the league that needs a better start than Luongo, at least to avoid February becoming a mighty interesting month for his future in Vancouver. Because the Sedin Twins need to come up with something much, much bigger after that Cup Finals collapse. Because Alex Burrows may be this new generation's version of the Little Ball of Hate, Pat Verbeek. Because Alain Vigneault bears a kinda-sorta resemblance to Dan Aykroyd and coaches like him, too. Because Kesler is good for 30 goals, 250% effort, relentless forechecking and one stupid Kes-lurk photobomb a night.
So that's it for the West. Eastern Conference is up later today.