Fall – that time of year when the leaves change colour, we give thanks by filling our stomachs with turkey, and drink pumpkin spiced lattés. But as Canadians, this is not what we’re excited for. We as Canadians have been waiting since late April for our desired national sport to start again: hockey. Yes, hockey season is finally here and we can’t wait to see how our teams are going to do this year and how the new rookies are going to take to the ice.
The main event we grew up knowing happens October 7 at 7:30 p.m. with Toronto facing Montreal; the game can even be watched at Brock’s Isaacs Bar & Grill.
After Toronto’s preseason loss against the Sabres, Head Coach Mike Babcock looks like he isn’t too pleased with the way his new team is playing. During an interview with TSN, Babcock stressed that when you’re coaching the same team for nine or ten years, you typically know who your veterans are and you’re not going to be worried about them. But with the way Toronto played against Buffalo – too many turnovers, shifts being too long and limited offensive zone time – Babcock is stressed that he doesn’t know his new veterans very well and it is up to him and the players themselves to get going and prove that they are a new team capable of making the playoffs this year.
Babcock continued to mention during the interview with TSN that “When you’ve got the heat put on you, you turn back into your old habits” – assuming that the habits Babcock is referring to is Toronto’s losing streak. Although Babcock feels that his men are trying, he feels that their old habits are taking over and he as a coach needs to implement a new habit – the habit of winning.
During the same interview, Tyler Bozak was asked about the result of the game against Buffalo. Bozak told TSN that, “[We’ve] got to get it going, it is still early, we still have two preseason games and practices and we have a new system that we’re trying to learn but that was not a good effort we put in no matter what time of the year it is”.
Center Nazem Kadri was asked if there is a sense of urgency with his team; Kadri didn’t seem to think so, stressing the fact that, “It is still preseason, guys are going to make mistakes, guys are still trying to wrap their heads around the new systems, new players, that special teams, power-play kills, that’s something that really needs the chemistry to gel, that’s something it really needs to be”. Perhaps this is the mentality coach Babcock is referring to when being put under pressure and needing to shake the old habits of losing.
As much as many Leafs fans hope they’ll win the Stanley Cup this year, we need to be realistic. So the question is, what teams are going to thrive this year and be the best in their conference? Coming from The Hockey Writers, Sports Editor Larry Fisher believes that the top three teams in the western conference will be Anaheim, Chicago and L.A. and he has some pretty valid arguments.
Predicted to be No. 1 in the Western conference, Anaheim may perhaps be the new team to beat within these few seasons to come. With their extra cap space, Anaheim was able to add five new players to the roster that should have big impacts: Chris Stewart, Carl Hagelin, Shawn Horcoff, Kevin Bieksa and Anton Khudobin. If they don’t win the cup, they should at least be predicted to run away with the President’s Trophy.
Ranked at No. 2 in the Western conference, the Chicago Blackhawks have an exciting season ahead of them. With Patrick Sharp, Brandon Saad, Brad Richards, Antoine Vermette and Johnny Oduya now gone, fans and those who jump on the Chicago bandwagon are hoping that General Manager, Scott Bowman made the wise decision in acquiring Artem Anisimov, Marko Dano, Ryan Garbutt and Trevor Daley, plus Russian free-agents Artemi Panarin and Viktor Tikhonov. With the transition of new players on the roster, Chicago itself still seems like they will be in good shape for the playoffs this year.
Lastly, you guessed it; the Los Angeles Kings have been predicted to be ranked No. 3 in the conference. After missing the playoffs this year, LA had the chance to regain their strength by acquiring Milan Lucic, which is a huge upgrade over right wing Justin Williams. With their time off, LA will be looking to come out with a bang to prove themselves worthy again of making this year’s playoffs.
In terms of the Eastern Conference, Tampa Bay has been predicted to take the No. 1 spot. With Jonathan Drouin on the roster, it is predicted that both him and Steven Stamkos will be the X-factor that Tampa is looking for in booming production and winning games.
Coming in at the No. 2 spot are the Washington Capitals. With significant additions to the roster such as TJ Oshie and Justin Williams, Washington has a pretty solid forward line despite the loss of defensemen Mike Green. Struggling to get over the playoff hump, Washington is referred to as the “Blues of the East”. With such a strong forward line, however, this could potentially be Washington’s year.
Surprisingly enough, ranked at No. 3 are the New York Islanders. Although General Manager Garth Snow didn’t make very many selections during the draft, the team has landed themselves a pretty solid defensive pair – Johnny Boychuk, Nick Leddy and goaltender Jaroslav Halak. Perhaps not a Stanley Cup winner this year, the Islanders are certainly a team that has potential and can be seen in the playoffs in the near future.
Certainly we can’t forget about our new projected rookie of the year – Connor McDavid. During the making of a Rogers cable commercial, Stanley Cup winner Mark Messier teamed up with McDavid and left some positive feedback for the young player. “His off-ice demeanour, his work ethic, his commitment, all the things that make great players great, he obviously has,” Messier said. While Messier has high hopes for the rookie, he couldn’t help but leave out some words of advice for McDavid. With an interview with NHL.com, Messier reportedly said, “There is going to be a learning curve, there is no question. He’s going to be up against players that are equally as fast, equally as good, equally as strong and equally as smart. Finding a way to be successful at this level will come to him, but there will be a little bit of growing pains along the way.”
Like any team drafting rookies to their roster, there is always the thought of how well their new players will adjust to the team and what they will do for the team as a whole. The Edmonton Oilers themselves have had a bit of a rough patch with making a playoff debut (their last appearance was in 2006). But with now four top draft picks on the roster – Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Nail Yakupov, and McDavid, both the franchise and Messier believe that the team is headed for greatness.
“You can’t help but feel excited for the organization,” Messier said. “The new arena is coming and there is just a lot of great things happening. Now we have to find a way to translate that into success on the ice because, ultimately, that’s the only thing that matters in the end, is having success on the ice. All the other things are great bells and whistles, but we need to find a way to help the team win and that’s what we’re all here to do.” We have seen what McDavid is capable of during the World Junior’s and we are excited to see how he will progress through the NHL.
Finally, for all those fantasy players out there. Here are a few players you may want to add to your roster:
No. 1 ranked is Sidney Crosby who ranks fifth all-time in points per game (1.36), behind Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Mike Bossy and Bobby Orr.
No. 2 ranked is Jonathan Towes who has won three Stanley Cups, two Olympic golds, two World Junior Championships and one World Championship.
Lastly, No. 3 ranked is Carey Price who held the Canadiens on his back during their playoff season who also is the Hart Trophy winner with the third highest save percentage (.933) ever recorded.