By: Ian Dudgeon
Opening night of the 2000-2001 hockey season is less than a month
away. What will this season bring in terms of surprises? Will Yashin
finally play again? Will Berard return? Will the Flyers get their
background act together? We take a look at what's in store for 2000-
Can the Devils Repeat?
The New Jersey Devils went from near obscurity to the best team in
the East in a hurry last year. When Larry Robinson took over the team
with less than ten games to go in the season, the Devils almost
instantly became the most feared team in the East. With the Stanley
Cup in their hands and the momentum that brings, can the Devils
dominate the East again this year or are we going to see a repeat of
the last time they won the Cup? Chances are, the Devils won't show
any signs of Cup hangover.
The one big issue is the signing of Jason Arnott. The young centre
who broke out in the playoffs has yet to be inked to a new deal. Not
that the Devils aren't deep enough to cover for his absence, but a
long holdout could hurt their chances.
Will the Flyers get their house in order?
After half a season and a summer of off-ice insanity, can the Flyers
actually get the house in order and get back to concentrating on
hockey? Probably not. With the impending trade of Eric Lindros, more
in-fighting is bound to surface. John LeClair remains unsigned after
the league arbitrator awarded him with a significant raise. Clarke
will loose the most popular player in recent Flyer memory, will he
trade the second-most loved player on the team? Will Ramsey have the
stuff to keep the team focused on hockey?
Chances are that Clarke won't be able to keep his mouth shut and the
team will be surrounded with another year of background noise. The on-
ice performance will surely suffer for it.
The Geriatric Club
The two most dominant teams of the last five years in the West -
Detroit and Dallas - are looking older and older every year. Will
they show their age, or are they deep enough to pull off successful
seasons and playoff runs? Colorado, St. Louis and most likely San
Jose, are sure to give them a good run for their money.
Will these youthful teams show the "old men" that their time is over?
A safe bet is Colorado and St. Louis taking over the West. Add San
Jose to that list if they can get their mountain of RFA's signed,
most notably - Owen Nolan.
Yashin? Who Cares? The Senators Should.
Alexi Yashin and the Ottawa Senators seem no closer to a resolution
of the star's holdout. Even after an arbitrator ruled that Yashin
owes the Senators another year of service, chances of him showing up
at camp are about as good as the Blue Jackets contending for the cup.
Even though the point the Senators are making is a great one, Bryden
& co. need to just swallow their pride and trade the deadbeat before
they throw the season away. Sure, they did well last year without
him, but all the teams around them have improved their lineups for
this coming season, and better to get some return for your asset than
letting it rot on the shelf.
Still, it remains very unlikely that we will see Yashin step on NHL
ice this season.
The Canned Coach Raffle - Get Your Tickets Now!
As always, the predictions are flying on who will be the first coach
that is canned this season. My money was on Craig Ramsey, but the
feeling is that it will take more than a few months to see it happen.
The front runners are: Paul Maurice - Carolina, Bob Francis - Phoenix
and my dark horse pick: Ron Wilson - Washington.
Can Berard Come Back?
Bryan Berard has been cleared by eye specialist Dr. Stanley Chang, to
being full workouts and playing again. He was told his eye would not
improve nor get worse. Bryan has requested to practice with the Leafs
in camp this year, but Quinn seems reluctant to let him. Bryan is
saying he wants to return after the All-Star break. First problem
will be that the NHL is not going to let him play without a fight.
Second problem is he has to learn to play without natural depth
perception. That could be an issue when taking a pass!
All joking aside, we hope the best for Bryan and would love to see
him rushing the puck from end-to-end again.
Speaking of the Leafs
The Leafs were by far the most active team in the UFA market this
summer, signing veterans Gary Roberts, Shayne Corson and Dave Manson.
These acquisitions are all obvious attempts to bolster the finesse
laden lineup with some grit and leadership. Adding these three does
not vault Toronto into instant Cup contenders, but it certainly fills
the holes that were evident vs. Jersey. The big question will be
whether the team can avoid injuries before or during the playoffs.
Manson certainly adds much needed protection for Curtis Joseph. While
Manson may be half the player he once was, his lack of fear will
prove to be a strong benefit to the defense.
Ducks - only one team with the hole in the middle
The Anaheim Mighty Ducks have two of the best players in the league,
but they still don't have a star pivot to compliment Kariya and
Selanne. Although that is a glaring hole, the bigger issue is the
lack of anything NHL caliber behind the superstars. Signing Titov
will help out, but one line offence is just too easy to shut down in
the current trap-happy NHL. Ducks will have a tough time fitting in
with the likes of Colorado, St. Louis, San Jose, Detroit, Dallas,
Calgary, Vancouver and Edmonton - and maybe even Chicago too!