Hockey is here
Five stories you should be following
1. Will the fans come back?
The No. 1 topic of conversation since the lockout ended has been just how fans will react once the NHL officially starts up again.
Michael Clowes, a life-long hockey fan, won’t be coming back. At least not right away.
“The way the NHL and NHLPA treated this impasse is shocking,” Clowes said. “From the lack of discussions early on in the process, to the comments from the players about their impending salary cuts, to the pension arguments — it just left a bad taste in my mouth about their respect for their consumer.”
“And what bothers me most is that there will be so many people that will come rushing back to support their team.”
Clowes won’t be one of those people.
“I will watch on TV because I love the game, but for me to give them the money that they were all just squabbling over like children for the past four months — that just doesn’t sit right with me.”
Recent polls on Sportsnet and TSN suggest that there are others like Clowes out there. According to the TSN poll, 20 per cent of voters said they aren’t coming back, while 28 per cent said they will, but it will take time. The Sportsnet poll revealed that 31 per cent of fans are indifferent while 24 per cent are excited and 17 per cent plan to boycott the season.
It is clearly evident that the fans are divided.
Where do you stand?
2. Flames playoff aspirations
Calgary’s local hockey heroes have missed the playoffs for the past three seasons, last playing spring hockey when Mike Keenan was the coach, Darryl Sutter was the GM and Dion Phaneuf was the team’s imposing defenceman.
Well, Keenan was fired, Phaneuf was traded and Sutter soon followed them all out the back door of the Scotiabank Saddledome.
Now, the team is in the hands of Jay Feaster and he has hired a trio of francophone coaches to lead the Flames back to the big dance. Bob Hartley, former head coach of the Colorado Avalanche and most recently the Atlanta Thrashers, is the new bench boss, with former Flame Martin “The Eliminator” Gelinas and Jacques Cloutier flanking him on either side.
On the ice the Flames have added former Red Wing Jiri Hudler and defenceman Dennis Wideman to the mix by the way of free agency. Both signings raised some eye brows around the league, but more so with Wideman getting an outrageous five-year $26.5-million deal.
Wideman generally struggles to grasp exactly what he is supposed to do in his own end, continually putting up seasons where his plus minus dips way below the equator. He has made a career out of correcting those mistakes with his offensive prowess. The Flames are banking on the fact that his points output squashes any slights against his defensive deficiencies.
Rookie sensation Sven Baertschi will get his first real crack at the NHL after playing magnificently last season in a brief emergency call up. It’s been a long time since the Flames have been this excited about a prospect and all signs point to Baertschi living up to the hype.
The Flames will need him if they expect to break the three-year drought and return to the sweet 16.
3. Oilers starting a dynasty?
As much as it pains me to say it as a diehard Flames fan, the Edmonton Oilers could be on the cusp of something special. With the likes of Ryan Nugent Hopkins, Tayler Hall, Jordan Eberle, and not to mention the new rookie crop of Nail Yakupov and defenceman Justin Schultz, the Oilers could be the team to watch this season.
All five of those players have been playing all year either in the AHL or KHL and all have been playing incredibly well.
The question will be whether or not they can carry that momentum to the big leagues.
The other huge question mark the Oilers face will be whether Devan Dubnyk is the answer in net. The 26-year-old played well in the Spengler Cup this past Christmas, helping Canada to their first Spengler win in five years.
Will his confidence roll over into the season? Are the Oilers on the verge of something great?
From a Flames fans perspective, I sure hope not.
4. Luongo’s fate
Where will Bobby Lu end up?
It’s the biggest question in the NHL right now. His massive 12-year $64-million deal looms large and many teams pre-lockout would be unwilling to bite. But, with the new provision that teams can buy contracts out after this season, does Luongo look more enticing now?
Rumours have been swirling that the Leafs are closing in and that in return the Canucks will receive a second line centre to temporarily replace the injured Ryan Kesler (Tyler Bozak being the player in question). Then again, Luongo’s preference is to return to Florida to be close to his wife’s family.
It’s obvious Cory Schneider is ready to take the reins as the No. 1 ‘tender in Van City. Will Luongo be there to back him up, or will he be shipped to the centre of the universe where expectations will only increase on the greasy-haired Canadian goaltender.
5. Iginla’s swan song in Flames threads?
Jarome Iginla is 35 years old and in the last year of his latest five-year $35-million contract. He has always lamented that his preference is to stay in Calgary and play for the Flames. But what happens if the Flames miss the playoffs for a fourth consecutive year?
Will Jarome realize the inevitable — that winning a cup in Calgary is just not feasible — and move on to a contender? Or, will he take a home town discount and wear the Flaming C until he hangs up his skates?
The decision, as crazy as it sounds, is Jarome’s. If he wants to leave, he will. If he wants to stay, he will. He has that much power in this city. If he leaves, it will be emotional for everyone involved, but very graceful — because Jarome wouldn’t do it any other way.
Regardless, his jersey will hang from the rafters of the Dome for years to come and his years spent in Flames threads will never be forgotten.
The 2013 NHL season is upon us. Are you ready?