Preseason hockey is about a month away. Here are 10 thoughts on the upcoming season:Last season, the NHL finally saw the increase in scoring that many fans had been hoping for over the last decade. Can the league keep the progress moving to allow the game to play at the fast-scoring pace we saw? Last year was the highest in scoring since the first season after the lockout. The NHL is at its’ best when players have opportunities to score and show their skill without being dragged down or clutched and grabbed.
The Sabres are a team that finally has some true speed that should benefit from the game opening up. The major question for is how young defenseman like Rasmus Dahlin, Brendan Guhle, and Casey Nelson respond. If they can find their legs and show off the skating they possess, Buffalo could quietly have one of the better young defensive corps in the league.
If Jack Eichel is healthy all season, this is the year he jumps to the superstar status he is capable of. He has been nearly a point-per-game player for two years now, he just needs to finally get the full slate of games to get his chance. He also has probably the most skilled winger group with him to date since he joined the NHL.
Two top young 1st round draft picks who I think will emerge in their second year are New Jersey’s Nico Hischier and Columbus’ Pierre-Luc Dubois. Both had great first year’s learning the game and play in markets without intense pressure, which is a perfect formula for both to take their next step.
Tampa Bay is running out of time to keep the team they have with the salary cap monster coming for them. I still think they will get Erik Karlsson, which would present another roadblock for Buffalo in the future, but they need to break through soon before the cap forces some talent out. This is a group which should’ve won a Cup by now.
Is this the season that Pittsburgh falls back to being mortal a little bit? Crosby is 31, Malkin is 32, Letang is 31, Kessel is 30, and Hornqvist is 31. At some point, age catches up to players and with the amount of postseason games Pittsburgh has played the last three years, you have to ask if they finally see some slippage. Chicago had similar happen recently despite having some good young players come up and eventually every super power comes back to earth.
The NHL needs to re-evaluate their marketing strategy. Chicago is in an outdoor game despite being one of the poorer teams in hockey last season. Even if they rebound a bit, they’re a team which is saturated in media coverage. I understand that Edmonton and Toronto are not big draws because their Canadian, but they also have some of the brightest stars in the league who never get coverage. The NHL needs to take note from the NFL who can put the Green Bay Packers on national TV regularly despite being a limited market because they have star power that is properly marketed.
Speaking of marketing, the NHL has to be pulling for the Sabres to hit the switch back to the playoffs and contending as soon as possible. Buffalo is the top market television-wise in the U.S. for the league and the potential of the Sabres in the postseason against Toronto is a ratings dream. Your’re talking about a star lineup also that would have Matthews, Marner, Tavares, Eichel, Dahlin, and hopefully Mittelstadt.
One thing that I think wasn’t mentioned enough in the Skinner deal was the fact he waived his No Trade Clause (NTC) to come to Buffalo. It wasn’t more then a decade ago that Buffalo (reputation wise) was pretty sour around the league. Back then, regardless of team performance, the area and organization in general wasn’t viewed in the best light. The Pegulas deserve credit in at least creating an environment where players feel valued and for helping be a part of Buffalo’s renaissance that has transformed the city into a desirable place to play.
The Montreal Canadiens are directionless and wasting Carey Price’s prime. It’s reminiscent in ways to what Dominik Hasek experienced in Buffalo at points. The Canadians have no #1 center, an aging Shea Weber is out until December at minimum, their prospect pool isn’t very deep, and in general, the team has no base moving forward. The Canadiens only reason for being discussed as a playoff team centers around Price playing at an all-star level which he typically does when healthy. You just have to wonder if Price, who is already 31, saw his best shot to win a cup already pass in Montreal. Probably the best thing Montreal could do at this point would be to restart completely and trade Price while he still has value. Instead, they will try to win with what they have, which outside of a Tim Thomas 2011 playoff type run from Price, will result in at best a playoff elimination in the first or second round.