What can one expect from the Philadephia Flyers this season?
Trading away the captain and an elite goal-scorer for one of the league's best goalies and young talent is a bold move, and we will find out soon enough whether or not Paul Holmgren's tumultuous offseason will pay off for the Flyers and their fans.
You, me, and every other Flyers' fan on the planet has no idea what's going to happen with the newest batch of warriors just yet, but is the mystery surrounding the Flyers the biggest question in relation to the upcoming NHL season? Here are some more topics to think about as the puck gets ready to drop on the league's 94th course.
Will Crosby Ever Be The Same?
He missed 48 games last season (41 regular-season and seven playoff) due to a high hit from former Cap David Steckel in the Winter Classic compounded by a Victor Hedman check four days later.
Nine months wasn't enough time for Crosby to fully recover from the hit in January. He said he wouldn't play in the first week of the season, and that was backed up when the Pens placed him on injured reserve. Concussions affect every player from every sport differently, but taking three-quarters of a calendar year to recover from one concussion is a pretty serious matter.
One has to think he tries to comeback from this injury just purely on how important of a commodity and personality he is to the success of the NHL, but what if he's rushed to comeback before he's 100 percent? In his first game back, if he takes an elbow to the head or has his face smashed up against the glass, is that the end of his career?
Can The Devils Become Cup Contenders?
With the dual losses of Jason Arnott and Jamie Langenbrunner to the St. Louis Blues and the affects of Marty Brodeur's age becoming evident, at first glance the obvious answer is no. However, the Devils did turn it on near the end of the season -- making a push for the playoffs after sitting at the bottom of the Eastern Conference for most of the year.
Going 28-10-3 in their last 41 games, the Devils could use the remnants of last season's late momentum in a similar fashion to how the Flyers carried Big Mo from the 2010 playoffs to the start of the 2010-2011 regular season. Not to mention the fact Ilya Kovalchuk is now settling down and the team couldn't possibly be plagued again with as many injuries to start the year.
How Will Ville Leino Perform in Buffalo?
Leino was a big part of the Flyers 2010 Cup run and helped our club maintain the top spot in the Eastern Conference for most of the 2010-2011 regular season, but he had a lot of help in the process.
One could argue a lot of Leino's success was due to the fact he was on a line with puck mover Danny Briere and body-mover Scott Hartnell. Most players could post a 50-point season playing on that line. It's true the Sabres ranked in the top 10 in goals-per-game last year and that Austrian sniper Thomas Vanek had over 70 points, but these aren't stats that help Leino's case.
The Flyers placed third in the league in GPG and Vanek plays the same position as Leino. The trio of Jason Pominville/Derek Roy/ Leino could be a forceful combo for the Sabres, if they choose to use it, but will any line the Sabres form with Leino be as effective as the LBH line?
Will The Capitals Do Something to Get Over the Playoff Hump?
The Washington Capitals have won the Southeast Division each of the last four years, but have advanced to the conference semifinals only twice.
Losing to the Flyers in seven games back in the 2008 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals and then losing to the eighth-seeded Montreal Canadiens in seven games in the 2010 quarterfinals, the Caps have only frustrated their fans in the postseason after dominating during the regular season. The only team they've beaten in the playoffs over the last four years is the New York Rangers. Granted they've done it twice, it took the second-seeded Capitals seven games to edge the Rangers in the quarterfinals back in 2009 -- done after going down 1-3 in the set.
With the additions of Joel Ward, Troy Brouwer, Roman Hamrlik, and most importantly Tomas Vokoun, perhaps the Red can rock their way into the semifinals for the first time since their trip to the 1998 Stanley Cup Finals.
How Good Will The Winnipeg Jets Be?
The Atlanta Thrashers weren't too good in 2010-2011, so the expectations for them to make the 2012 playoffs aren't too high. Since the team has moved to a city more focused and passionate about hockey, there will be more pressure and emphasis on success -- however that's defined. This can push the Jets to make the playoffs, or at least within a couple points of the playoff picture, but the amount of travel this team will be forced to undertake is likely to hurt their chances for this season.
The divisions will realign next year, but this season the Jets will be making cross-continent trips just to play teams in their division. A die-hard fanbase combined with a bit of adversity will either make or break the Jets this season.
Will Two Teams From The Northwest Division Make The Playoffs?
It's safe to say the Vancouver Canucks will make the playoffs again after not doing much roster shuffling in the wake of blowing a 2-0 lead in the Cup Finals.
The rest of the division, however, missed the playoffs last year. Each of the four teams can make an argument that they could reach the postseason. The Calgary Flames finished the season similar to the Devils, as they went 23-9-7 down the stretch but fell just out of the playoff picture. If they start out the season a little better a playoff berth is within grasp. The Minnesota Wild were able to keep most of their defense and goaltending together while grabbing two offensive-minded forwards, both from San Jose. Although they lost Brent Burns and Martin Havlat, the Wild now have Dany Heatley and Devin Setoguchi to help out Mikko Koivu. Will the Wild finally have enough offense to return to the playoffs?
Despite young rosters and a promise of contention in future days, the Colorado Avalanche and Edmonton Oilers aren't really out of the picture either. The Avs now have a strong goaltending duo while the Oilers will audition another young talent in first-overall pick Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Can one of the two squeak into the playoffs?
How Will Phoenix Play Without Ilya Bryzgalov?
Bryzgalov, without a doubt, was a huge part to Phoenix's success last season. Without the ability to rely on his goaltending, it remains to be seen if Coyotes can make their way back to the playoffs.
Jason LaBarbera was the other goalie for the Coyotes last year, posting a record of 7-6-3 with a save percentage of .909 and a high goals-against average of 3.26. Mike Smith could make a push for the starting job with a record of 13-6-1 in 2010-2011 and gaining some pressure experience in the 2011 playoffs, but his save percentage of .899 doesn't scream top-notch goalie. Curtis McElhinney is in the system as well, but can you turn to a guy with only 67 games over four seasons in the NHL? Add in lack of playoff experience (four games in total among the three goalies) and it doesn't look too good.
Who Will Come Out of The West?
It's easy to say the Canucks will win, but teams around them have gotten stronger this off-season. The Central Division alone will boast three teams that may likely cause the Canucks problems.
The Blackhawks, who were one goal away from upsetting Vancouver in the West quarterfinals, have added grit to their roster and are getting some key players (Patrick Kane and Duncan Keith) to focus harder on reaching the Finals again.
The Predators also gave the Canucks some problems in the 2011 playoffs. With the experience and confidence likely gained from their first playoff series win in franchise history, the Preds are looking to reach the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time ever.
The Red Wings, as always, are always a provisional Stanley Cup contender. Perhaps with strong goaltending from Jimmy Howard, and if the veteran team can endure the grind of another season, the Red Wings could knock the Canucks out. From the Pacific Division, both the San Jose Sharks and Los Angeles Kings could advance to the Finals. The Sharks added a strong defender in Brent Burns and a proven playoff performer in Martin Havlat, while the Kings added Mike Richards to an already playoff-ready roster.