Saturday, January 19, 2013

The 2013 NHL Season Super-Blog: A Player's Perspective, Injuries, Goaltending, and Predictions

On a hot and humid August afternoon, Montreal Canadiens winger Brandon Prust was sitting in a golf cart, checking his new iPhone for messages and updates on the lockout, hoping to hear some positive news that could lead to a full 82-game season. The replies were the same, after every hole driving to the next, never falling short of disappointment: "nothing new to report".

"As players, it can be a frustrating process," says Prust, who a month-and-a-half earlier, signed a 4-year/$10 million contract with the Habs. "The owners know that we're willing to play on the old CBA and negotiate on the side, but locking us out is a tool they're using to try and make us sweat it out.

"I just want to play hockey, and every player feels the same way. But, as a union and a professional, we know that we have to stand together and work with the league to get the best deal possible for both sides."

Whenever I asked Prust about the (at the time) current negotiations and up-coming season, a sense of pride swelled in him whenever discussing the NHLPA. He mentioned how players had prepared for the possible work-stoppage after the 2011-12 season, by saving up some of their paychecks and putting them away "for a rainy day". He acknowledged the fact on how it was on the players to research exactly why they were locked out, and what a professional athlete should and shouldn't be entitled to. He talked about staying in shape in the off-season and whether or not he and other players should go to Europe to stay occupied (Prust did not end up signing in Europe, instead choosing to train in his hometown of London, Ontario, as well as Phoenix and Montreal). As we neared the conclusion of the round of golf, I asked Prust if he thought we would have hockey this season.

"I don't know," he said. "I hope so. If I had to guess, I think we'll be back by Christmas."

Close enough. The owners and players eventually reached an agreement on January 6th, and the NHL was on its way back. Six days later, both sides ratified the deal, and the lockout was over. Fans breathed a sigh of relief. Players flew back to their cities and put their golf bags in storage. Owners re-inked their pens and prepared to start writing cheques again. #GameOn became the tackiest hashtag since #GreatestTankBattles. And so on, and so on...

Just a reminder that Jeff Carter has won a Stanley Cup and oh God I'm dying
48 Games

Now, after months of discussion on hockey-related revenues, concessions, max-lengths on salaries, and Dustin Byfuglien's dietary expertise, we can get back to business. Of all the years that I have followed hockey, the upcoming shortened season could be the most intriguing. All the ideals that "an 82-game season is a long and arduous journey" are out the window. This isn't the usual slow jog that we have become accustomed to, where the teams that are left standing in the end go through cycles of highs and lows, wins and loses, and players coming in and out of the lineup.

The 2013 NHL season is a sprint to the finish line. 48 games in 99 days, which essentially is a game every other night. Not to mention, you have to believe that the majority of the players will start the season slow, sluggish, and will take time to properly get into "game-shape". A shoulder injury that would take you out of the lineup for 4-6 weeks now means you could miss close to half the season. Players could potentially be out for the entire season if they sustain a concussion. Having depth in your organization could be the ticket for a birth in the post-season, especially if you're an on-the-bubble team that is fighting for a 6th/7th/8th seed.


Aside from roster depth and injuries, who you have in net -- or whomever his backup is -- may be the difference maker in terms of playing hockey after April 27th (the final day of the regular season). A team like the New York Rangers, who have arguably the best goaltender in the world with Henrik Lundqvist, will either want him to start almost every game, or decide to give veteran backup Martin Biron a few extra starts to give Hank some rest. But, since anything can happen in this shortened regular season, a highly anticipated team could struggle and be forced to start their elite goaltender almost ever game. What would you do if you were the Canadiens, and you were battling for a playoff spot? Do you give Carey Price 45+ starts and ride him out? Do you give him the chance to recharge and start Peter Budaj for more than a few games?

A recent photo of Ellen DeGeneres
Perry and Getzlaf

Aside from the actual game on the ice, what about the game off of it? Where do some teams stand with upcoming free agents and personel decisions? The Anaheim Ducks have two elite forwards approaching free agency with Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, and not many analysts or insiders have a grasp as to what may happen. Getzlaf is coming off his lowest point total since winning a Stanley Cup in 2006-07, scoring only 11 goals and totaling points, not to mention a career low plus/minus of -11. Perry also had a bit of a down year in statistics; after scoring 50 goals and winning both the Rocket Richard trophy (most goals) and the Hart trophy (league MVP) in 2010-11, Perry only reached 37 goals, and had his lowest point total since 2007-08, scoring 60. But because of their ages -- both players are 27, which many categorize as "prime years" -- acquiring or signing one of both of these players would have huge implications on the league. At this point, I would guess that the Ducks end up re-signing Getzlaf (captain, wife and kids are settled, will take less money), and will attempt to trade Perry to a team for lots of assets, or just let him walk in free agency. (Gut feeling? Philly makes a run at him.)

Detroit Rock City

The Detroit Red Wings are about to partake in their first season without either Steve Yzerman or Nicklas Lidstrom since 1983-84...think about that, that's almost 30 years. It's almost impossible to fathom. But that's now the reality, with Henrik Zetterberg taking over the captaincy, and the Wings now having to actually fight for a playoff spot. While many analysts have Detroit between anywhere from 5th to 10th, don't expect to see a post-season that doesn't include the red and white. Veterans Pavel Datsyuk and Johan Franzen are back, and still producing at an above-average rate in the league. One interesting story to come out of Hockeytown this year is the fact that Niklas Kronwall is now the leader of the Red Wings defensive corps; the 30-year-old is considered to be one of the best hitters in the game -- not to mention arguably one of the dirtiest -- and will now be expected to carry extra ice-time and responsibility, with the departure of Lidstrom. Don't forget, head coach Mike Babcock is still one of the best minds in hockey, and should be able to take this team into the playoffs, given his track-record of three Stanley Cup Finals (two losses with Anaheim and Detroit in 2003 and 2009, respectively, and a win with the Red Wings in 2008) and a Gold medal with Canada in the 2010 Winter Olympics. 


I hate making predictions because I never ven come close, and this year doesn't appear to be any different. So, since you've read this far anyway, might as well tell you what I think...

For the individual awards:
  • Hart Trophy: Sidney Crosby
  • Lady Bing: Pavel Datsyuk 
  • Vezina: Henrik Lundqvist
  • Calder: Alex Galchenyuk
  • Art Ross: Sidney Crosby
  • James Norris: Drew Doughty
  • Bill Masterson: *whoever was hurt last year and came back this year to put up numbers*
  • Ted Lindsay: Sidney Crosby
  • Jack Adams: Joel Quenneville
  • Frank J. Selke: David Backes
  • William M. Jennings: who cares? 
  • Maurice "Rocket" Richard: Steven Stamkos
When it comes to who will win the Stanley Cup, I think my pick was made after last year's post-season. Watching them play throughout the regular season, and how they were in the first-round of the playoffs, I saw a complete hockey team that has the ability to win every game they play. That's right folks, you guessed it: My Stanley Cup prediction for the 2013 season are the St. Louis Blues.

The greatest trivia question ever
So there ya go. If you read all this, I'm kind of impressed. Thanks, I guess? Anyway, here's to what hopefully will be an exciting half season of hockey.

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