Because most sports fans see the month of October as the end of the baseball season or the heart of the football season, and because this year pro basketball got its version of the New York Yankees with the LeBron/Wade/Bosh saga, many have forgotten about the other major professional sport: HOCKEY!
The National Hockey League (NHL) began its regular season this month and I’m here to give you the scoop on what to look out for in the 2010-2011 campaign.
Eastern Conference Preview
Favorites: Pittsburgh Penguins, Washington Capitals
Captains Alex Ovechkin (Capitals) and Sidney Crosby (Penguins) lead squads that once again find themselves as the best on paper. However, both are coming off disappointing seasons as the Penguins failed to defend their 09-10 title, while the Capitals lost in the first round of the playoffs despite having the best regular season record. The teams face off in the most anticipated game of the season, the NHL Winter Classic on New Year’s Day. I know I will be watching.
Surprise Team: Tampa Lightning
Former Detroit Red Wing great Steve Yzerman has taken over as the head of hockey operations and looks to return the franchise to its 2004 Stanley Cup Champion level. With the young and talented Steven Stamkos (currently leading the NHL in scoring), it does not seem like they are too far away. I still do not expect them to make a deep playoff run, but anything can happen.
Western Conference Preview
Favorites: Chicago Blackhawks, Detroit Red Wings, Vancouver Canucks
The Blackhawks (Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa), Red Wings (Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg), and Canucks (Henrik and Daniel Sedin) all have the offensive firepower to make a run for the Stanley Cup, but also face potential roadblocks. Chicago lost nine players who saw consistent playing time last season to free agency and trades and must look to build up team chemistry. With an average player age of 31, the Red Wings are getting old quick and may run out of steam by the end of the year. As for the Canucks, All-Star goaltender Roberto Luongo has yet to prove himself in the post-season, something that will have to change if they want to win it all.
Surprise Team: Nashville Predators
Off to a 5-0-3 start, this team has huge potential. Nashville nearly upset the eventual champion Blackhawks in the first round last year, and with players like defensemen Shea Weber and goaltender Pekka Rinne in the heart of their prime years, look out. Their defensive style certainly does not make them fun to watch, but it sure is difficult to play against. If this team gets to the conference finals it would not be a surprise.
Hart Memorial Trophy (MVP): Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals
Art Ross Trophy (Most Points Scored): Stephen Stamkos, Tampa Bay Lightning
Norris Trophy (Best Defensemen): Shea Weber, Nashville Predators
Vezina Trophy (Best Goaltender): Ryan Miller, Buffalo Sabres
Eastern Conference Champions: Washington Capitals
Western Conference Champions: Detroit Red Wings
Stanley Cup Champions: Washington Capitals