Welp, that photo on the left doesn't quite work: Wayne Gretzky hasn't played hockey since the 1998-99 season. Please disregard.
Let's rejoice today in the return of NHL hockey, the brinner (i.e. breakfast+dinner = brinner) of professional sports in that it apparently is on the rise but no one is quite sure why. Beside my fellow Canadians and a few pockets of Americans scattered over their country, the return of hockey doesn't register as anything worthy of celebrating.
This fall, the NHL had barely returned that already, the nonsense had arrived. There was the news that NHL players snort cocaine and the Patrick Kane ugly case, but that's not all.
In Quebec City, thousands visited the new Videotron Centre, worth $400 million. In Montreal, new winger Zack Kassian "has entered a substance abuse program" after being involved in a car crash with two women over the weekend, only a few blocks from where I live.
But taking the cake of the ridiculous, and eating it too, is the following news item courtesy of TSN: "Report: Former NHLer Avery arrested." Sean Avery would be dead and buried if he had played any other sport. Only in the damn NHL can he make the news and get hits.
Here is the Eastern Conference part of our two-part and team-by-team NHL season preview. (if you missed my predictions for the Western Conference, please click here.)
1. Tampa Bay Lightning
The Tampa Bay Lightning are loaded at every position and, therefore, you should hate them for that. But wait, there is more. Ben Bishop is a goaltender who's too tall and who may not be that excellent. The Triplets line, while excellent at hockey, have a stupid and dumb name. And there is a growing sentiment that the Lightning should trade Steven Stamkos with each passing day that he doesn't sign a new contract.
Because, by that logic yes, when you have a franchise player, you trade him.
2. Pittsburgh Penguins
Hey, Tampa folks, look here. The plan, when you have a franchise player, is that you build your team around him and, if you must say goodbye to your gritty third line center, then you let bygones be bygones. You become a top-heavy team with no depth and that's highly dependent on its star. The Penguins, who had messed up every single thing prior to their arrival, have two, not one, franchise players and they've yet to trade either of them.
Bonus hate points for Sidney Crosby, the best player in the world and who may be better at complaining and whining than he is at hockey.
3. New York Islanders
Since the 1980s, the New York Islanders have had a relatively rich and proud history, if not a rich and proud arena. Homages to their old home at Nassau Coliseum were mostly borne out of nostalgia than anything else, which has made their move to Brooklyn somewhat forgivable. What is unforgivable, however, is that their new Barclays Center was designed for basketball, not hockey. When Islanders fans complained about the new goal horn, it was because they couldn't see the goal.
4. New York Rangers
The New York Rangers are playing second fiddles to the New York Knicks in their fabled Madison Square Garden. The New York Knicks! THE KNICKS!!
5. Montreal Canadiens
Oh boy. First, they gave, team vote notwithstanding, the team's captaincy to the wrong guy: one was the uncharismatic Max Pacioretty, the other was the most electrifying superstar of the league and one who had just pledged $10 million to the Montreal's Children Hospital. Then, Zack Kassian got in that car crash and, well, let the season start already. "Oh but give the Habs a chance," Habs fans say at every turn.
Give them a chance. That's been their slogan since 1993. That, and cool player intro montages.
6. Washington Capitals
If the Washington Capitals couldn't escape their history of chocking up 3-1 series leads in last season's playoffs, then they never will. Some people will say that it's better to have a history of chocking than no history at all. These people are Caps fans.
7. Philadelphia Flyers
The Flyers' quest to find an NHL-level goaltender to complement their relatively elite talent elsewhere on the roster reacher yet another year in Philadelphia. (That entire thing is true, except the part where it says the Flyers have elite talent elsewhere.)
8. Florida Panthers
The Florida Panthers somehow made the Stanley Cup Finals in 1996 in only their third season of existence. That was beginner's luck and every single thing since has been proof that it was a fluke. But at least we will get back the mullet.
9. Columbus Blue Jackets
Who? Where? I don't know what a Columbus Blue Jacket and I don't care enough to find out.
10. Detroit Red Wings
Oh, the Red Wings fans believe in their precious little playoff streak, now at 24 years and counting. But the other shoe always drops and signs have hinted at an upcoming emergency landing. Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg are something like 87 years old each and have slowed down to a crawl; meanwhile, Dan Cleary remains a worthy contributor somehow.
It shouldn't work and soon, it will stop to.
11. Boston Bruins
There will be no Milan Lucic in Beantown this season but worry not, hockey fan: the Boston Bruins will still be awfully easy to hate. At this year's draft, they made two trades that gave them three first round picks in a row; they overreached for the three players they selected. Go Bruins! As in, go to hell! At least the charismatic one is still behind the bench.
12. New Jersey Devils
They bid adieu to longtime goaltender and franchise icon Martin "Marty" Brodeur recently, and this past season head boss and general overlord Lou Lamoriello jumped this sinking ship. They're the New Jersey Devils but before, they used to be good. Now they're just the New Jersey Devils.
13. Ottawa Senators
This team is every bit as forgettable as the New Jersey Devils, only they're in tiny Canada and tiny Ottawa. Their highlight last season was a journeyman goaltender eating hamburgers.
14. Buffalo Sabres
The Buffalo Sabres tanked their life away last season, but still couldn't win the NHL lottery to draft Connor McDavid. Haha.
15. Carolina Hurricanes
This season, the Carolina Hurricanes are about to set their franchise a few years back, and they were already quite a ways back I agree, because they still have Cam Ward and Eric and Jordan Staal when they should be rebuilding. Oh well. It's happened to worse than them.
Last. Toronto Maple Leafs
Hey, speak of the devil... Last place is forever where the Toronto Maple Leafs belong. They haven't won a Stanley Cup since 1967, I don't know if you've heard? Now entering year, like, 18 of their five-year rebuilding plan, the Leafs wanted to do things the right way this time. So they brought in every chef that their Rogers money could buy for their kitchen and, well, just look at the mess they've already made.