Summer always seems to pass by too quickly here in Toronto. Thankfully, the excitement of a new NHL season helps soften the blow. If you’re a fan of a Canadian team, you must be pretty revved up. The Leafs, Habs and Sens prepare to do battle once again in the Eastern Conference, while the Jets join their old time rivals the Vancouver Canucks, Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers in the Western Conference.
Leafs Look To Prove Last Season’s Trip To The Playoffs Wasn’t A Fluke
The Toronto Maple Leafs are a playoff team once again, and they’ll look to improve on last season’s success by making the post season two straight years. The only problem is, making the playoffs is going to be tougher this time. They have to prove they can do it in an 82 game schedule with a lineup that still lacks quality at the centre position. The Leafs don’t have the element of surprise on their side anymore, either. As they prepare for this season, other teams are more prepared for them.
Some new faces join the Buds in what will be a challenging year thanks to heightened expectations. Recently acquired goaltender Jonathan Bernier finally has an opportunity to become a mainstay in the NHL, something expected of him ever since being selected 11th overall in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft by the Los Angeles Kings.
Habs Try And Shake Off Disappointing Playoff Performance
Over in Eastern Canada, the Montreal Canadiens will try to forget the disappointment of last year’s early playoff exit. The additions of F Danny Briere and D Douglas Murray provide the Habs with a stronger veteran presence to compliment their younger talents. All Star goaltender Carey Price will push for a spot on Team Canada for the 2014 Olympics. A great first few months to the season will be enough to get Price on the team.
To the surprise of many, the Habs finished 2nd in the Eastern Conference last season under the guidance of Head Coach Michel Therrien. They will look to repeat that performance again this year but it’s not going to be easy. The new Atlantic Division is one of the toughest in the league, helped by the relocation of Western Conference powerhouse, the Detroit Red Wings. As always, the Habs success will probably directly result from the performances of defenceman Andrei Markov and goaltender Carey Price. When those two are playing well, the Habs are winning hockey games.
What’s The Next Step For The Ottawa Senators?
The Ottawa Senators prepare for Life After Alfredsson as they shoot for a third straight playoff birth. New addition Bobby Ryan is a 30 goal scorer in his prime, more than capable of quickly helping Sens fans forget about Daniel’s departure. Goaltender Craig Anderson is coming off one of the best goaltending performances in modern history, posting a GAA of 1.69 and a SV% of 0.941. He should provide Maclean’s Men with every opportunity to win a lot of hockey games this season.
Under coach Paul Maclean, the Sens have developed a reputation as a pesky squad to play against. They chip away at you. Last season they battled some major injuries to key players D Erik Karlsson and C Jason Spezza and still managed to clinch a playoff spot, proving themselves resilient. If their two star players stay healthy this season, it’s reasonable to believe the Sens will once again make the playoffs.
The Jets Are Finally Home In The West
The Winnipeg Jets and their enthusiastic fans hope to see playoff action for the first time since rejoining the NHL in 2011. NHL Realignment ships the Jets back to the Western Conference where they belong. Old rivalries will be rekindled as they regularly do battle with the Vancouver Canucks, Edmonton Oilers, and Calgary Flames. These familiar old rivals pose new challenges with unpredictable results. Over the course of the 2013-14 regular season we will find out if the Jets are better off in the West, or if they’ll miss the dozen or more games a season against bottom feeding Eastern Conference teams.
The Jets/Thrashers franchise has only made the post season once in its 14 year lifespan. They enter this season with one of the league’s most star-lacking rosters, which doesn’t help their cause. However, they do carry significant size and a very good leadership group headed by Captain Andrew Ladd. It will be interesting to see how they do in a new conference with much less travel.
It’s A Make Or Break Year For The Canucks Aging Core
The most intriguing Canadian team at the moment is the Vancouver Canucks. They’ll begin the 2013-14 NHL season with a veteran lineup on borrowed time to win the Stanley Cup as a group.
The Canucks hired former Cup winning coach John Tortorella this summer after he was let go by the New York Rangers. Torts has earned himself a reputation as one of the game’s most colourful soundbites. He is the polar opposite of his predecessor Alain Vaigneault, who oddly enough, was hired to replace Tortorella in New York.
One can’t think about the Vancouver Canucks without wondering what this season has in store for Canadian Gold Medalist, goaltender Roberto Luongo. Bobby Lou was the subject of trade rumours for the better part of a calendar year up until Canucks GM Mike Gillis traded his expected replacer, Cory Schnedier to the New Jersey Devils on NHL Entry Draft Day. The outcasted Luongo was seemingly ready for a new opportunity only to find out he would in fact remain a Canuck. With all the off-ice distractions finally behind them, both Luongo and the Vancouver Canucks can look forward to just playing hockey and winning games.
The Calgary Flames Rebuild Is In Full Swing
The Calgary Flames begin an NHL season without their long-time Captain Jarome Iginla for the first time since 1996. It’s a new era in Saddle Town. While no one expects much from the Flames in the 2013-14 NHL season, they will definitely be a player on the trade front as they try to rebuild the franchises reputation and compete for the playoffs again in the near future. The recent hiring of outspoken general manager Brian Burke should lead to exciting trades, entertaining interviews, and bold declarations of success. Burke was appointed President of Hockey Operations on September 5th, 2013.
While no one is expecting the Calgary Flames to make the playoffs this season, they themselves probably don’t feel that way. They enter this season with a young roster, and a philosophy to let the kids play, learn, and compete. As management continue to boot out the old familiar faces who failed to make the playoffs for several years, youth will be on full display in Calgary this season. It is the beginning of a new era in Flames history.
It’s Time For The Oilers To Make Some Noise
Perhaps Canada’s most under-pressure franchise coming into this season is the Edmonton Oilers. The organization that once flourished in the 1980’s has not made the playoffs since an unexpected run to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2006. After a trio of 1st overall picks from 2010-2012 the Oilers have stockpiled a lot of high quality prospects and supremely talented superstar destined forwards. However, this young group has struggled to win hockey games over the past few seasons. The excuse of inexperience and youth becomes less acceptable each year, meaning a playoff birth is crucial in 2013-14.
This season the Oilers have to make the post season or at least show signs that they are really close to taking that huge step forward. The fans want some positive results, and so does the rest of the hockey world. The Oilers are one of the most exciting teams in the NHL. An appearance in the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs would be embraced by all who enjoy fast paced, entertaining hockey.
Here is a look at this summer’s player turnover on each of Canada’s NHL franchises:
Toronto Maple Leafs
Out: F Matt Frattin, G Ben Scrivens, F Mikhail Grabovski, D Mike Kostka, F Ryan Hamilton, D Mike Mottau, F Clarke MacArthur, D Mike Komisarek, F Tim Connolly, D Ryan O’Byrne, F Tyler Brenner, G Mark Owuya
In: F Zach Hamill, F Ben Ferrierio, D Alex Biega, F Mike Santorelli, F Brad Richardson, D Yannick Weber
Out: G Cory Schneider, F Steven Pinizzotto, F Andrew Ebbett, F Andrew Gordon, F Maxim Lapierre, F Guillaume Desbiens, D Keith Ballard, F Manny Malhotra, F Mason Raymond, F Stefan Schneider, D Cam Barker, D Jim Vandermeer, F Prab Rai
Out: Magnus Paarjavi, D Kyle Bigos, F Shawn Horcoff, D Mark Fistric, D Theo Peckham, G Nik Khabibulin, G Yann Denis, D Ryan Whitney, D Colten Teubert, F Darcy Hordichuk, F Jerred Smithson, F Chris VandeVelde, F Tanner House,