Ice Hockey Fixtures
The Columbus Blue Jackets are in a place that many teams would envy, but they probably aren't too happy about it. They have been quite good the last two seasons, and they have a decent chance of being as solid again this year. But they have lost in the first round both years and haven't put up much of a fight in doing so - losing to the eventual Stanley Cup champs both times, incidentally. They are in a murky area where they are a solid enough team, but the path to being a really good team, or even a great one, is not at all clear.
It could be diagnosed as St. Louis Blues syndrome, and it's not a great illness to have. Carolina has not been good for a long time and now finds themselves in a bit of a rut. Sometimes when you are in a rut you have to do something to shake yourself out of it. And the Hurricanes did just that. They have a new coach and could have as many as seven newly-acquired players on the opening-day roster. Their ownership leaves something to be desired - more Jerry Jones than is ideal - but they aren't afraid to be aggressive, and they have quite probably made themselves significantly better.
But what will it all add up to? I felt worse for the Florida Panthers than any team last year. They have been working to get things on track for so long and have a lot to like on the squad. But when the dust settled last year their 96 points was a single point short of the postseason.
It would have been enough in the West. Before this past season, the Rangers were a model of consistency. They had made the playoffs seven years in a row and in 11 of 12 years. And they had won at least one playoff series in five of the last six years, going all the way to the finals in But things did not go well last year, and they fell out of the hunt early, ultimately finishing last in the Metropolitan and 20 points behind the final slot.
Now we have to see if it is fatal or temporary - if the team has to fully rebuild or just regroup. Last year Philadelphia made the playoffs, but not by much. Their 98 points was good for the final spot in the Metropolitan Division behind Washington and Pittsburgh, but it was just one point ahead of the two wild-card teams, Columbus and New Jersey, and only two points ahead of the Panthers, who missed out on the postseason. One win was all of the difference for the team in the end.
This year Washington and Pittsburgh are both really good again, and the wild-card race will be, if anything, more competitive. Some of these previews are more depressing than others, and this may be one of the most depressing of all. For so many years the Red Wings were the perfect franchise. They were always competitive, always in the playoffs, and always a nightmare to play against.
They were what you wanted your team to imitate. But that era has ground to a serious halt, and now they are just a team that seems to be floundering and trying to figure out where they are going. The Sabres are saying they plan to be this year's Colorado, and they might even believe it. After finishing dead last in the NHL two years ago with just 48 points, the Avalanche jumped all the way into the playoffs last year.
The difference, though, is that the Avs had won their conference three years before and were reasonably competitive the two years after that. This is one of the easiest previews to write this year and every year.
That's all you really need to say. They have won two of the last three Stanley Cups, they were tough in defeat last year, and they are icing basically the same team again. It seems almost certain that no player has ever had more fun after winning the Cup than Alex Ovechkin did this year. And he deserves it after the career he has had and the year he put together last year. Now we have to figure out if there is going to be a Stanley Cup hangover for this team - or if they are still actually hungover after their celebrations, for that matter.
I was going to make Ottawa the first of Eastern Conference previews I wrote this morning. But after reading Twitter for a bit it seemed like I should hold off a few hours. And it's a good thing I did. Ottawa finally made the trade that has been rumored and anticipated for months. And the return is, to be kind, underwhelming - which is pretty much what we have come to expect from the franchise.
They were a mess this morning, and they are a mess now. Some things never change - even when they change dramatically. Here is the Islanders' offseason in a nutshell - they made big upgrades in the front office and behind the bench, had real hope, and then lost all of that hope when their superstar center, who they nurtured into the player he is since drafting him, bolted for Toronto.
Now everyone is sad, the future is cloudy, and maybe playing home games in two different arenas will help. I should have given a spoiler alert before that, because you pretty much know everything you need to about the team right now. But I won't leave you there, faithful readers.
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