There is a thought that the start of the new season will also feature a new crackdown on obstruction, to try and find a middle ground between the call-everything edict that came out of the last work stoppage and a perception that the league was letting too much go again. So will the hockey be fast and furious? Or as Hockey Night In Canada commentator Kelly Hrudey fears – maybe just the opposite. Hrudey’s theory is that with limited preparation time, coaches will keep it simple to begin with.
“When you talk about the way the coaches are right now,” said Hrudey, “it’s a really a simple way to play – chip and chase and block shots, so … I hope they allow the skilled players to improvise a little more and maybe make a play at the blueline. That certainly would be welcome. It can be a pretty boring game at times. It’s played by really, really skilled guys, but it is really stifled.”
TEEMU’S BACK: Unlike Lidstrom, the Ducks’ Teemu Selanne decided to play this year because things went so well a year ago. Selanne led the team with 66 points, no small feat considering he was playing with the previous year’s MVP, Corey Perry, on a team that ultimately missed the playoffs because of its slow start. Selanne pointed that the lockout back in 2004-05 saved his career because it permitted him time for recover surgery that got his skating stride back. It would have been quite the irony if this year had been lost too, in which case likely he wouldn’t have come back. Selanne played all 82 games last year, the oldest player in league history to ever do so (at 41 years, 279 days at the end of the season). Back for his 20th campaign, Selanne says: “Age is a funny thing. A lot of times, I don’t really feel 42. It all depends on how good you feel, how healthy you are and how much passion you have for the game.”
SHARK WATCH: The San Jose Sharks were one of only two NHL teams to make the playoffs in the seven seasons bookended by the last two lockouts, but they’ll start the year Sunday in Calgary, missing a key piece - defenceman Brent Burns, who is out with a lower body injury that may or may not be related to off-season sports hernia surgery. Burns led Sharks rearguards with 11 goals last season and was a contributor, along with Dan Boyle, to the NHL’s second-best power-play unit. San Jose didn’t make many off-season personnel changes, apart from adding defenceman Brad Stuart and pesky forward Adam Burish, and maybe the most addition came on the coaching staff, where Larry Robinson left the Stanley Cup finalist New Jersey Devils to work with coach Todd McLellan’s group.
The Sharks were 195-92-41 in the past four seasons under the very able McLellan, which is the best overall record in the NHL during that span, but they were absolutely dismal killing penalties last year (even worse than the Toronto Maple Leafs, if such a thing can be believed). The thinking is that Robinson will help improve that in a meaningful way. New Jersey was, after all, No. 1 in penalty-killing efficiency last year at a sterling 89.6 per cent success rate. Speculation is that a 25-year-old rookie defenceman, Matt Irwin of Brentwood Bay, B.C., will make his NHL debut for the Sharks against Calgary.
A RARE KING-SIZED BLUNDER: The Kings get credit for doing a lot of things correctly in building their Stanley Cup championship team, but one clear-cut miss was exposed this week when they lost defenceman Thomas Hickey to the New York Islanders on waivers. The Kings went way off the charts to take Hickey fourth overall in 2007, (Central Scouting had him rated at the end of the first round). Kings GM Dean Lombardi acknowledged that it was an all-or-nothing sort of gamble – and that has proven to be true. Among the defencemen selected after Hickey that year: NHL regulars Karl Alzner, Kevin Shattenkirk and P.K. Subban.