OK, where did we leave off? Oh, right, that Stanley Cup celebration in Raleigh, N.C., not all that far north of the previous Stanley Cup celebration in Tampa, Fla.
Uh, Canada, ’bout time to get back a bit of your mojo, isn’t it?
Heck, the New York Rangers might even win another Cup before it comes “home” to north of the border.
True enough, there is a great degree of parity built into today’s NHL, in large part because of the leveling effect the new collective bargaining agreement has had on team payrolls. This season, no one can spend more than $44 million on the working help, an increase of $5 million per team over last season’s salary cap. Overall, parity is a good thing, in terms of sustaining fan interest. More teams remain in the playoff hunt, and from the outset, at least in theory, more teams have a realistic chance of winning the Cup.
But here in the world of fearless preseason predictions, there are only clear-cut winners, and it says here that Canada won’t make the cut. The 2007 Cup winner will be the Anaheim Ducks — remember, they're no longer the Mighty Ducks — whose off-season acquisition of Chris Pronger from Edmonton (Oh, Canada) gave them the best 1-2 defensive tandem in the game.
“If we’ve got problems giving up too many goals,” mused Ducks general manager Brian Burke, “then frankly, we’ve got bigger problems than goaltending.”
Pronger and fellow defensive icon Scott Niedermayer should make life simple for the Duck goalie of choice — be it Ilya Bryzgalov, stellar in the ’06 playoffs, or Jean-Sebastien Giguere. Niedermayer is among the smoothest skaters in the game, a master at making plays out of his own end, and is especially proficient at triggering the first pass up ice. The gritty and gifted Pronger is more of a physical presence, but also offensively intimidating at times. Together, they should average 25-28 minutes of ice time per night, or roughly an hour per game.
The New NHL may emphasise fast skating and offense, which doesn’t make the defensively-centered Ducks the most obvious pick. But the Ducks can deliver up front, too, with the likes of the speedy Andy McDonald and Teemu Selanne. They’ve got pluck. They’ve got speed. And they’ve got an edge in the Niedermayer-Pronger duo that no one can match.
Four other fearless predictions:
The Caps aren’t going very far this year, and they can only hope that no one tells that to Alexander Ovechkin, the returning rookie of the year. Ovechkin is the most exciting player in the game, so good that he should be able to bump up his freshman numbers (106, third in league scoring) this year and win the scoring title and MVP award, even with such a weak surrounding cast.
The nation grieved for those hurt, killed and affected by the Boston Marathon bombings. After one of the suspects was caught on Friday — following a day-long lockdown and manhunt — sports returned to Boston over the weekend.
See above, pick one. No doubt, Nicklas Lidstrom, voted top defenseman four of the last five seasons, will have another outstanding season for the Red Wings. But with Niedermayer and Pronger both in Anaheim, they’ll each have life a little easier, and they’ll each be even better for it. Niedermayer gets the slight edge, because of his more prolific offense.
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