The fastest game on earth is back for its second season of the Post-Lockout Era. Many aspects of rules have been tweaked slightly to refine last year’s experimental changes, but the excitement level should remain high all the way through the finals in June. Here are my top ten teams for the 2006-2007 hockey season.
10. New York Rangers – The Blueshirts’ success this season hinges on two critical players: Swedish goalie sensation Henrik Lundvuist and the ex-mullet-bearing RW Jaromir Jagr. This duo should be helped along by seasoned veteran Brendan Shanahan, whose addition gives New York a much-needed boost in leadership.
9. Edmonton Oilers – The Oilers came out of nowhere last year to make it within one win of hoisting Lord Stanley’s Cup. They will sorely miss physical defensemen Chris Pronger, but with Dwayne Roloson back in net and the addition of RW Petr Sykora, Edmonton will hold its own. Getting back to the Finals will be a difficult task, but did anybody think they would get there last year?
8. Buffalo Sabres – Donning new uniforms, the Sabres will look to build upon their great season last year in which they lost to Carolina in the Eastern Conference Finals. Second-year goalie Ryan Miller will have a lot of weight on his shoulders, but if there’s anything he showed us last year, it’s that he’s as cool under pressure as Knicks-killer Reggie Miller.
7. New Jersey Devils – The Devils have made the playoffs for nine straight seasons and look for them to make it ten this spring. With goal-scorers Patrik Elias and Brian Gionta up top and superstar goalie Martin Brodeur at arguably the most important position in sports, the sky is the limit for New Jersey.
6. Calgary Flames – Another team whose success depends mainly upon two players. Jarome Iginla will again be asked to lead the Flame’s offensive attack while budding goalie Mikka Kiprusoff will attempt to better his 42 wins from a season ago. The Flames will be a dangerous team come the spring.
5. San Jose Sharks – The San Jose upper management must be regarded as geniuses for prying franchise center Joe Thornton away from the Bruins last year; he registered 125 points and was the league’s leading scorer. Look for Thornton, breakout star Jonathan Cheechoo and the Sharks’ core of young players to do some damage out West.
4. Carolina Hurricanes – Last year’s Stanley Cup Champions lost several key players during the off-season including Doug Weight, Mark Recchi and Aaron Ward. But if 100-point prodigy Eric Staal and sophomore goaltender Cam Ward play as incredibly as they did during the playoffs, the Hurricanes will have nothing to worry about.
3. Nashville Predators – While half of America may not even know that the Predators are a real team, they are poised to make a run deep into the playoffs. Goalie Tomas Vokoun is back at full-strength after a puzzling illness; forwards Paul Kariya, Steve Sullivan and Jason Arnott are hungry to win; and a talented defensive corps is hoping to smother its opponents.
2. Ottawa Senators – The Senators have too much talent up front (led by Daniel Alfredsson, Dany Heatley and Jason Spezza) for any team in the East to handle. The addition of goalie Martin Gerber adds even more flair to the team, but Ottawa will miss the presence of gargantuan defender Zdeno Chara who fled to the Bruins. In the end, Chara’s absence may be all that comes between the Sens and the Stanley Cup.
1. Anaheim Ducks – The new-look Ducks (who dropped the “Mighty” that formerly preceded their name in order to put forth a more serious tone) are loaded with talent and are my pick to win the Stanley Cup this year. Acquiring Chris Pronger was a huge move, and he will mesh well with the likes of Scott Neidermeyer, Teemu Selanne, and Colgate’s own Andy McDonald.