FIVE REASONS WHY YOU SHOULD CARE ABOUT THE RETURN OF HOCKEY
1. Real game returns. If the anti-obstruction rules are enforced as the NHL claims, fast end-to-end action will return after an absence of two decades, resulting in an exciting game instead of sumo wrestlers on skates.
2. Wayne Gretzky. Any time the greatest performer-ambassador in the sport’s history returns to a position where he is visible to the paying public, the game benefits.
3. Rookies. The best group of young players in recent memory. Among those to watch: the Caps’ Alexander Ovechkin, Buffalo’s Thomas Vanek, Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby, Nashville’s Ryan Suter, New Jersey’s Zach Parise, Philadelphia’s Jeff Carter and Mike Richards.
4. Scoring. While it was not abundantly clear during preseason, the era of the dead puck should end with the burial of the neutral zone trap. If the new rules are enforced throughout the season, scoring will be up.
5. Rivalries. Teams will play division opponents eight times apiece and rarely cross the Mississippi. Playing Atlanta and Carolina suddenly might have meaning.
FIVE MOVES YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT
1. Sergei Gonchar to Pittsburgh. If the former Caps defenseman is paired with a stay-at-home partner he could finish with impressive totals off the power play alone. His plus-minus, however, might not be pretty.
2. Goalie Nikolai Khabibulin to Chicago. This move in itself should move the Blackhawks out of the draft lottery and perhaps earn them home ice for the playoffs.
3. Scott Stevens to retirement, Scott Niedermayer to Anaheim: In a short period of time, New Jersey lost the fierce figure that held the team together — then lost his replacement.
4. Center Bobby Holik to Atlanta. The Thrashers also added Marian Hossa, Peter Bondra, Scott Mellanby and Niclas Havelid, but they needed a leader to stare down teammates and keep them in line. Holik is that man.
5. Peter Forsberg to Philadelphia. This falls into the what-might-have-been category. The center has missed most of training camp with injuries, and his history of health-related absences is lengthy. When fit, however, he can be the game’s best all-round player.
WHY SIDNEY CROSBY WILL BE A STAR
1. He sold thousands of season tickets in Pittsburgh before fans knew which side he shoots from.
2. He quickly learned from smart handlers how to polish his off-ice skills and is now adept at dealing with the media.
3. He possesses impressive offensive skills. Pittsburgh’s explosive lineup will only make him more dangerous.
4. He is quick off the mark with shifty moves and fast afoot. In today’s game, that’s important.
5. A self-proclaimed student of the game, he’s a quick learner. He is renting a room in Mario Lemieux’s home this season. Being able to dissect the game across the breakfast table from a legend can only help the kid.
— Dave Fay