It’s hard to believe, but the NHL season is already underway. Last weekend, the Los Angeles Kings and the Anaheim Ducks met for a pair of games in London, England; tonight, meanwhile, the league’s North American schedule kicks off (and includes, among other teams…the Ducks, who play the Detroit Red Wings in Detroit. What a brutal schedule to start the year.) The Leafs, meanwhile, open again–who else?–the Ottawa Senators at the Air Canada Centre. I’ve actually been in attendance for the last two Leaf home openers; this year, I’ll have to satisfy myself with the Calgary Flames home opener instead.
The Leafs are actually a much better team than what you’ve been lead to believe. (Don’t ever listen to Toronto’s vituperative sports media; it can be hazardous to your health.) The Leafs missed the playoffs by a single point last year, then plugged both of their major holes. (These moves were so obvious even I knew they needed to be made. By the way, I feel really smart after re-reading that entry.) Jason Blake actually did score forty goals last year, even if Steve Simmons refuses to acknowledge it; at the very least he’ll be an upgrade over Alexi Ponikarovski, which should translate into better production from the team’s top line. In goal, meanwhile, Andrew Raycroft can’t be as bad as he was last year; if he is, the Leafs have former San Jose Sharks backup Vesa Toskala waiting in the wings. (Toskala, along with troubled winger Mark Bell, were acquired at the draft for a package of picks. The trade illustrated the extent to which John Ferguson Jr can’t win in Toronto: beforehand, the draft was being regarded as one of the weakest in years. Afterwards, Ferguson was pilloried for mortgaging the team’s future. I’m not JFJ’s biggest fan–does he even have a biggest fan, other than a member of his immediate family?–but even I can see he’s being treated unfairly. Anyway, I digress.) In other words, they’ve addressed their two major weaknesses. The team’s youngsters (again, they’ve got a whole stable of young talent, no matter what the media tells you) are developing nicely; Paul Maurice, meanwhile, will be more comfortable behind the Leafs’ bench. I’m not saying they’re Stanley Cup contenders, but a 6th or 7th place finish isn’t out of the question.
And speaking of the Stanley Cup…I mean, what’s the point in making predictions if you’re not gonna go out on a limb? With that, I present your 2007/08 Stanley Cup champions: ladies and gentlemen, the Calgary Flames! And before you accuse me of sports bigamy, here’s why: Miikka Kiprusoff is an all-world goaltender, the team’s defensive corps can be dominant, Jarome Iginla is one of the league’s elite players…and if any of them underperform, Mike Keenan will be busting their balls. The Flames were oddly out-of-sync the last couple years–hence Keenan’s appointment. I say he whips ’em into shape, and by June we’ll have the Red Mile resurrected on 17th Avenue. Or I could be totally off–but what’s the point in blogging if you’re not gonna make the occasional outlandish claim?
And hey: at least I’m not picking Ottawa again this year.