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Western: 15 teams worth of questions — and them some

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Ryan Suter

The Minnesota Wild made a summer splash by signing prize free agent defenseman Ryan Suter (as well as winger Zach Parise, not pictured), but the team may have to make just as big a splash on the ice this season. (Jim Mone/AP)

By Stu Hackel

Every NHL season starts with expectations and conjures up predictions about where teams might finish, but this is a season like no other. You can’t even compare it too closely to the lockout-shortened 1995 campaign, one played with a 26-team NHL, a different conference alignment and playoff format, no shootout or “loser’s point,” and far less parity. And even in a normal season, there is so much uncertainty in sports that preseason predictions are a waste of time.

SI.com colleagues Brian Cazeneuve, Sarah Kwak and Adrian Dater have their thoughts on the upcoming season and you can find them here:

Power Rankings | Milestones | Central | Northwest | Pacific | Southeast | Atlantic | Northeast

Our favorite preseason pastime at Red Light is trying to boil down each team’s success or failure to one or a few essential themes. Each club has them and the answers to these questions, theoretically at least, should go a long way to determining if it plays up to expectations and potential. Keep in mind they all take place within the framework of the shortened season imposing its own unique characteristics on the playoff chase, which we pondered in this post.

Yesterday we visited the Eastern Conference. Here are the essential questions for each team in the west and some post-lockout thoughts after that:

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  • Published On Jan 18, 2013
  • Eastern: 15 teams worth of questions — and then some

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    Alex Ovechkin and Dan Girardi

    Alex Ovechkin has a new coach to get used to, and the Rangers may pay a price for their reliance on blocking shots. (Will Schneekloth/Icon SMI)

    By Stu Hackel

    Every NHL season starts with expectations and conjures up predictions about where teams might finish, but this is a season like no other. You can’t even compare it too closely to the lockout-shortened 1995 campaign, one played with a 26-team NHL, a different conference alignment and playoff format, no shootout or “loser’s point,” and far less parity. And even in a normal season, there is so much uncertainty in sports that preseason predictions are a waste of time.

    SI.com colleagues Brian Cazeneuve, Sarah Kwak and Adrian Dater have their thoughts on the upcoming season and you can find them here:

    Power Rankings | Milestones | Central | Northwest | Pacific | Southeast | Atlantic | Northeast

    Our favorite preseason pastime at Red Light is trying to boil down each team’s success or failure to one or a few essential themes. Each club has them and the answers to these questions, theoretically at least, should go a long way to determining if it plays up to expectations and potential. Keep in mind they all take place within the framework of the shortened season imposing its own unique characteristics on the playoff chase, which we pondered in this post.

    Below are the essential questions for each team in the East and here’s the link for teams in the West:

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  • Published On Jan 17, 2013
  • Themes for an unpredictable season

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    Anze Kopitar

    What a pain: the short schedule will magnify the time lost to injury by key players such as Kings center Anze Kopitar. (Ric Tapia/Icon SMI)

    By Stu Hackel

    About the only thing one can say with certainty about the upcoming NHL season is that nothing is certain.

    Each of the 30 NHL teams has specific concerns heading into the truncated 48-game schedule, but there are some questions every one of the will face. In our Friday post on training camps, we noted that NBC’s and SI’s Pierre McGuire has studied shortened seasons and it’s worth repeating the five things he believes teams need in order to be competitive: 1) very good goaltending; 2) a four-line attack; 3) a coach with an understanding of work-to-rest ratio so players don’t break down and risk injury; 4) avoiding prolonged losing streaks of five games or more; and 5) creative coaching.

    That said, here are some of the major themes that could potentially color the competition in the mad dash to the Stanley Cup playoffs.

    1. The Schedule — Only once before in the post-World War II era has the league played a 48-game slate — in 1995 due to that season’s lockout. Of all the wild cards in what could be a wild season, this is the biggest. Every aspect of the game will be impacted by the shorter, compressed schedule. Instead of 82 games in 183 days, or one game every 2.23 days, we’ll get 48 in 98 days, or one every 2.04 days. With play restricted to each team’s own conference, each contest means more since they are all essentially four-point games.

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  • Published On Jan 15, 2013
  • Gomez, Redden become NHL’s first CBA casualties

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    Scott Gomez and Wade Redden

    Scott Gomez (center) and Wade Redden (6) are now paying for Rangers GM Glen Sather’s mistakes. (Seth Wenig/AP)

    By Stu Hackel

    The new CBA, the result of a bitter struggle between the owners and players, has begun claiming victims. Wade Redden and Scott Gomez, a pair of conspicuously poor free agent signings by Rangers GM Glen Sather, find themselves being paid not to play during this upcoming shortened season.

    UPDATE: NHL, NHLPA come to agreement on Gomez and Redden allowing them to potentially play this season.

    Both have been told to go home, Redden by Sather, who last week reportedly allowed Redden’s agent to try engineering a trade to another club, and Gomez on Sunday by new Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin, who inherited the veteran center via the lopsided trade Sather made with Bob Gainey in 2009, one that sent rising star defenseman Ryan McDonagh’s rights to New York.

    Gomez and Redden will be bought out next summer for two-thirds of the remaining value on their contracts when the CBA permits two buyouts per club that won’t count against the salary cap. With the cap going down next year, space is needed and overpaid underachievers are most vulnerable.

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  • Published On Jan 14, 2013
  • Lockout over, short camp and schedule will challenge NHL coaches

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    Ken Hitchcock

    Blues coach Ken Hitchcock says he’ll have to keep things simple and tweak some routines. (David E. Klutho/SI)

    By Stu Hackel

    UPDATE (Sat 10:22 PM): Chris Johnson of Canadian Press tweets the Memorandum of Understanding has been signed which official ends the lockout. The league issued a press release shortly afterward. Schedules are set to be released immediately (the full NHL schedule is here) and teams can begin conducting transactions two hours after the signing, probably around midnight Eastern Time. Training camps will open Sunday. The NHL is, after 119 days back in business. Eric Duhatschek of The Globe and Mail tweeted, “Originally, NHL scheduled to play 82 games in 183 days, or 1 game every 2.23 days. Now, 48 games in 98 days, or 1 game every 2.04 days.”

     The NHLPA ratified the new CBA Saturday and, pending the completion of the Memorandum of Understanding between the owners and the players on the new CBA, the NHL’s 30 clubs will open training camp on Sunday. Six days later, we start the abridged 48-game season, what most are calling a sprint to the postseason — quite a change from the way the regular season is viewed in a normal year: as a marathon.

    UPDATE (Sat. 5:40 PM): The NHLPA has announced its members voted to ratify the CBA, but said that the agreement cannot become official until the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) is finalized. Jesse Spector of The Sporting News tweeted that 667 players voted to accept and 12 voted “No.” There were reportedly  84 abstentions.  More on the delay in the previous update.

    UPDATE (Sat. 4 PM): Somewhat unexpectedly — or perhaps not, considering the erratic nature of this entire process — the announcement of the PA’s ratification of the CBA has been delayed. This is because the Memorandum of Understanding between the league and players is still being drafted by the lawyers for both sides. The MOU summarizes the agreement reached in the negotiations and functions as the legal document of owner-player relations until the complete CBA is drafted, which is a much longer process. The NHLPA tweeted on Saturday morning, “Per agreement with the NHL, we will announce results of player vote later today. Discussions to finalize the MOU continue this morning.” Sports law analyst Eric Macramalla, whose thoughts explaining various legal moves during the negotiations, tweeted about the MOU earlier Saturday afternoon, “Drafting NHL Memorandum is massive legal undertaking; complicated issues, Canada/US laws – takes time; will be done today; NHL sked follows.” Teams and the league have refrained from releasing their schedules until the MOU is done and the NHLPA announces the results of its ratification vote, which concluded Saturday mooring. It is widely expected that the players approved the deal and training camps will open on Sunday. Teams also cannot make any roster moves, including contract signings and trades, until the MOU is completed and, while players have resumed skating at team facilities, coaches cannot join them as long as the lockout has not been officially concluded.

    Because hockey players and coaches thrive best in familiar situations, the unusual nature of this season will require major adjustments in the way they prepare for and approach the opening puck drop. The shortened season will be thrilling, but nerve-wracking for everyone, with little time for experimentation or room for error.

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  • Published On Jan 11, 2013
  • Gary Bettman’s lockout apology: what he should have said

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    By Stu Hackel

    With his expression of sorrow for the lockout he engineered, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman hopes to turn the page and put the focus of the fans, players, sponsors and media back on the ice where, he said, the attention belongs.

    What he stopped short of expressing was a pledge that he would commit to working with the NHLPA to find a way of preventing anything like what we just went through from happening again.

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  • Published On Jan 10, 2013
  • Maple Leafs fire Brian Burke

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    Brian Burke and Dave Nonis

    Brian Burke’s dismissal was a shock to his friend and assistant, Dave Nonis (right). (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

    By Stu Hackel

    Unless the NHL Board of Governors had dismissed Gary Bettman, which they didn’t, any news coming from Wednesday’s Board of Governors meeting was bound to be eclipsed by the bombshell that dropped in Toronto earlier in the day. The Maple Leafs — who have yet to play a game under their newly reconstituted MLSE parent company  — fired the team’s president and general manager, Brian Burke.

    Outspoken, opinionated and often in the media spotlight, Burke has been in the center of nearly every debate about the game for years, highly visible for an NHL GM, a group whose other members by comparison often stay quiet and behind the scenes. A frequent opponent of rules for a safer game in the past and a traditionalist when it comes to the role of fighting in the NHL, he often helped shape the discussions the league’s managers have had in their deliberations over headshots, among other controversial subjects. That voice will now be absent.

    Dave Nonis, who has been a trusted assistant of Burke’s at multiple stops during their careers, has been appointed the team’s new GM. Burke stays on as a senior adviser to the MLSE Board of Directors, which in part may be due to the fact that he still has two years remaining on his contract at a reported $3 million a season.

    There have been persistent rumors that Burke’s job would be in jeopardy if the team didn’t make the playoffs in this upcoming season, which is a distinct possibility. But the timing of the move comes with the lockout-shortened season only 10 days away and must be seen as bizarre. When a club wants to make a change at the top, it usually does so at or near the end of a season, not the outset. And this isn’t a house-cleaning because the rest of Burke’s hand-picked hockey department — Nonis, V.P. of Hockey Operations Dave Poulin, Assistant GM Claude Loiselle and coach Randy Carlyle — are sticking around.

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  • Published On Jan 09, 2013
  • Is Gary Bettman in trouble?

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    Gary Bettman

    The NHL’s wartime consigliere, Gary Bettman must answer to the Board of Governors in the aftermath of the lockout. (Mary Altaffer/AP)

    By Stu Hackel

    In the aftermath of the lockout, many people have discussed how the NHL should express its regret to fans. ESPN.com’s Pierre Lebrun had a list of 10 things the league could do, the top one being free access to the Center Ice TV package — an idea that others endorse, but it will likely never happen because, as Steve Lepore explained in his Puck The Media blog, it’s not solely the property of the league to give away.

    Ken Campbell of The Hockey News had another idea: Fire Gary Bettman.

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  • Published On Jan 08, 2013
  • NHL lockout damage runs deep

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    Jobing.com Arena

    Struggling franchises such as the Phoenix Coyotes are most in jeopardy of suffering from fan apathy or backlash. (Victor Decolongon/Getty Images)

    By Stu Hackel

    It’s time for the damage assessment. After 113 days of lockout pugnacity, the Hockey Gods now look down upon the wreckage and shake their heads in wonderment and no small amount of disgust. Things were motoring along so well, never better: Record revenues, strong attendance, rising tune-in numbers, happy fans, eager sponsors and largely healthy franchise values.

    The gods will eventually figure out who drove the bus into the ditch and how, but first they’ve got to get it out and running again.

    “Our fans and sponsors are alienated, and this is hurting the game,” Sabres goalie Ryan Miller said of the lockout in an email to James Mirtle of The Globe and Mail in November. “This process has more of the appearance of brand suicide than a negotiation.” The phrase “brand suicide” resonated with many and, while the league avoided death, it has serious self-inflicted wounds that are in need of healing.

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  • Published On Jan 07, 2013
  • Tentative deal reached to end lockout

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     KWAK: Who got what? | TIMELINE: Milestone moments | GALLERY: Biggest contracts
    By Stu Hackel

    At 5 a.m. on Sunday morning, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and NHLPA Executive Director Don Fehr stepped before reporters’ microphones at a midtown Manhattan hotel to announce they had reached an agreement on the framework of a deal to end the owners’ 113-day lockout of the players. The agreement came after a marathon bargaining session of 16 hours, and a typically stormy week of talks in which the distrust between the sides — something that was a near-constant for the length of this process — made some people wonder if the season could be saved.

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  • Published On Jan 06, 2013


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