Hello fellow-hockey fans,
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Well, we are coming up to September rather quickly, and just under a few weeks we will all witness the birth of another NHL season. I, honestly, don't know what to expect. There were a lot of off season moves that seemed to shift the pendulum in favor of different teams strength-wise. The examples are all around us. The Avalanche picking up Ryan Smyth is a big one considering the Avs missed the playoffs by a win. The Flyers missed the boat all together last season and look to completely reform with the additions made with a power center like Daniel Briere. The New York Rangers look to go further this year and push their way into a round ahead of where they finished this past playoff season. The addition of Scott Gomez and Chris Drury seems like a fitting combination to help progress forward. The Toronto Maple Leafs finally started growing some melons and went out to acquire some names like Vesa Toskala and Jason Blake. There are too many things that could potentially happen for these particular teams that are suddenly becoming heavily favored more than the popular favorites like the Buffalo Sabres and Pittsburgh Penguins. So, I'll just come out and say it right now. The Eastern Conference is basically a toss up for anyone's taking. There are powerhouse teams building all over the place.
Considering that the Anaheim Ducks will probably look the same is one thing that may grip the West as frightening. The rumors are swirling that Selanne and Scott Neidermayer will make their returns instead of retiring like once thought right after their Stanley Cup win. The only thing that team will be missing is Dustin Penner. We can also say that the Red Wings aren’t much different and may be slightly better with the addition of Brian Rafalski and the subtraction of Robert Lang. The West isn't shifting too much, with the exception of the building Chicago Blackhawks. To go ahead and say that next year's Stanley Cup contenders are a blur is a good assumption. The Dallas Stars remain strong. The San Jose Sharks are sharp as they ever were. The Avs are building up quite the strength. The Flames are still a powerful team with Kiprusoff in net and a cast full of strong front men like Iginla and Conroy. The Wild will stick their nose into the playoffs again. The Canucks are still going to be the leaders of the Northwestern pack, unless the Avs have something to say about that. The Blue Jackets with Peca...wait. Nevermind. They need to get back on the horse again because Hitchcock still doesn't have a team.
My point in all this is, well, this: Can anybody clearly pick out a team that seems to be the sure thing from the start of the season until finish? The discombobulating effect of the off-season moves and change in front offices and new style of NHL for the third year in a row, what can be said about this new season that we are about to embrace? Will this be a year of more increases in revenue, attendances, and viewer-ship? Will this be the year where more viewers will tune into a regular season game than those who watch a girls' college softball game on any given night? The blunders of the television network coverage of NBC and Versus must improve of the death of the NHL's expansion and development will soon be eminent. The lack of publicity on accredited networks such as the Versus channel is just simply disgusting.
Gary Bettman did speak of the NHL Network making its debut in the United States, but it was just a mere mention in an interview on a completely different topic! Will it become an official announcement sometime soon, or will he hope it fades away like most things that people forget about the NHL? Hell, the cable network Time Warner Cable took away the NFL Network from the viewers in my area. I say add the NHL Network in the states and you can get some attention from the basic cable audience. Don't make it exclusive to only those who want to buy into it because you know what I think of that? The loyal fans of the NHL have paid enough and I honestly think that the only thing we’re getting in return is a headache. The NHL is changing too much in recent years since the lockout and the image is shaky in my eyes. If you're going to acquire the NHL Network's rights to air the station in the US, make it available to all cable subscribers and not the Dish or Digital Cable people. If you want to expand the game and appeal to the masses this coming season, let it be available to all, and don't make it exclusive. Gary Bettman is treating this sport like it's the best kept secret in the world. If you build the NHL Network, they (the US market) will come, only if it's not hard to get. That is what I say will make this coming season the best. Granted I am biased toward bringing back a contract with ESPN so we can watch a game or two almost every night of the week and also have NHL2Night back.
Overall point of this rant: This upcoming season will surely be a toss-up for any team. So, when is a better time to expand the coverage by giving easier access to the game in the US market than right now? This is your chance Gary. Do something about it and get people excited, involved, and informed. If you want the US to know that the NHL is serious about reaching out and grasping new fans, then do it THIS YEAR.
Oh, and by the way, what is everyone's predictions on who will finish where this year? I think the Coyotes are due for a playoff run. It has been a few years.
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