Yay hockey is back....and all of Canada rejoices. The hockey sweaters come out of the closet. The Budweiser goal-synced glasses are ready to light up coffee tables around the country. And hockey hair will once again become a thing. Yes, #TwineTime will be engaging in all three of these rituals throughout the season...deal with it!
Last season this very blog tried to take a different perspective for the season preview, using a WWE-themed Royal Rumble idea. I thought it was something creative and fun, plus I am a sucker for 1980's/90's WWF pay-per-views. Theme or no theme though, I did predict the Pittsburgh Penguins reaching the Stanley Cup final. I also predicted them playing a California-based team in the final...ok I choose Anaheim over San Jose...but still pretty good pre-season predictions I would say!
This season I am keeping the WWF/E-theme but switching up the pay-per-view. Since the NHL season begins in October and the Survivor Series is traditionally held every November, it seemed these two would make a perfect alignment. And Survivor Series always was my favourite PPV event! Remember back in the late 1980's and early 1990's, teams of 4 would come together for traditional Survivor Series matches and have cool team names like The Vipers, The King's Court, Rude's Brood and The Enforcers? For the 2016/17 #TwineTime NHL Season Preview, I have used a similar mentality, although I had to go to the late 1990's version of forming 5-a-side teams, due to the 30 teams competing. I hope you enjoy (plus it is fun to try something new and be a bit creative right?).
It's time for the NHL Survivor Series:
30. Vancouver Canucks (Last Year: 28) - This team is in shambles and will be hard pressed to challenge in the Pacific Division let alone against the very competitive Central. One team has to be the Koko B. Ware of the Survivor Series right? (For the record, I was always a fan of Koko and really wished he would have received a stronger push when I was a kid)
29. Toronto Maple Leafs (LY: 30) - It's a step up from last season at least right? Leaf nation is in for a long season once again. Good thing the Jays and Raptors are good at least!
28. New Jersey Devils (LY: 20) - Taylor Hall was a good trade I suppose and Corey Schneider could have a good season as well...but defence, defence, defence people! Against high offensive teams like Pittsburgh and Washington in their division, Schneider will have to stand on his head nightly...which I doubt will happen.
27. Arizona Coyotes (LY: 24) - The Coyotes last longer than expected, mostly due to new arena talk and lots of interest in the team. However it's only a matter of time before they join the rest of their team in the locker room.
26. Columbus Blue Jackets (LY: 27) - Playoff team? Disappointment? Sleeper? Surprise elimination? Nobody really knows what to expect from this team...it's kind of like watching Akeem in the Survivor Series, you think he should do well yet he always disappoints in the end.
25. Colorado Avalanche (LY: 21) - New coach, strong potential, good team....deadly division. The Central is STACKED and the Avs are probably the weakest team in the division. Are they better than teams in the Pacific or in the Eastern Conference, sure possibly. However, in an elimination style event, their schedule of opposition will do them in before they have the chance to truly shine.
24. Carolina Hurricanes (LY: 18) - Young and fast team, which is good. Inexperienced with a lack of finesse and scoring, which is bad. This is the Rockers of the Survivor Series, great potential once again but will just be another number on a more skilled team's elimination chart.
23. Detroit Red Wings (LY: 15) - Time for the mighty to fall as this season will bring an end to the playoff appearance streak. The team could still challenge for a playoff spot, don't get me wrong but chances of hanging out for a full season are probably out of the question.
22. Philadelphia Flyers (LY: 13) - A bit of a surprise playoff team from a season ago, it would be even more surprising to watch this team replicate the same result this year. The big question is how confused this team will be by mid-season. Do they cash in the season and make trades to build for the future or do they try their luck and make a run at the playoffs? They are the Dino Bravo of the Survivor Series, strength and talent to contend but probably should settle into a support role sooner rather than later.
21. Boston Bruins (LY: 16) - Will they or won't they? The B's captain the Confused Brood into the season with many question marks hovering around exactly what kind of team they really are. Some say they will be horrible. Some think they make the playoffs. What exactly is going on in Boston?
The 5 x Bye's
20. New York Islanders (LY: 10) - Great job last season, making a strong run at the Cup and getting people excited about the "little brother" New York team. However, teams in the East, especially the Metro, are still big...still bad...still strong...and still better! Another playoff push is going to be hard to come by this season.
19. Anaheim Ducks (LY: 7) - What a fall from grace this season will be. The Texas Tornado Kerry Von Erich team of the league, the Ducks will be shot out of the sky and come tumbling back down to Planet Earth. A hard push over the past few seasons from many thinking this team is Stanley Cup worthy but even with great potential, similar to Von Erich, the stay at the top was short lived. Getzlaf, Perry and Kesler can still produce the goods but last season's slow start with heavy expectations was a sign this team just might not be as good as everyone thinks they are. They will push for a playoff spot but come up a game or two short....plus injuries could plague this team hard.
18. Edmonton Oilers (LY: 29) - The trendy dark horse playoff pick. McDavid is going to be a star, we already know this. But a star this season turning a bottom dweller into a playoff Cup contender in one season might be too much to ask. This team is the Rocky Maivia of the league...lots of potential and interest but still needing a makeover or two before hitting the prime time.
17. Minnesota Wild (LY: 17) - The last team to make the playoffs a season ago will be the final team to be eliminated before the Stanley Cup playoffs begin this season. Don't get me wrong, I do not think this is the 17th best team in the league. I think if this team competed in the Eastern Conference they would be a lock for a playoff spot. Alas they compete in the West...in the Central...and will come oh so close to making another magical playoff run.
16. Ottawa Senators (LY: 19) - The final team to make the playoffs this season will come from Canada's capital. A new head coach, manager if you will, could help lead this team back to playoff contention and right into the Cup conversation. Think of this team as the Power & Glory of the league. Hercules and Paul Roma sat in the middle to lower portion of the PPV card but once they came together under the management of "The Doctor of Style" Slick, they started making names for themselves....even winning a Survivor Series match!
The King's Court
15. Buffalo Sabres (LY: 23) - Welcome to the playoffs Sabres fans, it has been awhile. Last season Buffalo was the dark horse sleeper pick to make a playoff run and...well...that didn't really happen. This season it happens. The addition of Okposo will be a huge welcome to the team and should help push them into a wildcard spot.
14. Calgary Flames (LY: 26) - HUGE potential for biggest turn around of the year, going from 26th last season to a Top 3 finish in the Pacific Division and a playoff spot once again. New coach. New starting goalie. Strong defence. Red hot offence. This team could shock a few people, similar to a few years ago, and reach the second round of the playoffs once again.
13. St. Louis Blues (LY: 3) - A reversal from above, the Blues will probably be the team that sees the biggest drop in points and position from a year ago. Last season everyone thought the Blues would finally reach the Stanley Cup final and bowed out much earlier than expected in the playoffs. This season they should still be a playoff team but only as a wild card. The question is who steps up the the plate and carries this team this year? Consider them a Jake "The Snake" Roberts type of team....potential to make a championship run but then is blinded by a side puff of smoke and taken out of contention earlier than many hope.
12. New York Rangers (LY: 9) - A team strong enough to regain their playoff spot in the Metro but not strong enough to compete with the big boys of Pittsburgh and Washington. Defence will be an area of concern for this team, similar to many Metro teams battling the Pens and Caps. Playoffs, yes! First round elimination, yes! Same old, same old in the Big Apple.
11. LA Kings (LY: 8) - Welcome King Haku as the Captain of The King's Court! This team is always going to be a threat on the ice and a team nobody really wants to face off against in the playoffs. They can go from an 8-seed to Stanley Cup Champion in a blink of an eye. Sometimes people overlook this team and think they don't have the talent to go far but then...BAM!...another strong season and deep playoff run. King Haku was one of the greatest kings in the WWF-era and one of the strongest guys in the ring every night. Was he going to become champion? Nope! Did nobody want to fight him in the ring because they knew he could beat them at anytime? Yup!
The Faces of Fear
10. Winnipeg Jets (LY: 25) - Get ready for another White Out campaign MTS Centre! The Jets are returning to the playoffs this season. The big question to start the season is settling the goaltender situation in the 'Peg as three players are fighting for the starting job. Once the ice melts on that problem though, expect this team to come together nicely and make a playoff run. The Central is tough, as we all know, and it could come down to a matter or one game nabs you second spot in the division or has you finishing in last place. Winnipeg has the offence to contend and should solve the issue between the pipes early enough to not be an issue down the stretch.
9. Dallas Stars (LY: 2) - Benn and Seguin might just be the best young tandem in the league right now. The Stars are the NHL equivalent to the Hardy Boys...bringing a new generation of high-profile offence and skill to the ice on a nightly basis and ready to push the envelope on expectations and results. Not considered a traditional powerhouse team every season, the Stars, similar to the Hardy's, are slowly gaining the momentum, fan base and "star" quality needed to elevate their game from a 5 x Bye to a true Faces of Fear contender. The Stars surprised many last season winning the Central and should be considered a threat to climb the ladder once again.
8. Montreal Canadians (LY: 22) - The Habs looked like the team to beat in the East to start the season and had a huge lead in the Atlantic Division early on. However, goalie Carey Price went down and took with him the entire season of Stanley Cup dreams for players and fans alike. Injuries suck and they can completely derail a great season fast. However, that was last season. Time to put that behind the team and move forward. Contending for another division title is not out of the question this year.
7. Florida Panthers (LY: 6) - Speaking of division championships, the Florida Panthers enter the season as the defending Atlantic Division champs and have LOTS of expectations placed on them this season. The big question will be between the pipes. If Roberto Luongo can replicate, or better, the season from a year ago, the Panthers should be good to go. If not, James Reimer may need to step up to the plate and keep this team competitive. Yandle was a great off-season acquisition as well and this team should be a playoff contender once again.
6. San Jose Sharks (LY: 11) - The defending Western Conference champions will once again be considered a threat to return to the top of the mountain this season. They are far and away the best team in the Pacific Division and should win the division title comfortably. This team is the Million Dollar Man team of the league. Not a lot of people like this team. The Sharks are always in the hunt though every season and usually come up just short of claiming the big title.
5. Chicago Blackhawks (LY: 5) - Speaking of teams many people dislike, Hello Chicago! The Blackhawks are the Bobby "The Brain" Heenan team of the league. They have owned the league for years, whether people want to admit it or not. They can outsmart even the best teams in the league and are always in contention for the championship. The team is loaded with Hall of Fame potential and truly seems to be a real hockey family in the dressing room. Another deep playoff run is expected this season after the surprise early finish last year.
4. Tampa Bay Lightning (LY: 12) - The Eastern Conference finalists from a season ago look to be just as strong, if not stronger, than last year. Last season all the talk surrounded Steve Stamkos and what would he do next? Will he stay with this team? Will he be traded? Once that distraction was erased and the team could focus on the on-ice product, success! This team should rise to the top of the Atlantic Division this season and will make a run towards another Eastern Conference Championship.
3. Nashville Predators (LY: 14) - Ok, #TwineTime is drinking the Tennessee juice and buying into the country music loving Predators as the Western Conference pre-season favourite. The addition of Subban will be huge...and should cover the heartbreak loss of long-time captain Weber. On paper, this is The Hulkamaniacs team. Of course, if you remember the very first Survivor Series, even the favoured are prone to an upset....
2. Washington Capitals (LY: 1) - Ovi, Ovi, Ovi!! You have to wonder what was going through his head as he watched his on-ice rival Crosby hoist another Stanley Cup last season. It must have been an even more bitter feeling knowing Crosby's Pens eliminated Ovi's Caps en route to hoisting the trophy once again. Year in and year out everyone talks in the pre-season how this is the season the Washington Capitals take home the cup. They are the Andre The Giant of the league. Everyone expects them to win because of their talent and size, yet they underwhelm in the big match and slink off to the dressing room quietly. Could this be the year Ovi The Giant grips his first Stanley Cup?
1. Pittsburgh Penguins (LY: 4) - The defending Stanley Cup Champions deserve the top spot as Sole Survivors heading into this season. The Crosby concussion situation is worrisome of course and star goaltender Murray being injured puts a damper on the beginning of the season but those issues should, hopefully, ease away as the season gets underway. The Pens may struggle at bit at the beginning, as has been the case in the past, but once they get into mid-season form, that is when they are at their most dangerous. Plus this team does have a history of reaching back-to-back Stanley Cup finals. In fact, it seems that is what they do best. Remember they won the cup in 1990/91 and 1991/92. They went to back-to-back cup finals in 2007/08 and 2008/09, winning the cup in 2008/09. Could they turn the repeat trick again winning 2015/16 and 2016/17? This team is the "Macho Man" Randy Savage of the NHL. Unmatched talent. Undeniable skill. Some hate them, some love them. They make great good guys but excellent bad guys. And, above all else, can go year after year as the Survivor Series Sole Survivor! Note: Macho Man has only been eliminated in a Survivor Series match once (1993) but, as captain, has never lost a Survivor Series match (1987, 1988, 1989, 1992)!
Get out your best Goon attire, Slapshot sweater, Mighty Ducks references, lucky socks and team car flag now hockey fans, the 100th NHL season of operation and 99th season of play is ready to go. Enjoy the ride....and Go Pens!