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Top Shelf: A new season through an old lens

A healthy 37-year-old Martin Brodeur will kick off his 17th NHL season Saturday. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

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A healthy 37-year-old Martin Brodeur will kick off his 17th NHL season Saturday. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Hockey summers, even ones made compelling by off-season moves, malcontents, boardroom power plays and backroom meetings, are still all about the words. Pontifications and accusations about what was and what will be find safe refuge in the fact there will be no games to prove any of the blow-harding wrong that night.

But the time for action is finally only one sleep away, meaning everybody associated with the NHL is bound to do some excited tossing and turning Wednesday tonight.

Still, 2008-09, on the ice at least, was such a great season, let’s not put it completely to bed without uncovering five interesting facts that might induce a few “oh ya’s” before we all scream “oh yeeee-aaah!” as the puck drops on 2009-10.

• The Detroit Red Wings, with two chances to close out the Pittsburgh Penguins and claim back-to-back titles, scored a grand total of two goals in Games 6 and 7 of the Stanley Cup final. In fact, the Wings managed double-digit shot totals in just two of the final six periods they contested against Pittsburgh in that classic Cup showdown. The Pens won both games by 2-1 counts.

For all the talk about an ailing Chris Osgood and surprisingly loose defensive play on the part of Detroit before the playoffs, the Big Red Machine was simply running on offensive fumes by mid-June. It will be interesting to see, having played so much hockey over the past three years, how the Wings fare long-term this season – especially with depleted depth following a summer of defections. 

• Daniel Briere played for the American League’s Philadelphia Phantoms last year. It’s true, look it up. Briere played three games for the Phantoms and 29 for the Flyers, thanks largely to abdomen and groin injuries that undermined his season. It’s incredible to contemplate what an afterthought this guy has become on a team that’s all about Mike Richards’ two-way play, Jeff Carter’s sniping ability and Chris Pronger’s arrival in the city he was clearly born to play in.

Briere had 95 points in 2006-07, back when Buffalo was an offensive juggernaut. He’s also failed to play 50 games in two of four seasons since the lockout. He’ll turn 32 next week and it’ll be interesting to see whether the baby-faced bully turns in a boom or bust season this time out.

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• The 2008-09 Rocket Richard and Hart Trophy winner had exactly two goals after 11 games last year. The top rookie, who was also a Vezina nominee, didn’t play on NHL ice in October. What can we take from the early-season showings of Alex Ovechkin and Steve Mason last year? How about the folly of drawing big fat conclusions after a month of hockey.

After being starved for tangible results during the off-season, it’s so tempting to parlay small hockey samples into big-time projections. Do yourself a favor; don’t declare the season dead or alive before the pumpkins have composted. Hang in there and maybe your team will be like last year’s Cup champs, who hadn’t even found the right coach until mid-February at a time when they weren’t even among the Eastern Conference’s top-eight seeds.

• The New Jersey Devils played 51 games without Martin Brodeur and still won their division with 106 points, so before you start predicting a large drop off due to the departures of John Madden and Brian Gionta, don’t forget it’s always about the machinery, not the man, in Jersey. The Devils will once again be a force in the East. The only question is whether they’ll find the playoff success that’s eluded them the entire post-lockout era.

• Any number of things boldly written, secretly hoped for, and everything in between over the last three-plus months of hockey-less days will go up in smoke before the first season-ending injury or unheralded rookie makes headlines.

Enjoy the action.

Ryan Dixon is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey's Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog will appear regularly in the off-season and his column, Top Shelf, appears Wednesday.

For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.

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