If you like a good scrap, you might find yourself a bit under siege lately in the hockey world. Regulations are tightening up, though the powers-that-be still maintain that organic fights, rather than staged bouts, are still part of the game. And even though enforcers such as Paul Bissonnette and Colton Orr appear to have uphill battles in returning to the NHL this season, there are still plenty of scrappers to watch. With a shout-out to hockeyfights.com as a research tool, here are the best:
When you’re the goalie for a team called the Predators, your options for a fearsome mask design are wide. Last year, Rinne used a “facehugger Alien” design and before that he used a “Hardcorelicious” monster.
For each one, he’s worked with goalie mask designer extraordinaire David Gunnarsson and he did the same this year. This is my favorite of the bunch: a beastly gladiator named Maximus. You can see the beast’s hungry teeth at the bottom of the helmet and the Gladiator mask he’s hidden behind at the top.
Five of the the 14 teams that missed the NHL playoffs in 2012-13 (Colorado, Dallas, Columbus, Philadelphia and Tampa Bay) qualified for a playoff berth last season. Here are five teams on the outside looking in during the 2014 playoffs that – in this writer’s opinion – have the best chance at making the post-season this year:
5. Arizona Coyotes. The Yotes missed the playoffs for the second consecutive year last season – the first time that’s happened since 2007-09 – and that organization is famous for making the most out of a budget-conscious blueprint for success. They finished only two points behind the eighth-place Stars, and with new No. 1 center Sam Gagner in town, captain Shane Doan fully healthy and stellar young blueliner Oliver Ekman-Larsson continuing to blossom, they could have just enough in the tank to make it back into the post-season. Read more
More than ever, the professional sports world focuses on personality to help sell their products. In the hockey business, that’s been tougher to do thanks to a culture that discourages individualism in the name of team success. But the NHL still has a number of vibrant personas who’ll be worth keeping an eye (and an ear) on in 2014-15. Here are the top 10 hockey personalities this season:
10. Mike Cammalleri, New Jersey Devils. The veteran winger has filled notepads and digital recorders all across North America because he’s an intelligent guy with a healthy sense of humor and good head on his shoulders, and he understands that having opinions and showing the public he’s more than a hockey automaton won’t affect his on-ice performance. Here he is on the Canadian TV comedy series “Mr. D.”:
Cammalleri deserves kudos for putting himself out there. That said, let’s have a moment of silence for that charm now that he’s signed on with the Devils, who are the Bermuda Triangle of personality.
9. Jaromir Jagr, Devils. Yes, I also can’t believe two Devils are on this list. But Jagr is still one of the game’s great characters. He’s capable of going off on a hilarious tangent at any point, but he can also speak with tremendous insight about the game and his experience playing it:
Soon enough, the 43-year-old will be retired and back in his native Czech Republic. Enjoy him while you can. Read more
2013-14 record: 38-32-12
Acquisitions: Derek Roy, Mike Ribeiro, Anton Volchenkov, Olli Jokinen, James, Neal
Departures: Michael Del Zotto, Patrick Eaves, Patric Hornqvist, Nick Spaling, Joonas Rask
Top five fantasy players: James Neal, Shea Weber, Craig Smith, Mike Ribeiro, Mike Fisher (injured)
Boom, Bust and Bottom Line: The best, worst and most likely scenario
Boom: The Nashville Predators know they’re in a dynamite division, so it was refreshing to see them be so proactive in the off-season. They let coach Barry Trotz go and brought in Peter Laviolette, signalling a philosophical shift from defense-first to high-octane offense. They acquired sniper James Neal from Pittsburgh and signed Mike Ribeiro, Olli Jokinen and Derek Roy to low-risk, medium-gain contracts. This team is set to score more, especially as young guns Filip Forsberg and Calle Jarnkrok improve. That’s great news since Nashville is already stellar on defense, led by Shea Weber, Roman Josi and Seth Jones, and in net with Pekka Rinne returning to action. Read more
Colton Sissons is already chuckling and the question hasn’t even been completed yet. Once again, his fellow Nashville Predators prospect is being asked about an incident from last season that found Brendan Leipsic in the penalty box for invading an opposing goaltender’s personal space:
Earlier this summer there was speculation the Philadelphia Flyers were shopping center Vincent Lecavalier. If Lecavalier is troubled by the trade rumors, Flyers coach Craig Berube told NJ.com’s Randy Miller the veteran center should get over it and focus on the upcoming season.
Lecavalier struggled last season, with only 37 points in 69 games. Miller notes Flyers management allowed the center’s agent to speak with other clubs hoping to drum up trade interest. Rumored deals to Nashville and Florida reportedly fell through. There was also talk Lecavalier’s no-movement clause made finding trade partners difficult.
Berube believes Lecavalier simply needs to change his game a little bit to become more effective. The coach is hoping Lecavalier becomes more defensively responsible. Berube claims the 34-year-old Lecavalier trained hard this summer and will be competitive when training camp opens in September. Read more
With the start of NHL training camp only three weeks away, several notable unrestricted free agents remain available.
Topping the list is goaltender Martin Brodeur. Earlier this month THN associate editor Matt Larkin suggested the Winnipeg Jets could make the most of Brodeur’s services. Larkin expects the 42-year-old future Hall of Famer could await an injury to open up a spot with an NHL club.
Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff seems content with his team’s tandem of Ondrej Pavelec and the inexperienced Michael Hutchinson. If the pair struggles in pre-season, however, the Jets could contact Brodeur. But they might not be the right fit for him, as it’s believed he prefers signing with a playoff contender.
Earlier this month the Winnipeg Sun’s Ken Wiebe proposed left winger Dustin Penner as a potential replacement for the departed Devin Setoguchi, who recently signed with the Calgary Flames. Wiebe also reported the Jets offered gritty Jordin Tootoo a one-year, two-way deal, but the winger rejected the deal.