The Stanley Cup playoffs are almost done, so we thought it appropriate to gaze into the future and answer a few questions facing the NHL and its teams next season.
1. Are we going to see unrestricted free agents sign long-term contracts like they did last summer? As Carmen Electra has said to thousands upon thousands of leering men: not a chance. Of course, the marquee names on the open market will get their money and their term, but middle-tier players and big-name veterans in the twilight of their careers are going to be squeezed like so much Charmin. Besides, would you take a multi-year flier on Ed Belfour, Dominik Hasek, or Eric Daze? Damn right you wouldn't. The trend definitely is headed towards the dreaded one-year contract so common among other salary-capped leagues. That means much in the way of roster turnover, and far less loyalty between teams and players.
2. Does the league need to reschedule another outdoor game as soon as possible? Most definitely. The Oilers-Canadiens 2003 tilt in Edmonton provided a plethora of good publicity for the NHL, and as evidenced by its ghastly U.S. TV ratings this year, the league can use as much of that as it can get. Let's face it, many modern consumers are drawn to spectacle over substance (See NASCAR, World Poker Tour, Paris Hilton) and if the league can secure an outdoor game for a major media market such as New York or Toronto, spectacle is just what they'll create.
3. Will things improve in Boston? Unfortunately, no. The team's hiring process of a new GM was so wacky, the Benny Hill theme should've been playing in the background all the while. Nevertheless, Peter Chiarelli is the Â“luckyÂ” guy Â– in the same way Â“My Name Is Earl'sÂ” Earl Hickey was lucky when he grabbed his $100,000 lottery ticket and ran into the street, only to be run over by a car. We're sure talking points of promise and renewal will emanate from Bruins headquarters, as they have each year for the last three-plus decades. But their goalie situation is as clear as gravy, they've got a less-than-happy camper with a difficult-to-trade contract in winger Glen Murray, another camper with an impossible-to-trade contract in center Alexei Zhamnov, and there is no guarantee unrestricted free agent Brian Leetch will return to stabilize the blueline. Other than that, everything is progressing exactly as planned.
4. Will things improve in Chicago? Fortunately, yes. Chicago continued its impressive streak of utterly disastrous seasons last year, but the out-of-nowhere development of youngsters such as Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook, coupled with what the Hawks hope will be Tuomo Ruutu's first injury-free NHL campaign, gives their remaining fans Â– all 18 of them Â– a real sense of hope for the near-future. But what in the name of Wirtz possessed them to cut ties with Pat Foley? The 25-year veteran play-by-play voice was a rock-solid link from the team's past to its present; letting him go was just another typical Hawks move: one that didn't need to happen.
5. What's the story in St. Louis? Well, there are two. First, the good: The Blues have the first-overall pick in this year's draft, some solid NHL-level components (goalie Curtis Sanford, winger Lee Stempniak) to build with, and very likely, new team ownership. Now, the bad: their GM (Larry Pleau) and coach (Mike Kitchen) are in limbo until the ownership transfer is finalized Â– meaning their blueprint for the future is tentative at best Â– and their leading scorer (39-year-old Scott Young) finished the season with only 49 points, the lowest leading total of any team in the league. Ouch.
6. Will Jeremy Roenick return to the Kings? Highly doubtful. Everybody's favorite loose-lipped NHLer is an unrestricted free agent this summer, and though he endured an injury-plagued, underwhelming '05-06 season (13 assists and 22 points in 58 games), whispers have J.R. committed to a non-casino-based off-season workout program that will help him regain his status as one of the league's elite players. Plus, playing in a market that not only adores hockey as much as Roenick does, but also provides a grand stage for his input on the game, would be a huge help to the 36-year-old. And that's just not going to happen in L.A., where most media outlets were more concerned about his acting plans than his playing career.
7. Mandatory visors Â– why hasn't this happened yet? Beats us. This season's list of eye injury victims include, among others, Toronto's Mats Sundin, Detroit's Kris Draper, and Montreal's Saku Koivu, who was wearing a half-shield when he was hurt. It's an ongoing problem that can and should be fixed in a hurry, before the game loses another player Â– star, rookie or journeyman Â– for no reason other than the red-herring luxury of personal preference.
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