The Red Wings faced off against the Penguins in the final battle for glory last season; who will be the two combatants this campaign? (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
For all the analyzing – and analyzing of analyzing – that goes on in the modern hockey world, it’s easy to lose sight of the beautiful game that has brought so many of us so much pleasure for so many years.
But on the day the NHL’s season really begins (all due respect to my European peoples, of course), I always like to pause for a second and take in the unmistakable air of optimism percolating among puck fans everywhere.
Indeed, the short span between the conclusion of the criminally useless pre-season and each team’s first game that counts in the standings always reminds me of Christmas Eve – the giddy energy of romanticized anticipation, the silent, urgent pleas to whatever gods are kind enough to listen, the rapid heartbeat when the time finally arrives to tear up the wrapping and grab at the goods.
Sure, when the season is over, some folks will be left with the Christmas equivalent of a knitted pair of purple underwear. But the luckiest hockey fans will receive the game’s version of A Christmas Story’s Red Ryder BB Gun: a gift fraught with danger, but also with enough thrills to last a lifetime; a Stanley Cup-winning year to describe to the kids, grandkids, and, eventually, the crotchety nurse responsible for them in the seniors home.
Until we reach that point in the calendar, it is the ideal time to indulge your inner, possibly naïve, definitely unswayable feelings of optimism, no matter how many of your friends – especially the miserable reprobates who dare cheer on a different team – taunt you for your slavish devotion.
Now is the time before in-game travesties and off-ice tragedies commandeer the talking points among media and message boards. Now is when everybody’s upside hasn’t been pierced by reality. Now is the departure point for best-case scenarios and the last stop for last year’s dashed dreams that haunted your days and nights all summer.
On this day, each and every active NHLer who has ever let you down in the past has an opportunity to redeem himself. Today, nagging and/or recurring injuries have yet to nag or recur.
Now is the time you can leave aside your naked contempt for certain league bigwigs; the time to plot out the ideal revenge on behalf of your favorite team or player who was done wrong last year; the time you're not unconsciously grinding down your teeth because there's less than a week to go before the regular season fantasy hockey pool is over and you're three points out of second place and you've got Martin Havlat on your team and him and his paper-mache shoulder are uncharacteristically rushing into corners like Dale Tallon dropped a contract extension there.
To paraphrase 70s-era rocker Dave Mason, this is the time there ain't no good guys and there ain't no bad guys. There's only you and me – and if you’ve seen my pre-season predictions, chances are we just disagree.
And that’s 100 percent fine by me. I’m all for complete surprises and unseen letdowns and looney-tune wingnuts entertaining the nosebleed section of the arena and miraculous bounces and kooky developments even the best-prepared coaches couldn’t guard against.
There’s really only one guarantee that can be made about each and every NHL season, and that is this: 29 groups of fans will be sorely disappointed by or before mid-June.
So revel while the reveling is good, ladies and gents, because it won’t be long at all before a gaggle of Grinches arrives to drop coal down your chimney.
Adam Proteau is writer and columnist for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Mondays, his Ask Adam feature appears Fridays and his column, Screen Shots, appears Thursdays.
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