Fans heckle Mark Stuart after taking a penalty against the Montreal Canadiens. (Photo By Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images)
There is typically very little talking done before noon on Jan. 1, but once people emerge from the haze created by a rambunctious Dec. 31, conversations tend to hold a common theme. The first resolution is to never repeat your actions of a few short hours ago, then the chatter - for one day anyway - is about possibility and the hope of fresh fun to come in the New Year.
The NHL has been about the new for a number of seasons now, whether in reference to alterations that have opened up the game or the baby-faced players exploiting those changes and rocketing up the scoring charts.
When I look around the league, I’m excited by much of what’s new, but thrilled to see teams we knew enjoying success again.
The Original Six are back. Not since the early 1990s have all six clubs looked this strong, headlined by the incredible renaissance of the Chicago Blawkhawks and the Boston Bruins’ shocking rise to power.
How far have these teams come? A few short seasons ago, a lot of time at THN was devoted to coming up with clever cover sells to depict the atrocious state of these two old-time clubs. Chicago was ‘Original Sick’ and New England home to the ‘Boston Ruins.’
But look at you now, baby.
Not only are the Bruins and Hawks back on the scene, the good times don’t figure to stop rolling any time soon. These squads are built for sustainable success by competent, knowledgeable management teams – just like the Detroit Red Wings, the current Cup champs and model franchise for every team, young and old.
America’s other Original Six member, the New York Rangers, have one of the league’s best players at the most important position. With 26-year-old Henrik Lundqvist as the backbone of their team, the Blueshirts believe they can win four out of seven with anybody in the Eastern Conference.
Canada’s classic clubs are separated by a few points in the standings, but united in the fact passion and support surrounding the teams is seemingly more ferocious than ever.
The Toronto Maple Leafs, the only Original Six club that is a longshot to make this year’s playoffs, have more fans than any team in hockey. They also, finally, have a GM in place with the clout, vision and fortitude to turn around their on-ice fortunes. Brian Burke is nothing if not a man of action and the optimism spewing from Leafs aficionados surrounding his hiring is understandable and justified.
There were misplaced expectations in Montreal that the Canadiens could win the Cup this season, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t reason for the Habs faithful to be legitimately hopeful about the team’s trajectory.
Few squads have shown Montreal’s acumen for drafting over the last handful of years and that’s the surest way to construct a consistently competitive team that can keep pace with every NHL team, including its revived ancient rivals.
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 appears Wednesdays and his column, Top Shelf, appears Fridays.
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