Watching Alex Ovechkin battle Evgeni Malkin will be one of the highlights of the 2008-09 season. (Photo by Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images)
One of my favorite days of the off-season is the day the NHL schedule is released. It’s the first tangible sign during the dog days of summer the next season isn’t all that far away.
When I covered the Toronto Maple Leafs beat for The Toronto Star, it was the day I began planning my road trips for the season. A week in Florida in the middle of January? Hmm, have to free myself up for that one. Columbus on a Wednesday night in February? Have to see if I can get my appendix to burst sometime around then.
Now, however, I use Release of NHL Schedule Day to start planning my game-watching for the season and already there are some days I’ve circled on my calendar:
Sat. Oct. 4 – Tampa Bay vs. Rangers in Prague: I’m looking forward to seeing exactly what the Lightning will do next season, but I’m more looking forward to Barry Melrose’s return to an NHL bench after exactly 4,903 days between NHL coaching gigs. It will be neat to see him scratch his head and wonder why all those guys are chasing that little black thing around the ice.
Wed. Oct. 15 – Edmonton at Anaheim: Guaranteed fight night at the Honda Center – not on the ice, but in the press box between Ducks GM Brian Burke and Oilers GM Kevin Lowe.
Thurs. Oct. 16 – Washington at Pittsburgh: The match-up between Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby is always a drawing card, even though it’s clear right here, right now, Ovechkin is the superior player. That’s not a shot against Crosby, nor is it a guarantee it will always be this way, but if I’m picking a team right now, I take Ovechkin over Crosby in a heartbeat.
The more compelling subplot to the Capitals and Penguins is Ovechkin vs. Evgeni Malkin. Not only does it involve two of the top three players in the game (depending on the night, perhaps just the top two), but there are rumors circulating around the NHL these two guys simply don’t like each other. Last year, Ovechkin took a ferocious run at Malkin and ended up doing a helicopter into the boards. The Pens and Caps also meet Jan. 14 in Pittsburgh and Feb. 22 and March 8 in Washington.
Mon. Nov. 3 – Columbus at Islanders: It will be interesting to see if the Islanders break 10,000 in attendance for a game between two of the least compelling teams in the league.
Thurs. Nov. 20 – Calgary at Colorado: It will be Game No. 20 for the Flames, which is right around the time goalie Miikka Kiprusoff realizes the regular season has started.
Fri. Feb. 27 – Tampa Bay at Vancouver: If there’s one game out of all 82 where the Canucks have a chance to score more than two goals, it’s this one.
Wed. March 4 – Detroit at Colorado: This is the night I’ve pegged for that great warrior, Peter Forsberg, to make his triumphant season debut with the Avalanche.
Sun. March 8 – I figure this is when Forsberg will be out for the season with a groin pull / botulism / chronic fatigue syndrome / shingles / shoulder separation / concussion / chicken pox.
THE ONE WHO DIDN’T GET AWAY
The Ryan Miller contract is a great signing for the Buffalo Sabres. Sure they overpaid him at $31.25 million over six years, but everybody overpays everybody in the NHL these days, so it’s all relative.
What the signing does, though, is send a message to the rest of the league the Sabres aren’t about to let all their star players go via unrestricted free agency. This one was crucial for the Sabres and might one day mark the moment in time they began to work their way back to respectability.
CROSS HIM OFF FOR 2010
If Alexander Radulov ends up playing in the Kontinental League next season and turns his back on the Nashville Predators, look for the International Ice Hockey Federation to bar him from playing for the Russian Olympic team in Vancouver in 2010.
The IIHF is essentially powerless to stop Radulov from breaking his contract, but the one thing it does have control over is who plays in international events, the biggest of which is the Olympic Games.
NHL sources have confirmed if Radulov ever does decide to return to the NHL, he will have to fulfill his contract with the Predators regardless of when he returns. That means he’ll belong to the Predators for one more year at $984,000, with a cap hit of $886,000.
Ken Campbell, a senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com, is at the NHL Draft in Ottawa covering the event. His blog normally appears Tuesdays and Fridays and his column, Campbell's Cuts, appears Mondays.
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