It’s the middle of July as I write this and as you read this, which means there are some very serious questions that should be asked about the both of us.
But let’s not dwell on the personal. Rather, let’s look at all 30 NHL teams and ask very serious questions of each.
ANAHEIM: Teemu, schmeemu – the real comeback question surrounds goalie Jonas Hiller. Can he return from neurological issues soon – or at all? And if not, is Ray Emery waiting by the phone and saving up his frequent flier miles for a second stint with the franchise?
BOSTON: Does 37-year-old Tim Thomas return to earth for good a la the Space Shuttle program or does he remain in an out-of-this world orbit and make the Bruins impossible to beat for the second straight season?
BUFFALO: How far is new team owner Terry Pegula prepared to go in the quest to make the Sabres a marquee destination? He’s signed a whack of high-impact veterans and refurbished the dressing room, but will he also import trophy wife candidates and past-their-prime entertainers by the trailer-load to make Buffalo ‘Vegas North?’
CALGARY: If Jarome Iginla or Miikka Kiprusoff are injured for any particular length of time – undoubtedly sinking the Flames playoff hopes in the process – does ex-GM Darryl Sutter crash a Flames game the way a parachutist infamously crashed the Evander Holyfield/Riddick Bowe fight and demand his old job back?
CAROLINA: Can Tomas Kaberle be his old self again with an organization that’s looking like ‘Maple Leafs South’ or will he just look like his very old self who was all but a passenger on the Bruins’ championship squad?
CHICAGO: Does the arrival of a slew of solid supporting cast veterans give no excuse to Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp and Duncan Keith in getting back to where they once belonged – at the pinnacle of hockey’s best league?
COLORADO: Will this be the season people are able to pick Avs GM Greg Sherman out of a police lineup? And is that only because the off-season moves he made will stand out as some of the worst in recent memory?
COLUMBUS: Will Jeff Carter set the world record for longest-held pained smile that looks like it’s being kept in place by invisible Keebler elves?
DALLAS: Will the familiar refrains of “Should be an owner coming along any minute now!” finally end with an infusion of money and purpose for a team that has the management to compete with Western Conference powerhouses, but not the full means?
DETROIT: Does Brian Rafalski’s unexpected retirement result in Ian White and Mike Commodore aptly filling in for him or will coach Mike Babcock have to empty whatever’s left in Nicklas Lidstrom’s tank that much quicker while their veteran core is still intact?
EDMONTON: Will the acquisition of hometown hero Ryan Smyth placate fairly long-suffering Oilers fans who’ll be forced to watch arguably the NHL’s worst defense scramble around in vain like the Washington Generals all season?
FLORIDA: Is Jose Theodore a legitimate No. 1 goalie? Is Brian Campbell a legit No. 1 defenseman? Is anyone on this team an honest-to-goodness No. 1 at all?
LOSANGELES: Can a move to the West Coast be the impetus for Mike Richards to raise his already considerable game to new levels and make the Kings top dogs in the Pacific Division?
MINNESOTA: Can Chuck Fletcher’s Wilderness Protection Program provide the cover Dany Heatley needs to jab an adrenaline shot into the chest area of his foundering career as an NHL star? And if not, will the only town willing to give Heatley another shot at his price be Atlanta, where they don’t even play hockey anymore?
MONTREAL: Will remedial work on Scott Gomez’s ebbing offensive capabilities pay off? Will Erik Cole’s French lessons become an issue? Will Canadiens fans put the ‘boo’ in new backup goalie Peter Budaj’s surname?
NASHVILLE: What black magic solution will coach Barry Trotz turn to in order to keep this perennially talent-depleted squad from sinking out of playoff range? Plain old voodoo? Some type of Jobu idol in J.P. Dumont’s old locker? A Carrie Underwood song played in reverse to get the secret instructions on how to turn Mike Fisher into a Patrick Sharp on-ice clone?
NEWJERSEY: In addition to serious and lengthy work in the trainer’s room, what else does Martin Brodeur have to do to stay as young as possible and not force the Devils into dealing for a new-generation cornerstone goalie? Is there such a thing as Botox that makes your glove hand fast again?
ISLANDERS: Where, when and how does Rick DiPietro injure himself this season? I say you make this into a guessing game like Clue; a sample answer could be: in the dressing room, in November, while signing his disability forms from the last time he was hurt. Get your pools started now, Isles fans!
RANGERS: If Brad Richards isn’t the savior he’s being painted as in certain circles, does Glen Sather show us why he’s Glen Sather and sign Dave Andreychuk to a three-year, $17-million deal? And is that the point where Mark Messier kicks in the door and rips out Sather’s tongue the way Khal Drogo did to a rival in Game of Thrones, and takes over as GM?
OTTAWA: Can the rebuilding Sens really expect to challenge for a playoff spot with a second line that would be stellar if it were in the American League? If not, can Daniel Alfredsson maintain his always-classy veneer or instead look to be moved late in the year for a Ray Bourque-like shot at a championship?
PHILADELPHIA: If Ilya Bryzgalov soils the sheets under the type of fan and media pressure he’s never faced before and Sergei Bobrovsky doesn’t respond well to being made to take a backup role, does owner Ed Snider snap completely and sign Eric Lindros to play net?
PHOENIX: Exactly how many fans are going to show up to watch a team that’s lost its top goalie and looks to be leaving town after this season? Will Maytag start filming repairman commercials in the arena during intermission?
PITTSBURGH: Should people who don’t believe Sidney Crosby’s status is by far the Pens’ biggest question mark be repeatedly baseline tested for their own benefit?
ST. LOUIS: Might the arrivals of highly experienced warriors Jason Arnott and Jamie Langenbrunner be sufficient to keep the up-and-down Blues on an even keel? And are all the Blues’ young stars going to be placed in bubble wrap off the ice to avoid the franchise’s consistently awful recent history of injuries?
SANJOSE: Should the Sharks sag yet again in the post-season, does GM Doug Wilson pluck another key petal off the franchise’s flower the way he did this off-season with Dany Heatley and Devin Setoguchi? And if so, should Patrick Marleau test the real estate market in advance to prepare to be jettisoned?
TAMPABAY: With Steven Stamkos locked up for five years, can the Lightning and their new ‘Big 3’ escape the salary cap smothering that forced then-GM Jay Feaster to trade Brad Richards – especially when cornerstone blueliner Victor Hedman will soon need a contract extension himself?
TORONTO: If the Leafs stumble again early on in the year and dig themselves another hole no late-season charge can atone for, does Brian Burke shackle himself to his luxurious office chair to show fans and media that he’s on the job 24/7?
VANCOUVER: Do the Canucks plan on placing Roberto Luongo in a Lady Gaga-style egg until the post-season rolls around? Will that protect him from the lambasting that’ll begin in training camp and not cease until the team wins it all or another team is desperate enough to willingly acquire his mammoth contract?
WASHINGTON: Can the Caps’ much-praised summertime veteran additions serve as the Four Loko-like energy boost Alex Ovechkin & Co. have been lacking come playoff time? And will the dangers of that drink wind up costing Bruce Boudreau his job if the team throws up on itself early in the season as it tries to assimilate its new key components?
WINNIPEG: How long can the honeymoon last, given there won’t be many pundits picking the newly relocated Jets to make the playoffs? Will Doug Smail and Moe Mantha bobblehead nights make up for heads bobbling when their season ends in early-April?
Adam Proteau, co-author of the book The Top 60 Since 1967, is writer and columnist for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. Power Rankings appear Mondays, his blog appears Thursdays and his Ask Adam feature appears Fridays.
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