Tuesday, September 20, 2011

How the Chicago Blackhawks spent their summer vacation




It is a new season, a new page about to turn on the books. Perhaps no team has done as much, as smartly and as efficiently, to improve themselves this summer as the Chicago Blackhawks.

As everybody knows, one year ago, heading into the 2010-11 season, the Blackhawks were coming out of what was possibly the best - and worst - summer of the team's history. After winning the Stanley Cup, with the confetti from the victory parade barely swept off the ground, the team had to undergo a brutal makeover which stripped away many of the character/depth players that gave the team the grit and variety that a club must have to make it deep in the playoffs for one reason: to get under the salary cap. Gone were the grinders and the Cup-winning goalie; gone were many fan favorites - after all, most of those players had spent the past few seasons together.

Outsiders can only guess at what went on inside the locker room, but let's face it: if you've ever been through intense layoffs at a job, you know what the air in the room is like after those cuts: the disappointment and unhappiness to lose friends who've been there for years; who've shared in the experiences, from near the bottom of the barrel to the highest heights of joy. Not to mention that those brought in to replace them are people who don't know the in-jokes, the systems; who haven't experienced what you have.

Everybody knew that the Blackhawks were over a barrel last year; it was to no one's surprise that the players that the Hawks filled the holes in the roster with weren't about to set the ice on fire, so to speak. The biggest surprise last year was the signing of John Scott to a two-year contract; the most anticipated was the signing of veteran Marty Turco, who was to fill the shoes of the departed Antti Niemi.

Last year during pre-season, there was still plenty to be positive about. The core was still all there, after all. But while Jake Dowell is a player in the mold of Andrew Ladd, and has all the heart in the world, he doesn't bring the same level of natural talent to the table. Viktor Stalberg wasn't an even trade for Kris Versteeg, at least not in his first year with Chicago. (Time will tell.) Jassen Cullimore and Nick Boynton could hold down the fort on the back side of the blueline, but neither was really a perfect fit for the Chicago system.

There was a lot wrong with the top line players as well. Brian Campbell, Marian Hossa and Patrick Kane all missed extended time in the first half of the season to injury; Dave Bolland and Patrick Sharp lost time in the second half. The team's Norris-winning top D-man looked like a shadow of himself, as Duncan Keith was played into the ground, shouldering a league-leading 26:53 TOI per game. Team captain Jonathan Toews was bringing it full bore every night, but he couldn't single-handedly carry the team through the season. The Blackhawks had come into training camp looking like it had been a short summer - and it had been - and the team had few bright spots in the schedule where it seemed like everything went well.

After a season plagued with inconsistency, injuries, fatigue, and (it has been admitted) shades of disinterest, it's amazing that Chicago still came up with enough points to earn their way into the playoffs - even if they backed in based on the loss of another team in the final game of the season. The Blackhawks team that showed up in the first three games against Vancouver looked like the same mess that had taken the ice during the regular season; the Canucks were skating circles around them.

Then Raffi Torres hit Brent Seabrook in Game 3, and everything changed.

Duncan Keith came out in Game 4 and played like a man possessed. So did the team for that matter; turning the game into a staggering 7-2 romp of a win before the Madhouse faithful at home. Then they went on the road and shut the Canucks out 5-0 on Vancouver ice. Where the Blackhawks had looked like they didn't give a hoot if they were in the first three games, suddenly the Canucks looked like they were just accepting the losses and the inevitability of being knocked out of the playoffs yet again by Chicago.

Game 6 may have been one of the most intense games ever played on Chicago ice. The Canucks woke back up; and Chicago was determined to elimiate them, to overcome the odds of history and return from an 0-3 deficit. They did it, too - with Ben Smith's OT winner 15:30 into the first overtime period. Game 7 in Vancouver was equally intense; and it too went into overtime, but this time, it was the Canucks who would win, and eventually go on to the Stanley Cup Final.

As the players had their summer off, and finally had the time to fully rest and recover, and reflect on the season behind them, the questions remained. What if they'd beat Vancouver in Game 7? Could they have gone as deep? Could they have gotten past the Sharks, now backstopped by the man whose name was etched on the Stanley Cup besides theirs? Could they have beaten Boston?

The Blackhawks began making moves late in the season, sending Jack Skille (along with Hugh Jessiman and David Pacan) to the Florida Panthers in exchange for Michael Frolik and goalie Alexander Salak. Then the first huge splash of 2011 Draft news was the announcement of a trade between the Blackhawks and the Panthers again, this time exchanging Brian Campbell and Rostislav Olesz. That move, combined with the rising salary cap, gave Chicago the financial freedom to plan the rest of their summer signing choices much more carefully.

The team's next move was to trade for the rights to defenseman Steve Montador, who they then signed to a 4-year contract. But the team wasn't done there; when free agency opened on July 1st, the team had a slew of signings to announce - and more trades to be made.

By the time the dust settled after the 2010-11 season, the Blackhawks had traded away or let walk several more players from their 2010 championship roster: in addition to midseason trade Nick Boyton, there was also Troy Brouwer, Jordan Hendry, and Tomas Kopecky. The team also pruned away 1-year contract players and several players who'd spent the year doing the "Rockford shuffle" with Chicago's AHL affiliate. Although midseason acquisition Ryan Johnson had been incredibly reliable on the dot, a penalty killer, and an (inexpensive) asset, he was not re-signed; nor was defenseman Chris Campoli, who'd been acquired in a late-season trade with Ottawa, but who was looking for too much money in arbitration.

Through free agency, the team picked up a variety of proven players - the "grit" and "sandpaper" and "character" players that they'd lost in last summer's salary cap purge. Each of the acquisitions has plenty that they are bringing to the table in terms of skill and how they'll fit into the locker room. Most interesting of these acquisitions is Daniel Carcillo, known for his edgy style of play.

Finally, to wrap up the summer, the team also re-signed two of the top members of their core, Brent Seabrook and Patrick Sharp, to new contracts.

New to team - listed on current roster/team acquired from: Andrew Brunette (MN), Daniel Carcillo (PHL), Ray Emery (potential/ANA), Sami Lepistö (CBJ), Jamal Mayers (SJ), Steve Montador (BUF), Sean O'Donnell (PHL), Rostislav Olesz (FLA), Alexander Salak (FLA), Brandon Segal (DAL)
Players who appeared in games for the team during the 2010-11 season that have been traded or not re-signed/(team now signed with): Nick Boynton, Evan Brophey (COL), Troy Brouwer (WSH), Brian Campbell (FLA), Chris Campoli, Jassen Cullimore (DEL Iserlohn), Jake Dowell (DAL), Jordan Hendry (MN), Ryan Johnson, Tomas Kopecky (FLA), Fernando Pisani, Ryan Potulny (WSH), Jack Skille (FLA), Jeff Taffe (MN), Marty Turco
How times have changed. Five years ago, the team would've struggled to pay enough to any star players to come to Chicago - not that Bill Wirtz was exactly opening the pocketbook for what talents he already had at his disposal. Now, proven players who're looking to have that last winning season or two and a shot at the Stanley Cup are turning down larger offers from other teams in favor of Chicago. More than one player expressed this summer, "I heard Chicago was interested, and that was it for me."

After wallowing through the past decade or so, the Blackhawks have once again turned into a proud franchise, and are poised - and ready - to challenge this year's Stanley Cup champions for the title.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

30 Fans in 30 Days: Addison & the Chicago Blackhawks

The "How the Blackhawks spent their summer" section of the 30 Fans in 30 Days will be presented on Monday.
 


To wrap up the 30 Fans in 30 Days series, for the Blackhawks, we talked with Addison, who can be found on Twitter at @hockeyplaya97. He's been a Blackhawks fan his whole life.
 
Let's talk about your fandom a bit.

I've been watching hockey essentially since I was born. My dad watched and played hockey when I was born and I just kind of picked it up from there. I've been watching and playing hockey as long as I can remember. I started skating at about 3 years old and have been playing ever since.

I watched the Hawks all through the lean years and have really enjoyed seeing them thrive over the last few years. I was at Game 6 against the Canucks a couple years back when Kane scored his hat trick on Luongo. I was also at the banner raising ceremony this past season after they won the Stanley Cup. That was as amazing of a game that I've attended simply because of the ceremony.

Which player that your team signed/acquired this summer are you most excited to see take the ice this season?

I'm happy to see the grit the Hawks have signed but the player I'm most excited to see is not on the team yet. I'm interested to see what acquisitions they make closer to the trade deadline. I would love to see a #2/3 C (perhaps Daymond Langkow or Jarret Stoll) or a #1 LW (think Shane Doan).

Taking into consideration your team's performance last year/recently, and any player/personnel (coaches, GMs, ownership) changes made in the past few months, talk about your team in 2011-2012: How do you think they've improved (or made worse)? What do they need to work on?

The biggest they did this off season was adding some much needed grit and toughness to the roster. The team seriously lacked that sandpaper that is typically needed to make through the playoffs. I'm curious to see how the defense shapes up considering there will be a few new faces on the blue line this season. Leddy should get a bigger role this year and how he handles that role could make a big difference for the Hawks. The biggest thing to look for is bounce back years from guys like Keith and Seabrook. They need to revert back their 09-10 form if the Hawks want to contend for a Cup this season.

Whether or not you think your team will make the playoffs, where do you predict your team will place within their conference?

2nd in the Western Conference

What existing hockey rule would you change (and how) if you could?

I would definitely eliminate the instigator penalty. I think it creates more problems than it eliminates as it frees players like Burrows or Cooke to run around taking cheap shots without the worry of too much retribution. The players need to be able to police themselves on the ice to an extent.


Friday, September 16, 2011

30 Fans in 30 Days: Kyle & the Edmonton Oilers

As a lead-up to the new season, here at HockeyBroad we'll both be reviewing How Teams Spent Their Summer Vacation, and also profiling one fan from each team's fandom, covering 30 Teams In 30 Days. The teams will be profiled in order determined by their points standing last season, highest to lowest, with the exception of Chicago, which will be profiled last to coincide with the date of their Training Camp Festival.

Team 29 of 30: the Edmonton Oilers



HOW THE OILERS SPENT THEIR SUMMER VACATION

Last summer, the Edmonton Oilers won the "Taylor vs Tyler" debate by selecting Taylor Hall first overall - although Tyler Seguin won the rookie sweepstakes by being chosen second by the Bruins. The Oilers were a very young team, looking to make a splash and begin the climb back to glory. Edmonton owned the Stanley Cup for 5 seasons between 1984-1990, but have struggled a great deal since then, with the exception of a very good Cup run in 2006, which ended at a loss to Carolina.

Unfortunately, the 2010-2011 season didn't turn out so hot, either. Although the Oilers picked up some impressive wins during the season, they just couldn't pick up enough of them, and the Oilers finished dead last in the standings - again - with a mere 62 points. (Compare that to Vancouver's 117 at the top of the standings.) Which meant that once again, Edmonton won the Draft lottery, and with their first overall pick, they chose Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. There's a very good chance that Nugent-Hopkins will make the leap to the NHL - Hall did, last season - but they may also want him to spent another year in the minors to bulk out a bit.

The Oilers' top goalie, Nikolai Khabibulin, spent part of his summer serving his jail sentence in the States for a DUI convinction that had come early in the season. Khabibulin says he has learned his lesson and that he's going to be focusing on his game. 

He needs to, because he had the worst year of his career last year, and with all the talent that's beginning to stack up in front of him and his backup, Devan Dubnyk, it will be expected for the Oilers to make it to the playoffs - repeatedly - in the years to come. Perhaps this is the season that Khabibulin and Dubnyk begin splitting their ice time a bit more evenly, especially as Dubyk put up a very solid .916 sv% and 2.71 GAA in the 35 games he played. (He still needs to work on the "stealing games" aspect of his game, however, as his record was 12-13-8.)

Edmonton has been rebuilding for a while, and it continues this season. Like the Wild's Becoming Wild, you can get a look at the team's efforts through their series, Oil Change, which has six episodes online.

In the meantime, what did the Oilers do with their summer after plucking Nugent-Hopkins off the top of the Draft pile? Their big splash of the summer was bringing Ryan Smyth back to the Oilers. Smyth spent 1994-2007 with the Oilers; he hadn't wanted to leave the team when he was traded away, so it was emotional for him to return to Edmonton. Other than that, the team picked up a combination of grit and playoff experience. Eric Belanger just posted a career year for Phoenix, so he may make an important impact, but otherwise, none of the players - and and of themselves, at least - will be likely to create huge changes for the Oilers.

New to team - listed on current roster/team acquired from: Cam Barker (MN), Eric Belanger (PHX), Ben Eager (SJ), Darcy Hordichuk (FLA), Ryan Smyth (LAK), Andy Sutton (ANA)
Players who appeared in games for the team during the 2010-11 season that have been traded or not re-signed/(team now signed with): Andrew Cogliano (ANA), Kurtis Foster (ANA), Colin Fraser (LAK), Dustin Penner (LAK), Jim Vandermeer (SJ)

The Oilers still have a couple years of rebuilding ahead of them and they probably won't make the playoffs again this year, but they should be able to begin their climb out of the basement.

* * *

For the Oilers, we talked to Kyle, who you can find on Twitter at @ickylek. He also writes a hockey blog called IllegalCurve.com. Kyle has been an Oilers fan for 30 years.

Let's talk about how you became an Oilers fan.

I was originally drawn to the team because of Wayne Gretzky, and truly became a fan during the 1983 and 1984 playoffs, which I watched with my grandparents. 

My fandom was further cemented by Esa Tikkanen and his brave attempts at speaking English.

Which player that your team signed/acquired this summer are you most excited to see take the ice this season?

Ben Eager

Taking into consideration your team's performance last year/recently, and any player/personnel (coaches, GMs, ownership) changes made in the past few months, talk about your team in 2011-2012: How do you think they've improved (or made worse)?

As is often the case, I think the Oilers need to work on their depth at all positions. Typically, the Oilers have been starting each recent season with some holes in the lineup. This year, the forward group seems to be strong while the defense is in need of some depth. We often suffer a few injuries each year and cannot adequately replace the missing players. Should anyone on the blueline go down this year (especially Gilbert or Whitney) we will once again be a lottery team. Don't even get me started on the goaltending. It would be nice if Khabibulin would retire, but thats unlikely. Dubnyk is better but still unproven and its likely we can pick up another stop-gap option (like Leighton, etc.) given the team's reluctance to part with Khabibulin.

Whether or not you think your team will make the playoffs, where do you predict your team will place within their conference?

11th in the Western Conference

What was your favorite moment for your team last season?

Eberle's goal in Game 1 versus Calgary. It was all downhill after that.




Thursday, September 15, 2011

30 Fans in 30 Days: Hanna & the Colorado Avalanche

As a lead-up to the new season, here at HockeyBroad we'll both be reviewing How Teams Spent Their Summer Vacation, and also profiling one fan from each team's fandom, covering 30 Teams In 30 Days. The teams will be profiled in order determined by their points standing last season, highest to lowest, with the exception of Chicago, which will be profiled last to coincide with the date of their Training Camp Festival.

Team 28 of 30: the Colorado Avalanche




HOW THE AVALANCHE SPENT THEIR SUMMER VACATION

Last year, the Avalanche started the season quite nicely. But then somewhere after the holidays, team performance rolled downhill, and the team imploded. They traded away a couple of their prime up-and-comers (Kevin Shattenkirk; Chris Stewart); swapped goalies with the Senators; and finished next-to-last in the entire league, barely edging out the Oilers.

So you'd think that the team might've made some big, bold moves this summer. They made a bit of a splash at the Draft to be sure, picking Duncan Siemens and Gabriel Landeskog; the team is definitely looking to the future and rebuilding depth.

But in terms of acquisitions, probably the biggest change is in goal. It was out with Anderson, who carried them into the playoffs in 2010; and then out with Budaj and Elliott; in with Semyon Varmalov and Jean-Sebastien Giguere. What they get with those two goalies with good playoff experience - and Giguere should be a good mentor as Varmalov matures into a full starter role. They should probably be expected to split the load this year.

Elsewhere in the roster, the team collected some grit and experience, although admittedly the Shattenkirk trade left more than a few people scratching their heads (and Blues fans jumping for joy). This year - and likely for another year or two - the Avalanche will be in full-throttle rebuilding mode. After making some recent noise in the playoffs, this team has a lot of work to do if they want to reach the point where they'll be in contention to bring Lord Stanley back to the Mile High city.

New to team - listed on current roster/team acquired from: Jean-Sebastien Giguere (TOR), Jan Hejda (CBJ), Erik Johnson (STL), Chuck Kobasew (MN), Jay McClement (STL), Shane O'Brien (NSH), Semyon Varlamov (WSH)
Players who appeared in games for the team during the 2010-11 season that have been traded or not re-signed/(team now signed with): Craig Anderson (OTT), Peter Budaj (MTL), Brian Elliott (STL), Tomas Fleischmann (FLA), Adam Foote (retired), John-Michael Liles (TOR), Kevin Shattenkirk (STL), Chris Stewart (STL)

* * *

For the Avalanche, we talked with Hanna (on Twitter at @Avs2hawksfan), who has been an Avalanche for two years.

Let's talk a bit about your fandom.

I'm a huge fan of the Avs! I became a fan after attending my first game. The team lost, and was eliminated from the playoffs but it was still amazing. My favorite hockey memory was attending the Avs season opener against the Blackhawks last season. I was 6 rows from the ice and was able to see all my favorite players in one place!

Which player that your team signed/acquired this summer are you most excited to see take the ice this season?

I think I'm most looking forward to our new goalies. While some complained about getting Varlamov, I was extremely excited!

Taking into consideration your team's performance last year/recently, and any player/personnel (coaches, GMs, ownership) changes made in the past few months, talk about your team in 2011-2012: How do you think they've improved (or made worse)? What do they need to work on?

I am still disappointed with some of the moves our team made. Liles is a great example. I think the team needed changes but a coaching change may be what is really needed. This was the worst season the team has had. I'm not sure who will be the next captain but I think a good one might be Erik Johnson. I'm not sure how this season will go and I can't guess with so many leaving and so many young ones coming in.

Whether or not you think your team will make the playoffs, where do you predict your team will place within their conference?

8th in the Western Conference

What was your favorite moment for your team last season?

Favorite memory was Adam Foote's last game. He played with a broken ankle while a crowd cheered so loud they would have to wait to drop the puck!


Wednesday, September 14, 2011

30 Fans in 30 Days: Andy & the Florida Panthers

As a lead-up to the new season, here at HockeyBroad we'll both be reviewing How Teams Spent Their Summer Vacation, and also profiling one fan from each team's fandom, covering 30 Teams In 30 Days. The teams will be profiled in order determined by their points standing last season, highest to lowest, with the exception of Chicago, which will be profiled last to coincide with the date of their Training Camp Festival.

Team 27 of 30: the Florida Panthers



HOW THE PANTHERS SPENT THEIR SUMMER VACATION

Dale Tallon put together a lot of the pieces that eventually led to the 2010 championship Blackhawks team, so it was little surprise that after he signed on as new GM for the Florida Panthers last season, there was a lot of discussion about the team "blueprint" and changing the face of the franchise. It wasn't going to happen overnight, of course, but Tallon's arrival sparked the dawn of a new hockey era in southeast Florida.

The Panthers haven't been to the playoffs since 2000 and have only accomplished it three times in 17 seasons of team history. Their fan base one of the smaller ones in the NHL, but they're dedicated, and the owners have obviously gotten tired of extending the longest playoffs-free streak in NHL history. So this was a huge summer of change.

For a start, the Panthers will be bringing in Kevin Dineen as the new head coach. Dineen has a winning record in the AHL with the Portland Pirates (3 years as a Ducks affiliate, 3 years as a Sabres one), where he posted a 266-155-30-29 record over 6 seasons. He coached the last 3 AHL Rookie of the Year, and has coached at the AHL level players like Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf. He also comes from a hockey family - he played 20 seasons in the NHL; all four of his brothers (Gord, Peter, Shawn and Jerry) were all pro hockey players; and his father, Bill Dineen, also played and coached in the NHL. Coach Dineen will not only make an impact on this team as a whole, but will also undoubtedly draw more out of the players under his guidance.




On the players side, Dale Tallon started the roster shakeup before last season had even ended. A late season trade brought Jack Skille (as well as Hugh Jessiman and David Pacan) to Florida while sending Michael Frolik and goalie prospect Alexander Salak to the Blackhawks. Skille has not yet lived up to his potential - he was drafted 7th overall in the talented 2005 Draft (the same draft where Sidney Crosby went #1, and players drafted after Skille included Devin Setoguchi, Anze Kopitar, Marc Staal, and Keith Yandle). So far, the trade has been tilted in Chicago's favor, but he may yet be a case of "change of scenery does a whole lot of good".

One of the biggest surprises of the opening night of the 2011 Draft was the first round announcement that the Florida Panthers had traded with Chicago again: this time acquiring defenseman Brian Campbell in exchange for Rostislav Olesz. Campbell's $7M+/yr salary, with several years left on it, was considered unmovable by most, but Dale Tallon convinced Campbell about his vision for the future of the Panthers team. Once Campbell signed on, it opened the floodgates for a veritable flood of free agency signings starting July 1st.

By the time the dust cleared, the Panthers had rebuilt half their roster. Actually, they shipped out so many players and brought in so many new ones - the remainder of available slots will be filled from their prospects - that the team has been entirely recreated. The question is: how will they gel?

The Panthers are the new "Blackhawks South", taking the title from the former Atlanta Thrashers, with four ex-Blackhawks reunited: Brian Campbell, Jack Skille, Tomas Kopecky, and Kris Versteeg. Three of those players have a Stanley Cup ring. But the ex-Hawks aren't alone in playoff experience; there isn't a player among the "big nine" acquisitions that doesn't have at least one season worth of playoff experience, and plenty of NHL experience between them.




New to team - listed on current roster/team acquired from: Sean Bergenheim (TBL), Matt Bradley (WSH), Brian Campbell (CHI), Ryan Carter (CAR), Tomas Fleishman (COL), Marcel Goc (NSH), Ed Jovanovski (PHX), Tomas Kopecky (CHI), Jose Theodore (MN), Scottie Upshall (CBJ), Kris Versteeg (PHL)
Players who appeared in games for the team during the 2010-11 season that have been traded or not re-signed/(team now signed with): Bryan Allen (CAR), Byron Bitz (VAN), Niclas Bergfors (NSH), Steve Bernier, Mike Duco (VAN), Radek Dvorak (DAL), Michael Frolik (CHI), Chris Higgins (VAN), Bryan McCabe, Rostislav Olesz (CHI), Marty Reasoner (NYI), Patrick Rissmiller (COL), Alexander Salak (CHI), Sergei Samsonov, Cory Stillman (retired), Alexander Sulzer (VAN), Tomas Vokoun (WSH), Dennis Wideman (WSH), Clay Wilson (CGY).

By far, the biggest question for the Panthers is: How much chemistry do they have fresh out of the box? The roster is completely revamped, and the four "big" name players for Florida remaining from last season are David Booth, goalie Scott Clemmensen, Mike Santorelli, and Stephen Weiss.

Another big question facing the Panthers is who will be their new Captain. Ed Jovanovski would be a good bet: he was a rookie on the Panthers team that went deep in the playoffs in 1996. Making Jovanovski Captain would be fitting, bringing his career "full circle" with the Panthers. He has history with the team, he has a lot of playoff experience between his time with the Canucks and Coyotes, and it would be a good move. Stephen Weiss, starting his 10th season with the Panthers, would also be a good choice as one of the best-known players among the Panthers faithful, although he lacks the playoff experience. Prediction: Jovanovski wears the "C", with Weiss and Campbell as "A".

Despite all the questions, however, the newly-rebuilt Panthers have far more going for them than they have against them. They've gone from a bargain-basement team to a team loaded with proven performers who've bought into Tallon's vision for the future of the Panthers and have a lot to prove. Additionally, they've giving an excellent coach his entry into the NHL - and undoubtably, Dineen will get a great deal out of this team. The 2011-12 Panthers are out to make a big splash in the Eastern Conference.

* * *

For the Panthers, we talked with Andy, who can be found on Twitter at @Andy_Amstutz. He's been a Panthers fan for 10 years.

Let's talk about your fandom a bit.

I love the Panthers! A cool memory was meeting David Booth at St. Pete Times Forum in the stands during a pre-season match-up between the Panthers and Lightning.

Which player that your team signed/acquired this summer are you most excited to see take the ice this season?

That's a tough one! The Panthers have added basically a new team, but I'm excited to watch Matt Bradley this year.

Taking into consideration your team's performance last year/recently, and any player/personnel (coaches, GMs, ownership) changes made in the past few months, talk about your team in 2011-2012: How do you think they've improved (or made worse)?

The hiring of general manager, Dale Tallon, has added a lot of changes. The team has been completely dismantled and the Panthers are now arguably number 1 in the prospects pool. It's nice to have some optimism, after a decade of futility.

Players actually want to come to South Florida and work for a result and you can feel the excitement surrounding the new face of the Florida Panthers. From the hiring of head coach, Kevin Dineen, to the new roster, we are all just waiting for the season to begin.

Whether or not you think your team will make the playoffs, where do you predict your team will place within their conference?

8th in the Eastern Conference

What existing hockey rule would you change (and how) if you could?

I would remove the instigator penalty. I feel it takes away from the intensity that hockey has always been, and leads some players to believe there will be minimal consequences if they take a run at a player, or something along those lines.


Tuesday, September 13, 2011

30 Fans in 30 Days: MetsTwerp & the New York Islanders

As a lead-up to the new season, here at HockeyBroad we'll both be reviewing How Teams Spent Their Summer Vacation, and also profiling one fan from each team's fandom, covering 30 Teams In 30 Days. The teams will be profiled in order determined by their points standing last season, highest to lowest, with the exception of Chicago, which will be profiled last to coincide with the date of their Training Camp Festival.

Team 26 of 30: the New York Islanders





HOW THE ISLANDERS SPENT THEIR SUMMER VACATION

The past year has been a roller coaster for the New York Islanders.

In the early 1980s, the Islanders were a dynasty, winning four consecutive Stanley cups (1980-1983), plus going to the Final round in 1984, giving them the longest streak in the history of professional sports for winning playoff series (19). But that was then, and this is now.

In the past five seasons, the Islanders have only made it to the playoffs once, in 2007, when they were knocked out of the Conference Quaterfinals 4-1 by the Buffalo Sabres. They've consistently finished at the bottom of the highly competitive Atlantic Division, and in 2010-11, they barely squeaked ahead of Florida to not finish at the bottom of the Eastern Conference.

However, it's worth nothing that the Islanders had the kind of season in 2010-11 that would've thrown any team for a loop: the team's top-name players sidelined by injury early in the year. Their coach got fired early in the season. In fact, the most noticeable games in the Islanders' season last year were a couple of games that turned into giant line brawls against the rival Penguins - not the finest moments for a once-proud franchise. The building they play in (Nassau Coliseum) is old and outdated, desperately in need of replacement, but an August vote in Nassau County rejected the proposal to replace it.

So what looks positive for the Islanders? Well, more than might seem at first glance.

The Islanders recognize that they need to post a winning season in a hurry - and, with the proposal for a new arena shot down in August, they need to do it now, to help draw interest and attention back to the team on Long Island.

But there's a lot to be positive for out on Long Island. For starters, one of 2010-11's top rookies, Calder candidate Michael Grabner, burst onto the scene last season after being picked up off waivers from the Panthers. The speedy Austrian put together a 34 goal/18 assist season with just 10 PIM while playing on one of the worst teams in the ultra-competitive Atlantic division - home to the Flyers, the Penguins, the Rangers, and the Devils. 2010 Draft pick Nino Niederreiter may stick with the team this year, helping bring even more youthful energy to this team. 

The Islanders will have Mark Streit returning this year after he lost last season to injury. Streit is consistently underrated but is very solid defensively; he should help bolster the blue line. NYI also added solid veteran experience with the acquisitions of Marty Reasoner and Brian Rolston. Solid players like Matt Moulson, John Tavares and Blake Comeau help round out the top of the talent pool.

One of the more colorful storylines from late in the Islanders' season last spring was the acquisition of goalie Evgeni Nabokov, picked up off re-entry waivers en route between the KHL and Detroit. It was a bold move for GM Garth Snow and certainly one that didn't pay off in terms of the team's record to end the season, but it had an interesting effect. When Nabokov balked at reporting to the Islanders, it seemed to trigger a great deal of pride and loyalty among both the players and fans of the Islanders. Who was this guy who seemed to feel he was too good to report to their team? It might not have been his career intention to end up in Nassau County; but there's inherent risks in the rules of the NHL contract rules, specifically designed to prevent teams and players from easily shuffling players back and forth between leagues without risk. Nabokov was caught; and for refusing to report, the team suspended him.

Nabokov is reported to be expected at camp this week. With Rick DiPietro, the Islanders' number one goalie's health always seeming to be a question mark, it's not entirely impossible for Nabokov to steal the #1 position.

Actually, let's correct that - even healthy, there's a very good probability that Nabokov could "pull a Niemi" and usurp DiPietro, whose stats have been unremarkable at best for the past few seasons. The Islanders used no less than five goaltenders last season, and DiPietro - their $4.5M/year goalie - played just 26 of their 82 games. Dwayne Roloson played 20 games for the Islanders before getting traded to Tampa Bay, where he went on to helped lead the team all the way to the Eastern Conference final. The Islanders have been hurting in net, and Nabokov could be the solution, if he's fully committed to this team and can play to the same form that helped keep the San Jose Sharks atop the Western Conference for many years.
New to team - listed on current roster/team acquired from: Sean Backman (DAL/AHL), Evgeni Nabokov (KHL via DET), Marty Reasoner (FLA), Brian Rolston (NJD), Tim Wallace (PIT)
Players who appeared in games for the team during the 2010-11 season that have been traded or not re-signed/(team now signed with): Bruno Gervais (TBL), Jack Hillen (NSH), Trent Hunter, Jesse Joensuu (Sweden), Zenon Konopka (OTT), Radek Matinek (CBJ), Dwayne Roloson (TBL), Rob Schremp (Sweden), Doug Weight (retired)
Right now, the Islanders have nothing to lose, and a lot to gain. Expect them to be a not-so-surprise dark horse candidate to make the playoffs this season.

* * *

For the Islanders, we talked with @MetsTwerp, who has been an Islander fan for 33 years.

Let's talk about your fandom to start.

Started watching hockey when the Isles were up and coming. In 1993 drove down from where we lived in Albany to see the Islanders beat Washington in game 4 of the 1993 Stanley Cup Division Semi Finals. 2 OT win for the Isles, best game I ever saw. Went to Montreal to go to Mike Bossy's Steakhouse in 2000 (it was only open for a year), and had the man himself buy ME a drink. Chatted with him for a while. Best moment for me as far as meeting an athlete foes.

Which player that your team signed/acquired this summer are you most excited to see take the ice this season?

Well, it may not be this season, but Ryan Strome for sure. Not much to get super excited for as far as their signings for this year goes. Bryan Rolston? Michael Grabner as far as returning players signed to new contracts.

Taking into consideration your team's performance last year/recently, and any player/personnel (coaches, GMs, ownership) changes made in the past few months, talk about your team in 2011-2012: How do you think they've improved (or made worse)? What do they need to work on? If the team has lost their captain, who do you think will wear the "C" next?

The Isles didn't do much in the way of bettering themselves via free agency. They will rely heavily on their great core of young players continuing to build and flourish as they play another year together. Doug Weight is gone, so I guess its possible Rolston gets the "C" due to his veteran status. I definitely expect an improved squad this year. Goalie will remain the big question mark, as its unknown what we will get from DiPietro. Will Nabokov play for the Isles or will they trade him? Will be interesting to see.

Whether or not you think your team will make the playoffs, where do you predict your team will place within their conference?

8th

What was your favorite moment for your team last season?

Grabner winning the fastest skater competition at the All-Star Game.


Monday, September 12, 2011

30 Fans in 30 Days: Ryan & the Ottawa Senators

As a lead-up to the new season, here at HockeyBroad we'll both be reviewing How Teams Spent Their Summer Vacation, and also profiling one fan from each team's fandom, covering 30 Teams In 30 Days. The teams will be profiled in order determined by their points standing last season, highest to lowest, with the exception of Chicago, which will be profiled last to coincide with the date of their Training Camp Festival.

Team 25 of 30: the Ottawa Senators

photo courtesy of @clydeorama/Flickr


HOW THE SENATORS SPENT THEIR SUMMER VACATION

The Ottawa Senators are a team that desperately needs to find direction.

They've been in the playoffs three of the past five years, even getting as far as the Final round before losing to Anaheim 4-1 in 2007. Last season, they ranked 13th in the East with 74 points, barely edging out the Islanders (73) and Florida (72). The team's performance cost Cory Clouston his position as head coach; he was replaced by Paul MacLean.v
In short: expectations are not very high in Ottawa this year. The team struggled through the first half of the year, and then sank like a flaming projectile late in the season, limping through to a survivor's finish. Despite other teams in the league finishing off even worse than they did (hello, Oilers), this team truly can't get much worse.

Looking deeper into the Senators' system, there's light - their AHL affiliate, the Binghamton Senators, won their first Calder Cup last spring, and there's talent in the pipeline. But for the NHL-level team, the Senators are still early in their rebuilding phase. Otherwise, there's not a lot of names that leap out when you scan over the Senators' roster: captain Daniel Alfredsson, at 38, is the veteran hand on the helm. There's also players like Jason Spezza and Sergei Gonchar. At least a third of the team is 25 or younger - if you include prospects who have a shot at the team, the number becomes nearly half.

On the bright side, the team has some up-and-comers with the team now. Erik Karlsson was a surprise entry to the All-Star Game early in the year, for example. What gave the fans hope last year was the AHL's team performance; those players are the future face of this team.

The team is gambling on Craig Anderson as their top goalie. He's shown that he's capable of carrying a so-so team deeper into the playoffs (see 2009-10 Avalanche), but he can struggle as well (see 2010-11 Avalanche). During 33 games with the Avs last year, Anderson went 13-15-3 with .897 sv% and 3.28 GAA; in the 18 games he played for the Sens after the trade, he went 11-5-1 with 2 shutouts, a .939 sv% and a 2.05 GAA. Did the Sens make the right move by trading Briant Elliott for him? Can he be the #1 goalie and carry the load the way he did for the 2009-10 Avs, again? Will Alex Auld 6-2-2 w/.914 sv% and 2.64 GAA) be the solid backup Anderson needs? Keep an eye on Mike McKenna, acquired in free agency; while he's most likely to end up in the AHL, he's excited to be playing for a Canadian franchise and should be expected to improve upon his record from last year.

Other than the late-season Anderson and Campoli trades making a splash, the Senators didn't make a lot of moves this off season. They will be heading into the new season close to the salary floor, which certainly gives them the room for acquisitions during the season, but they need to figure out what they've got first and how it's coming together. It's interesting to note that most of the players they parted company with are still UFAs.

New to team - listed on current roster/team acquired from: Alex Auld (MTL), Nikita Filatov (CBJ), Zenon Konopka (NYI), Mike McKenna (NJD)
Players who appeared in games for the team during the 2010-11 season that have been traded or not re-signed/(team now signed with): Mike Brodeur, Chris Campoli, Pascal Leclaire, Curtis McElhinney (PHX), Ryan Shannon (TBL), Marek Svatos
There is little doubt that 2011-12 is a rebuilding year for the Senators. Nobody has particularly high expectations for the team this season, which means that if the team can find some chemistry early, they might surprise some people - don't throw the season out the door quite yet. Still, the team is young, they've brought in a new coach this year, and there is undeniably a lot of work to be done on this team.



* * *

For the Senators, we talked with Ryan Classic, who writes a Senators blog at Silver Sevens. He's been a Senators fan for 20 years.

Let's talk about your fandom.

Remember when you were a kid, and you enjoyed something so much that you didn't care one bit how bad it was? That's me for the early years of the Ottawa Senators.

Four-consecutive bottom-of-the-barrel finishes to start the team's history, and all I cared about were the good times. I know they were awful times. It's impossible to deny this. And yet, as a kid in the nation's capital, it was still nothing but fun.

I remember the excitement I had on April 10, 1993, seeing the out-of-town scoreboard on Hockey Night in Canada and realizing that Ottawa finally had won their first road game in team history (1-41 that year on the road). I remember jumping for joy when Steve Duchesne scored the goal that gave Ottawa its first playoff birth. I remember being heartbroken when, for the 4th time in franchise history, the Senators were knocked out of the playoffs by the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Not all the memories are good memories, but I'll take the bad ones over having no memories at all.

Which player that your team signed/acquired this summer are you most excited to see take the ice this season?

Nikita Filatov (not that there was much to choose from)

Taking into consideration your team's performance last year/recently, and any player/personnel (coaches, GMs, ownership) changes made in the past few months, talk about your team in 2011-2012: How do you think they've improved (or made worse)?

This is a team that is deeply flawed and built to lose. It's hard to say that they've improved, because until we see how the rookies and sophomores work out, it's honestly impossible to know what the Senators have. They had a winning record in the last quarter of the season while fielding an AHL roster (plus Craig Anderson), but that could be equal amounts good luck and being taken lightly instead of a sign of improvement.

The X-factor is Craig Anderson. He's shown that he can carry a non-playoff team into the postseason. He's also shown that he can flame out and drag a team to the bottom of the standings. Which Anderson shows up, and whether or not he can handle a defence with two to three rookies every night, is the key.

In the end, nobody in Ottawa is putting much stock into the standings this season. Whether they make the playoffs (unlikely), or fail horribly (likely), it's already considered a wash. This year is all about the future, from developing kids to drafting high. And fans are okay with that.

Whether or not you think your team will make the playoffs, where do you predict your team will place within their conference?

13th in the Eastern Conference

What existing hockey rule would you change (and how) if you could?

No more trapezoid. Some goalies would use the extra space to act as a third defenseman, sure, but more would try to play the puck and end up creating an opposing scoring chance (or more likely, a goal). Toss in the speed of the young kids around the league rushing to steal the puck from a wayward goalkeeper, and you have a recipe for awesome.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

30 Fans in 30 Days: Jlabossiere & the Winnipeg Jets

As a lead-up to the new season, here at HockeyBroad we'll both be reviewing How Teams Spent Their Summer Vacation, and also profiling one fan from each team's fandom, covering 30 Teams In 30 Days. The teams will be profiled in order determined by their points standing last season, highest to lowest, with the exception of Chicago, which will be profiled last to coincide with the date of their Training Camp Festival.

Team 24 of 30: the Atlanta Thrashers Winnipeg Jets

Jets 2.0 history at a glance, as seen worn by these fans at the 2011 Draft at the Xcel Center. (L-R: Atlanta Thrashers; original Jets logo; Manitoba Moose)


HOW ATLANTA WINNIPEG SPENT THEIR SUMMER VACATION

The better question to ask this summer about the Jets is "What didn't they do this summer".

At the end of May, it was announced that the struggling Atlanta Thrashers had been sold to True North Sports and Entertainment Ltd, and would be relocating to Winnipeg, which had previously lost its team in 1996. (The original Jets became the Phoenix Coyotes.) The Thrashers fan base - however small it might have been - was crushed; and the citizens of Winnipeg were elated.

The team's name was officially announced at the 2011 Draft, held in Minnesota. When Kevin Cheveldayoff was introduced to announce their draft pick, so too was the team's name. Many Jets fans had made the trek to St. Paul for the Draft, and the energy in the building was electric. Mark Scheifele became the first draftee in team history.


Winnipeg and Manitoba have supported their AHL team, the Manitoba Moose, very well. The Moose had been the AHL affiliate of the Vancouver Canucks, but since both teams were owned by True North, upon moving the Thrashers to Winnipeg, the Moose got moved to St. John, Newfoundland and Labrador, and was rechristened the IceCaps. The IceCaps are now the Jets' AHL affiliate, and the Vancouver Canucks became the new NHL affiliate of the Chicago Wolves, the Thrashers' previous AHL affiliate.

The team will be playing in the 15,000-seat MTS Center, which makes it the smallest building in the NHL. The team sold out 13,000 season ticket packages between June 1-4 with the first three days (and 7,158 sales) going to Moose season ticket holders; the remainder sold out in 17 minutes once opened to the public. The waitlist was capped at 8,000 after just two hours. For the players, that means they'll be going from a building that rarely had a sellout in Atlanta to one that is packed every night.

It's been a wholesale rehaul up in Winnipeg. Out with the GM and head coach; in with Kevin Cheveldayoff and Claude Noel. Staff turnover happened as well as the team moved north.

However, due to the timing of the team's change of ownership, the Jets will play out the 2011-12 season in the Eastern Conference; and are expected to shift into the Western Conference starting in 2012-13. Last season, the Thrashers started off the season strong before dropping off in the second half; the demands of playing before a hockey-mad home crowd is going to place different expectations on the team, and no doubt that the results will be different.

Winnipeg shared in the sadness this summer when Rick Rypien died. Rypien had signed with the Jets for the 2011-12 season; but the gritty center had spent his entire career with the Vancouver Canucks. 

New to team - listed on current roster/team acquired from: Eric Fehr (WSH), Tanner Glass (VAN), Randy Jones (TBL), Derek Meech (DET/AHL), Kyle Wellwood (SJ)
Players who appeared in games for the team during the 2010-11 season that have been traded or not re-signed/(team now signed with): Eric Boulton, Radek Dvorak (DAL), Ben Eager (EDM), Rob Schremp (Sweden), Brent Sopel (KHL), Anthony Stewart (CAR),

Thrashers captain Andrew Ladd re-signed with the team, becoming the first captain of the Jets in the process; he will lead a team that has most of its pieces in place from last season and certainly has enough skill to be competitive in the Eastern Conference. 

The team did some tweaks, added in a power player in Eric Fehr, brought in some more grit with Tanner Glass. The team now has several players with a wide variety of playoff experience from across the league, not the least of whom is Ladd himself, who won the Stanley Cup as a rookie with Carolina and more recently with Chicago.

Defenseman Dustin Byfuglien in particular has a lot of expectations to deal with. After winning a Stanley Cup with Chicago, he was traded to the Atlanta Thrashers and proceeded to put up such good numbers in the first half of the 2010-11 season that Norris Trophy talk swirled around him. He then trailed off considerably in the second half, but still managed to sign an impressive new 5-year contract. He needs to live up to the contract he was rewarded with, because he has repeatedly shown that he is capable of doing so. Questions swirled around Byfuglien's fitness readiness for the new season when he was arrested recently under a charge of BWI (boating while intoxicated) and his weight was listed as 286 pounds.

Expect a lot out of Winnipeg this year. They have a lot to prove to their new home city, and the expectations will be set very high.

* * * 

For the Jets, we talked with @Jlabossiere.

How long/approximately how long have you been a fan of this team?

31 years - with a few years off when they went away to that place in the sun, but they're back now and I couldn't be happier!

Let's talk about your fandom a bit.

I was born just after the Jets' first year in the NHL and grew up in a hockey-crazed household. My dad, a huge hockey fan, ensured his two daughters got to see all the greats when they came through Winnipeg. I have many memories of listening to broadcasts, after my bedtime, on a blue transistor radio. Visits to the Winnipeg Arena was like visiting Mecca for a young kid like me. I feel so fortunate having memories of watching Gretzky, Lemieux, Lafleur, and my all-time favourite, Teemu Selanne, play in Winnipeg.

I was a teenager when the Jets left, and was at the last two games. It was crushing, to me personally and to the city. I remember crying my eyes out in the balcony of the Winnipeg Arena on April 28, 1996, holding the hand of my then-high school sweetheart (who is now my husband of eight years). He said he knew that day that I was the girl he was going to marry because he knew he would never get in trouble for watching too much hockey on TV. He was right.

I have spent the last 15 years cheering for the Habs and Canucks (due to their AHL team, the Manitoba Moose), travelling around North America to watch NHL hockey, but now, my true love (other than that hockey-fan husband of mine) has returned.

On May 31st, 2011, I watched with a giant smile as Mark Chipman and David Thomson announced the news Manitobans have been waiting so patiently, for so long, to hear. That morning, I went to the corner of Portage Avenue and Main Street, Winnipeg's windy corner just blocks from the MTS Centre, the site of Bobby Hull and Dale Hawerchuk's famous signings, because I wanted to experience history in the heart of the city. Even though I'm a communications professional, I cannot put my excitement about the return of the NHL to Winnipeg into words. It's amazing. Unbelievable. It has restored a piece of Winnipeg's soul, taken from us for the foolish promise of successful hockey in the sun and sand of Phoenix in 1996.
 
It's been an incredible ride this summer and it's just going to get better. I don't know if I'm going to believe my Jets are back until they drop the puck on October 9th. It's like a wild, impossible dream come true.

Which player that your team signed/acquired this summer are you most excited to see take the ice this season?

Kyle Wellwood - has shown potential & even if he doesn't meet it, he's a skating punchline & that has to count for something!

Taking into consideration your team's performance last year/recently, and any player/personnel (coaches, GMs, ownership) changes made in the past few months, talk about your team in 2011-2012: How do you think they've improved (or made worse)? What do they need to work on?

I honestly didn't watch a lot of Thrashers hockey over the past few years because I am located in Winnipeg, and didn't really believe they were coming here until it was announced, but am excited to see what this Atlanta/Chicago/Vancouver hybrid team will look like. I say hybrid due to GM Cheveldayoff's history and the blockbuster trade he was involved in last year between the Thrashers and the Blackhawks. It will be interesting to see how year two of the trade shakes out and how his knowledge of prospects in both the Chicago and Atlanta systems will bear fruit. And, many of the depth players the Jets have signed this summer are former Vancouver Canucks property who played for the AHL's Manitoba Moose.

True North is known in Winnipeg as a very loyal organization and they made that very apparent in the transition from AHL to the NHL. Craig Heisinger, Assistant GM and Director of Hockey Operations, is known as a great judge of undrafted talent (Alexandre Burrows as an example) and it will be great to see what he can do with some of the non-household names like Jason Jaffray and Mark Flood, solid AHL performers who could provide solid depth with the big club.

Rick Rypien, one of Heisinger's finds, was going to be one of my favourite Jets to watch (loved him with the Moose!) but alas, that is not meant to be. RIP Rick, one of my favourite Moose of all time.

From what I do know of the Thrashers, goals against are a major issue. I'm curious to see what head coach Claude Noel does with this defensive core -- the +/- stats from last year are just plain nasty. Zack Bogosian, highly touted (and still unsigned), was a -27 last year and that can't happen again as he's expected to log decent minutes on the blue line. I'm excited to see what Dustin Byfuglien and Tobias Enstrom can do -- Enstrom has no idea what kind of a superstar he will now be in a hockey-crazed city like Winnipeg.

I'm concerned about the lack of scoring from our top six forwards, but am expecting a breakout year from Bryan Little and have heard good things about his chemistry with captain Andrew Ladd. Eric Fehr, an off-season addition, is rehabbing a bad shoulder and if he's back to the player he was in last year's Winter Classic where he had two goals, will be an excellent complement to our crop of forwards.

Blake Wheeler is already endearing himself to me by quoting "Arrested Development" on Twitter. At 6'5", 205lbs, he needs to grow into his power forward potential.

Overall, Winnipeggers don't really know what to expect from our Jets but we're already in love with them. It's going to be a shock for some players, going from quiet Atlanta to the loud MTS Centre, full of passionate fans who have been waiting for this team for 15 years.

Whether or not you think your team will make the playoffs, where do you predict your team will place within their conference?

It's been 15 years since a "White Out" and since making the playoffs is something the Thrashers were not very good at, I'm going to be conservative and expect an 8th place finish [in the Eastern Conference]. The Thrashers started hot and finished cold in 2010-11 -- consistency will be the key to making the playoffs.

What existing hockey rule would you change (and how) if you could?

I love the hybrid icing idea that has been spoken about in the last few weeks as I hate touch icing. It's dangerous and unnecessary.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

30 Fans in 30 Days: Matt & the Columbus Blue Jackets

As a lead-up to the new season, here at HockeyBroad we'll both be reviewing How Teams Spent Their Summer Vacation, and also profiling one fan from each team's fandom, covering 30 Teams In 30 Days. The teams will be profiled in order determined by their points standing last season, highest to lowest, with the exception of Chicago, which will be profiled last to coincide with the date of their Training Camp Festival.

Team 23 of 30: the Columbus Blue Jackets


HOW COLUMBUS SPENT THEIR SUMMER VACATION

From all indications, Columbus is looking to win - and win in a hurry.

The Blue Jackets came into existence in 2000, along with the Minnesota Wild. In those 10 seasons, the team has only been to the playoffs once (2008-09), where they were swept out of the Conference Quarterfinals by the Red Wings.

It's hard to want to support a team with a record like that, especially a newer franchise in a "less traditional" (but not sunbelt) hockey market. Until this summer, their top star has been Rick Nash, who was drafted by Columbus first overall in 2002. He earned a Calder nomination in 2003, and has been to the All-Star Game four times. He has earned the Rocket Richard Trophy, and he was part of the 2010 Canadian Olympic team. It says a lot about Columbus that, despite the team's struggles, Nash has remained a Blue Jacket, but he can't do it all by himself.

This summer, the Blue Jackets not only made the moves to bring in some big names (Jeff Carter, James Wisniewski) but also did some general retooling, parting ways with a number of players, and are expected to fill any gaping holes from their AHL affiliate, the Springfield (MA) Falcons.

New to team - listed on current roster/team acquired from: Jeff Carter (PHL), Mark Dekanich (NSH), Radek Martinek (NYI), Vinny Prospal (NYR), Curtis Sanford, James Wisniewski (MTL)
Players who appeared in games for the team during the 2010-11 season that have been traded or not re-signed/(team now signed with): Nikita Filatov (OTT), Mathieu Garon (TBL), Jan Hejda (COL), Sami Lepisto (CHI), Scottie Upshall (FLA), Jakub Voracek (PHL)
Is this new team going to make a strong run for the Stanley Cup? Probably not. But Rick Nash will finally have some strong proven talent alongside him on the front lines, and Wisniewski can help bolster the defense. The team is going to do their best to make a bid for the playoffs, which means they should be a thorn in the side of other Central division teams (Detroit, Chicago, Nashville, St. Louis). It will take some time for the retooled team to gel, but they need to do so in a hurry; the fan base is impatient - with good reason - to taste the post season, and the team needs to bolster their presence if the club expects to be able to continue to call Columbus home.

Columbus is also one of the teams in discussion for a potential move to the Eastern Conference next season, when the NHL should be re-aligning divisions and conferences in light of Atlanta's move to Winnepeg.

* * *

For the Blue Jackets, we talked with Matt, who can be found on Twitter at @zekebud; he's been a Blue Jackets fan for about 4 years.

Let's talk about your fandom a little bit.

My hockey fandom is a fairly young one. When I started college, I really didn't know anything about the sport besides fighting and random names like "Gretzky" or "Lemieux." But I went to college at Clarkson University, where hockey was in the DNA. All it took was attending one game and I was hooked. I had labeled the game as merely brutal, but I didn't realize that it was so majestic. Plays formed and developed in fluid motion, passes required exceptional skill, and shots were timed to perfection.

Of course it helps that hockey fans are the best in sports. Community was another huge push for me to get into the sport: a small-yet-passionate student group would come to every game and quickly became part of my set of friends. And for me, it made sense to become a Blue Jackets fan. They were "new" and young (much like me in the hockey world). It also helped that the farm team was local to me (Syracuse) and the best Clarkson player was a Columbus pick (Clitsome).

My Jackets fandom slowly grew along with my Clarkson experience. Now as a Clarkson grad, I look back on my college days with fondness and see hockey as a large part of that. Live games, discussions with friends, NHL videogames... it all adds up. I'm glad I finally joined the hockey world and I'm glad to be a fan of such a fun franchise as the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Which player that your team signed/acquired this summer are you most excited to see take the ice this season?

Jeff Carter

Taking into consideration your team's performance last year/recently, and any player/personnel (coaches, GMs, ownership) changes made in the past few months, talk about your team in 2011-2012: How do you think they've improved (or made worse)? What do they need to work on?

I think that Columbus has improved in many places, but it's very difficult to gauge where the team stands. Offense was sorely lacking last year and the powerplay was miserable, so the additions of Jeff Carter and James Wisniewski make a ton of sense. These should instantly upgrade the Jackets' scoring ability and take some pressure off the defense and goaltending.

Unfortunately, it's these last two parts that leave me questioning. While Wisniewski helps on defense and Radek Martinek will be a good player when healthy, much of the poor defense from last year remains intact. Another problem is Steve Mason - he's a talented goalie but maddeningly inconsistent. If he can find a reasonable form, the Jackets will likely make the playoffs. But if he falters, the team will be a bottom feeder again. The pressure is on Mason, and that's slightly worrisome to me.

Whether or not you think your team will make the playoffs, where do you predict your team will place within their conference?

9th in the Western Conference

What was your favorite moment for your team last season?

My favorite moment was watching Matt Calvert's first NHL hat trick. It was a point in the season when the Jackets were still in the tight playoff race and the game seemed very close throughout. So to see a second period outburst from Calvert was shocking and elating. He looked like a man possessed as he found places to score and delivered on his promising play from the AHL. Of course that third goal was the true treat; the goal represented both individual excellence and team accomplishment over a strong Phoenix team. It was a real high point in the a season with too many lows.