Tuesday, October 23, 2012

2012-2013 NHL Season: What We're All Missing, Part 3

By Pete Dombrosky (@Pete_Dombrosky)

What We're All Missing, Part 1
What We're All Missing, Part 2

Washington Capitals
2011-2012 Record: (42-32-8) 92 points
Playoffs: Lost Conference Semi-Finals (4-3) versus New York Rangers, Won Conference Quarter-Finals (4-3) versus Boston Bruins

A look at the 2012-13 Capitals is an intriguing one, full of questions waiting to be answered. Can the Caps take back their rightful position atop the Southeast Division? Is Adam Oates as good of a coach as he was a player? Will the subtraction of Alex Semin prove costly offensively? Will Alex Ovechkin have a bounce-back year from the lowest point total of his career? Does he still have the ability to do stuff like this:

These are only a few questions that won’t be answered until the puck drops. The Capitals have become perennial contenders for the Cup (in last year’s preseason they were one of the favorites) and even if Ovie isn’t scoring 50 goals a year, he’s still a fascinating player to watch. He’s a polarizing figure and regardless if you’re on his side, it makes for entertaining hockey to see him switch from dangle mode to run-over-everything-he-sees mode. He’s a uniquely skilled big man who is always on the marquee for NBC game previews: “Can the indomitable Alexander Ovechkin and the Capitals take down (insert opposite marquee player name and team here - hockey algebra, baby)?”

There’s another player that has Caps fans asking a lot of questions: Braden Holtby. The net minder put up some memorable performances in the 2012 postseason, but can he stand the test of time by succeeding over the course of an entire season? The Caps could really use some solidarity between the pipes; it’s just a question of by whom right now. And it’s just one amongst many others that Caps fan surely have.

Phoenix Coyotes
2011-2012 Record: (42-27-13) 97 points
Playoffs:  Lost Conference Finals (4-1) versus Los Angeles Kings, Won Conference Semi-Finals (4-1) versus Nashville Predators, Won Conference Quarter-Finals (4-2) versus Chicago Blackhawks

When the Coyotes signed Mike Smith in July, 2011, he was not considered elite. He was mostly a backup since he was drafted in 2001 by the Dallas Stars. He had never played more than 42 games in a season and never won more than 14. But once he took over for Ilya Bryzgalov, Smith found his form, winning 38 games and leading the franchise to its first playoff series win since 1987. Smith and the Coyotes beat Chicago and Nashville in their first two postseason series, but were then bounced from the playoffs by the eventual Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings in the Western Conference Finals. Smith was dynamic. He moved the puck better than any goalie in the NHL and he made big saves at the right time. The Kingston, Ontario native had become an elite goaltender and he is why Coyotes fans should be upset by a lost season.

If we learned anything from the Kings’ Cup run, it’s that even if your team struggles to score in the regular season, a phenomenal goalie can keep hope alive. A goalie is the most important player on the ice and if you have one like Mike Smith, not only is watching your team a blast, there’s a good chance you’ll be smiling when the clock hits zero.

And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention captain Shane Doan, who signed a four-year, $21.2 million extension to remain with the only franchise he’s ever played with for the remainder of his career (Doan is 36). The following is an excerpt from the Yahoo Sports article reporting the signing:

“[Doan’s]willingness to endure with this franchise knows no bounds. I mean, heck, according to Darren Dreger, the contract comes with a $2 million signing bonus deferred until after the contract expires. With a lockout looming, most guys would want it now. But not Doan. The man is loyal to a fault.”

Let’s hope Yotes fans get to show their appreciation this season.

New Jersey Devils
2011-2012 Record: (48-28-6) 102 points
Playoffs: Lost Stanley Cup Finals (4-2) versus Los Angeles Kings, Won Conference Finals (4-2) versus New York Rangers, Won Conference Semi-Finals (4-1) versus Philadelphia Flyers, Won Conference Quarter-Finals (4-3) versus Florida Panthers

Devils fans certainly miss watching their team try to work its way back to the Stanley Cup Finals. New Jersey was only two games away from hoisting the Cup last season and that feeling of disappointment never fades. The only prescription for a Finals loss is a Cup win as soon as possible.

Obviously, the loss of captain and elite forward Zach Parise will hurt the Devils’ chances at redeeming themselves this season - maybe more so than the lockout. Parise is one of the best wingers in the league and when a team loses an elite player, as well as their captain, the rest of team is left to fill that void of leadership and scoring.

But it’s not all bad for Jersey fans. They still have the best winger in the league in Ilya Kovalchuck, who scored 37 goals and notched 46 assists last season. They also have one of the best young players in Adam Henrique, who was a Calder Trophy (Rookie of the Year) finalist and led the league with four short-handed goals.

But what Devils fans are missing out on most has nothing to do with youth. In fact, it’s the opposite. Future Hall-of-Fame goalie Martin Brodeur is 40 years old and isn’t getting any younger. Yes, Marty is mortal. He showed last season that he can still play at a competitive level, but it’s doubtful he can keep that up much longer. Every day that passes without hockey is one less day fans have to see one of the best netminders to ever lace up skates.

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