When pucks meet parity

CHRIS STEVENSON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:27 AM ET

So the NHL regular season starts Thursday, or, as it's known in Washington, those bunch of games we play before we jam it down the throats of everybody who says we don't know how to win the playoffs.

Certainly the answer as to what the Capitals learned from their upset at the hands of the Montreal Canadiens in the first round last spring won't be known until April, just one of the storylines that will build over the course of the next 1,230 games.

Among other questions to be pondered after the dust and Sheldon Souray settled Wednesday as NHL rosters were finalized:

* The Chicago Blackhawks will open defence of their Stanley Cup championship Thursday night at Colorado, down half a tank from the squad that beat the Philadelphia Flyers.

Certainly the scattering on the wind of half the champs' roster because of the salary cap was one of the big stories of the off-season, but the Hawks still have their five top scorers and six defencemen. Repeating won't be easy and we've now seen eight different teams in the five Stanley Cup finals since the lockout ended. There are no overwhelming favourites anymore, which is both a good and a bad thing.

It's good in that the postseason love gets spread around there's hope everywhere (okay, maybe not in Minnesota or Florida); bad in that the dynasty team gives everybody somebody to love or hate, put a target on and emulate.

The salary cap, if not completely smoothing the field, has made it at least as level as Jacques Martin's personality.

"We're not in favour of or opposed to dynasty teams. That's a question of how teams choose to set themselves up," said NHL commissioner Gary Bettman.

"I think what the Blackhawks did, very successfully, is they made a conscious decision last season to make a series of moves to get themselves in a position to be extraordinarily competitive.

"But they understood when they made those moves there were cap consequences and the benefit of the system we have is all teams can be competitive, can afford to be competitive.

"That to us is the most important thing because obviously there are going to be differences as to how well run teams are and how successful they are in putting their teams together.

"In the final analysis, under this system, everybody has a shot," he said. "Our fans, no matter what team they root for, know their team has a shot to make the playoffs and maybe win it all which is perhaps why in the last five seasons all but two clubs have made the playoffs."

Those two teams would be the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Florida Panthers.

Speaking of the Leafs, will they finally make the playoffs in the salary cap era? No.

* My top three goaltenders facing the biggest challenge this season starting Thursday: 1. Carey Price in Montreal (if he plays against the Leafs; he's got the flu). 2. Whoever's in net for the Washington Capitals. 3. Any goalie named Marty.

* Two questions in one: how good will the San Jose Sharks and the Vancouver Canucks be and how will they find a way not to have playoff success?

* Of course, another date to look forward to on the schedule is Nov. 21.

Not the NHL schedule, the AHL schedule.

Barring an unexpected turn of events, that is when Wade Redden and Souray will meet in the American Hockey League, a clash of multi-million dollar defencemen, one the victim of the salary cap and the other the vocabularly cap, Souray deemed to have gone way over the upper limit by Edmonton Oilers.

chris.stevenson@sunmedia.ca


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