SUN Hockey Pool

Questions, questions everywhere on eve of season

Can  Sidney Crosby come back and lead the Pittsburgh Penguins to another Cup?  (REUTERS/Dave Denoma)

Can Sidney Crosby come back and lead the Pittsburgh Penguins to another Cup? (REUTERS/Dave Denoma)

CHRIS STEVENSON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 3:57 PM ET

BROSSARD, QUE. - Mike Cammalleri slipped off his NHL star cap and figuratively put on his hockey fan hat the other day as he kicked back in his stall at the Montreal Canadiens practice facility.

The Habs winger was contemplative when asked to sum up how he felt about the

2011-12 season.

“Maybe it should be a question mark,” he said. “It’s a compliment to the league that it feels like that. There’s so much more parity now. There’s so much more opportunity now for teams to retool during the off-season. Teams can come back quick now.

“It used to be a rebuild took five years. Now it can be two years. The time has been cut in half. There can be a lot of optimism for a lot of teams this year.” No question.

Or, maybe, a lot of questions.

Take a look around.

As we head into this NHL season, a significant question hangs over just about every team you would consider a Stanley Cup contender, which makes this playing field maybe more level than the ice at the Winter Classic.

  • Can Sidney Crosby, who was far and away the NHL’s best player up to the point he was concussed last January, come back and lead the Pittsburgh Penguins to another Cup? Is there one player who has a more significant impact on his team’s future?
  • How will the staggering culture change that came with the trading of captain Mike Richards and star Jeff Carter affect the Philadelphia Flyers?
  • Will Jaromir Jagr grow back his mullet for power? Will Ilya Bryzgalov be the Flyers’ answer to their playoff goaltending issues or just another question?
  • Can the Boston Bruins find a remedy for the Stanley Cup hangover and have another duck boat parade in June, becoming the first team to repeat since the Detroit Red Wings in 1997-98?
  • Which will happen first? The Washington Capitals’ young guns finally figure out how to win in May or coach Bruce Boudreau’s face winds up “Rocking the Red?”
  • Will the signing of Brad Richards and the growth of their solid, young core make the New York Rangers a contender?
  • Will we see some team come out of the pack? Would anybody be surprised to see the Buffalo Sabres, Tampa Bay Lightning or Montreal Canadiens take a leap forward?

And that’s just the East.

  • You can wonder if Roberto Luongo will play an opposition goaltender who will pump his tires and help the Vancouver Canucks transform themselves into lovable winners.
  • The San Jose Sharks (see the Washington Capitals).
  • Will we see the old Detroit Red Wings or will they just look old?
  • The Chicago Blackhawks are going to be better-they have to be, right?-but will it be good enough to get back to the standard they set winning the Cup the season before last?

After a summer of one tragedy after another, the rhythm of the NHL resumes.

It won’t be the same after all the losses of friends and teammates for many involved in the game. While attention again will turn to the playing of games, the reverberations of the summer’s losses will continue to be felt.

After the deaths of enforcers Derek Boogaard, Rick Rypien and Wade Belak-though no connection has been made between what they do for a living and their passing-there will be discussion about fighting and its role in the game.

The NHL and the NHLPA have said they will investigate what happened in each case.

Headshots will continue to be a front-burner issue and tied into that will be how new NHL vice-president of player safety Brendan Shanahan handles supplementary discipline as he takes over that responsibility from Colin Campbell.

Shanahan has a chance to go in a fresh direction and he has done just that with his clear explanations of suspensions via video on nhl.com.

Lurking in the background will be the collective bargaining agreement which expires a year from now, but also the hope the NHL can be like the NFL and find common ground before regular-season games are lost.

Between now and December, the NHL will be examining where it is headed in the matter of realignment. With the move of the Atlanta franchise to Winnipeg, the opportunity is there to come up with a new alignment scenario.

This is an issue that each team takes personally, so it is going to take all of commissioner Gary Bettman’s considerable abilities as a consensus builder to come up with a compromise.

The Detroit Red Wings and Columbus Blue Jackets want to move to the East and the Dallas Stars want out of the Pacific Division, for starters. The idea of a four-conference format didn’t get much support, so it looks like there will be a lot of politicking to find solutions within the current six-division format.

So many questions this year.

Time to get some answers.

chris.stevenson@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/CJ_Stevenson

 

 


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