It's hockey season
The NHL season started last week, but we still have another six months. So enjoy this little (albeit a tad belated) NHL preview.
Three teams you should root for
New York Rangers: Listen, the NHL is always more interesting when the Rangers are good. The better they are, the more attention they get in the USA and that can only be good for hockey in general.
Pittsburgh Penguins: They took their lumps, built the team the right way through the draft and have a tremendous fan base.
New Jersey Devils: They might have the nicest, most down-to-earth players in the league and their model of consistency should be recognized and admired.
Three teams you should not root for
Buffalo Sabres: Yes, it's a small market, but how can they look their fans in the face after letting go of both Chris Drury and Daniel Briere.
Florida Panthers: Bad building with obnoxious in-game entertainment. And it is just a flat-out bad, boring team.
Toronto Maple Leafs: They think the NHL revolves around them and they haven't even won a Stanley Cup in 40 years. When they get humble, you can maybe think about rooting for them
Three players you should root for
Martin Brodeur, Devils: He might be the greatest goalie of all time and yet he might be the nicest player of all time.
Sidney Crosby, Penguins: This kid eats, sleeps and breathes hockey. He respects the game and understands his role as a spokesman. He’s the closest thing since Gretzky.
Jarome Iginla, Flames: It's hard to find a combination of incredible skill and sincere humility. But Iginla has that rare combination.
Three players you should hate (but secretly love)
Darcy Tucker, Maple Leafs: He's annoying, a pest, a tad dirty. But if he played for your team, you'd love him.
Sean Avery, Rangers: See Darcy Tucker. This guy turned the Rangers around last season.
Jaromir Jagr, Rangers: Everyone calls him a dog, but he still might be the best player in the game when he wants to be.
Three coaches to love
John Tortorella, Lightning: He is brutally honest. That can be a good thing.
Ted Nolan, Islanders: Making fools of all the teams that never gave him a shot all those years.
Jacques Lemaire, Wild: Criticized for his neutral-zone trap, but the smartest man in hockey.
Three coaches to not love
John Tortorella, Lightning: He is brutally honest. That can be a bad thing.
Ken Hitchcock, Blue Jackets: As a person, he’s a great guy. But his style of play is like watching grass grow.
Bob Hartley, Thrashers: More than once he has been accused of sending out players to injure an opponent.
Three things to watch this season
1. Any game between the Maple Leafs and Canadiens. Still the best rivalry in hockey.
2. The Sabres and Penguins will play outdoors on New Year's Day at Ralph Wilson Stadium in Buffalo. The game is expected to break the NHL's single-game attendance record set on Nov. 22, 2003, when 57,167 showed up to watch an outdoor game between the Canadiens and Oilers. The Sabres-Pens game will be broadcast by NBC.
3. The 56th NHL All-Star Game will be played on a Sunday again — Jan. 27 at Philips Arena in Atlanta. Hey, it's only a seven-hour drive up I-75.
Three things to love about the NHL
1. The playoffs: Still the absolute best and most passionate postseason in any sport and any level.
2. Every game really does count: Last season, all six divisions, both conference titles and the best overall record were still up for grabs with less than a week remaining.
3. Hockey Night in Canada: It's worth getting the Center Ice cable package just to watch this classic broadcast every Saturday night.
Three things to hate about the NHL
1. The schedule: It still stinks. You play some teams eight times and some teams not at all. Does that make sense?
2. The penalties: The league's players and referees are still trying to find that balance between physical play and clutching-and-grabbing.
3. The schedule: Yeah, we already mentioned it. But that just shows you how much we really hate it.
Hart Trophy (MVP): Sidney Crosby, Penguins
Calder Trophy (rookie): Erik Johnson, Blues
Norris Trophy (defenseman): Niklas Lidstrom, Red Wings
Vezina Trophy (goalie): Roberto Luongo, Canucks
Jack Adams Award (coach): Tom Renney, Rangers
Comeback player: Michael Peca, Blue Jackets
First coach to be fired: Bob Hartley, Thrashers
Team that will be better than you think: Carolina Hurricanes
Team that will be worse than you think: Nashville Predators
Stanley Cup: Rangers over the Sharks