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Wednesday, September 8, 2010
I'm back! Summer memories, predictions


LeBrun
Me, Melanie and Stacy at the cottage.

Fully recharged, your humble hockey hack is back at work after an enriching summer vacation.

I would like to thank the NHL, the NHL Players' Association, the New Jersey Devils and agent Jay Grossman for dutifully wrapping up the Ilya Kovalchuk saga right before my return. Honestly, I am thrilled. I had no desire to jump back on that beat after following the Russian sniper's topsy-turvy dance with Los Angeles and New Jersey during the first two weeks of July.

In the midst of the Kovalchuk drama, I was able to travel way up Northern Ontario to Hearst (hometown of Flyers sniper Claude Giroux), where I spent part of my youth. Hadn't been there in 13 years. The long drive with my father up Highway 11 was part of the highlight (thanks for coming, Dad), along with the chance to reconnect with people I hadn't seen in two decades. I have to thank my good pal Claude Breton for organizing my visit to the blue-collar town of 5,000 people, the place where my passion for hockey was born. The trip was a worthwhile reminder of my humble roots.

Early August featured a guys' trip to New York City with a couple of Blue Jays-Yankees games as the main attraction. For my pals Steve, Paul, Michael, James and Declan, the trip will forever be remembered for the night they met Jays ace Ricky Romero after his gem of a performance. The boys also met Miss USA. Witnessing A-Rod's 600th home run in the day game wasn't too shabby, either.

LeBrun Yankees
The boys take in a little baseball at Yankee Stadium.

Then, in late August, there was a trip to Prince Edward Island, where The Boss and I celebrated our 10-year wedding anniversary with some close friends and family. The golf, as is always the case in PEI, was superb, highlighted by the 82 my friend Michael Maillet shot at Glasgow Hills. That was mighty impressive, Mike.

In between, little Melanie and I spent many days at our cottage in Muskoka, where turning off the BlackBerry is no hard chore.

But now, the NHL season is around the corner and it's time to get back to work. I leave you today with five early thoughts:

1. Mike Comrie could be one of the best under-the-radar signings of the summer. For $500,000? He may perhaps be the best bang for the buck, as well. He's a smart player and will find a way to make plays with No. 87 if that's the way the Penguins choose to deploy the wing/center.

2. Absolutely love what new GM Steve Yzerman is doing in Tampa Bay. The Lightning will make the playoffs in the East this season (I'll also predict a 90-point season for Vincent Lecavalier).

Pierre LeBrun
The reunion in Hearst, Ontario.

3. I believe the St. Louis Blues will bounce back this season; whether that's good enough in the tough Western Conference, who knows. This is the season T.J. Oshie, Erik Johnson, David Perron and the rest of the young core take ownership of the team.

4. Drew Doughty, Duncan Keith and, yes, Nicklas Lidstrom will be nominees for the Norris Trophy. After what I witnessed from him with my own eyes last spring, ol' Nick is going to deliver a gem of a season in Detroit despite his age.

5. The Vancouver Canucks are serious Cup contenders.

"They're the team to beat in the West in my mind," an NHL GM requesting anonymity told ESPN.com on Tuesday.

We agree. Detroit, San Jose and Chicago (maybe Los Angeles, too?) will have a huge say, but the additions of Dan Hamhuis and Keith Ballard on the Canucks' blue line addressed the one area that needed addressing. Veteran center Manny Malhotra was a sneaky signing, as well. Just have a hunch about Vancouver this season.