Several big-name stars to meet former teams early
Hockey fans love to see the new schedule. From Ryan Smyth and the Avs heading to Edmonton to Scott Gomez's first game against the Devils, E.J. Hradek reveals his top-10 games to watch in 2007-08. Story
At the top, let's get one thing straight -- this is not a list of the 10 best games of the upcoming 2007-08 season.
Rather, it's a list -- or a compilation -- of 10 games that I'll definitely be interested in watching once we get things going again in October. A lot of it is based on player movement. I'm always curious to see how a player is treated in his former home.
In other cases, I have different reasons for my interest. In the past, we've been able to agree on some choices while disagreeing on others. I suspect it will be no different this year.
As hockey fans, though, there is one thing we can all agree on: We love to see the new schedule to find out what's in store for the coming season. As usual, with 1,230 regular-season games on the slate, there's a lot for everyone to watch.
These days, it isn't so easy to make the playoffs. The league's 2005 Cup finalists -- Carolina and Edmonton -- found that out last season when they both failed to qualify for the postseason. So did the Avalanche and Leafs, who both missed the playoffs by a single point. Those teams can tell you about the importance of each regular-season game.
With that in mind, here are 10 games to watch in 2007-08.
Oct. 4: Avalanche at Predators. I'm definitely curious to see how the home fans in Music City will support their skaters on opening night. Of course, the fans' reaction will depend on events as they unfold. And I suspect there will be a lot of events concerning the sale of Nashville's NHL franchise between now and then.
Oct. 20: Penguins at Capitals. The league's two dynamic young stars -- the Pens' Sidney Crosby and the Caps' Alexander Ovechkin -- enter the third year of their respective careers. The Pens have developed into a strong playoff contender, while the Capitals are still looking to find their way. Washington hopes it has improved with some of its free-agent pick-ups. This will be a good early test for the Caps. Plus, as a hockey fan, you want to see Crosby and Ovechkin going head to head.
Oct. 23: Avalanche at Oilers. When the Oilers dealt local hero Ryan Smyth to the Islanders at the trade deadline, they weren't worrying about seeing him too often in the future. But now that Smyth has signed a long-term free-agent deal with the Avs, the Oilers will see him eight times a year. This will be Smyth's first visit to Edmonton since the deal. It should be an emotional night.
Oct. 28: Maple Leafs at Canadiens. Leafs-Habs is a personal favorite for me. Growing up, I had one of those table hockey games where you controlled your six players with long medal rods. That game came with two teams -- the Leafs and the Canadiens. To me, this is a timeless hockey rivalry. I prefer when the clubs meet in passionate Montreal. Sadly, I don't think either club will be substantially better than they were in 2006-07, when they both missed the playoffs.
Nov. 14: Rangers at Devils. The Devils begin the season with a nine-game road trip as they prepare to move into their spanking new home, the Prudential Center. They'll open the 17,625-seat building with a game against the Senators on Oct. 27. But they'll truly christen the new structure when ex-Devil/new Ranger Scott Gomez leads the Blueshirts across the Hudson River to Newark for their first meeting in Jersey.
Nov. 27: Ducks at Canucks. Barring injury or something unforeseen, ex-Canuck Todd Bertuzzi will make his first trip to Vancouver since the blockbuster deal that sent him to Florida for stud goalie Roberto Luongo in June 2006. The Stanley Cup champion Ducks signed Bertuzzi as a free agent on July 2. GM Brian Burke, who's familiar with Bertuzzi from their time together in Vancouver, signed Big Bert for two reasons. First, he thinks the burly winger can find his former all-star form. Second, he's a bit of an insurance policy against the possibility that Ducks star winger Teemu Selanne will opt for retirement.
Dec. 21: Flyers at Sabres. You'll notice I've included several Sabres games on my list. That's what happens when you lose some big-name free agents in the offseason. There's some anticipation about their return to their former home and just how they'll be welcomed (or not welcomed). Former Sabres co-captain Daniel Briere makes his first trip back to Buffalo a few days before Christmas. Will it be a Blue Christmas in Buffalo for Sabres fans? Briere will be accompanied by long-time Sabres goalie Martin Biron, who'll also be making his first appearance at the HSBC Arena since being dealt to Philly in February.
Jan. 1: Penguins at Sabres. In all likelihood, this tilt will be contested outdoors at Ralph Wilson Stadium. According to a league source, the deal with the venue hasn't yet been finalized. The same source is convinced, however, that an agreement will be struck and the game will be played outdoors on New Year's Day as first reported by ESPN.com last month during the Stanley Cup finals. The Pens-Sabres game will be televised in the U.S. by NBC, which pushed to play the game on New Year's Day. If the event is finalized, it will be the league's second venture into the great outdoors. Montreal visited frigid Edmonton for the Heritage Classic in November 2003. That game drew a crowd of 57,167 despite below-zero temperatures at Commonwealth Stadium.
Feb. 23: Rangers at Sabres. Nearly 10 full days after Valentine's Day, Sabres fans will get to show their love and affection for their other former co-captain, Chris Drury, who comes to town with his new team, the big-market Rangers. During his three seasons in Buffalo, Drury was a beloved leader. Will the fans remember that? Or will they vent their frustration over his departure? I get the feeling he'll be treated well. But I've been wrong about these things before.
March 3: Senators at Ducks. Finally, what would a season be without a rematch between the Stanley Cup finalists? The Senators won't bring any fond memories with them to the Honda Center as they bring a four-game swing through the West. The Cup champs could have a very different look next season if Scott Niedermayer and Selanne both decide to retire. And if Niedermayer does skate away, we won't get to see rematch between him and Sens captain Daniel Alfredsson. The two men had a bit of an altercation during the finals when Alfredsson fired a slap shot directly at Niedermayer in Game 4. At the time, several Ducks -- including head coach Randy Carlyle -- said they would have a long memory about Alfredsson's act. I guess we'll find out.
2007 FREE AGENCY
Free agency is open and top players are on the move. Here's a recap of what's made news so far:
• Rangers keep Shanahan
• Big-spending Rangers give Lundqvist hefty raise
• Rangers introduce Gomez, Drury
• Sakic helped lure Smyth, Hannan to sign with Avs
• Bye, Buffalo: Flyers land big free agent Briere
• Drury, Gomez both sign with Rangers
• Smyth settles with Avalanche