Money matters, but the game's the thing

The NHL season is ready to go. Every team has dreams of a best possible result and the memory of what Anaheim and Minnesota did last season will be an inspiration to those teams that don't seem to compare with the Colorados, Detroits, Ottawas and Devils of the league.

Discounting the nagging ominous details of a possible labor doomsday, watch for the following story lines to pop up during the season:

1. The Atlanta Thrashers will suffer through the entire season. No matter what the legal result, the emotional toll on the team and Dany Heatley will suffocate the season and perhaps the organization's future. But the Thrashers' season will be secondary to the larger issues of life and death, and how to resume any sort of normal life.

2. The Anaheim Mighty Ducks will ride on the talents of Sergei Fedorov and a follow-up season by goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere which makes it clear he is not a short-term sensation. Fedorov will wind up with a season worthy of MVP consideration and help fans get over the loss of Paul Kariya.

3. On the other hand, teams will be terrified to take a penalty against Kariya's new team, the Colorado Avalanche, and their power play. Studded with the likes of Kariya, Teemu Selanne, Peter Forsberg, Joe Sakic, et al, and it should crank up at around 30 per cent.

4. The first coach on the firing line will be Paul Maurice of the Carolina Hurricanes. Yes, it's a familiar story line, but this time it has teeth. Coincidentally, the other two coaches with the most heat will come from within the same division. The Washington Capitals will have little patience with Bruce Cassidy, and the same goes for the Tampa Bay Lightning who wouldn't mind if John Tortorella curbed his emotions.

5. The New Jersey Devils will have a nagging case of Stanley Cup-itis, but general manager Lou Lamoriello will make whatever changes needed to energize the locker room. The bottom line will be that coach Pat Burns's demands to play a system will work as long as Scott Stevens and Martin Brodeur are on the ice.

6. The goalie hunt will start very early with the Philadelphia Flyers, who are depending on Robert Esche and Jeff Hackett. The Flyers will be tempted by Sean Burke of the Phoenix Coyotes, and especially Curtis Joseph of the Detroit Red Wings. Don't be surprised when a deal is discussed sending John LeClair to the Wings in exchange for Joseph.

7. Goalies will also be the issue in Tampa Bay and Colorado. Don't figure on the Wings allowing Joseph to wind up in Colorado, but the Avalanche will cast greedy eyes on Nikolai Khabibulin all season, and strike before all others to get the guy they want.

8. The Buffalo Sabres will be revived with new ownership, and a season of distance between the mass exodus of money and talent. The Sabres will reap dividends from signing Miroslav Satan in plenty of time for the regular season, and also benefit from their goalie carousel. GM Darcy Regier will be able to make a nifty deal for either Martin Biron or Mikka Noronen. And, as more than an aside, gritty Chris Drury will be rated among the best additions of the season.

9. By the middle of the season, the Capitals will be frantic to find a taker for Jaromir Jagr. When in doubt, the usual suspect will be the New York Rangers.

10. The Minnesota Wild will discover that hard-ball negotiations with Marian Gaborik and Pascal Dupuis will serve to wreck a great follow up to last season's run to the conference finals.

Al Morganti covers the NHL for ESPN.