Without fear, without a doubt (kinda), our picks for 2007-08
Here's a look at some players, coaches, teams and managers who might be making headlines this season:
Our MVP pick (Hart) and our leading scorer (Art Ross) pick
They're one and the same and here's the problem for the competition, Sidney Crosby is only going to get better. Joe Thornton will again give him a run for his money on a very good San Jose Sharks team, but Crosby wins his second straight scoring title and league MVP award.
Our pick for best defenseman (Norris Trophy)
With Scott Niedermayer on the fence somewhere between Fernie, British Columbia, and retirement, the door once again swings wide open for Nicklas Lidstrom, who has managed to win five of the last six awarded. Chris Pronger may give chase in Anaheim, but this is Lidstrom's trophy to lose.
Our pick for best goaltender (Vezina Trophy)
This one represents a changing of the guard as far as we're concerned. Yes, Martin Brodeur will be in the mix as will Roberto Luongo, but watch for Henrik Lundqvist of the New York Rangers to earn his first Vezina after being nominated in each of his first two NHL seasons.
Our pick for top rookie (Calder Trophy)
This race should be fascinating to watch and should include a couple of defensemen in Erik Johnson (St. Louis) and Jack Johnson (Los Angeles) and a bunch of talented forwards, including Nicklas Backstrom in Washington, Bobby Ryan in Anaheim, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane in Chicago and two Atlanta Thrashers, Bryan Little and Brett Sterling. A dark horse will be Kings netminder Jonathan Bernier if he sticks. Our pick, however, is Toews.
Player most likely to disappoint
Let's start by saying we think netminder Martin Biron might be one of the nicest guys in the league. And although Biron has waited patiently for a starting role, we're just not sure he's got the tools in the box to do it in Philadelphia, where goaltending is what Flyers fans say when they see a picture of a black hole.
Big-name free agent who might be more bust than bust-out
We are curious about what's going to happen to Scott Gomez, who didn't go far in terms of geography, moving from New Jersey to the New York Rangers, but is in a different hockey world altogether. Scrutiny, pressure and a completely different system may all leave fans and Gomez wanting.
Little-known free agent who might be capable of big things
Tom Poti was once expected to deliver big things in Edmonton and New York. It didn't work out that way, but last season on Long Island, Poti led the team in ice time and quarterbacked the power play. In Washington, he'll be expected to fulfill those roles and more as the Caps hope to sneak into the postseason.
GM whose career will most often be debated in a nonglowing fashion
Is there any doubt about who this might be? John Ferguson, the beleaguered GM of the Toronto Maple Leafs, has been under media assault from the time he stepped into his office in August 2003. With the team having missed the playoffs two seasons in a row and sacrificing three draft picks for netminder Vesa Toskala, who was less than stellar in the preseason, the heat will be even more intense this season.
Coach on the hot seat
There are a couple of NHL coaches whose longevity might hinge on a good start, including Atlanta's Bob Hartley, whose team was swept in the first round of the playoffs last spring, and John Stevens, who must prove he can coach a retooled Philadelphia Flyers team. But no one is going to feel the heat like Ron Wilson in San Jose, especially if the Sharks don't start out well after disappointing in the playoffs for the second straight season.
Player most likely to retire before Thanksgiving
Jeremy Roenick. The most curious of offseason free-agent signings has been running on empty since the lockout. Unless he's found Ponce de Leon and the fountain of youth, it'll be over before you can say "television analyst" for the former Chicago great.
Player most likely to un-retire before Thanksgiving
Scott Niedermayer. No one knows, of course, what the spectacular defenseman is going to do. But we're pretty convinced he's not quite done yet. He might make the perfect pre-Christmas present to a Ducks team that figures to struggle to stay on top in the Western Conference.
Player most likely to take a step back
Thomas Vanek of the Buffalo Sabres finished with 43 goals last season, just his second in the NHL. Then, he got a whopper raise thanks to an offer sheet presented by the Edmonton Oilers. Now, without leaders Daniel Briere and Chris Drury, Vanek will be asked to bring home the bacon in an even bigger way, which may be more than the talented 23-year-old can handle.
Player poised to take giant step forward
Lee Stempniak has matured rapidly since coming to the Blues midway through the 2005-06 season. Although the Blues have more depth up front, Stempniak is a huge part of the team's future and he should eclipse his 27-goal, 52-point season of a year ago.
Best hope for a reclamation project
There are always a lot of players looking for a new start, redemption, another chance or a last chance. There's Todd Bertuzzi in Anaheim, Sergei Samsonov in Chicago, Sheldon Souray in Edmonton, for instance. But the player we like to really get back on track is Souray's defensive colleague in Edmonton, Joni Pitkanen. The fourth-overall pick in the 2002 draft went off the rails in Philadelphia, but he's big, strong and smart. Now, he just has to play like that.
Player a team will be glad it hung on to even if it didn't want to
Ottawa GM Bryan Murray sure doesn't want a backup goalie that's making $3.7 million this season. But as of right now, Martin Gerber isn't a backup, but the Sens' starter. And if the Swiss-born Gerber plays as well as he did in training camp and Ray Emery is slow to come around after offseason wrist surgery, Gerber may turn out to be a blessing in disguise (even if it is an expensive blessing).
Star player most likely to get in a dust-up this season
We don't necessarily advocate fighting, but sometimes the emotion of the game can get to even its best players. Watch for Jarome Iginla to get into the mix as the pressure is on his Calgary Flames to win -- now. Remember his toe-to-toe battle with Vincent Lecavalier in the 2004 Stanley Cup finals? A classic. Now if we can just get the Caps and the Penguins to meet in the playoffs maybe we'd see an Ovechkin/Crosby bout.
Birthday greetings and Christmas cards that aren't likely to get sent
Don't expect things to cool off between Edmonton GM Kevin Lowe and Anaheim GM Brian Burke after Lowe signed the Ducks' Dustin Penner to an offer sheet in the summer. We're secretly hoping for a Ducks/Oilers playoff matchup.
Hottest trade rumors you'll hear
Watch for Wade Redden to continue to be the subject of trade rumors out of Ottawa. Redden will be an unrestricted free agent next summer and the Sens tried to deal him in the offseason. Sergei Fedorov, Adam Foote, Marian Hossa, Dany Heatley are among the group of players who could become unrestricted free agents next summer. Another interesting possibility, Sharks captain Patrick Marleau, who signed a contract extension last summer but could be had for the right price, especially if the Sharks struggle early.
Scott Burnside is the NHL writer for ESPN.com.
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2007-08 NHL SEASON PREVIEW
The NHL is back and we've got all you need to get you ready for the new season. The 2007-08 campaign starts Sept. 29 in London, followed by the North American opening Oct. 3.
TEAM PREVIEWSATLANTIC DIVISION
• New Jersey Devils
• New York Islanders
• New York Rangers
• Philadelphia Flyers
• Pittsburgh Penguins NORTHEAST DIVISION
• Boston Bruins
• Buffalo Sabres
• Montreal Canadiens
• Ottawa Senators
• Toronto Maple Leafs SOUTHEAST DIVISION
• Atlanta Thrashers
• Carolina Hurricanes
• Florida Panthers
• Tampa Bay Lightning
• Washington Capitals CENTRAL DIVISION
• Chicago Blackhawks
• Columbus Blue Jackets
• Detroit Red Wings
• Nashville Predators
• St. Louis Blues NORTHWEST DIVISION
• Calgary Flames
• Colorado Avalanche
• Edmonton Oilers
• Minnesota Wild
• Vancouver Canucks PACIFIC DIVISION
• Anaheim Ducks
• Dallas Stars
• Los Angeles Kings
• Phoenix Coyotes
• San Jose Sharks
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