I can't believe we're two days from seeing hockey again.
Hockey, I missed you.
After a Summer filled with Michael Vick, Tim Donaghy, Barry Bonds, Milton Bradley, Terrell Owens (I'm sure he did something), Donovan McNabb, Shawn Marion, Kevin Garnett, Jose Canseco, Jason Giambi, David Beckham and a whole other load of crap that I'm sure I haven't mentioned, I'm ready to love you again hockey.
So now, I present to you, 26 (in honor of Patrik Elias...sure that works out) reasons I'm excited about the NHL season.
1. We'll start with rookies. Once Chicago leaves it's current surrealist "I can't believe I'm not running through the streets with bottles of tequila" state after the death of owner Bill Wirtz, they can get excited for Patrick Kane (hopefully) and Jonathan Toews (Who will manage 80 points this year, that's my first garantee). However, of all the "super-rookies" each NHL blogger told me about during my series of SFM Previews (Keep reading), I think I'm excited more about Jack "MF" Johnson than any other.
2. Gretzky keeps aging. Have you ever looked at a photo of George W. Bush in the year 2000, and then compared it to a photo of him now? Check a pic of The Great One in 2005, and one of him in April 2008, after a 3rd season of the black hole of hopelessness that is Phoenix.
3. NHL Previews. Including mine, Greg Wyshynski, John Buccigross and others are able to entertain as well as inform. John's for his ability to fill up my iPod. Greg's for the fact that he listed Dainius Zubrus as "The Worst Excuse For a Player on the Washington Capitals" in 2005. There's one I'll never forget, Greg.
4. Zach Parise. I'm more excited than Ja Rule at a Focus on the Family meeting to see how 'THE ZACH' progresses in his third season in red and black.
5. New Uniforms. You know, the ones that will come in 08-09 after all the complaints about these ones.
6. Figuring out who has the best Top 4 defenseman in the Atlantic Division. It's so hard to choose between Malik-Rozsival-Staal-Mara, Martin-White-Matvichuk-Vishnevski, Hatcher-Timmonen-Smith-Coburn, Gonchar-Sydor-Orpik-Whitney, or Witt-Bergeron-Sutton-Campoli. Man, good help is hard to find.
7. On a complete opposite note, Brodeur-Lundqvist-DiPietro-Fleury-Biron is more exciting than any other goalie fivesome in the league.
8. Guys like the super-human Greg Wyshynski, the entertaining Derek Felix, the incredible Paul Kukla, the hilarious Daryl Reaugh, the [thesaurus broken] Eric McErlain and all the guys at all the Battle sites and Fanhouse will be talking hockey again on a daily basis.
9. Versus continues it's transition from "What's that network?" to "That channel we tried to V-Chip".
10. The Islander blog box. I'm jonesin' for a Larry Brooks-Eklund showdown.
11. I'll admit it...Sid the Young Gentleman and Alexander the Still Great are still reasons 1-25 to love hockey.
12. The Dallas Stars. Because you all know they're one playoff-less season away from Willa Ford changing addresses.
13. Hockey-bashing newspaper columnists. They angry up the blood. Whenever I go to a game, I read about 6 or 7 columns from America's greatest hockey-bashers (Kornheiser, Mariotti, Norman Chad, etc.) and watch Tim Cowlishaw get punished for talking hockey on Around the Horn, and frack I'm in the mood to yell and scream at The Rock that night.
14. More and more hockey references in pop culture. The Daily Show, CW's "Reaper" and The Simpsons all featured some form of hockey reference on episodes this week. From Raffi Torres' hilarious interview with Dan Bakkedahl on TDS, to the awesome Zamboni scene in Reaper (Watch it Thursday at 9, it's legitimately shocking), to Homer's Red Wings jersey (albeit in a parody of Feris Beuller), hockey's becoming more acceptable - so much so that Mike Myers' next movie is based in the world of pucks. Where apparently Justin Timberlake plays hockey, and Jessica Alba owns a team coached by Mini-me. But any press is good press, right?
15. The Northwest, Southeast, and Atlantic Divisions, where all five teams have some form of hope for a post-season bid.
16. The Sabres not making the playoffs. Both "Doc" Emrick and Kevin Greenstein have said this week that there is a very good shot it could happen, and I kinda believe them. Not really that exciting, just wanted to mention that somewhere.
17. The Florida Panthers. Could Tomas Vokoun do what Roberto Luongo couldn't, making this team a playoff one for the first time since being trounced by NJD in 2000? True story...I had tickets to game 5 of that series. I was a heart-broken 11-year old, it was birthday gift to see playoff hockey. Of course, I did end up with tickets to a game in the Toronto series that year. But still...damn you Panthers!
18. Liveblogs. Oh, we're going to do a bunch this year, trust me. And it won't be just the 6 of us humble servants here.
19. The return to an All-Star Weekend. All-Stars on Tuesday and Wednesday just doesn't seem right. Hopefully Atlanta does the game justice. L'il Jon performing the national anthem? I don't think it can not happen.
20. My job at the Meadowlands paying for Devils tickets at The Rock. Mmmm...sleeping with the enemy.
21. My top 8 in the East and West
EAST: PIT, OTT, CAR, NYR, BUF, TB, NJ, PHI
WEST: ANA, VAN, DET, SJ, COL, MIN, LA, STL
Yeah, I have Calgary and Dallas (and Nashville) and Atlanta out. That's the exciting part.
22. My Conference Champions: The Anaheim Ducks and The Pittsburgh Penguins
23. My Stanley Cup Champion: The Anaheim Ducks, in 7 Games
24. My Conn Smythe Trophy Winner: Sidney Crosby (Oh, you know it would totally happen).
25. My League MVP: Okay, so Crosby probably get it again. Who cares.
26. Beginning anew, hockey-wise, here in New Jersey. Let's create something big, eh' Devils fans? Don't Stop Believin'.