This is it, folks.
Starting tomorrow at 8:00PM, every goal, save, hit, shot, blocked shot, you name it, it counts. It's going in the record books. There's no turning back now.
If there is one thing the Blogosphere should know about me, it's that I dislike predictions. I don't like making them, I don't like reading them, sure I agree with some, but in the end, a part of me just appreciates the innate unpredictability that is professional sports.
Yes, a certain amount of consistency is reassuring, but being able to project the exact amount of points a player will score, and the Eastern and Western Conference standings down to the number of wins, losses, and points each team will accumulate, frankly, takes all the fun out of being a fan. So, as an alternative, I have compiled a list of things to look forward to in the 2009-10 NHL season, for your viewing pleasure:
1) Return to an identity of some sort: I am slowly getting back into the habit of watching full games again after Jim Playfair wrenched me out of my cozy Sutter comfort zone and Mike Keenan launched me into a perpetual state of hand-wringing and what I call GDA (Game Day Anxiety--symptoms include irritability, moodiness, unexplainable angst and feelings of dread, random acts of violence, and belief in ridiculous superstitions and reverse psychology). I have high hopes that with a member of the Sutter clan back behind the bench, we will find a cure for GDA and stability and consistency will prevail in Flames Nation.
2) Epic division/conference battles: As always, the Northwest Division is expected to be ultra-competitive (for the most part). The long-standing rivalries between the Canucks, Flames, and Oilers only seem to intensify with age. I can hardly wait for the 'Dome to erupt the first time Robyn Regehr obliterates one of the Sedin twins and/or Ales Hemsky.
With the Flames and Canucks expected to contend for the Northwest title, we can likely expect more than a few memorable tilts between two, starting tomorrow night. Brouhahas and barn-burners galore. After that, the NW could be a total crapshoot, as the Oilers and Wild both look to contend for a playoff spot after under-going dramatic changes both on the ice and behind the bench. While it seems safe to assume the Avalanche will pull up the rear yet again as they continue to rebuild after the retirement of Joe Sakic, you never know.
The Western Conference is very much the same. You have your contenders--Detroit, Chicago, San Jose, and to a lesser extent Anaheim, Vancouver, and Calgary--then you've got the up-and-comers--St. Louis, Columbus, Los Angeles, Nashville--and your wild cards--Edmonton, Minnesota, and perhaps Dallas. That only leaves Phoenix and Colorado out of the picture for a playoff spot, but again, nothing's set in stone. I anticipate the development of new rivalries, the continuity of others, and a full-fledged Battle Royale for the top eight seeds in the West in 2009-10.
3) Watching the Toronto Maple Leafs: (I know, but admit it, you're curious). From what I've seen of the Leafs in pre-season play, I wouldn't be shocked if they were competing for a playoff spot come March-April. I think the Leafs will be my guilty pleasure team this season. The Philadelphia Flyers should be another team to watch, with Ray Emery making his much-anticipated return to the NHL and Pronger, Carter, Richards, and Gagne all vying for a spot on Team Canada in February.
Speaking of the Flyers, I am looking forward to the annual Winter Classic, especially since I missed last year's game because I fell asleep on my couch in the process of recovering from the previous night's festivities. I know I didn't miss much, I can catch a one-sided Red Wings victory almost any day of the week, but it's the novelty and the atmosphere of the whole event that makes it so special.
4) Iggy's 1000th game: February 5, 2010 will be Jarome Iginla's 1000th NHL game. Unfortunately, the Flames will be in Florida for a date with the Panthers that evening and won't be back at the 'Dome until the 11th, but expect Iggy to get a big ol' standing 'O' when the Flames' all-time leading scorer is honoured for achieving the 1000-game milestone. I may get a little teary-eyed when they present him with that tacky silver stick...
5) The fact that from now until mid-April I will be able to watch an NHL hockey game almost every day. Nothing beats settling in in front of the television with food, family, and friends for a good ol' fashioned Hockey Night in Canada double-header. Watching the various story-lines of the NHL's thirty franchises unfold over the next seven months--the wins, the losses, the surprises, the disappointments--is oddly comforting and often the best part of my day. I am getting the warm-fuzzies just thinking about it.
So there you have it. Drop the puck already.
Let's do this thing.
Go Flames Go.