Monday, 1 September 2014

An Annual Tradition

I spent the weekend doing some random tasks. Labour Day weekend is always a good weekend to start preparing for the autumn and winter, and I was making the most of it by doing some major cleaning, organizing, and discarding of things. The one other thing that Labour Day weekend triggers for me? The start of getting back into hockey in a big way, and I do this with The Hockey News' annual Yearbook magazine.

I've been buying the yearbooks since the late-1990s, and they never disappoint. The one thing I have noticed is that they are getting thinner. That being said, the content is still excellent and very worth your time if you're a hockey fan. Like any book or publication I pick up, though, I feel compelled to review it in order to help you make a decision when it comes to your hockey reading material.

I assure you that The Hockey News never sent me a copy nor do they pay me or reward me in any way for speaking about their publication. I will criticize certain articles within the covers, so don't think this will be a piece filled with niceties about The Hockey News. Alright? Alright.

First off, the "prairies" edition of the Yearbook features Taylor Hall and Mark Giordano on the cover. Let me be very blunt here: no one outside of those cities cares about the Oilers and Flames. I would bet that there are more Jets fans on the prairies and into northwestern Ontario than either Flames fans or Oilers fans. Let's start rotating the cover spots, shall we? I'm tired of reading about when those two franchises will start moving up the standings, and tired of hearing about the chosen poster boy for that improvement.

The "Opening Faceoff" piece by Adam Proteau should be required reading. In his piece, Mr. Proteau explains why there was no research and development camp this season, what Corsi and Fenwick are all about, what the salary cap is and who is affected by carryover bonus overages, rules changes for this season, which team in Pennsylvania will face more scrutiny, the possibility of the Stanley Cup staying in the same state with a different team for the first time in NHL history, the next Hall of Fame class, who the off-season winners and losers were, which team is likely to fire their coach first, and why the Coyotes went from Phoenix to Arizona. Needless to say, the two pages of this article are filled with information every fan should know for the 2014-15 season.

There are the standard pieces that are featured each year: Rookie Watch, Milestone Watch, and the fan survey results. Rookie Watch is always a crap-shoot, but Ryan Kennedy chose some pretty solid names in Ekblad, Drouin, Kuznetsov, and Teravainen in his picks. As for milestones to watch for, Marian Hossa, Patrik Elias, and Martin St. Louis should reach the 1000-point mark this season with ease, but I'm doubtful about Patrick Marleau and Vincent Lecavalier.

The fan survey always brings some fun numbers. 41% of you think Steven Stamkos will win the Rocket Richard Trophy, but only 11% said he'd win the Art Ross Trophy, placing him second behind Sidney Crosby's 23% mark. 53% of fans said there's a good balance of fighting in the NHL compared to 26% who want less fighting. And 57% of readers want the NHL to stay in the Olympics versus playing a World Cup of Hockey every four years. There are more great numbers, but it's very interesting to see how other fans see the game.

There are in-depth articles on Colorado's Nathan MacKinnon, Arizona's Shane Doan, Los Angeles' Drew Doughty, Washington's new GM and coach, Nashville's Pekka Rinne, NY Islander Kyle Okposo, Toronto's Jonathan Bernier, and a fantastic piece on summer training techniques used by NHL players. While all of them are written extremely well, the piece on Shane Done is pretty interesting.

The obligatory "Top 50" article is back, and the writers try to rank the top-fifty players in the NHL. There are seventeen players in the list that didn't make the list last year. The top-ten features only centermen and defencemen. The first winger doesn't appear until #14, and his last name isn't Ovechkin. The first goaltender appears at #19. Broken down by position, there are five goalies, twelve defencemen, six left wingers, seven right wingers, and twenty centermen. And Alexander Ovechkin isn't even the top right winger either.

Of course, the part that I'm most interested is included in the last half of the magazine. The team rankings are The Hockey News' analysis on everything from the current state of the team to the prospects to an "x-factor" they see as each team enters the 2014-15 season. They also take it upon themselves to predict the Stanley Cup finalists based on their analyses, and I have to say that the Eastern Conference representative they pick is a little surprising. That's not to say that this team hasn't improved or added pieces to make them better, but it doesn't seem like it will happen this year.

The Stanley Cup champion? I can see it happening. This Western Conference team added the right pieces to make them one of the odds-on favorites. In fact, The Hockey News put them at 7-1 to win the Stanley Cup this season. As The Hockey News wrote, this team is "even better on paper than a year ago", and they were one of the favorites to win last season.

Needless to say, I always enjoy flipping through the pages of The Hockey News Yearbook. It's a good read from one of the best hockey news sources on the planet. I may not always agree with their rankings or analyses, but I'll always be a fan of their work.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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