Sunday, 27 August 2017

The Annual Review

It's that time of year. Players are starting to gather their equipment and book flights to the cities of their respective teams. Reporters are booking interviews with players via the team representatives while looking at the schedule. And while all that signals that hockey is close, there is one thing that triggers my hockey instinct as The Hockey News has published and delivered their latest edition of their annual Yearbook to newsstands! Every year, I add the latest edition to the pile of previous THN Yearbooks that I own, and this year is no exception as I picked up the magazine to the left in preparing myself for another season of hockey. What does this year's edition hold within its covers? I shall take you through a few pages here and now as I review the THN Yearbook for another season.

We seem to have this discussion every year, but somehow my province keeps falling into the "Alberta region" meaning I get a healthy dose of Oilers and Flames on the front cover despite there being a team much closer to me. Look, The Hockey News, you won a ton of Jets fans over with your bold prediction that the Jets would win the Stanley Cup in 2018-19, but to continually trot out Hall or McDavid and Gaudreau or Giordano is getting a little tiring. I'm just asking for a Jets cover once. Just once.

Once we're past the cover, there's actually an interesting story from Jason Kay, Editor in Chief of The Hockey News, about how NBA coach and general manager Pat Riley trademarked the team "three-peat" in 1988. I had no idea that he had done this - if I did, I completely forgot about it - but there has yet to be an NHL team to pull off a three-peat since Riley's private company claimed the rights to this term. We've had a few back-to-back champions as Mr. Kay points out, and the Penguins are poised to take a run at putting some coin in Riley's pocket this season.

I always love the section of the magazine where they post the polls they put out to fans on The Hockey News Facebook page. There are usually some surprises in this section as fans attempt to predict a number of things including next season's Stanley Cup-winning team. According to The Hockey News' fans, 27% of all respondents think the Pittsburgh Penguins will three-peat! They're just slightly ahead of the McDavid-led Edmonton Oilers at 24%. I'm not going to post all the results - buy the magazine! - but I thought it was pretty significant that the Penguins and Oilers were the two teams that fans were predicting to win the Silver Chalice.

The annual compilation of The Hockey News' top-50 players is included, and I was shocked at some of the rankings. I'm not going to give you the top-ten, but I will tell you there are four centermen, three defencemen, two goalies, and right-winger in the top-ten. It's some of the lower-ranked players who had me puzzled. Is Jonathan Toews better than John Tavares? How much further ahead was Brad Marchand ranked compared to Alexander Ovechkin? Where does a player like Jack Eichel rank, and which players are ranked behind him? Let's just say that I came away with a number of questions on how these rankings were determined by the people at The Hockey News.

Ken Campbell turns in an excellent piece on the elite group of defenders that David Poile has assembled in Nashville, and how each of Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis, PK Subban, and Mattias Ekholm were acquired with some behind-the-scenes information on how some of the acquisitions went down. Honestly, this might be the best piece on how the Nashville Predators were assembled that I've read, and Campbell deserves some kudos for getting Nashville GM David Poile and assistant GM Paul Fenton to spill some beans.

Shelly Anderson spends some time with Sidney Crosby who reflects on coaching changes in his career and the impact his parents have played in his career. Ryan Kennedy chats with Jack Eichel about getting better as a player, taking a bigger leadership role, and his workout regimen over the summer. Matt Larkin runs down the Canadian teams' chances of bringing home the Stanley Cup as 25 years have passed since the Canadiens last celebrated on Canadian soil. David Pollak takes an in-depth look at Joe Pavelski and his impact on the Sharks as a leader on the ice and in the dressing room. Overall, there are some nice articles in this Yearbook that provide a little more depth to a few players.

Finally, the annual team reports are always an interesting look at how the people at The Hockey News see the NHL. They rate the teams on offense, defense, goaltending, special teams, intangibles, rookies, an x-factor, and coaching and management. There's an invaluable depth chart that hockey pool participants will appreciate, and there's a good look at the rookies and players in the systems for each team who could be promoted at some time this season. Each of the 31 teams gets a thorough run-down with a fine-toothed comb by the experts at The Hockey News, and this should serve as your starting point for the season ahead.

At the start of the team reports, though, there are the predictions made by The Hockey News. Again, I'm not going to reveal their predictions for who wins the Stanley Cup or who is in the Stanley Cup Final, but I will reveal a few key predictions. If you're a fan of the Los Angeles Kings, San Jose Sharks, Ottawa Senators, Philadelphia Flyers, or Winnipeg Jets, The Hockey News is predicting that there will be no post-season for you this year. Both the Central and Metropolitan Divisions send five teams to the playoffs as both wild card teams from each conference come from those two divisions. The Vegas Golden Knights are predicted to be last in the Pacific Division if you want to know where the new team is predicted to finish, and there's a lot to worry about in Denver with the Colorado Avalanche's ongoing struggles.

However, as I wrote last season, The Hockey News has yet to predict the Stanley Cup champion and finalist correct in any year. Will this season follow that trend? Does Nashville have enough scoring after losing James Neal and Colin Wilson to make another run? Will Ottawa's magic be a one-and-done after losing a key defender in Marc Methot? Does Washington ever defeat Pittsburgh in the playoffs in the Ovechkin era? Are both Edmonton and Toronto poised to take big steps forward?

All of this will be answered after the regular season closes on April 7, 2018 and we play into June once more. If there's one thing to be certain about as we embark on the 2017-18 season, it's that even the experts get things wrong when it comes to predictions. But that's why the games are played, right?

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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