The 5 Spot Dennis Bernstein reveals the five people to watch this season.
LOS ANGELES, CA -- We're on the cusp of a full 82-game NHL season and
a slew of rule changes that will likely have coaches and players
wearing wrist bands like NHL quarterbacks to start the campaign.
With the stabilization of the Phoenix Coyotes, New Jersey Devils and
Florida Panthers through new ownership with deep pockets (Florida's
sale is on the horizon, and they're not moving), the League is set to
continue on the path of increased revenues that was interrupted by
last season's lockout.
I expect the salary cap approaches $ 80 million within a couple of
seasons and we'll see 32 franchises inside of five years.
With the overall health of the League improving, there are five
individuals in the spotlight when the puck drops for real in a couple
5. Lou Lamoriello, Devils
The good: Fresh money and deep pockets can help him quickly recover
from the 1-2 punch of losing Zach Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk over
consecutive summers. The bad: The days of the All Powerful Lou ruling
with an iron fist are history.
In addition to new owners, there's a new CEO (Scott O'Neil, former CEO
of Madison Square Garden) to contend with. While Lamoriello has as
good an eye as there is when it comes to evaluating talent, part of
the reason the Devils were in the crapper was Lou's steadfast refusal
to market a team that contends most seasons. With his power base
reduced, there's more pressure on this legendary executive, not only
to lead this team back to the playoffs but to fill the building as
well with the latter rarely given consideration in the old regime.
Devils fans may actually see a third jersey in their future, as the
current approach of marketing of hanging a sign outside the Prudential
saying "Hockey Tonight" won't cut it anymore. If the Devils don't have
a bounce back season, one of the longest tenured General Managers in
professional sports may be looking for another employer.
4. Paul Holmgren, Flyers
You should run to the table if you see Holmgren in a poker game at
your local casino, he's on a losing streak that is self-authored.
He's dealt himself out of a full house that was the 2010 Cup Finalist
team to a pair of deuces, a team with poor defense and marginal
goaltending. A further measure of how far off the rails this franchise
has gone is the fact that the gambling site bodog.ca has installed the
New York Islanders with a better chance to win the Metropolitan
Division (7/1) than the Flyers (10/1).
The Claude Giroux Caddyshack wrist aliment doesn't help the effort to
start the campaign and there's a nasty rumor going around that new
Assistant GM Ron Hextall spent a good deal of the summer picking out
furniture for Homer's office waiting for the axe to fall.
3. Phil Kessel, Maple Leafs
Kessel's rolling the dice and going to the play through his walk year
without negotiating and apparently not signing an extension, though
some conversations will happen soon. There's some method to his
madness; had last season been a normal 82 games, Kessel would have
eclipsed the 30 goal plateau for the fifth consecutive season.
Off the ice, he's turned the tide of the Buds faithful with chants of
"Thank You, Phil" late last year that brought to a screeching halt the
reminders of the Tyler Seguin trade. Kessel stands to be one of the
youngest players to hit free agency, as he'll be 26 years old at
season's end. If he hits his mark in with an injury-free campaign,
he's likely staring at a deal in excess of $60 million not matter who
is signing the cheques.
2. Dan Bylsma, Penguins
With the Penguins, it's less about the failure to win the Cup and more
about the manner in which they exited the playoffs that puts the focus
on the likeable former NHL fourth liner. The 2012 extinguishing by
Flyers when their goaltending and defense evaporated was eclipsed in
the 2013 playoffs second round when the Penguins when silently into
The passiveness of the Penguins play was disturbing and fueled rumors
that GM Ray Shero was contemplating a coaching change. Adding to the
intriguing was Bylsma's announcement on the first day of camp that the
goaltending tandem that underperformed in the playoffs was the best in
While owners Mario Lemieux and Ron Burkle gave Bylsma a vote of
confidence, the fact that Jacques Martin was added to the coaching
staff is a clear signal that Bylsma must get his team to play tougher
at the opposition's net and better in their owns zone in this coming
1. Roberto Luongo, Canucks
Through all the drama, Luongo has been professional, making light of
the saga on Twitter, saying all the right things when interviewed and
from all accounts, and was the best teammate he could be to Cory
Schneider while competing for the same job.
He's had his say with TSN's James Duthie, but with training camp in
full swing, the time for talk is over. But even before he made his
first save, his commitment to the franchise is in question, telling
Duthie, "I was willing to walk away (from $35 million) to sign
somewhere else for lesser term and less money."
Looie's new coach, John Tortorella, is a very different cat than the
laid back Alain Vigneault and will not stand for anything else than an
all-in attitude from Day One. Oh, by way, Torts had a guy named
Lundqvist between the pipes almost every night.
With a demanding coach needing to prove himself more than Luongo,
there will be little patience for a subpar start for this goalie
backstopping a team with its championship window just about shut.