That sound you hear right now is fans furiously typing away e-mails, planning their road trips and winter weekends around hockey. It's a beautiful thing, isn't it? What are New York Islanders fans doing today? Well, probably looking forward to Jets or Giants season ...
As you start planning ahead for the upcoming season, I've picked out 10 games that you should circle on your calendars:
Atlanta Thrashers at Florida Panthers (Oct. 11, 2008)
You might be saying, "What the hell could this game be good for?" Well, it's not so much as anything between the two teams, but the return of a player. Richard Zednik will return after the horrendous skate-to-throat injury he suffered last February. You can be sure there will be a long ovation when he hits the ice.
Edmonton Oilers at Anaheim Ducks (Oct. 15, 2008)
Word has it that during their meetings last season, there was a security guard located between the two suites that sat Kevin Lowe and Brian Burke. If that was the case, well, they might as well just let these two duke it out and get it over with. You think a Gary Bettman muzzle is going to work?
Washington Capitals at Pittsburgh Penguins (Oct. 16, 2008)
You can't have a "Games to Watch" list without Alex versus Sid. Another interesting storyline is the entire "Ovechkin taking runs at Malkin" thing that we saw a few times last season. This rivalry is only going to get better now that the Capitals have improved themselves and have a stud defenseman in Karl Alzner ready to hit somebody. The teams meet again on Jan. 14, Feb. 22 and March 8, all in 2009.
Dallas Stars at New York Rangers (Oct. 20, 2008)
Sean Avery plays against his former mates and you can be sure he won't mind stirring some crap up. Ex-teammates be damned, Avery is going to be drawing penalties, turtling, and yapping his gob the entire game. I guess we'll see how some of his former teammates felt about him now that he'll be wearing an opposing jersey.
Dallas Stars at New Jersey Devils (Oct. 22, 2008)
Meanwhile in Jersey, Martin Brodeur and Sean Avery rekindle their feud. Over/Under on the amount of ice showers Brodeur gets by Avery is now up to four. Luckily for the Devils and Marty, these two teams will only play once, so "Fatso" can rest in his crease in piece.
Tampa Bay Lightning at Washington Capitals (Nov. 10, 2008)
Olaf Kolzig comes back to the city that he spent the last 19 years in.It'll be an emotional night as one of D.C.'s most popular athletes returns home and, despite being nudged out the door last season, Olie the Goalie will want to prove he still has something left in the tank.
Pittsburgh Penguins at Detroit Red Wings (Nov. 11, 2008)
Marian Hossa faces his former teammates after he basically said they did not have a good chance to win the Stanley Cup. He passed on playing with Sidney Crosby for the next 5-7 years and took less money to head to Hockeytown. This one might have some bitterness. Oh, and these two teams played in the Cup final or something last month, too.
Tampa Bay Lightning at Pittsburgh Penguins (Dec. 23, 2008)
The Lightning, also known as Pittsburgh-South, comes back to the Steel City and fans will have their chance to welcome Adam Hall, Gary Roberts, Ryan Malone, as well as Michel Ouellet and Mark Recchi home. Will Pittsburghers boo their hometown boy Malone? Or will he be given a hero's welcome with his gutsy Game 5 performance still fresh in memory? There are so many interesting match-ups for Tampa Bay next season, it could have its own list: What about Jan. 12, 2009, when the Mullet returns to Hollywood to face the Los Angeles Kings? Or for that matter, on April 3 when he goes to Newark for the first time as a coach after trashing the city on ESPN?
Detroit Red Wings at Chicago Blackhawks (The Winter Classic), Jan. 1, 2009
The third incarnation of the outdoor game is upon us and let's all hope this new portable rink will diminish any ice problems like we saw in Buffalo this past New Year's Day. It should be fun to see the brown ivy in the middle of winter and "The Windy City" faithful come out in full support of their revived Blackhawks, who'll no doubt be wearing vintage jerseys.
San Jose Sharks at Boston Bruins (Feb. 10, 2009)
The prodigal son returns for a second time as an opponent. Joe Thornton was never shown the love during his time in Boston as he was not considered a big game player, especially in the playoffs. He moved to San Jose in 2005 and has continued that trend. Will the boo birds be out when Thornton comes back? You can bet on it.
There you have it: 10 games to watch this coming season. There are some other noteworthy contest, of course: The Vancouver Canucks meet Markus Naslund and the Rangers in New York on Nov. 19; best friends Bruce Boudreau and John Anderson meet as coaches when the Capitals go to Atlanta on Oct. 10; Toronto faces Darcy Tucker, and Jeff Finger returns to Colorado, on Jan. 29, 2009; Todd Bertuzzi goes back to Anaheim on Nov. 2; and Hossa comes back to Pittsburgh on Feb. 8, 2009.
The great thing about hockey is that more games are sure to be added to this list as storylines and rivalries are created on a regular basis. Now all we have to do is sit and wait the three months until they finally drop the puck again -- in Prague and Stockholm, where the Rangers, Lightning, Senators and Penguins play on Oct. 4 and Oct. 5.
What games are you looking forward to the most?