Christmas in July. That's what this time of year is for hockey fans. First, we get the frenzy that is the opening of the free-agent market on July 1; and then the day after the Major League Baseball All-Star Game, we get our hands on the next NHL schedule.
I would imagine many of you already have road trips planned and dates circled on your calendars. It's a great day and a reminder that while hockey season may have ended just over a month ago, the next season isn't too far away.
Now that we know who's heading where and when for the 2009-10 season, let's take a gander at some of the games we're most looking forward to this year.
The Sharks begin yet another season in which they'll break their fans' hearts come springtime. Besides the date also being Opening Night for the National Hockey League, the Avalanche will honor their long-time captain, Joe Sakic(notes), by retiring his No. 19 to the Pepsi Center rafters. Representatives from Toro will be barred from the arena.
When Flyers general manager acquired Chris Pronger(notes) from the Anaheim Ducks, it brought the "Battle of Pennsylvania" to another level. Gone is the traffic cone that was Derian Hatcher(notes), who will now be replaced by the suspendable elbows of Pronger. It's amazing how year to year, no matter how much the rosters turnover, the hatred is still there on the ice.
A rematch of the Western Conference Finals and Marian Hossa's(notes) first visit to Joe Louis Arena since he signed a 12-year deal with Chicago. Red Wings fans swore up and down that they won't boo Hossa like Pittsburgh fans. I believe them. They should cheer as Hossa's departure ensures the Red Wings a good chance at winning another Stanley Cup.
NY Rangers at Minnesota Wild (October 30, 2009)
Marian Gaborik(notes) returns to Minnesota to face his former teammates and fans after he signed to play on Broadway for the next five years. Who knows what would have happened with Gaborik's future had he not been injured and missed 65 games this past season. The injury threw out any chance of now-former Minnesota general manager Doug Risebrough trading the sniper for proper value. (This last paragraph could all be meaningless, of course, after the first time Gaborik tweaks a groin.)
Brian Burke's re-creation of the Maple Leafs has turned into a major face-lift in the past few weeks. His top signing was luring Mike Komisarek(notes) from Montreal and checking off the "big, checking defenseman" from his wish list. Komisarek who spent his entire six-year career with the Canadiens, will return to the Bell Centre on Halloween. While seeing Komisarek on the opposing blue line will be a scary sight for most Habs fans, anyone in attendance who dresses as Bob Gainey should receive a free ticket.
Washington Capitals at Montreal Canadiens (November 28, 2009)
This is the much-rumored game to be played inside Montreal's Olympic Stadium in front of 60,000 fans. Whether or not the kinks are worked out to make that happen, Alex Ovechkin is sure to make the highlight reels as in the past two seasons he's had his four-goal game and added yet another classic goal to his ever-growing resume against the Habs.
Philadelphia Flyers at Boston Bruins (January 1, 2010)
And Gloating Bruins Fan returns! (Thanks to Paul. C)
The third installation of the Winter Classic and fourth outdoor game hosted by the NHL sees two old Wales Conference rivals squaring off in historic Fenway Park. What used to be heard around Fenway on a regular basis, "NOMAHHH!" will be replaced with "CHARAHHH!" and "RYDAHHH!" as many Bostonians will arrive still licking their wounds after celebrating the night before. Wysh is wondering how many fights we might finally see on the ice, but I'm more interested in seeing the number of fan brawls within the stands.
(OK, so this pushes it to, like, 12 can't-miss games. Big deal.)
Hockey Day in Canada is yet another reason to plant yourself on the couch, watch the chip crumbs accumulate, and spend an entire day watching puck. Not only that, but us Yanks also get to learn all about the history of Stratford, Ontario, who will host the festivities.
Detroit Red Wings at Pittsburgh Penguins (January 31, 2010)
The Stanley Cup rematch and first time the two will meet since their epic seven-game series last month. If Pittsburgh wants to rub their revenge in a little deeper, they can wait to raise their Stanley Cup championship banner until this date.
Or lower it and re-raise it before the game.
Calgary Flames at Florida Panthers (February 5, 2010)
Former Cat Jay Bouwmeester(notes) comes back to South Florida and the geographic area that he claimed doesn't hold enough hockey passion for him to re-sign there. You would think Bouwmeester would be booed villainously every time he touches the puck, but maybe Panthers fans should save those boos for former GM Jacques Martin and the Montreal Canadiens, who missed the opportunity to get a return on J-Bo's departure.
Wysh asked you all what games you were looking forward to. I'd like to inquire about what storylines interest you most at the moment.
Is it the possible final seasons for Teemu Selanne(notes) and Scott Niedermayer(notes)? Looking forward to the NHL Premiere games in Europe? Maybe Martin Brodeur(notes) and his 1000th game is more up your alley. Or you're a fan of the prospects and eagerly anticipating the debuts of John Tavares(notes), Victor Hedman(notes), Jonas Gustavsson(notes) or Matt Duchene?
Let us know what you're anticipating most about the upcoming season ...