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20 years later, here's another NHL season preview
Hopefully my writing has improved, if not, I apologize.
It’s been 20 years since I had my first byline in a publication.
I was 13 and it was a middle school newspaper publication, the “George Washington Middle School Newspaper,” Volume 2, Issue 1.
If you flipped to Page 5, past the stories about how to “Make a difference while having fun,” a list of what not to do in a nice restaurant (No. 1 “Sing songs about the bald guy sitting at the next table”), a note from the student council, and a five-star book review of the Hobbit, they gave Sean C. Shapiro a full page spread, plus a jump to page 6, to preview the 2002-03 NHL season.
The story is riddled with errors. Dominik Hasek’s first name is spelled incorrectly. I proudly predicted that Jarome Iginla would win the scoring title — the first hot and incorrect take of my career.
But it’s still a byline and at 13 it was already too late for Sean C. Shapiro, who had decided he would become a hockey journalist — after his mythical playing career ended, of course — and had no idea he was going into a field that would on multiple occasions ask him, “Is this job really worth it?”
Twenty years later, with another fresh wound from the realities of this industry, it somehow still is. It’s a bit scarier, the stakes are higher, especially with two kids of my own. But I’m still writing and despite some setbacks, I still have the opportunity to tell some damn good stories this upcoming NHL season.
And it all started with a silly byline in a middle school newspaper.
In honor of that, here’s a 2022-23 NHL season preview, rapid-fire style about all 32 teams, starting with the historical context of what I thought about the franchise in that first bylined story.
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Anaheim Ducks — “As for Anaheim there is no hope of surviving in this powerful division.”
This was a terrible prediction in 2002. The (then Mighty) Ducks ended up reaching the Stanley Cup Final that season. The Ducks in 2022-23 will be intriguing at a minimum, even if all of that intrigue is centered around where John Klingberg gets moved before the trade deadline.
Arizona Coyotes — “Phoenix shall sparkle this season behind the play of all-star goalie Sean Burke.”
The team isn’t in Phoenix anymore, in fact, it’s not even in an NHL arena for the next three to four seasons. From a game atmosphere playing on campus at Arizona State could, and should, be fun, but it’s not going to feature many victories for subletters.
Boston Bruins — “Boston blew this off-season by letting Bill Guerin and Byron Dafoe go.”
I write as a member of the goaltending union, which is the only explanation I can think of for giving that much space to Byron Dafoe’s play in Boston. Dafoe had played 64 games for Boston during the 2001-02 season, which was considered a normal workload at the time for starters. Twenty years later, the Bruins are the prototypical tandem team in net with Jeremy Swayman and Linus Ullmark.
It will be interesting to see how the Bruins adapt under Jim Montgomery, the former Dallas Stars coach. Montgomery’s time in Dallas, before the shock departure, was defined by him pushing and publicly asking more of his players.
Buffalo Sabres — “What could be worse for Buffalo? First their owner is arrested, then the NHL is running them and until a new owner is found, they can’t make improvements.”
I guess the Sabres have made some improvements in the past 20 years.
Calgary Flames — “In Calgary, Jarome Iginla will win the scoring title while the defense will let up too many scoring chances on goalie Roman Turek.”
The NHL GM of the year award is always skewed because the voting is done during the playoffs, it’s why the three finalists are often from the four teams in the Conference Finals.
But if you look at the whole body of work, Flames Brad Treliving should be in the mix this season after managing the departure of two potential MVP candidates, and somehow keeping the team near the top of the Pacific Division.
Carolina Hurricanes — “Carolina should win this weak division, as the defending Eastern Conference champs made no change to the roster this season.”
I like the Hurricanes as a candidate to win their division this season, but I also think it’s a fool’s errand to pick a winner in that division — it is far from “weak.”
Chicago Blackhawks — “The scoring ability of Tony Amonte will be missed in Chicago.”
Patrick Kane is getting traded during the season, right? Tony Amonte could probably come back now and help the tank efforts.
Colorado Avalanche — “Colorado will run away thanks to goalie Patrick Roy and centers Joe Sakic and Peter Forsberg.”
Not a big fan of the goaltending move Colorado made this offseason and they also took a slight step back because of the salary cap restrictions, but the defending champions are still the favorite in the Central and Cale Makar is only getting better.
Columbus Blue Jackets — “Welcome Columbus, you are no longer a cellar-dweller.”
This still kind of works.
Dallas Stars — “Dallas spent the off-season picking up free agents Bill Guerin and Scott Young to back up Jason Arnott and Mike Modano; this spells trouble for opposing goalies.”
Scott Young! I wrote an entire book about the Dallas Stars franchise and completely forgot about Scott Young until I was reminded of his existence by my 13-year-old self in print this morning.
The 2022-23 Stars are going to be intriguing, I think they are a playoff team in the Central, albeit a wildcard, and the franchise has finally shifted internal top-billing to some of the younger players like Jason Robertson and Roope Hintz.
Detroit Red Wings — “In Detroit the Red Wings will not enjoy runaway success like last year because they lost Dominick Hasek and “Cujo” is not the “Dominator.””
Not only did I misspell Hasek’s first name, but I also never properly identified Curtis Joseph. I needed a copy editor, and I bristle at the statement, already thinking about the first mistake someone will point out in this copy — at Substack I am, again, without a copy editor.
The Red Wings of today are a team with realistic expectations, which general manager Steve Yzerman has tempered perfectly. The team should, and likely will, be better, but any playoff expectations should be shelved for at least another season. It’s the perfect spot for a team that understands its place in this world.
Edmonton Oilers — “Edmonton should make the playoffs if their young offense can produce.”
Edmonton will make the playoffs because Connor McDavid will produce.
Florida Panthers — “Florida will brawl their way to a first overall pick this year (worst record in the league).”
The Panthers won’t be picking first, in fact, they won’t be picking in the first round for the next three seasons after various trades. Florida will be part of a loaded battle for its division with the Tampa Bay Lightning and Toronto Maple Leafs, and I think it’s going to be fun having Matthew Tkachuk stir the pot in the battle of Florida.
Los Angeles Kings — “In LA, they didn’t do enough off-season work to keep up with Dallas; this could be a problem.”
When the Kings made the playoffs last season they were ahead of internal expectations for a young core, which is slowly replacing the aging ties to the Stanley Cups in 2012 and 2014. The playoffs are far from a lock for Los Angeles, but they should be in the mix, which is on par with the long-term growth path for the franchise.
Minnesota Wild — “Minnesota is a fan packed team but with little talent.”
Twenty years later, Minnesota has talent. The team is also entertaining and interesting with Kirill Kaprizov and Marco Rossi.
Montreal Canadiens — “Montreal should make the playoffs due to Theodore’s Vezina finalists years (best goaltender).”
As a kid, I remember watching Jose Theodore and enjoying the fact he wore No. 60 as a goalie. It was unique, it wasn’t 30 or 1, and he’s probably the godfather of some of today’s top goalies wearing numbers in the 70s and 80s.
I don’t really have much on Montreal for this season, the Martin St. Louis coaching experiment is interesting, but it doesn’t come with any expectations of success.
Nashville Predators — “Nashville fans will get a chance to refund their money this year, GM David Poile has promised a full refund to season ticket holders if the team doesn’t make the playoffs.”
David Poile is still the GM in Nashville, also it turns out that “refund if we don’t make the playoffs,” was an oddly-worded marketing campaign that my 13-year-old brain didn’t understand — it was essentially a plan that allowed season ticket holders to refund/move part of their spending, I was too young to understand sports franchises don’t just give money away.
I like the Predators this season, they got better in the offseason, and in the Central they are a strong contender for third after the Avalanche and Wild
New Jersey Devils — “The Devils have the best defense and one of the best goalies in the NHL but Patrick Elias (forward) will need to step up.”
Now I was a diehard Devils fan as a kid, I played goalie because of Martin Brodeur. As I read back that sentence I can literally see 13-year-old Sean squirming to say something harsh about the Devils to make it look like a fair-and-balanced report — for whatever reason I took a shot Elias.
My Devils fandom died a long time ago, probably around 2012, as a side effect of covering the NHL — when you cover the sport, you start to lose any fanatical connections. I do think the Devils will be a fun team to watch this season, I also expect them to be a fun team to play against, it’s Lindy Ruff hockey, catch the fever.
New York Islanders — “Alexi Yashin and the Islanders learned last year from their playoff loss so they picked up two tough checkers.”
The Islanders have been sticking with essentially the same core they’ve had since 2020 and recently upped the ante, immensely, for Mathew Barzal with an extension. And it’s a group that’s good, not great, and should bounce back from a disastrous start that leveled all chances last season.
New York Rangers — “The Rangers have a star forward but he can’t carry them all the way.”
I honestly don’t know which “star forward” I was referring to. Petr Nedved? Eric Lindros? Mark Messier? Pavel Bure? That Rangers team was a collection of former stars past their prime.
The 2022-23 Rangers, however, are good. I guess Artemi Panarin would be the so-called star forward if I wanted to use a callback to a poorly written middle school article, but that would be a disservice to the overall expectations for the Rangers.
Ottawa Senators — “Welcome to Ottawa’s paradise with last year’s competitors lost key players, so there is only one real threat, themselves.”
I am amazed that this sentence made it through the editing process. The teacher who ran this publication gave the student too much freedom.
What does that sentence even mean? It reads like an attempt to be clever, with a hard turn toward a coaching cliche that just misses the mark.
Anyway, the current Senators are fun. Ottawa added Claude Giroux and Alex DeBrincat, the young core will take another step, and Ottawa was able to sidestep its way out of the Matt Murray debacle in goal. Really the only thing standing in their way, themselves….. and Toronto, Boston, Florida, and Tampa.
Philadelphia Flyers — “Philadelphia is a team of underachievers except for star Jeremy Roenick.”
I very much disliked Philadelphia as a child, it was ingrained in me after the playoff series between the Devils and Flyers. So I would toss out any serious reading of that sentence.
Now, with an admittedly clearer perspective, I don’t put much stock in the Flyers doing well this season.
Pittsburgh Penguins — “Pittsburgh has lost everything it had two years ago; will Super Mario be able to bring the Penguins?”
Mario Lemieux did bring the Penguins back, he saved the franchise, and with a bit of luck, Pittsburgh has enjoyed generational success with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin over the past decade.
San Jose Sharks — “Teemu Selanne and Owen Nolan, making this team quite scary, lead San Jose.”
Do you remember the Teemu Selänne era in San Jose? It was weird and eventually became a footnote once he eventually got back to Anaheim and won a Stanley Cup with the Ducks.
In 2022-23 the Sharks will be the equivalent of that, a footnote on the greater NHL landscape.
Seattle Kraken — “In about 20 years there will be an NHL team in Seattle. Book it.”
Great work 13-year-old Sean, you predicted the future!
(For sake of journalistic integrity, I should clarify this is a joke).
St. Louis Blues — “St. Louis has not missed the playoffs in twenty-three years and the streak won’t be broken this year.”
The Blues made the playoffs that year, many people are expecting them to make the playoffs this season. Personally, I have them behind Nashville in the Central Division and competing with the Stars for a wild card spot.
Tampa Bay Lightning — “Tampa Bay has the best goalie in the league, yet he faces too many shots.”
Apparently, I was a big believer in Nikolai Khabibulin.
I am confident enough to call Andrei Vasilevskiy the best goalie on the planet, and better yet, he doesn’t face too many shots.
The Lightning lost in the final last season, but would you really be surprised if they weren’t back in that spot again?
Toronto Maple Leafs — “Toronto lost their key player Curtis Joseph during the off-season but now they have thirty seven year old Ed Belfour minding the net.”
In the 20 years since I wrote that sentence, the Maple Leafs have won a single playoff series, and it came with Ed Belfour in net.
Honestly, the jokes write themselves sometimes.
Vancouver Canucks — “Vancouver is a team that relies way too much on the scoring of Markus Naslund and Todd Bertuzzi.”
Sure, I guess that was true. I’m more disappointed in the fact I didn’t write about the Sedin Twins. It would have been a nice segway to say positive things about Elias Pettersson.
Vegas Golden Knights — (Insert prior used joke about Seattle.)
Washington Capitals — “Last season the Capitals didn’t get the performance out of Jaromir Jagr, but this season with Peter Bondra and Robert Lange the “Caps” should give the Hurricanes problems.”
Just a cringe-worthy sentence. Never meet your heroes and never read your old writing with any expectations.
Winnipeg Jets — “Welcome to Atlanta, city of two hockey stars Dany Heatly and Ilya Kovalchuk (and a terrible hockey team).”
Honestly, what better way to wrap up a story connecting 20 years of NHL history?