Magic 8-ball predicts NHL future… read on, if you dare

By Daorcey Le Bray

Hockey fans looked out their windows last Thursday morning to see the glorious white that marked the last day of the Canadian summer. The crispness in the air signalled the official coming of our unofficial national sport.

Hockey’s back!

There is a certain excitement that precedes this game. Its speed captures us and its drama gives refuge to the Canadian patriot. Hockey is a mixture of harsh cold and the toughness of a player’s will. It is in this spirit that this preview summary of our Canadian teams was forged.

Ottawa Senators

•1999/2000 record: 41-30-11-2 (Second in Northeast Division; Sixth in Eastern Conference)

•Key transactions: Tom Barrasso (departure), Derek King (aquisition)

The Sens will be starting this year’s season with quite a bit of focus on their goaltending. Last March saw the team hire veteran netminder Tom Barrasso in the hopes that he would duplicate the team’s past success with Ron Tugnutt and also help the Senators get over the Eastern Conference hump. Unfortunately, the plan didn’t work out and Barrasso left in search of greener pastures during the off-season. Thus, Patrick Lalime is forced between the posts as this year’s starter. Although he fared well as last year’s backup, he will be standing up to the rigours of the number one position for the first time. This may prove to be his greatest challenge. The good news for Lalime is that he will be behind the solid defensive line that pushed the team to the playoffs last season.

Magic 8 Ball says: "If goaltending is a no show, fans might as well not show too."

Toronto Maple Leafs

•1999/2000 record: 45-30-7-3 (First in Northeast Division; Third in Eastern Conference)

•Key Transactions: Wendel Clark (departure), Shayne Corson (acquisition), Dave Manson (acquisition), Gary Roberts (acquisition)

As the Canadian star team from last season, the Leafs franchise made a grand off-season effort to bulk up the muscle in the group. Coach Pat Quinn wanted to close the gap between his team and the Stanley Cup champions, the New Jersey Devils. And, although the Leafs were the top scoring team in the league last year, their defensive line could not compete with the best of the heavy checking lines. As Toronto’s defensive star Bryan Berard will probably not return after his serious eye injury at the end of last season, there is a hole to be patched in that line. The hope for the Leafs is that cagey veteran Shayne Corson from Montreal and mean-streaked Dave Manson should do just that. These additions should also decrease some of the team’s intense reliance on elite goaltender Curtis Joseph to keep the team afloat.

Magic 8 Ball says: "Watch for these guys to make a good run for their money."

Montreal Canadiens

•1999/2000 record: 35-38-9-4 (Fourth in Northeast Division; Tenth in Eastern Conference)

•Key Transactions: Shayne Corson (departure), Turner Stevenson (departure)

Of all the teams who suffered injuries last season, Montreal was hurt the most. Their offence was horribly affected mid-season with the losses of Saku Koivu, Trevor Linden, Brian Savage and Benoit Brunet, thus knocking down any hopes that the Canadiens would make a showing in the playoffs. The bonus for this year is that all of these players are back on the line, for now. Montreal has also done a bit of an overhaul on their veteran players such as Corson and Stevenson, but has picked up many new or unrecognizable faces in a hope to start fresh and try to recapture the glorious Habs of the past. They also boast a solid and tried netminder in Jeff Hackett.

Magic 8 Ball says: "A strong showing to start, but too many new faces may challenge the duration of success."

Vancouver Canucks

•1999/2000 record: 30-37-15-8 (Third in Northwest Division; Ninth in Western Conference)

•Key Transactions: Bob Essensa (aquisition), Daniel Sedin (aquisition), Henrik Sedin (aquisition), Brad May (departure), Mark Messier (departure)

Despite a valiant effort near the end of the season, the team from the coast didn’t pick up a playoff spot last year. The Canucks are hoping the addition of the Sedin twins will give their offence the edge needed to push the team into the post-season for the first time in four years. Although it is the twins’ National Hockey League debut, they both turned quite a few heads during their time in the Swedish League. Their novelty as twins, along with their obvious skills, is sure to gain them instant fame in North America and may be what Vancouver needs. The loss of Mark Messier to the New York Rangers may prove to be a bit of a challenge for the team. Fortunately, the Canucks will not have far to search for leadership with choices such as offensive players Markus Naslund, Ed Jovanoski, and Todd Bertuzzi.

Magic 8 Ball says: "Watch as fans jump for the Sedins and cheer the Canucks all the way to the playoffs."

Edmonton Oilers

•1999/2000 record: 32-34-16-8 (Second in Northwest Division; Seventh in Western Conference)

•Key Transactions: Boyd Devereaux (departure), Roman Hamrlik (departure), Eric Brewer (aquisition)

With General Manager Glen Sather off to the New York Rangers, past coach Kevin Lowe filling his shoes and ex-Oiler Craig MacTavish stepping in as head coach, one would expect Edmonton to be in a bit of disarray coming into the new season. It seems as if the Oilers are looking for a new face to compete with against teams such as Dallas, who easily beat the Oilers early in the playoffs. Of course, not all is new. Goaltender Tommy Salo who provided concrete play between the pipes last year is back along with defensive powers of Mike Grier and Todd Marchant. The offence, although solid with Doug Weight, Bill Guerin and Ryan Smyth, does not have much in the way of a second line if the first line slows down.

The team’s major challenge this season will be, obviously, the integration of the new coach.

Magic 8 Ball says: "With a little luck, this team could rival the Leafs for the top Canadian spot."

Calgary Flames

•1999/2000 record: 31-41-10-5 (Fourth in Northwest Division; Twelfth in Western Conference)

•Key Transactions: Sergei Krivokrasov (departure), Mike Vernon (acquisition)

In a position similar to that of the Oilers, the Flames are dealing with a new general manager and head coach, Craig Button and Don Hay respectively. It is these new faces who will hopefully lead the team to post-season action for the first time in four years. Another major addition to Calgary is two-time Cup winner Mike Vernon This ex-Flame led the team to the championship back in the 1988/1999 season (the days of Canadian hockey "good times"), and is counted on to help out again, but this time as backup for younger goaltender Fred Brathwaite. One of last season’s hindrances was the injuries of much of the defensive line (Tommy Albelin, Denis Gauthier, and Steve Smith). Back this year and uninjured, that line should spell strength for Calgary.

Magic 8 Ball says: "Having the Flames win their way into the playoffs would be like breaking a bitter tradition, but new faces make the future fairly foggy."

Disclaimer: The 8-ball is 95 per cent accurate, 19 times out of 20. But there’s only half a chance of that, if you’re lucky. Any harm incurred by yourself from loansharks will not be the responsibility of the 8-ball.

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