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Have you seen SI's NHL preview?
Click here to send an NHL question to Kostya Kennedy.
Well, the league has certainly has lived up to its crackdown promises so far. It may be frustrating to see so many nitpicky holding and obstruction calls around the league, but remember: it's to a good end. Only by being overly vigilant for a time can the league begin to move away from all the clutching and grabbing that has slowed the game in recent years. Here's to zebra power.
And another thing: What do you all think of SI's Cup predictions? Are we plain nuts?
Now, on to the mailbag.
What do my Devils have to do to earn some respect around the NHL? Apparently
being Cup champs doesn't mean as much as it used to.
A few of you Devils fans wrote in clamoring for more love and attention. We ranked New Jersey the fourth-best team in hockey in Sports Illustrated's NHL preview issue and it's a serious contender to repeat as Cup champions. Last year I stood behind the Devils through the playoffs, aware that they were the better team in the Eastern Conference finals even after they fell behind the Flyers three games to one.
When evaluating teams as good as the Devils, Avalanche, Blues and Maple Leafs, you make tough decisions. The Devils, Mr. Schwartz, are deep and they have a top-flight goalie and I respect them greatly. The fact that they have three rookies on defense (albeit dang good players like Colin White) may be an area for concern. And there's also the pressure of playing as a Cup-defender. That pressure leveled the Devils after they won in 1995. Can they keep it going this year? Stay tuned.
The Bruins had two promising seasons in a row before last year's disaster.
Why shouldn't Bruins fans expect a bounce-back season, even without Ray Bourque?
You may remember that before last season, SI picked Boston to represent the East in the 2000 Cup finals. Part of the reason we were so far off is that the Bruins were decimated by injuries to their top forwards and to goalie Byron Dafoe. If everyone's healthy this is a solid team. The loss of Bourque is huge (see SI's Bruins preview) but if Dafoe has a big season and the young key forwards develop, the Bruins could surprise. It's the team's lack of depth that should concern Bruins fans -- Boston cannot afford to have much go wrong if it wants to contend.
I'm a big Colorado fan, and my favorite player is Joe Sakic. I am constantly
hearing that this is his last year in Denver. He has been with the
Colorado/Quebec franchise through thick and thin; why are they so eager to get
rid of him? Are they afraid to sign him because he is past 30?
Again, I touch on this in Avalanche scouting report. It's not that Colorado doesn't want to sign him but rather that Sakic seems to be leaning toward testing his value in the open market. The Avalanche already have a fat payroll -- and while few players deserve big money more than Sakic, the team can't just give its bread away. Before you say they're "eager" to get rid of him, remember that this is a franchise that ponied up a $17 million signing bonus to keep Sakic from moving to the Rangers a few years ago. If Sakic goes out and commands that kind of money (or more) in the free-agent market next season, it will be hard for Colorado to match it again.
Get off you hero-worship kick, Mark Messier is old and will not make the
Rangers a better team. Do you really think an always-injured 40-year-old man
makes that much of a difference? If you do, pass whatever it is you're smoking
so I can try it.
I am smoking a mixture of oregano, scotch tape and peanut butter, and I would be happy to share some with you, Matt. Mess will definitely help the Rangers, though I wouldn't say he'll make a huge difference. The Rangers are still no better than a low-rung playoff team. And while Mess can be good in spurts he's not going to dominate over the course of the season. Where he's really going to help is in absorbing much of the blame when this team struggles. Last season Theo Fleury was so unnerved by the heavy criticism he received that his performance went from bad to worse. Remember him breaking sticks and flipping off the crowd? Messier's presence will help the rest of the team because he'll be the stand-up guy even in the worst of times. And he will -- Mark my words -- provide a few absolutely brilliant moments this season. He just won't do it day in and day out.
What's your take on Peter Bondra's shrinking stats? Is it really because of
coach Ron Wilson's system, or has Bondra lost a step? He has never been one of
my favorites, but he did provide my friends and I with one of our all-time best
NHL fan moments. That would be during the 1998 Eastern Conference finals, when
he uncharacteristically goaded Dominik Hasek, who then threw his blocker at
Bonzai. Priceless! Where do you see Bondra being traded?
That was a great scene with Hasek. Bondra's decline is traceable to a few factors. He's still very fast but he's lost a bit in terms of cutting and generating plays for himself. That's what he has to get back to. Wilson hasn't helped Bondra at all -- partly because of the defensive responsibility Wilson (rightfully) demands from Bondra and all his players. Wilson has also avoided playing Bondra alongside center Adam Oates. Bondra needs a skillful, playmaking center to return to his high-scoring form. I can see him going to Chicago, where Alpo Suhonen could play him with center Alexei Zhamnov, a combination that could jack up both players' production.
Sports Illustrated staff writer Kostya Kennedy covers the NHL and is a
regular contributor to CNNSI.com. To send a question to his mailbag, click here.