State of the skates

New NHL season offers hope for most of teams

You might find this hard to believe, given the Red Sox fallout (get over it already), but in Boston this week they actually had a happy sports-related moment. For the first time in 39 years, the Bruins franchise got to raise a Stanley Cup banner.

They were decidedly less pleased in Vancouver three months ago when the Canucks lost Game 7 of the championship series at home, the ensuing riots a disgraceful scene. Whether the team gets over that disappointment will be a big theme as the 2011-12 season starts.

This is a good time for the NHL, even with the off-season news that included the deaths of three young players and concerns over head injuries in the wake of the Sidney Crosby concussions.

With the NBA in the same serious labor trouble that hockey went through in 2004-05, perhaps it’s time for the men on ice to step into a larger spotlight. Add to it the move of the one-time Thrashers from indifferent Atlanta to passionate Winnipeg, and the picture improves.

Boston went to a Cup summit where much more talented Bruins teams of recent decades (think Bourque, Neely) did not. There’s much talk of a hangover, but it shouldn’t be too serious, since only the Buffalo Sabres offer a genuine threat in the Northeast.

Ah, the Sabres, who began play with a pair of wins in Finland and Germany. Terry Pegula has put all kinds of his own money into the enterprise, and demands nothing less than a parade in June. It helps Buffalo that, in the division, Montreal still searches for goals, Toronto is not quite ready to threaten (although the Leafs are better, really) and Ottawa is starting from scratch.

The entire Atlantic situation pivots around when Crosby returns to Pittsburgh. Once that happens, the Penguins become instant favorites, vaulting past Philadelphia, who still is unsettled in goal despite its strength everywhere else. The Rangers are building the right way (at last), which will pay off long-term, while New Jersey lapses into old trap habits and the Islanders, despite a bevy of young talent, remain stuck, perhaps waiting for a new home other than Uniondale.

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