Sunday, November 20, 2011

Sid and Ovi move Over

Remember how the NHL rose from the ashes of the lockout with a well-timed changing of the superstar guard?  Thankfully the moniker of 'New NHL' has since disappeared, sadly, the young men that helped right the ship are taking a back-seat to a new breed of NHLer.

Sid and Ovi is probably the greatest NHL superstar rivalry of all time, and yet Sid the Kid has missed nearly a full season's worth of games. As for the Great 8, he's not even the best forward on his team let alone the league. It seems like so long ago that these two authored one of the greatest playoff classics of any major North American sport ever.

Caps' GM George McPhee was lauded for his offseason roster acquisitions and the hockey world seemed to agree that Washington was going to be the team to beat this year. They burst out of the gates like a cup contender, and now Bruce Boudreau's job is in jeopardy after the Caps recent 7-1 drubbing at the hands of the heavily injured Leafs. The Pens had a respectable playoff run last year without Crosby and are leading the Atlantic division so far this year.

Even the supporting cast of the Pens/Caps rivalry are fading in to obscurity. Remember Mike Green? The former 30 goal defenseman, Ovi's partner in crime, he's been injured most of this and last season, ditto for Gino Malkin, who has looked both great and awful at times this year.

So, in the words of George Jones: "Who's going to fill their shoes?"

In Chicago the duo of Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane returned a once proud Original Six team to glory, and, they've got a catchy name, but neither has produced the type of individual points totals a league poster boy should.

The Sedin twins have the numbers, but no championships, and their stoic Swedish disposition doesn't scream 'Marketability'. Plus they play in the all too often forgotten West.

There was some hope that the tandem of Cory Perry and Ryan Getzlaf might carry the torch, they've got the numbers, the international success, the cup rings and individual accolades, but again, they're even more west than Vancouver and have stumbled out of the gates.

Steven Stamkos has unrivaled aliteration to his name, and he's a Richard Trophy winner, but he's trapped in a boring system in a watered down division on a forgotten team. Ditto for Jeff Skinner.

Mike Richards and Jeff Carter were seperated like talkative classmates, but now Carter, the former 48 goal man is struggling to stay in the line-up and Richards is loving life in La La Land.

It seems as if there is no logical replacement for the Sid/Ovi story line.  No one can match the classic case of the wholesome Crosby and extravagent Ovechkin, rivals in the same Conference where each year only one can lead his team to the finals. No one seems to compare to the level of similarity in production but extreme polar opposite in style that Sid and Ovi represented. The debate as to who is better is yet to be answered and might just fade away.

If the NHL is going to look for a new class of league posterboys then they may just have to go back to the well again, literally, to the City of Champions.

Nestled in an already rabid hockey market the Edmonton Oilers have assembled a young core that is eerily reminiscent of the Gretzky/Messier days. In 2008 they had the steal of the first round when they used the 22nd pick to select Jordan Eberle from the Regina Pats of the WHL. Eberle would endear himself to Canadian hockey fans before ever gracing an NHL scoresheet with his timely play for Team Canada in the WJC. The next season they nabbed Magnus Paajarvi with the 10th overall pick. The Finnish power forward has had a difficult sophomore season but make no mistake, his speed, size and puck skill are second-to-none, and if the Oilers can't find him more ice they'll find someone who will.  In 2011 they took back-to-back Memorial Cup MVP Taylor Hall with the first overall pick.

The trio of Paajarvi, Hall and Eberle performed well in their rookie season together, just well enough to land the Oilers the first overall pick in consecutive seasons which they used to select Ryan Nugent-Hopkins from Red Deer of the WHL. The skinny pivot had an impressive season with the Rebels, but many felt the Oil, with their plethora of young skilled forwards, should've taken Swedish defenseman Adam Larsson, who was thought to be more NHL ready because he had already played three seasons against men in the Elitserien.

Luckily the Oil took the best player available and didn't draft by positional need.  The Nuge is leading the team in scoring with 19 points through the first 19 games of the season, and has found isntant chemistry with Hall and Eberle as the Oil currently sit eighth in the West.

This group has the potential to do what Pittsburgh and Chicago did before them. If Edmonton's management can find a way to keep them all together they could even surpass the Hawks and Pens in greatness and become the long awaited NHL dyansty that fans have longed for since the great Oiler teams of the 80s.

Speaking of those Oiler teams it's fitting that in the Eastern conference right now the Flyers have restocked the cupboards after a pair of blockbuster trades and are loaded with young talent like Sean Couturier, James Van Reimsdyk, Claude Giroux and Brayden Schenn. These two franchises can boast seven cup championships between them and clashed twice during the Gretzky days; could we see them rekindle the rivalry of yore? The Oil also famously met the Islanders and Bruins in the finals and both of those teams are at various states of their respective youth movements. Staying at home in the Northwest Division the Avalanche are lead by young superstars Erik Johnson, Paul Stastny, Gabriel Landeskog and Matt Duchene, rival Canucks are coming off of a President's Trophy winning season and the Battle of Alberta is always entertaining, even if the Flames are among the most underachieving teams in the league.

The Oiler seemed destined to repeat history, especially if the league does itself a favour and scraps the salary cap during collective bargaining this off season, as many speculate they will.  If they don't turn out to be the pitchman for Canada's great frozen game that Bettman and the boys running the league hope they will be, and Sid and Ovi don't return to prominence then the league has plenty of options to choose from.

We've yet to see the likes of Emerson Etem, the SoCal kid who is among a growing number of star players coming out of Cali, who is lighting up the Dub this year at over a goal per game pace. Brett Connolly is off to a solid start in Tampa, and they've also got budding power forward Carter Ashton set to join the big club any game now. Ryan Strome could put the Islanders over the top when he makes the jump to the pros. Jonathan Huberdeau could probably start for the Panthers right now, and they're looking like a force to be reckoned with. The list of high-calibre talent that enters the league each season is growing deeper and stronger each passing season, but can anybody really match the once great Sid and Ovi?

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