The last time "the first day of hockey season" was uttered on a January day, the year was 1995. Eighteen years and a couple lockouts later, it is being uttered again. Hockey, even in an abbreviated form, is still sweet.
Thirteen games will be played today, with only four teams having to wait for their official start to the seasonette.
The Los Angeles Kings, who were the last team standing in June, get to finally raise their long awaited Stanley Cup championship banner. I suppose it is fitting that a team who had to wait 35 years to even win the Cup had to wait longer to raise the banner as well. The Chicago Blackhawks get the privilege of watching the brouhaha before getting down the business at hand.
The Anaheim Ducks start on the road in Vancouver against the Canucks. It seems hard to believe that this is the Ducks 20th season.
Anaheim has a young roster, relying on a lot of young kids to fill holes left by veterans. The average age, however, is skewed by the presence of perpetually young Teemu Selanne, who at 42 years, 6 months and 16 days is the oldest active player in the NHL.
Goaltending remains the same for the Ducks, with Jonas Hiller taking the bulk of duty in net. His back up is new. While intended to be Viktor Fasth, Frederik Andersen may start the bench warming instead. Fasth has been recovering from injury and was sent to the Ducks AHL affiliate in Norfolk to get some game time in.
The blue line saw the loss of Lubomir Visnovsky (currently missing in action for the New York Islanders, where he was traded last June) and Sheldon Brookbank meandered off to Chicago as a free agent. In their place are big boy veterans, Sheldon Souray and Bryan Allen. Cam Fowler, Francois Beauchemin, Luca Sbisa and Toni Lydman are back and in the case of Beauchemin and Lydman, finally fully healed from ongoing injuries they had dealt been dealing with in prior seasons. Jordan Hendry is the seventh d-man who beat out Nate Guenin, who spent time in and out of the line up last season. Sami Vatanen starts the year on injured reserve.
The Ducks have the biggest infusion of youngsters up front. They did not re-sign veteran Jason Blake. Tough guys, George Parros and Jean-Francois Jacques are now elsewhere. Niklas Hagman and Rod Pelley have also vanished.
Anaheim brought in Daniel Winnik and Brad Staubitz as free agents, but are relying on prospects to fill in other blanks.
Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry remain joined at the hip on the top line. 21 year old Kyle Palmieri will join them there. Youth settles into the second line as well with Nick Bonino joining Bobby Ryan and the Finnish Flash. Saku Koivu and Andrew Cogliano move down to the third line, and both are capable centers, although Cogliano has been moved to the wing this season. Winnik will join them there.
Staubitz replaces Parros on the fourth line and will be joined by Matt Beleskey and fill in the blank for the third guy in. Third guy in could be Peter Holland, looking to make a permanent notch in the line up. It could be Devante Smith-Pelly, who stayed with the team last year as a 19 year old and has proven he is not afraid to finish a check, but he can also put the puck in the net. Rickard Rakell had a good mini-camp and has impressed well enough to stay with the club. Anaheim might take a 10 game look at him and then send him back to juniors. Or they might like what they see enough to keep him. At 19, he isn't old enough for Norfolk, so it is an either/or proposition.
How will this all turn out? We won't have long to find out with only 48 games on tap for each team. For the Ducks, the puck drops at 7pm.
The puck drops. Words I swore I would not be writing this year at all. For once, I am glad to be proven wrong.