Hooray, hockey is back | NevadaAppeal.com

Hooray, hockey is back

Joe Ellison
Nevada Appeal Betting Columnist

Although we are one month into football, and playoff baseball has begun, it is time to celebrate the start of another season in the great and extremely underrated sport of hockey.

After a 301-day lockout wiped out the entire 2004-05 season, last year the National Hockey League experienced a renaissance that led to the sport’s highest attendance figures ever. What brought the fans back so soon after such a long and bitter dispute between the players and owners? Rules changes that produced higher scoring and parity.

Gone is all the holding, hooking, clutching and grabbing that limited hockey’s star players, as penalties are now strictly enforced. With increased power plays and the elimination of the red line from two-line pass infractions, scoring has escalated at an average of one goal per game. Also, every game now gives fans a winner, as exciting shoot-outs have deposed the dreaded tie.

What initiated the lockout in the first place was the fact that the owners were losing money, but now a salary cap exists that guarantees player salaries will not exceed 54 percent of league revenues. With high-priced stars moving all over the map so teams could get under the cap, last season longshot Carolina won the Stanley Cup, and the West’s No. 8 seed Edmonton reached the Finals. It is widely believed that this year as many as 23 teams have a legitimate chance at winning it all, and only two or three have no shot at making the playoffs, so fans in most cities are hopeful.

Predictions:

Stanley Cup – With eight different champions in the last eight years and parity having taken over the league, predicting the Stanley Cup winner becomes very difficult. So I will defer my pick to the best and most knowledgeable on-air personality in all of sports, ESPN studio analyst Barry Melrose.

Listening to Melrose is like listening to the Gospel, it is truly an enlightening experience, and Melrose is picking the Anaheim Ducks. Although they are no longer known as the Mighty Ducks, the Ducks have become much mightier with the addition of defenseman Chris Pronger. Anyone who watched Pronger lead Edmonton to the Finals last season knows that his being paired with Anaheim’s talented Scott Niedermayer could rank them among the best tandems in the history of the NHL. The Ducks have excellent goaltending, and should improve on their Western Conference Finals appearance of last year.

Division champions – Anaheim, Calgary, Nashville, Carolina, Buffalo and New Jersey.

Other playoff teams – San Jose, Detroit, Dallas, Vancouver, Minnesota, Ottawa, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Tampa Bay and Boston.

BASEBALL

Detroit vs. the New York Yankees – If Detroit hadn’t lost its final five regular season games, including the last three at home to lowly Kansas City, the Tigers would have owned home field advantage over Oakland and avoided the powerful Yankees. New York in 4.

Oakland vs. Minnesota – Oakland cleared a huge hurdle in Game 1 by beating Cy Young Award favorite Johan Santana, but can the A’s now break their streak of nine consecutive losses in series-clinching games? Oakland in 3.

St. Louis vs. San Diego – Going into yesterday’s game, St. Louis had won seven consecutive playoff games against the Padres, including a sweep last year. St. Louis in 3.

Los Angeles Dodgers vs. the New York Mets – A wild card team has advanced to the World Series five out of six years. Los Angeles in 5.

World Series – Having two guys thrown out at home on the same play of their Game 1 one-run loss to the Mets could prove costly to the Dodgers, but I’ll stick with the Yankees over wild card LA.