Whether we win or lose our first game of the regular season, I promise you one thing; we will not go 0-7-1 in our first 8 this year. We are much better then that, and much better then the roster that started things off so dreadfully poor last year, essentially destroying the season before it had a chance to begin. A simple comparison of line-ups, from last year's season-opener against the Canadians, to the starting-roster of our last pre-season game, shows a marked improvement in skill and potential.
Only seven players from that line-up on October 1st, 2009 also appeared in our closing pre-season game Oct. 2nd, 2010, the final tune-up before the big show with what is expected to be the opening-night roster. Those seven surviving players are:
Beauchemin and Komisarek should be settled and more confident to start this season. Schenn is bigger and stronger, more mature, and meaner. Kaberle is entering a contract year and may have something to prove. Grabbo cut his hair but still looks as cocky and confident as ever. Gustavsson is a year older and wiser and should be less distracted. And Colton Orr is Colton Orr.
Now let's look at players that were in our line-up on opening night last season who won't be this time around:
Jason Blake - now in Anaheim
Garnet Exelby - flunked his try-out with the Rangers
Niklas Hagman - Calgary
John Mitchell - press box
Alexei Ponikarovsky - signed with L.A. Kings
Wayne Primeau - available to anyone
Jay Rosehill - Marlies
Matt Stajan - Calgary
Viktor Stalberg - Chicago
Lee Stempniak - Phoenix
Rickard Wallin - Who knows, who cares.
Ian White - Calgary
Vesa Toskala - never seen or heard from again, hopefully
Now look at what we've replaced those 13 players with from our last pre-season tilt:
Tim "Legend" Brent
This is an entirely positive overhaul. First let's compare the two defenders:
Phaneuf and Gunnarsson replace XLB and White. I like Ian White, but this is not a fair contest.
Next, the skill-forwards: Bozak, Kessel, Versteeg, Kulemin vs. Stajan, Blake, Poni, and Hagman. Again, this is so lopsided it makes my stomach hurt. Kulemin was a healthy scratch last year on opening night, and 4 times in the first 8 games. This year, he comes to camp much improved and ready to be an important contributor that shores up a dangerous looking offence.
Now let's look at three of our bottom-six newcomers: Armstrong, Brown, and MacArthur the assist ninja, vs. Primeau, Rosehill, and Stempniak the useless ninja. Again, it's no-contest. The guys we've added to the line-up are serious upgrades over last year's starters.
And then, the grunts of the team: Brent, Sjostrom, Zigomanis, vs. Mitchell, Wallin, and Stalberg. I think the Legend of Brent has superseded Mitchell in terms of fan-confidence and he deserves a shot. Couldn't do much worse. Meanwhile, Sjostrom is a massive upgrade over Wallin both in a checking role and on the penalty kill. And lastly, and maybe a bit peculiar, is Zigomanis and Stalberg. What is interesting about this comparison is that Stalberg was last year's pre-season hero and the most exciting rookie to come out of camp, and the only one out of himself, Kadri, Hanson, and Bozak, to be given a shot with the club right from game one. This year, a different situation as Zigomanis is perhaps a surprise inclusion to start the year with the big club, while the impressive camps from Hanson and Caputi have not secured either a spot. Maybe the best thing about our new-look line-up is that, finally, the cupboard is no longer bare. Re-enforcements are hungry and ready to go.
Finally, the goaltenders: J.S. Giguere vs. Vesa Toskala
Hahahahahahahahaha... dear God, it was so horrible...
I really think if our current line-up faced off against last year's opening-night line-up, the final score would be 10-0, with Toskala pulled at the 10-minute mark of the 1st after giving up seven. This team just seems so much better in so many ways, from the top of the line-up to the bottom. My hats off to Mr. Burke, for giving us an incredible six-pack on defence, and for shoring up every other weak area in the line-up. I know, I've been drinking a lot of Kool-aid - and also NyQuil - and there's still a long way to go before we are serious Cup-contenders. But as opening night approaches, we can at least look forward to a team that is destined to compete, and not struggle, for 82 games.
And then, beyond...