The 2005-06 season may one day be remembered as the dawn of a new era -- not only for its two-line passes and shootouts, but also for the crop of talented young players bursting on the scene. The retirements of Mark Messier, Brett Hull, Scott Stevens, Ron Francis and Al MacInnis foreshadowed a changing of the NHL guard. So far, the new corps hasn't disappointed.See who SI.com picked to highlight >>> here.
To begin, there's an exceedingly rich rookie class -- one advantage to losing an entire season to a labor dispute -- that runs much deeper than the names everyone knows: Sidney Crosby (2 goals, 13 assists, 15 points) and Alexander Ovechkin (8 goals, 5 assists, 13 points).
The lockout gave a number of young players, who had gotten their feet wet in the NHL, another year to mature in the minors or overseas. The result? The league is full of players who are either completely new or have developed far beyond the specimens previously seen in 2003-04.
Meanwhile way over on the other side of the world the game is being played slightly differently and for slightly different reasons.
Nothing like a little street hockey to help the boys relax and enjoy themselves while on breaks from the hell of war.
They're out nearly every afternoon on roller blades, firing an orange street-hockey ball at a homemade goal constructed of steel pipes and solar shade netting.It's real nice to see that the NHL came through for the guys with some equipment. May all involved in this war make it home safe and sound... soon.
"When I first saw them, I thought, "That’s kind of weird, playing hockey in the desert," said Sgt. David Loainoco, a native of Long Island, N.Y., who grew up playing hockey on the street and on the ice. "So then I asked my wife to send me my skates."
The informal league of roughly 20 soldiers began when Sgt. Eric Armstrong of Appleton, Wis., asked his mother to send enough hockey sticks and skates to outfit 10 players.
After hearing about the die-hard hockey fans stationed here in Iraq, the National Hockey League donated professional goalie equipment and gloves for the players, which they received in September.
Ooooh, one last thing before I go... Bobby Orr likes the new NHL.
"I like it. I've seen a lot of good games," said Orr. "I think the fans like the offence, I'm sure you guys like the offence. There's lots of talk about it. Our skill players are showing their skill."Well there you have it, that's good enough for me, if Bobby Orr one of the greatest players ever to have laced them up says the leagues in good shape... well then you can take that to the bank.
And Orr's sports agency represents a couple of this season's finest.
"Jason Spezza's one of our kids, Eric Staal is one of our kids," said Orr with a growing grin. "They're doing all right."
One of the best aspects of the repackaged game, said Orr, is the parity. While Ottawa, Detroit and Vancouver look like upper-echelon teams, most franchises have a legitimate shot at the Stanley Cup.
"There are a lot of teams that can win it," said Orr. "I think there are a lot of good teams, I think the league's in good shape."