Okay so the preseason is just about a rink length away now, and things should be heating up in camp. Since many "pundits" have us picked for placing like 7th in division/13th in conference (or thereabouts) I thought I'd try to be a little positive (gasp!) and touch on some stuff I'll be looking forward to this season. Here are my top five:
1) The return of Cam Ward circa. 2006 - last season Cam had a nice little spurt of strong play in front of a TERRIBLE defense right before he got hurt. This year, barring another funky injury, Cam should be well-rested and well-motivated, in part by a legit young backup, to have a breakout season. If he does, we could go from 1-2 wins in 5 game stretches to more like 3, which over time would be huge.
2) Semin shuts his critics up - the same people who said #28 would be a horrible pickup last season are saying now that he's signed a contract he's gonna go into the tank. Time will tell, but it seemed as if he actually enjoyed playing with Staal and Tlusty, and has a strong relationship with Muller. We should see even better things out of Semin this year, both in terms of scoring, assists and leadership.
3) The return of Jeff Skinner, circa. 2010 - hopefully recovered from concussions and playing either alongside Staal and Ruutu or centering a line of big young bucks, Skins should find his groove and start having fun again on the ice. His meteoric rise to fame hit some bumps, and this is a make it or break it year for one of the most unpredictable and exciting players in the league. If he puts up close to 30 goals again, we're in good shape.
4) The real Jordan Staal shows up - last year had to be an anomally for #11, didn't it? I mean, he couldn't be THAT BAD at this point in his career, could he? I mean, it had to be a transitional period, combined with flux on his line, learning a new system, all that jazz? It had to be, right? Likely, yes, and getting back to dishing out assists to Ruutu and Skinner (or someone else) and pumping in some timely scoring to go along with his decent two-way play should get the assistant captain back on top of things and help the entire team.
5) No more Chad LaRose - sorry, I had to do it. I look forward to a rebirth on the third and fourth lines without the constant whiffs, falls, loss of puck possession, and wide open nets that saw the puck go straight into the goalie's chest.
LET'S GO CANES!!!