By Mark Coogan
The NHL kicked oﬀ the 2011-12 season last night, and I could not be more excited. The Boston Bruins will look to defend their title as Stanley Cup Champions but there are many teams that would like to steal that title away. Look for the Vancouver Canucks, San Jose Sharks, Philadelphia Flyers, Washington Capitals and my Chicago Blackhawks to all have strong campaigns this year. One team that hockey fans will notice is absent from this short list of contenders is the Pittsburgh Penguins. While they are a very formidable team, I think they only go as far as their captain, Sidney Crosby, can take them. With Crosby still recovering from concussions he received last January, and no return date scheduled, it is hard to predict what kind of season the Pens will have.
One thing that is easy to predict however, is that the NHL will do everything in their power to make sure the injury Crosby suﬀered does not happen again. In the preseason, Vice President of Hockey and Business Operations Brendan Shanahan was not shy about penalizing players who made dangerous hits above the neck. After a rash of concussions last season, especially the ones that still keep the game’s best player watching from the locker room, the NHL will not tolerate any unsafe play that endangers the health and safety of their players.
I believe this is great for the game. The safer the players feel on the ice, the more likely we are to see high caliber and fast paced action from the game’s best players. It will be exciting to see guys like Alexander Ovechkin, Stephen Stamkos and Patrick Kane skate without the constant threat of taking a shoulder or elbow to the head. With the NBA lockout looming, the NHL has a great opportunity to pull in a whole new fan base. A safeand exciting season this year will do just that.