Beware of Black Ice!

By Michael Louis-Ingram, BASN Associate Editor
Updated: October 10, 2010

PHILADELPHIA (BASN) The puck has dropped on another season of hockey; and as the sports calendar reaches its saturation point (MLB playoffs, NFL, CFL, UFL, NASCAR, thoroughbred racing’s Breeders’ Cup and college football) the National Hockey League has a rare opportunity to make some significant inroads into generating the kind of fan interest needed to bring a new legion of fans to the rink – especially in the United States.

Last year was a memorable one for our Goal Brothas – as Dustin Byfuglien had his name etched on Lord Stanley’s Cup; the second Black man (Grant Fuhr the first) to be part of a league championship team.

Big Buff came up huge in the playoff with his 11 goals, 5 assists and ass-thumping body checks (The Philadelphia Flyers’ Chris Pronger, to his credit, took it like a man and gave as good as he got).

Byfuglien’s success, however, proved to provide a bigger dilemma for the Chicago Blackhawks, who were so hamstrung by salary cap restraints that they were forced to trade Buff and several key teammates (Kris Versteeg, Brent Sopel and Ben Eager among them).

Sopel, Eager and Byfuglien were traded to Atlanta, and the results of this move could become one of the more intriguing story lines involving the Goal Brothas this season. No matter what, The Popsicle Brothers (Gary Gray and I) will be here to serve up pertinent information from face-off to finish…

As has been standing policy here over the last couple seasons, here’s the road map on where the Goal Brothas are doin’ their thang…

EASTERN CONFERENCE

ATLANTA THRASHERS: DUSTIN BYFUGLIEN (D), NIGEL DAWES (LW), EVANDER KANE (LW), JOHNNY ODUYA (D), ANTHONY STEWART (RW) AKIM ALIU (D), DONALD BRASHEAR (LW).

BUFFALO SABRES: MIKE GRIER (RW).

FLORIDA PANTHERS: KENNDAL Mc ARDLE (LW); CHRIS BECKFORD-TSEU (G).

MONTREAL CANADIENS: P.K. SUBBAN (D).

NEW JERSEY DEVILS: MARK FRASER (D), BRYCE SALVADOR (D).

NEW YORK ISLANDERS: KYLE OKPOSO (RW- 19G 33A = 52).

OTTAWA SENATORS: CHAZ JOHNSON (D).

PHILADELPHIA FLYERS: RAY EMERY (G – 16-11-1, 87-51-15 NHL).

The Three Star storylines involving our heroes:

Third Star: The Islanders’ Kyle Okposo has to step and elevate his scoring. With 52 points last year, Okposo needs to show he can be a 30 goal scorer and play effective two-way hockey.

Second Star: If Montreal’s P.K. Subban’s sparkling play picks up from where he left off in the post-season, he has a chance to become a Calder candidate and trophy winner – the first Goal Brotha to be a Rookie of the Year!

First Star: The view from Hot ‘Lanta could really get cool really quickly as the Thrashers have made a very proactive move to market to Black fans. When long – time sniper Ilya Kovalchuk was on the market, apparently Atlanta was seriously seeking Wayne Simmonds in the mix.

There are currently seven Black Thrashers on the big club, and Kane, Oduya, Dawes and Byfuglien have pivotal roles in Atlanta’s immediate future. It won’t mean shit if the Brothas can’t play – but we know they can; and we are rooting for the Thrashers to stick it to the skeptics – and make the playoffs!

Shootout bonus storyline: If Ray Emery is not starting for the Flyers, he could be a valuable trading chip come deadline time. I have felt for years that teams like the Washington Capitals or San Jose Sharks were tailor-made for Emery’s skills; so if Philly can’t use him, someone else surely can.

WESTERN CONFERENCE

CALGARY FLAMES: JAROME IGINLA (RW- 32G-37A = 69; 441-479 = 920 NHL).

COLORADO AVALANCHE: GREG MAULDIN (RW), CHRIS STEWART (RW- 28G 36A = 64).

DALLAS STARS: TREVOR DALEY (D), MAXIME FORTUNUS (D).

EDMONTON OILERS: SHAWN BELLE (D), THEO PECKHAM (D).

LOS ANGELES KINGS: WAYNE SIMMONDS (RW- 16G 24A = 40; +22).

MINNESOTA WILD: ROBBIE EARL (LW).

NASHVILLE PREDATORS: JOEL WARD (RW), FRANCIS BOUILLON (D).

ST. LOUIS BLUES: RYAN REAVES (D).

SAN JOSE SHARKS: JAMAL MAYERS (LW), DEREK JOSLIN (D).

Stars to shoot for…

Third Star: Can Wayne Simmonds add more goals to his slate? His plus-22 rating was one of the best on the Kings. Along with Kopitar and Doughty, Kings can be force if Jonathan stays Quick in the net.

Second Star: Can Chris Stewart improve after a breakthrough season? Quietly, Stewart led the Avalanche in goals scored and wreaked havoc in dropping a GWG on San Jose in the playoffs; and almost won another a couple nights later the same way!

First Star: Calgary’s Jarome Iginla is 80 points away from the magic 1000; but Iggy will take a shot at the Cup over points anytime. What will be the burning issue is whether Iginla can generate enough offense for the Flames to burn into the playoffs. Alex Tanguay returned to form the first line with Iggy and Olli Jokinen, but these Flames may be on simmer a bit longer before going to full burn.

Shootout bonus issue: Anyone who saw Iginla’s performance in the Olympics could tell when you place him with a top-flight centre, the goals come. Iggy popped 5 goals in the back of the net and of course set up The Goal in the crucial Olympic final.

If Tanguay can’t improve Iginla’s output (a disappointing 32 goals last year), can GM Darryl Sutter manipulate the purse strings to either snag a centre for rent or will someone down on the farm get down on the ice at the Saddledome?

Stay tuned, gang – this is gonna be very cool!

Ingram 1 (Gray, McClean), 10:10, First period.