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The puck drops here

The puck drop for the 2002-2003 NHL season is just a few weeks away, and I for one can’t wait. So many questions to be answered.

The puck drop for the 2002-2003 NHL season is just a few weeks away, and I for one can’t wait. So many questions to be answered.

Like, will Cujo finally win the Stanley Cup with Detroit? Will Steve Yzerman be able to play again after his knee surgery? What if the Red Wings have to play in Toronto in the Stanley Cup and the Leafs win for the first time since 1967? What happens to Cujo then?

Can Theo Fleury out-wrestle his personal demons and find lasting happiness, as well as the back of the net, in Chicago?

Will the Habs return to their former glory with Captain Saku Koivu back in the lineup after winning his battle with cancer?

Will Jarome Iginla put Calgary back in the playoffs, or was last year’s breakout MVP season a fluke?

Can Mario Lemieux make yet another successful comeback?

Will plucky little Steve Kariya finally make the Vancouver Canucks team this season, joining his brother in the NHL, or will he be sent back to dominate the minors once again? Will the Sedin twins finally play up to their potential? Has Todd Bertuzzi finally realized that he’s better off on the ice than in the penalty box?

Like a soap opera, every season of hockey ends in another cliffhanger. It can take years for the plot lines that exist in the sport to work themselves out, but it never gets boring because in the meantime we get to watch some excellent hockey.

If you’re one of those unfortunate people who can’t enjoy a sport without having some kind of personal stake on who wins or loses, such as myself, you can make the season a lot more thrilling by joining one of the many online fantasy hockey pools. Some of these are free and some cost money to join – although chances are if it costs money, you can win money and prizes in return. If you really know your hockey, maybe you could look at it as an investment.

This is the official site of the National Hockey League and is of particular interest to hockey fans at this time of year as it contains full reports on every team in the league, including off-season trades, evaluations of forwards, defence and goaltending, and a look at post-season prospects. Riveting stuff for fans who get out of the loop over the summer.

During the season, this site contains players statistics, game reports, video highlights and news coverage of teams, players and the league in general.

You can also use it to link to every official team site on the Web.

The CBC shows more hockey games than any other Canadian network, and regardless of how you really feel about Grapes and Ron MacLean, it’s a rare hockey fan that can turn away from an edition of Coach’s Corner. If you miss an edition for whatever reason, you can find it online on CBC sports.

This sponsored fantasy hockey game is fairly high maintenance, requiring coaches to make new teams every week, although you can easily spend far more time on many of the larger pools.

The object of Superstar Pick-Up Hockey is to score the most points over the course of the season. The hockey players you pick earn points according to the statistics they stack up in regular play, and every week you will be asked to submit another 12-player roster.

You can play in a random league chosen by, or form your own league of up to 20 teams with your friends.

If a player gets injured, or you want to swap for somebody better, tough – you can only change your roster once a week, from Sunday to Monday by 1 p.m. If you miss the deadline, you could be stuck with unwanted players for another week.

It’s a simpler fantasy hockey format, but it’s free.

Bench Boss is a more advanced fantasy game than Superstar Pick-Up Hockey, and can be far more demanding of your time. There is a $19.95 charge to sign up, but there’s a lot more to it than other fantasy leagues, and you can win things like tickets to the All-Star game, authentic NHL jerseys and T-shirts.

Every player in the league is given a value based on their real-evaluation. That value goes up and down daily according to their popularity, game statistics and overall performance – kind of like companies on the stock market.

You start with a $50 million budget to build a 12-person roster, and can trade as you go. Better players cost more money, like blue chips, and often give smaller returns than undervalued players who come up big. At the same time, the cheaper players are often a bigger risk, and many will go down in value as the season progresses.

In order to fill your roster, at first you’ll be limited to just a few superstars, a few stars, and will have to fill the rest of the spots with more rank and file players. That’s where your own knowledge of hockey comes into play.

The key to winning is to buy low and sell high, and hopefully stack your team early enough to win the whole deal.

You can only make 25 free trades a season, and after that each one is going to cost you a dollar apiece.

This is The Hockey News’ own Supreme Pool, with a grand prize of $10,000 and a trip to the 2003 Stanley Cup Finals. It costs $29.95 to join, but the prizes are a lot bigger

Other than that, it works like the Bench Boss pool with only a few minor differences.

More fantasy games will be released by ESPN ( , TSN ( ) and SportsNet ( ) in the coming weeks.