A new NHL season brings with it a number of storylines that will play out over the next six months.
Here’s a closer look at 10 that will be worth charting:
Halak Pays Price:The Montreal Canadiens’ decision to trade playoff hero Jaroslav Halak to St. Louis and keep Carey Price as their top goaltender will be followed closely all season. Fans have already noted every pre-season win by Halak while Price has slowly wound into form in Montreal.
If Halak excels and Price struggles, there will be calls for GM Pierre Gauthier’s head. After he was traded, thousands turned out for a farewell autograph session by the Slovak goalie who took the Habs to the Eastern Conference final, while Price has heard a mix of boos and cheers at the Bell Centre.
Chicago fans may feel the same after salary cap troubles forced the Blackhawks to part with Stanley Cup goalie Antti Niemi and sign veteran Marty Turco from Dallas.
Rookie Race:The race for the Calder Trophy might take place entirely in Edmonton. Hotshot rookies Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle and Magnus Pajaarvi have all cracked the Oilers roster and will no doubt push each other this season.
They received more attention than any other freshmen in training camp, but will no doubt find some willing competitors in other cities as well. Washington’s John Carlson, Montreal’s P.K. Subban, Boston’s Tyler Seguin and Carolina’s Jeff Skinner are among other first-year players who seem poised to make an impact.
With three high-profile rookies suiting up for the Oilers, the race for the Calder is bound to be a major focus this season—no matter who emerges as the best in class.
Hawks Repeat?:No team has won back-to-back Stanley Cups since the Detroit Red Wings in 1997 and 1998, although the Wings came within a Game 7 goal by Pittsburgh of doing it again in 2009.
Now it is Chicago’s turn to give it a try. But being well over the US$59.4 million salary cap forced them to let go of forwards Kris Versteeg, Ben Eager, Andrew Ladd, Dustin Byfuglien and Adam Burish, defenceman Brent Sopel and goalie Antti Niemi.
They did, however, keep their top four forwards—Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa—and top four defencemen Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Brian Campbell and Niklas Hjalmarsson. It will be tougher, but not out of the question.
Canuck Drought: It’s been an awfully long time since a Stanley Cup parade was held in a Canadian city. The Vancouver Canucks enter the season with the best chance at chasing a championship.
With a retooled defence that includes Keith Ballard and Dan Hamhuis, and the same weapons up front that made the Canucks one of the league’s highest-scoring teams, there is reason for hope in Vancouver.
Add in goaltender Roberto Luongo and all of the pieces seem to be in place for Canada’s first Stanley Cup since the Montreal Canadiens in 1993.
Stevie Y’s Bolts:After five years grooming his management skills in Detroit, where he had been a franchise player, and with a gold medal as executive director of Canada’s Olympic team in hand, Steve Yzerman decided it was time to run his own team and signed on as general manager with new Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik. Now he is the talk of the league, particularly after hiring innovative head coach Guy Boucher from the AHL.
All of a sudden, there’s excitement around a team that had foundered on the ice and in the owners’ box since winning the Cup in 2004. And signing Simon Gagne to go with offensive guns Martin St. Louis, Vincent Lecavalier, Steven Stamkos and Ryan Malone gives them an attack to be reckoned with.
Whether it can lift the Bolts into the playoffs for the first time in four years remains to be seen, but it will no doubt be fun to watch.
Headshot Rule:With a new penalty called illegal checking to the head in the rulebook, it will be interesting to see if there are fewer headshots on the ice.
High-profile incidents like the Mike Richards hit on David Booth or the Matt Cooke hit on Marc Savard sparked a lot of debate last season. Both players suffered serious concussions and missed significant time—in fact, Savard remains out of the Bruins lineup.
The new penaltyis a major and focuses on blindside hits where the primary point of impact is the head. How long before one is called?
Caps Chase Cup:Perhaps a team that loses in embarrassing fashion can to learn to win. If so, there’s hope for the Washington Capitals. Leading 3-1 in their first round playoff series last spring, the first-place overall Caps lost three in a row to the eighth-seeded Canadiens.
No big changes were made, and the same group ought to know a little more about playoff games against tight defensive clubs. The Caps had seven players with 20 or more goals last season, including Alex Ovechkin with 50, Alexander Semin with 40 and Nicklas Backstrom with 33 goals and 101 points. They led the NHL with 3.82 goals per game.
But they’ve won just one series in the last three post-seasons. Washington appears good enough to win the Cup now, but they have to go out and do it.
Staying in Phoenix?: Would a new owner for the Phoenix Coyotes please stand up? The NHL has been running the once-bankrupt team for a year and a half, and commissioner Gary Bettman is clearly losing some patience.
If no one steps forward to purchase the Coyotes by Dec. 31, the league has the right to start looking at other places to move the team.
While relocation is something Bettman has desperately tried to avoid, it’s an option he’ll be forced to consider if an owner doesn’t emerge in Glendale. And it’s reasonable to assume that his first call will be placed to Winnipeg if that happens.
Toronto Trouble:The Maple Leafs are already well into unchartered territory. A five-year playoff drought is two seasons longer than the franchise has previously endured, and there’s no guarantee that this season’s club will fare much better.
GM Brian Burke has overhauled the roster of his 29th-place team from a year ago in hopes that the new players will be more determined than his previous group.
The Leafs brass will be relying heavily on No. 1 goalie J-S Giguere and the top line of Phil Kessel, Kris Versteeg and Tyler Bozak to put them over the top. New captain Dion Phaneuf finds himself in the spotlight as well.
Counting Shootouts:Few see shootouts as a valid way to break a tie game, but the NHL is not about to get rid of the penalty shot contest that eliminates draws and entertains fans. Instead, the league’s board of governors elected to diminish their impact on the final standings.
From now on, wins earned from shootouts will not be counted when two teams are tied in points.
It would have been disastrous for the 2008-09 Montreal Canadiens, who got the eighth and last playoff spot in the East despite being tied with the Florida Panthers in both points (93) and wins (41). At the time, the first tiebreaker was any type of wins and the second was the head to head results between the two teams, which Montreal won by going 2-1-1 against the Panthers. That knocked Florida out of the playoffs.
Under the new rules, it is wins excluding games won in shootouts. Had the new rules been in place at the time, Montreal had seven shootout victories and would have finished ninth with 34 wins, while Florida would have reached the post-season with 38 non-shootout wins.
Nearly every year at least two teams finish tied in points and the tiebreaker formula can determine which gets in and which is out—or who drafts ahead of who.