There is plenty to look for in the 2008-09 NHL season.
Chris Chelios will play a 25th NHL season with the Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings and top draft pick Steven Stamkos will play his first for the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The Columbus Blue Jackets will try to reach the playoffs for the first time, while Wayne Gretzky will try for his first shot at coaching in the post-season with the Phoenix Coyotes.
Every team has at least one storyline, but here’s five major ones for this season:
No team has won back-to-back Stanley Cups since the Detroit Red Wings in 1996-97 and 1997-98, but if any team can do it, it is those same Red Wings. Detroit looked awesome in winning the Cup last spring and they’re back with much the same lineup. These days, dynasties are measured by winning two or three Cups over a span of years, not five in a row as Montreal did from 1956 to 1960. Winning two straight is remarkable in a 30-team league with the physical and mental demands of an 82-game regular season and four rounds of playoffs. More intriguing is that the Red Wings still have a handful of players from their late-1990s team, including Nik Lidstrom, Tomas Holmstrom and Kris Draper.
Eyes will be turned often to the city where the NHL was founded as the Canadiens, formed in 1909, celebrate their 100th season. The all-star game will be at the Bell Centre on Jan. 25th and the draft is there in June. Goaltending great Patrick Roy’s No. 33 jersey will be retired on Nov. 22 (the night before the CFL’s Grey Cup game at Olympic Stadium). Canadiens players will wear strange-looking jerseys from earlier eras for several games, and legends from the club that has won a record 24 Stanley Cups and sent 44 players to the Hall of Fame will be honoured throughout the season. A bonus is that the Canadiens finally appear to have a contending team that is up to the occasion after more than a decade of mediocrity.
Alex and Sid
Two seasons ago, Sidney Crosby won the Art Ross and Hart trophies with a 120-point season. While the Pittsburgh Penguins’ star sat out 28 games last season with a high ankle sprain, Alexander Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals grabbed both trophies with a 112-point campaign. With luck, both dynamic young forwards will be healthy this season and resume the battle for the world’s best player tag. Both are a treat to watch, and Ovechkin now looks to have a decent supporting cast in Washington. Lurking in the shadows is Crosby’s elegant teammate Evgeni Malkin, who had 106 points last season.
Several teams have handed spectacular, long-term contracts to star players in recent seasons, and now the United States is in a full-blown financial crisis. Hockey always seems to suffer most among the major team sports when the economy goes bad. Since the 2004-05 lockout, the salary cap has jumped each year. Will this be the first that it doesn’t go up? And what will happen if the cap goes down?
The wealthy Russians behind the new Continental Hockey League (KHL) hope to build a serious rival to the NHL. They start with 24 clubs from Russia and three neighbouring countries and so far have lured away a few NHL players, most notably the aging Jaromir Jagr. A more serious incursion was the signing of Alexander Radulov, a 2004 first-round pick of the Nashville Predators, to a three-year contract by Salavat Ufa. With the lack of a transfer agreement between the NHL and Russia, player poaching on both sides may only get worse. The Radulov case is to be decided by an arbitrator.