If the upcoming 2017-18 NHL season were a hot new series on HBO, or AMC, then these would be the story lines that would attract eyeballs to the screen:
- is Connor McDavid now the best hockey player in the world?
- can the “former” best player in the world, Sidney Crosby, lead his Pittsburgh Penguins to their third straight Stanley Cup?
- are the young Toronto Maple Leafs for real?
- will Winnipeg Jets’ young sniper Patrik Laine hit the 50 goal mark?
- will veteran centre John Tavares re-sign with the New York Islanders?
- will the Islanders get a new arena?
- will the Calgary Flames look to move to Seattle?
- how many points will the expansion Vegas Golden Knights rack up?
- can the Devils, Flyers, Sabres and Jets improve on last season?
- will the Carolina Hurricanes make the playoffs in the Eastern Conference?
- are the Dallas Stars for real?
- are the Montreal Canadiens in trouble?
- will there be less slashing this season?
- will people watch Olympic hockey this February?
On that last one, probably yes. Even without NHL players there. The rest of the answers will reveal themselves over the six months it takes for each team to play 82 games.
Last season, nobody broke the hallowed 50 goal mark, and only Connor McDavid scored 100 points. Which netted him the Art Ross Trophy as top scorer, and the Hart Trophy as top player. This is the first time that the pre-season discussion has McDavid ranked in front of Crosby…not that you wouldn’t take either one on your team, cap issues aside.
The challenge for McDavid and crew this time around is to build on last season, and many have the Oilers tabbed to represent the Western Conference in the Stanley Cup Final come June 2018. The Oilers were last there a dozen years ago, losing a close 7-game series to the Carolina Hurricanes.
Speaking of the former Hartford Whalers, it has become fashionable to pick the Canes to make the playoffs in the East, which would represent the first time they played past mid-April since 2009, when they lost to Pittsburgh in the Conference Final.
The Young Guns of the NHL are now led by the likes of Auston Matthews (Toronto), Jack Eichel (Buffalo), Mitch Marner (Toronto), and the aforementioned Laine. And McDavid. The guy won’t hit 21 until January. This league just keeps getting younger and younger, and it’s not out-of-the-question to suggest that a 30 year old player will soon be thought of as a grey beard veteran. If they aren’t already.
The Dallas Stars appear to be headed the other way. They made a number of key moves in the off-season (picking up Ben Bishop to upgrade their goaltending situation, and bringing back head coach Ken Hitchcock). The Stars are playing for now, with many pundits picking them to return to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 2000.
The Stars missed the playoff cut last year by 15 points. Over in the East, the Tampa Bay Lightning (one of Ben Bishop’s former teams) also missed out of the playoffs, by a single point. With the return of sniper Steve Stamkos (who will turn a relatively ancient 28 years old in February), the Bolts are trending as the pick to challenge the Penguins for Eastern Conference supremacy.
Those Penguins have won the past two Stanley Cups, and if they can pull off a third in a row, would become the first NHL team to do so since the Islanders in the early 1980’s.
But what about the Blue Jackets? And the Capitals? And the Senators? And the Blues, and Wild, and Ducks, and…
With due deference to the defending Stanley Cup champions, you could put the names of a half-dozen legitimate Cup contenders into a hat, and not be surprised by which name you pull out.
Then again, there are always surprises, and disappointments in any season. Over the next six months, injuries, trades, hot streaks, and the cold streaks await us. The 2017-18 NHL regular season gets underway on Wednesday, October 4th.
Wednesday, October 4th, 2017 – Toronto Maple Leafs at Winnipeg Jets
7:00 PM Eastern – Sirius XM 91
The 2017-18 National Hockey League season gets underway on four fronts this evening, including super sophomore’s Patrik Laine against Austin Matthews. Or rather the Winnipeg Jets play host to the Toronto Maple Leafs. Most hockey pundits expect the Leafs to challenge for first in the Atlantic Division. The bigger question is whether the Jets can qualify for the playoffs in the tough Western Conference. They take that first step tonight.
Thursday, October 5th, 2017 – Philadelphia Flyers at Los Angeles Kings
10:00 PM Eastern – Sirius XM 91
Night Two of the 2017-18 NHL regular season features eight games to choose from. How about the Flyers in Los Angeles to face a Kings’ team that has recently won two Stanley Cups, but failed to make the post-season cut this past season? Philadelphia also sat out the playoffs, and have added former Kings’ general manager Dean Lombardi to their front office staff. Both teams believe they have the horses for a playoff run this time around.
Friday, October 6th, 2017 – New York Islanders at Columbus Blue Jackets
7:00 PM Eastern – Sirius XM 91
Are the Columbus Blue Jackets ready to take the next step this season? And that next step will come in the playoffs, where they hope to finally go deep with a post-season run to the Stanley Cup. Most believe they’ll have little problem grabbing one of the eight playoff spots up for grabs in the Eastern Conference. Can the same be said for the New York Islanders? They finished one point out of the final playoff spot last season, and hopes are high they can grab one of the wildcard slots in the tough Metropolitan Division.