The NHL preseason is well under way, and there are just eight days to go until the 101st season of play begins in the National Hockey League.
In case you forgot, Alex Ovechkin and the Capitals finally won the Stanley Cup, John Tavares (perhaps the most coveted free agent in history) signed with his hometown Maple Leafs, two-time Norris winner Erik Karlsson was traded to the Sharks, the Golden Knights fortified their forward corps by trading for and then extended former Canadiens captain Max Pacioretty, Iyla Kovalchuk is back, and the aforementioned Karlsson’s former team is in a state of despair.
If the past offseason is any indication, then this season could be a special one. Here are the top storylines entering this NHL season.
Obnoxious Situation In Ottawa: The prominent locker room turmoil prompted a roster plucking for the Senators during the summer, and the mayhem was not limited to the locker room, as fans have been clamoring for team owner Eugene Melnyk to sell the team amidst rumors of potential relocation and funding for a new rink. The situation has only gotten worse, and the Senators are in for a long season.
Can Capitals Repeat? Alex Ovechkin made his intentions for this season very clear, and the Capitals are primed for a potential repeat. The Capitals retained virtually their entire roster from last year, aside from former head coach Barry Trotz. Aside from a new head coach (who was one of Trotz’s assistants, so he is already familiar with the team), the Capitals had limited turnover and will now be able to play without the pressure of having to win their first championship, and a repeat is very possible.
Will Lou Lamoriello Save Islanders? The Islanders cleaned house and hired Stanley Cup-winning head coach Barry Trotz and Hall of Fame general manager Lou Lamoriello to be their President of Hockey Operations. Lamoriello built a Devils team that won three Stanley Cups and had 13 straight playoff appearances, and then facilitated a quick rebuild for the Maple Leafs, drafting young stars like Auston Matthews. Despite this, the legendary executive is almost 76 years old, and some have questioned whether he might be out of touch, but that remains to be seen. The Islanders have won just one playoff series in 25 years, and the results of their new hires remain to be seen.
A Stanley Cup In Sin City? The Golden Knights astonished the entire hockey world when they advanced to the Stanley Cup Final in their inaugural season, and their roster was fortified during the offseason. The Golden Knights are a team ready to win now, and anything short of a Stanley Cup victory would be a disappointment, even for a team in just its second season.
Sleepless in Seattle: The Oak View Group, a group of private investors, and the city of Seattle struck a deal to initiate a $700 million renovation plan for KeyArena, which is a privately funded endeavor. This a major step in bringing an NHL team to Seattle, and the next step in the process is the approval of an NHL expansion team, and the NHL Board of Governors will vote on the matter in December, and it is widely expected that Seattle will get its NHL team, making 32 total teams in the NHL.
Another Shot For Sharks? The Sharks, now armed with two Norris winners in Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson, may have another shot at winning the Stanley Cup with captain Joe Thornton. GM Doug Wilson extended Evander Kane and has kept the team’s 2016 Western Conference corps intact. In a division in which the only other sure bet for a playoff appearance is the Golden Knights, the Sharks are locked and loaded for one last shot at winning the Stanley Cup.
Kovalcuk’s Return: Ilya Kovalchuk will be playing NHL games for the first time since the 2012-13 season. He spent the past five years in the KHL, and won a gold medal with Russia during the Winter Olympics. The Russian superstar winger is still capable of playing at an elite level, and the Kings (16th in goals scored and 17th in power play efficiency last season) could use his talent to produce more scoring chances and goals.
Fall From Grace For Blackhawks: The Blackhawks are just three years removed from having won three Stanley Cups in six seasons, and yet find themselves as an underdog this year. Patrick Kane has maintained his elite level of play, but teammate Jonathan Toews must return to his Selke Trophy-caliber ways, and old friends like Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook are on the decline, and the team is in a cap crunch. The jobs of head coach Joel Quenneville and GM Stan Bowman will be heavily scrutinized this season, and may be shown the door at the first sign of trouble.
Maple Leafs Primed To Win Now: The aforementined Lamoriello did a great job of quicky overhauling the Maple Leafs roster, and for the first time in years, the Maple Leafs are poised to make a run for the Cup, especially after signing John Tavares. With one of the top coaches in the game in Mike Babcock and other talented stars like centers Auston Matthews and Nazem Kadri and wingers Mitchell Marner and Connor Brown, the next step for Toronto’s beloved team is to make a playoff run. Anything short of going to the conference finals will probably be a sullen season.
Upcoming Free Agents: The biggest name in free agency in summer 2019 will clearly be Erik Karlsson, though the Sharks will likely try to extend him. Other big-time unrestricted free agents include centers Matt Duchene, Jason Spezza, Derick Brassard, Joe Pavelski, Joe Thornton, Jori Lehtera, Marcus Johansson, Eric Staal, and Dave Bolland.
Free agents included at left wing are Calder winner Artemi Panarin, Jeff Skinner, Carl Hagelin, and Jamie McGinn.
Free agents at right wing include Mats Zuccarello, Mark Stone, Jordan Eberle, Jason Pominville, Gustav Nyquist, Wayne Simmonds, Jakob Silfverberg, and Troy Brouwer.
Aside from the aofrementioned Erik Karlsson, free agent defensemen include Tyler Myers, Jay Bouwmeester, Anton Stralman, Zdeno Chara, and Jake Gardiner.
Finally, free agent goalies include two-time Vezina winner Sergei Bobrovsky, 2017-18 Vezina winner Pekka Rinne, Semyon Varlamov, Mike Smith, Jimmy Howard, Cam Talbot, Cam Ward, Brian Elliott, Michal Neuvirth, and Ryan Miller.
Still with me? Those are top storylines entering this season. Hockey is almost *officially* back!