After a fairly entertaining start to the offseason gave us an abundance of trades, signings and Draft drama, the hockey headlines vanished and we’ve been stuck in neutral since mid-July.
But the wait is going to be worth it.
In just a couple weeks, the NHL’s most anticipated season in recent memory will commence. And instead of the whimper we usually receive as an opening with friendlies and split squads, this year, it will all start with a bang.
World Cup of Hockey
While general managers and coaching staffs are knee deep in training camp, playing games that don’t matter with a team half full of players that won’t see a second of big league action this year, the entirety of the NHL’s fanbase will be preoccupied with the World Cup of Hockey.
And yes, we’ve all heard it: the jerseys suck, the format is ridiculous, two of the teams aren’t even countries and the jerseys suck. Seriously, the jerseys are horrible.
But all the flaws and blemishes will play second fiddle to the on-ice product once the tournament gets underway.
You may still complain about the teams, the jerseys and the fact that your favourite player didn’t make it, but you’ll admit that it’s pretty damn nice we get to watch a conveniently scheduled best-on-best contest - especially now that it’s not a sure thing the NHL will reach an agreement with the IOC in time for Pyeongchang in 2018.
I think it’s pretty safe to say we’d all rather watch Canada vs. USA on primetime than a Senators vs. Jets split squad afternoon game streamed online.
For the first time since 2000, the NHL will be expanding. At the conclusion of the 2016-17 season, the NHL will grow by one as the Las Vegas
Black Knights Aces Jokers Vegas-ers become the 31st team in the league.
And of course, we won’t witness any hockey played in Nevada until October of 2017, but there’s much to be done before they can get on the ice.
Contrary to what’s written two paragraphs above, Las Vegas is still without a team name. In fact, they’re still without a coach, players, logo, jersey colours, and possibly even a Zamboni. It’s going to be an interesting and entertaining process, watching a new team essentially grow from the ground up.
The effect they will have on the entire league this season is also something that will generate much discussion. Everyone will be ramping up for the expansion draft, in which, as you might know, every team is only allowed to protect seven forwards, three defenseman and one goaltender.
It seems like we’ve already seen an increased amount of transactions this year, and count on it to stay that way until the GM’s are banned from doing so in early March.
James Duthie might finally be satisfied on Trade Deadline Day.
For many hockey fans, this is their first experience with expansion. If you weren’t alive or weren’t a fan 16 years ago, then you won’t recall the addition of the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Minnesota Wild, along with the hustle and bustle that came with it. The looming restructuring up feels fresh; something that the NHL’s needed for some time. Besides, what could be more exciting than a little bit of constructed chaos?
Also, if you’re a fan of a team in the Eastern Conference, you’re probably thinking that it’s about time it wasn’t 14.3% easier to make the playoffs in the West.
New Faces, New Places
The beginning of the offseason was outstanding. The NHL Awards brought controversy, the Draft was an intriguing look at the near future, and Free Agent Frenzy came as advertised. But it was on June 29 that the hockey world collectively sat with jaws unhinged.
In a blockbuster deal, the Edmonton Oilers sent Taylor Hall to the New Jersey Devils in exchange for defenseman Adam Larsson. It was a trade came across as a panic move by Peter Chiarelli. The Oilers were lacking a strong blueline, but ended up trading away one of the best forwards in the game for a shot at a first pairing defender. It seemed like they were forcing a shake-up for the sake of having a shake-up.
Then it happened again.
After strongly denying rumours that he had been shopping his franchise player, Montreal Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin made a move that no one in their right mind thought would ever happen. PK Subban was shipped to Nashville in exchange for Shea Weber.
In your wildest dreams (read: nightmares, for Habs fans), did you think you’d ever see Subban in a Predators jersey? Weber in a Canadiens jersey? Hall in a Devils jersey?
And the list goes on.
Mika Zibanejad will be starting anew with the New York Rangers, Derrick Brassard is back home in Ottawa, Alexander Radulov is in Montreal, Brian Elliot will be wearing a Flames jersey, Fredrik Andersen is with the Leafs, James Reimer will don the Panthers logo along with Keith Yandle, Kyle Okposo signed in Buffalo and Andrew Ladd signed with the Islanders.
I could keep going. No? Okay.
So many new storylines have emerged from the summer’s and we get to see them unfold.
Will Radulov finally stay put during his third tour of the NHL? Will both the enormous trades we saw on June 29 be exposed as lopsided deals? Will Andersen solidify himself as a No. 1 goaltender in the league’s biggest market? Was signing Okposo to a 7-year, $42 million contract a huge mistake for the Sabres?
We’ll be finding out shortly.
The Kids are Alright
Connor McDavid might prove to be the best player in the world this season.
Hear me out.
On a team that was one point away from sharing dead last in the NHL with the lowly Toronto Maple Leafs, McDavid recorded the third most points per game. His 1.07 mark had him ahead of Sidney Crosby, and only behind the likes of Patrick Kane and Jamie Benn. Oh, and he was 18-years-old for half the season.
One year older and on an Oilers team that promises to be much better with the addition of Larsson and Milan Lucic, McDavid is primed to best his only season at the pro-level.
Speaking of young stars.
This year’s instalment of the prospect battle is, of course, Matthews vs. Laine. It doesn’t carry the same tune of Taylor vs. Tyler or Sid vs. Ovi, but it’ll do the trick from October to April.
With the 2016 Draft somehow feeling like the most popular selection process in league history - oh right, the Leafs were involved - we’re finally going to see Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine competing on the hockey world’s biggest stage. While most saw Matthews as the clear cut No. 1 choice in June, many scouts were torn between the two youngsters because of Laine’s phenomenal playoffs and World Championship overseas.
Both two outstanding talents, the soon-to-be rivalry is just one of many reasons why, as an audience, we’ll be flat out spoiled in the coming months.