“Game On—The NHL Is Back”
It’s the opening weekend of the NHL season, and it seems it was just days ago the surprising St Louis Blues were hoisting the Stanley Cup, upon completing their rise from last place to the Center Ice Cup presenation.
Lots of new faces in new places. A look at Hockey Storylines on opening night.
KINGS….GM Rob Blake has his hands full. Lots of age, lots of big contracts, lots of problems. Anzi Kopitar, Jeff Carter, Drew Doughty, Jon Quick. That’s it, that’s the core of this roster. Stuck with bad contracts for aging players Dustin Brown and Ilya Kovalchuk, and with a lot of plug-in players across the rest of the roster, this might not be enough for a good season. Who is going to score goals? They had just 2-players pot more than 20-goals last season. And the new goal scorers they brought in, Russian-Nik Prokhorkin and junior star Jarret Dolan, have already been dispatched to the AHL. And the defense was poor all year too. What a challenge for incoming coach Todd McLellan.
DUCKS..A team in transition is what new coach Dallas Eakins inherits. He has a team that didn’t score goals last year, just 1-20-goal scorer. They have star goalie John Gibson, captain Ryan Getzlaf, and the foreign legion led by Jakob Silfverberg and Rikard Rakell. They won’t have the leadership though of Ryan Kesler, veteran wing Corey Perry, or Patrick Eaves, gone by virtue of injury-illness-free agency. What they do have will be 5-high draft picks, all who played well for the San Diego Gulls. We now await the jump of Troy Terry, Sam Steele, Max Jones, Maxime Comtois and Issac Lundestrom. All made the opening night roster. Are any of them ready for the NHL? Gone are 3-other young defenseman many thought would be the foundation of the team going forward. They traded away Shea Theodore, Brandon Montour and Marcus Pettersson.
Around the NHL, plenty of storylines to watch from the teams who will be in the playoff hunt:
BLUES…Vlad Tarasenko, Ryan O’Reilly and rookie goalie Jordan Binnington are the stars, but the team chemistry was what got them to raise the Stanley Cup. They added blue liner Justin Faulk to the group. A 1-year fluke or a really good team coming together?
TAMPA BAY…Scored all those goals last year then got run out of the playoffs in the opening round. Lots of firepower in Steven Stamkos-Nikita Kucherov-Brayden Point-Tyler Johnson and now they add Patrick Maroon and Kevin Shattenkirk. They are on a mission.
TORONTO…Time to win, since it’s only been 1967 when the richest team in hockey won the Cup. Mitch Marner-John Tavares-Auston Matthews lead a brigade of goal scorers. Added to the defense, Tyson Barrie and a full year out of ex-King Jake Muzzin. This could-should be their year.
SAN JOSE…The era should not be over, for they look to be the complete team. A healthy year from Erik Karlsson is a must, but they are rock solid with Tomas Hertl, Logan Couture, Timo Meier and Brent Burns. Gone however is sniper Joe Pavelski and winger Gavin Nyquist and their 50-goals. A cup finalist, definitely.
DALLAS…They had goal scorers last year and now they add gifted veteran Joe Pavelski and Corey Perry. Last year goalie Ben Bishop was brilliant…can he repeat? The Stars could be there too.
LAS VEGAS…The core group is ready for year three, and they have goal scoring and veteran goalie Marc Andre Fleury still together. Now they get Mark Stone for a full season to make a difference. A thin line between very good and great.
NASHVILLE…All they do is win, though last year was a bit of a setback. Now they add high priced goal scorer Matt Duchene. The Predators are in the mix.
BOSTON…Really good, really gritty but starting to stockpile a lot of age and miles on their scoring lines. Ten guys who scored double digit in goals.
CAROLINA…They battled to keep young goal scorer Sebastian Aho, have snipers and defense, but you wonder about goaltending?
COLORADO…They’ve been building for sure, and they bring in feisty Name Kadre, from the Leafs, and rookie 1st round pick Cole Makar to add something to the Nathan McKinnon led team. Goalie Philip Grubauer takes over between the pipes.
CALGARY…The Flames have firepower with Johnny Gaudreau, Elias Lindholm, Matt Tkachuk, Matt Giordano. Now we see if old dog veteran Milan Lucic can find the fountain of youth and contribute goals and toughness.
EDMONTON…So much talent around Connor McDavid, but the Oilers just have not won. Veterans James Neal and Markus Granlund come on board to see if they can push this team deep into the playoffs. They need steady goaltending and they have not had that recently.
NY RANGERS…They won the off season bidding war for free agent Artemi Panarin, and they have the 1st round pick Kaapo Kakko on the number one line, and they signed free agent D-Jacob Trouba. Could be good rather than be an underachiever.
PITTSBURGH…Hard to believe any team that has Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin upfront would be struggling to make the playoffs. But the Penguins have salary cap and depth problems.
CHICAGO…Such a good run with all those Stanley Cup rings, but they got old and have not added much. Toews-Kane and Crawford are all that are left from the glory years.
WASHINGTON…Tough year last year for Alexander Ovechkin and Evgeni Kuznetsov, getting ousted from the postseason. The top six goal scorers and top four defenseman are back, as is goalie Brayden Holtby. Can they bounce back?
WINNIPEG….They solved the contract mess with Patrick Laine and Kyle Connor, but the cap issues and personal problems have cost them four defenseman, including Dustin Byfuglien. This is a team at a crossroads.
ARIZONA…Young team of unknowns, now adds veteran goal scorer Phil Kessel to the roster. Might make a playoff push.
MONTREAL…The Habs have been building, but the health of goalie Carey Price will likely be the difference between being in or out of the playoffs, after a near miss last year.
NEW JERSEY…The Devils had the busiest off season of all, adding hot draft pick Jack Hughes, trading for defender PK Subban, and gritty free agent Wayne Simmonds. Waiting in the weeds out there at the Meadowlands, this team bears watching.
VANCOUVER…Spent big money a year after the Sedin twins retired. Three great young players upfront in Elias Peterson, Brock Boeser and Bo Horvat. Now we see if JT Miller-Michael Ferland-Tyler Myers-Jordie Benn make a difference.
NY ISLANDERS…A superb season with a group of unknowns last year, as Barry Trotz’s team outworked everyone, but they did not add much in the off season, and likely won’t ambush anyone this winter. But a group of hard-workers for sure.
BUFFALO…Jeff Skinner and Jack Eichel scored goals, but did not have enough around them. We see if all these young draft picks, led by Rasmus Dahlin and Rasmus Ristolainen are ready to be stars.
MINNESOTA…Too much front office turmoil, and doubts about old school coach Bruce Boudreau. Who knows about Zach Parise-Ryan Sutter and friends.
PHILADELPHIA…The Flyers have a star in the making in goalie Carter Hart, and they have people to put the puck in the net, in Courterier, Vorachek and Giroux, but do they have enough? It has been a strange struggle over the past couple of seasons.
COLUMBUS…Coach John Tortorella doesn’t like losing, so you can imagine his demeanor after watching three top free agents exit I big money deals. His favorite phrase ‘are you all in’…..now replaced by ‘they’re all gone’.
DETROIT…Made the Wings famous by mining Europe for all those years, but now everyone goes there. The best player might be their GM-Steve Yzerman, so that’s not good.
FLORIDA…Mediocre was not very good, so they bought themselves a big time goalie in Sergei Bobrovsky. New coach Joel Quenneville inherits high scoring Aleksander Barkov and three other snipers, but he will have to mandate better play from his defense infront of that new goalie.
OTTAWA…New coach DJ Smith comes in with a very young roster. The rebuild is going to take time. Pity the heart and soul of the team, goalie Craig Anderson. You wonder how long it is before Owner Eugene Melynk sells the team. It’s never been the same since the passing of GM-Coach Bryan Murray.
Drop the puck, let’s go play….Game On !