NHL hockey is back. The 82-game regular season began on Wednesday with the St. Louis Blues beginning their defence of the Stanley Cup against the Washington Capitals. Meanwhile, Chicago and Philadelphia will open their season Friday, Oct. 4 in Prague. This week we are looking at the 2019-20 NHL and some of the many storylines to follow.
The St. Louis Blues did the unthinkable last season by going from the bottom of the standings in January to hoisting the Stanley Cup in June. It was the franchise’s first championship in its 52 years of existence. The Washington Capitals won their first Cup the previous season. Could another first-time winner emerge this season? There are just 11 teams who have yet to win the Stanley Cup, including:
- Arizona Coyotes
- Buffalo Sabres
- Columbus Blue Jackets
- Florida Panthers
- Minnesota Wild
- Nashville Predators
- Ottawa Senators
- San Jose Sharks
- Vancouver Canucks
- Vegas Golden Knights
- Winnipeg Jets.
Of course, there are also several teams with lengthy championship droughts. Most notably, the Toronto Maple Leafs have not won since 1967. Other lengthy droughts include: Philadelphia Flyers (1975), New York Islanders (1983), Calgary Flames (1989), Edmonton Oilers (1990), Montreal Canadiens (1993), New York Rangers (1994), and Dallas Stars (1999).
The two longest post-season droughts belong to the Arizona Coyotes, who last qualified in 2011-12, and Buffalo, who last played playoff hockey in 2010-11.
The team you can probably bet on qualifying for the playoffs this season? The Pittsburgh Penguins have the longest active playoff streak in the NHL, having appeared in the postseason every year since 2005-06. They have won three Stanley Cups during that time and have played in the Stanley Cup Finals on four separate occasions.
A number of milestones could be reached this season.
Sidney Crosby of the Penguins needs to score just four times to reach 450 goals in his career. Alex Ovechkin needs to score 42 to reach 700, which would make him just the eighth player in league history to do so. He led the NHL with 51 last year, so that target is within range. Meanwhile, Sid’s teammate Evgeni Malkin and Tampa Bay’s Steven Stamkos are both chasing their 400th career goals. Stamkos needs to score seven while Malkin needs nine.
Chicago’s Patrick Kane needs to rack up 62 points to reach 1,000. Ryan Getzlaf of the Ducks and Eric Staal of the Minnesota Wild could also reach this mark.
Florida coach Joel Quenneville could become just the second NHL coach to reach 900 wins. He is 10 wins shy.
Finally, New York Rangers netminder Henrik Lundqvist needs just one more win to reach 450. If he earns six wins, he will pass Curtis Joseph for fifth place on the all-time list.
Take it Outdoors
The NHL will play three outdoor games this season, including a matchup between the Stars and the Nashville Predators in Dallas and another where the Colorado Avalanche will host the Los Angeles Kings.
Of course, Saskatchewan residents are most interested in the Heritage Classic, which will be held at Mosaic Stadium in Regina on Oct. 26. The game will feature the Winnipeg Jets taking on the Calgary Flames.
Rookies Looking to Impress
This season there are several rookies to keep an eye on. This includes Jack Hughes, who was selected first overall by the New Jersey Devils in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft. Meanwhile, the Devils’ rivals, the New York Rangers, will have Kaapo Kakko in their lineup this season. Both youngsters are expected to impress this season. Another rookie to watch will be defenceman Cale Makar in Colorado, who performed well for the Avs during a call up this past spring. There is also Jack Hughes’ older brother Quinn, who is part of an exciting young core in Vancouver that includes last year’s rookie of the year, Elias Pettersson.
Old Faces in New Places
A number of NHLers will be wearing new uniforms this season.
Defenceman P.K. Subban was traded from the Nashville Predators to the New Jersey Devils. Phil Kessel was traded from Pittsburgh to the Arizona Coyotes.
The Columbus Blue Jackets lost three key players to free agency, including forward Matt Duchene (signed with Nashville), Artemi Panarin (New York Rangers), and starting goalie Sergei Bobrovsky (Florida Panthers).
Joe Pavelski left the San Jose Sharks for the Dallas Stars. He is joined by Corey Perry, who was bought out by the Anaheim Ducks and then went on to sign a contact with the Stars.
The Maple Leafs traded Nazem Kadri to Colorado for defenceman Tyson Barrie.
The Winnipeg Jets a few key defenceman this off-season, including Jacob Trouba (New York Rangers) and Tyler Myers (Vancouver).
Meanwhile, the Edmonton Oilers shipped out Milan Lucic to the Calgary Flames for James Neal. The teams also effectively swapped their goalies from last season, with Edmonton signing Mike Smith and Calgary acquiring Cam Talbot (who finished last season in Philadelphia).
There will be several new coaches behind NHL benches this season, including Dallas Eakins (Anaheim), Ralph Krueger (Buffalo), Dave Tippett (Edmonton), Joel Quenneville (Florida), Todd McLellan (Los Angeles), D.J. Smith (Ottawa), and Alain Vigneault (Philadelphia).
It has been a long off-season for hockey fans but it is finally time to settle in for the season! Here is hoping your favourite team has a successful campaign!