The summer is nearly behind us and a whole new NHL season filled with drama, excitement, triumph and tribulation is just around the bend.
Milestones will be reached and surpassed, contracts will be negotiated and some of them will be disputed, new stars will emerge and old ones will attempt to prove they aren’t fading. There will be a lot to look out for in this 100th season of NHL hockey—the last one featuring 2460 games, with a new team in Las Vegas expanding the league to 31 teams in the fall of 2017.
Without further ado, here are seven compelling things we believe you should zero in on during the winter months.
Subban takes Nashville
It’s not often that two perennial Norris Trophy contenders, who are both in the prime of their careers, get traded for each other. Heck, we can’t remember a one-for-one trade like the one that sent Subban from Montreal to Nashville for Shea Weber ever happening before.
It only makes sense that all eyes be on how both players do with their new teams but we’re particularly intrigued by what Subban might do under coach Peter Laviolette, who has much more of a penchant for embracing an offensive style of play than does Canadiens coach Michel Therrien.
Does Subban have a burr in his saddle after being shipped away from the team he always dreamed of winning a Stanley Cup with? You better believe he does.
Does he represent the piece that puts Nashville over the top? He very well might.
Subban joins Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis and Mattias Ekholm to give the Predators a powerhouse Top-4 on defence. All of them can skate the puck out of the defensive zone as easily as they can move it, and all of them will make it a nightmare for the opposition to defend against the rush.
The Preds’ forward group packs some punch with Ryan Johansen getting a full year to show what he can do with elite scorers James Neal and Filip Forsberg.
In nets, Pekka Rinne, who turns 34 in November, is still among the five best goaltenders in the game.
When Nashville’s scheduled to play, we’re watching. And we’ll be largely focused on Subban.
Montreal Canadiens’ revamped roster
The Canadiens were the talk of the league when they opened the 2015-16 season with a franchise-best nine straight wins in regulation. They were the laughingstock of the league when they bottomed out with the worst record of any team from Dec. 1 onward.
Change was predictable. How it happened was anything but.
Beleaguered centre-turned-winger Lars Eller was shipped from Montreal to the Washington Capitals just minutes into the 2016 Draft. Within an instant, the Canadiens then sent two draft picks to the Chicago Blackhawks for centre Andrew Shaw.
Five days later Weber, who had spent the first 11 seasons of his career (six of them as team captain) with the Predators, was acquired.
And then on July 1, the Canadiens outbid the Florida Panthers and Detroit Red Wings to sign Alexander Radulov out of the KHL.
We can’t wait to see the impact these three players have in turning the Canadiens around, but none of them will take up more of our attention than goaltender Carey Price.
Price, who won the Hart, Vezina and Jennings Trophies and the Ted Lindsay Award in 2015, was limited to just 12 games last season after suffering two injuries to his right knee. He says he’s now at 100 per cent—a statement that will be tested over the next few weeks, as he’s set to take on the best players as Canada’s starting goaltender for the 2016 World Cup of Hockey.
The fans in Montreal expect big things out of the Canadiens after a season that knocked them far off course. If the team doesn’t fly out of the gate, Subban chants will be raining down at the Bell Centre, coach Therrien will be hot under the collar, and general manager Marc Bergevin might add some grey to that famous beard of his.
It’s going to be a dramatic season for the Canadiens, and we’ll be watching every second of it.
A full year of McDavid
Suggesting that 19-year-old Connor McDavid is the best player in the world might be considered hyperbolic and premature at this stage, but one can’t help but wonder how the statement will sound a year from today.
‘McJesus’ put up 16 goals and 32 assists for 48 points in 45 games last season. He also managed to finish minus-1 on a putrid Edmonton Oilers team that allowed 42 more goals than they scored. To say his game is well-rounded would be an understatement.
The team around him is vastly improved, even when you consider the lopsided nature of the Taylor Hall for Adam Larsson trade.
Larsson will anchor a blue line that now appears to be passable. Cam Talbot and Jonas Gustavsson will hold down the fort in net. And the additions of Milan Lucic and Jesse Puljujarvi up front gives McDavid a much better supporting cast with which to work.
Is 100 points out of the question for a healthy McDavid? We wouldn’t bet against the possibility. If he pulls it off, he might just bring this Edmonton crew to where they haven’t been since 2006 (the playoffs).
If you’re on the East Coast, set your PVRs for all those late Oilers games. If you miss them, you won’t be able to argue with those trying to convince you that McDavid’s the best player in the game.
Sid and Ovi take their place in history
Curiosity got the better of us as we searched through some milestones that players may hit this season. We were wondering how far away the two best players over the past 10 years were from hitting 1,000 points. Turns out both Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin will ride right by the mark.
Ovechkin’s likely to notch No. 1,000 by the halfway point of the season, but he’ll be achieving the feat somewhere around Game 880 of his career whereas Crosby currently has 938 points in 707 games.
Only 14 of the 83 players who have managed 1,000 points did so in less than 800 games. That puts Crosby in some pretty elite company.
Sidebar: Wayne Gretzky scored 1,000 in 424 games before adding another 1,000 over his next 433.
We digress. This storyline is just one of 100 reasons to watch Crosby and Ovechkin on a nightly basis.
The Vancouver Canucks aren’t likely to be quite as compelling, but it’s worth noting that Henrik (970) and Daniel Sedin (942) are both on pace to get into this exclusive group this season.
And Arizona’s Shane Doan needs 55 points to join this club.
Jagr continues to drink from the fountain of youth
Jaromir Jagr isn’t just a fine wine, he’s the Benjamin Button of hockey.
It wasn’t 20-year-old Aleksander Barkov or 23-year-old Jonathan Huberdeau who led the Florida Panthers in scoring last season. It was the 44-year-old, mullet-wearing Czech.
We’ve loved watching him since 1990, and we’re going to really savour the moment he passes Mark Messier as the second-leading point-getter in NHL history when he scores his 22nd point this season.
Jagr’s on pace to pass Messier’s 1,887 points in roughly 100 fewer games than the Edmonton native played.
And provided Jagr is healthy out of the gate, he’ll play Game 1,653 of his career on Dec. 22 when the Panthers welcome the Boston Bruins to Sunrise, Fla. In doing so he’ll move past Mark Recchi for fourth place on the all-time list.
Imagine this guy hadn’t spent three years playing in Russia, never mind the three NHL lockouts cutting into his totals.
Matthews and the rookie class
We’re watching every game Auston Matthews plays this season, and we’re extremely excited to watch what promises to be one of the most compelling races to the Calder Trophy we’ve ever seen.
Matthews is going to play a huge role with the Toronto Maple Leafs considering the depth of their roster, and the other top picks in 2016 are going to get their shots, too.
Winnipeg Jets forward Patrick Laine lit up the 2016 World Championship and we expect he’s going to do the same in the upcoming World Cup. That should set him up for a remarkable season. We’ll be watching.
Puljujarvi in Edmonton… PVR is already set.
Pierre-Luc Dubois in Columbus…Thanks for giving us a reason to watch! We’re just kidding, Blue Jackets fans.
Jimmy Vesey in New York…we’ll all be watching you. Well, maybe the Predators and Buffalo Sabres won’t be watching you.
Burns set to become marquee UFA
It’s the story we’re least looking forward to but the one we can’t turn away from. One of the best players in the world is currently set to become an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2017.
Last season, Brent Burns helped the San Jose Sharks to their first Stanley Cup Final in franchise history. He was also a Norris Trophy candidate after setting career highs with 27 goals and 48 assists.
No defenceman, outside of Erik Karlsson, has scored more points than Burns has over the past four seasons. And at 31, there’s plenty more in the tank for this player.
We’re hoping this doesn’t drag on throughout the season. We’re sure Sharks GM Doug Wilson and Burns are in the same boat.
But considering Burns has yet to put pen to paper on a new deal, we know it’s a possibility this situation becomes another version of Stammergeddon.