It’s easy to look at the upcoming NHL regular season with a level of excitement because of Connor McDavid, Auston Matthews, Patrik Laine, or the bevy of other young stars ready to dominate the game for the next decade.
But there will be stories, big and small, that will fill websites, sports pages and airtime over the next 12 months.
Here’s a quick look at what to expect. (Please leave your comments of disdain or praise until the event actually happens. It’s more fun that way.)
Smaller goaltender equipment
The hope had been that the “uppers” (shoulder, arm and chest) along with the pants would all be minimized by season’s start. Alas, it appears the power of the goaltenders and manufacturers has pushed back amendments to the top part of the equipment with just alterations to the pants taking place.
Internally, the NHL keeps pushing for change, and even with possible assistance from the Players’ Association, a mid-season change to the upper-body pads might be possible. But don’t hold your breath.
Las Vegas Coach, Colours and logo
Las Vegas owner Bill Foley has already seen the final presentation of his team’s colours and sweater design to go along in addition to the name and logo.
On Nov. 19, all will be unveiled to great fanfare.
The hope has to be that Vegas merchandise becomes all the rage, as was the case with San Jose’s teal in 1991, and Team North America’s sweaters during the recent World Cup.
Remember, merchandise revenue is all league based. Any money earned through the new design and name will be shared by the new team and its 30 partners.
While general manager George McPhee has been frenetic in building a hockey operations group, there is still no indication of when he will appoint a coach. I’m told that will occur in the spring of 2017.
Olympics and the international game
The one-sided sparring between the IOC and the IIHF, NHL and NHLPA has met its breaking point.
The IOC, with all the power and the largest stage, has said payments for logistics, insurance, and travel will not be forthcoming to the NHL and its players for participating in the 2018 Winter Games in South Korea.
While IIHF head Rene Fasel said he will beg for the extra $10 million to pay those bills, it has been suggested that the real number needed to shut down the NHL for two weeks is close to double that.
Something has to give.
It has now been reported that any decision on the upcoming Winter Games has to come by 2017, which would allow for a year’s worth of planning for teams, players, and the schedule maker.
Stay tuned, because this could get ugly. Players want to go, fans want to see it, but the NHL will not and should not lose money to go the Olympics.
It makes no sense. And with the Pyeongchang Games in jeopardy, one would suggest that participation in Beijing 2022 is also in doubt.
On the heels of the positive reaction and performance of the World Cup of Hockey, we are going to start hearing about the NHL re-engaging in games overseas.
Regular season games back in Europe? Maybe. In China? A thought. Perhaps more IIHF-NHL-KHL events to grow the game as a whole.
Nothing will be off the table, especially if the Olympics don’t happen. And we should know in the next six months.
Centennial anniversary and 100 greatest players
Spanning two seasons, the NHL’s centennial celebrations will begin in Toronto on Jan. 1 with the outdoor game at BMO Field. Among the many festivities to be organized, there will be the double unveiling of the top 100 players in NHL history (50 in Toronto and 50 at the 2017 All-Star Game in Los Angeles).
This season also marks the 100th year of the Toronto NHL franchise (Arenas, St. Pats, Maple Leafs) and the 50th anniversary of four teams from the expansion of 1967.
Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, and St. Louis will all celebrate this season with participation at one of the league’s pillar events.
The Chayka Experiment, and Arizona’s future
No general manager had a busier summer than John Chayka. Carrying more than $20 million in “dead money” with the contracts of Pavel Datsyuk, David Bolland, Chris Pronger, and the buyouts of Antoine Vermette and Mike Ribeiro, Chayka has crafted a new-look lineup for the Arizona Coyotes.
Will Chayka do in hockey what Theo Epstein, Ben Cherington and Andrew Friedman did in baseball? Only time, and victories, will tell.
Also in the desert, we’ll wait to hear about that final resting place of the new site of the Coyotes’ arena.
Indications are that a partnership with Arizona State University (which just launched a Division I hockey program), is inching closer. But as of today, nothing is official.
Gretzky’s new role
Most would agree: seeing Wayne Gretzky on the stage with Gary Bettman in September was both a treat and a relief. Both seemed relaxed and happy announcing Gretzky’s role as centennial ambassador.
My question is, how long will he be ambassador before he has a real hockey operations job with one of the teams in this league? Will it be before his term as ambassador ends? I happen to think so.
Is there a team that needs a president, or is there a potential GM’s role in Gretzky’s future? Possibly.
I’ve been told that Gretzky will have a much more important hockey job “sooner than later.”
The effect of Rogers Place, particularly down Highway 2
The long-term dream of a downtown arena in Edmonton has come true.
It is described by many as the best arena ever designed, with Daryl Katz’s fingerprints all over it; from the stainless steel/glass exterior to the upholstery in the suites, to the uniforms of the staff.
It also might re-ignite discussions between other teams and municipalities, as they try to partner (or not) in building positive infrastructure.
The Edmonton Oilers have gone from around 100 employees to a total of 1,600 to help increase the tax base, and the new “Ice District” has become such a focal point of the downtown area (more than 1.5 million square feet of office space has already been rented), it shows that private-public partnerships can work.
Of particular interest, the Calgary Flames and the City of Calgary will be watching, analyzing, and negotiating a potential future partnership.
The “Calgary Next” project has not received the traction that many thought it would.
But when you consider that the Oilers’ plans have taken almost 10 years to come to fruition, the situation in Calgary could take some time to unfold.
The concussion suit
Not being a lawyer or retired hockey player, it’s difficult to comment on the class action lawsuit made by former players against the NHL.
Every time I try to read the briefs, my eyes glaze over. All I know is that the topic is serious, not going away soon.
How it’s resolved, and on which motion, I will leave to much smarter people.
The outdoor experiment could end up in Ottawa
As the centennial year winds down in December 2017, there is little doubt that something big will happen in Ottawa.
It’s Canada’s 150th birthday year, the Stanley Cup’s 125th year, and the league’s 100th.
What better place to have a game than in the nation’s capital, Lord Stanley of Preston’s former home, and the city of one of the founding teams? No brainer, right? Right.
So an outdoor game makes sense. But where? In the traditional football setting of a stadium, or the grand stage of Parliament Hill?
Lips are quite tight on this, but remember, it’s for the 2017-18 season, and there are about 1,700 games to be played before we see this historic event.
The NHL has done a remarkable job of making the difficult look easy. Taking the game outdoors isn’t simple, but ice maker Dan Craig and his staff have made it feel seamless.
Back in my time with the league, we looked briefly at staging a game at Strawberry Fields in New York’s Central Park. But the cost of a portable 50,000-seat stadium was too much to financially bear.
Have things changed for Ottawa? Don’t think so. Is there a corporate partner (or a government agency) that will help with the previously prohibited costs? Hmm.
At any rate, an outdoor game on its own might register with the public as just another game. An outdoor game in a one-off stadium on Parliament Hill? Might give the outdoor format a bit of buzz again.
Which team will the first, not to move, but to be sold?
The NHL appears far away from relocating any franchises, though some teams might change ownership in the months or year to come.
Winning the Stanley Cup has quelled the Ron Burkle-Mario Lemieux ownership group’s desire to sell, that much is confirmed.
However, business is business, and if the asking price is met, the Pittsburgh Penguins’ ownership structure changes. Don’t be surprised if some level of limited or minority partners are brought in to the Penguins’ family.
In Carolina, Peter Karmanos Jr. has been looking for similar partners for a few years now. There is no reason to think anything has changed on that front. The team’s on-ice performance (and its obvious improvement) makes Karmanos’ offering a little more attractive.
Just a heads up, there will be more storylines to come.
Some good, some bad, some happy, some sad. Needless to say, the game sometimes frustrates all of us, but always succeeds because of the great people in it and the passion of the public. Enjoy the season.