Connor McDavid is talking about how he believes he can score more goals. Heck, maybe he’ll rip 50 if he starts heeding Leon Draisaitl’s advice and gets a touch more selfish.
Jonathan Huberdeau is striding, pivoting and saucer-passing in a crisp red-and-orange sweater for the very first time. The Flaming C on Huberdeau’s chest blazes a degree hotter since Brad Treliving’s Hot GM Summer and the playmaker’s spanking-new eight-year pact with his adopted city.
Nathan MacKinnon is saying run it back, Morgan Rielly is anxious to break through, and Sidney Crosby is dreaming up one more dance under a dressing-room champagne shower.
Then there’s Jack Hughes, an easy smile whose superstar seasons have yet to play out. He is cracking jokes and bubbling with excitement over the New Jersey Devils’ off-season additions.
All have gathered in Las Vegas, along with 50-some other NHL personalities, in the September sun to promote their game, their team, their aspirations.
They know winter is coming. Still, they hold their heads high, fit and welcoming of its challenges.
A clean sheet plus sharpened blades equals delicious anticipation.
The standings’ loss column is essentially empty, a string of 31 glorious doughnuts (sorry, San Jose Sharks) signalling disappointment untasted.
No one has been benched by John Tortorella, nor had their ankles broken by Cale Makar.
No winger’s foot has been caught in the trajectory of an unforgiving Ryan Pulock clapper, no goaltender victimized by Auston Matthews’ pull-and-snap laser. Yet.
It’s Opening Night!
Hope springs, locally and globally.
Offence is on the uptick. Ditto attendance. The salary cap will soon follow suit.
An international best-on-best calendar is being drafted. There is trust that our first so-called “normal” season in three winters will be devoid of viral outbreaks, dreary Zoom press conferences, and playoffs in July.
The NHL’s flagpole events will take over some of the most fun towns in North America. Fenway Park gets taken over by the Winter Classic. All-Star weekend is storming Fort Lauderdale Beach — and there could be alligators. Both the draft and awards ceremony will converge in Nashville, so reserve your party bike now.
More female hockey minds occupy front office jobs than ever before. Another batch of young talent is screaming in with dangles for days. And Mike Grier is about to oversee the first NHL campaign by a black general manager.
All of this is well past due, absolutely. And hockey’s ugly scabs will rightfully be picked at and exposed. It’s a game of mistakes, and not all imperfections should be shrugged away.
When the puck drops Tuesday night, a sense of what’s possible, what greatness lies ahead, will waft through the air in New York City, then over to Los Angeles.
In Colorado, where the game is played at a speed faster than lightning, there is legitimate confidence that the departures of Darcy Kuemper and Nazem Kadri won’t spell the loss of Lord Stanley’s Mug.
In Calgary, we anxiously await to see if the climax to Treliving’s magic trick can equal its brilliant setup.
While over in cash-conscious Carolina, Brent Burns takes the baton as the latest offensive-minded point man tasked with driving offence the forwards have been in tough to match.
In Toronto and Edmonton, there is more fiddling with the fringes and another earnest pitch that top-heavy rosters with superstars in their prime can triumph in a four-line, six-pair gauntlet.
Columbus and Ottawa already proved that, yes, small markets can lure big fish — but how many wins can they gobble up?
Does Tampa Bay, the league’s co-leader in games played three years running, have any tax-free gas left in its tank?
The Florida Panthers, your most recent regular-season titans, will get injected with a dose of Matthew Tkachuk’s unique brand of nasty as the Battle of Florida becomes his new Battle of Alberta.
The Vegas Golden Knights have been all-in since birth, and a healthy Mark Stone and full season of Jack Eichel might well be enough to make up for their dice roil in the crease.
Washington’s Alex Ovechkin — at once ageless and prematurely grey — will once again set up shop in the flank and go blasting away at Wayne Gretzky’s tower of goal pucks, once thought insurmountable.
Rich hockey-mad towns like Buffalo and Detroit have signalled a turn of the corner, which should lure locals back to the barn, while the Rangers, Blues and Predators made smart adjustments that should keep them on course.
Heck, even the crummy clubs are dreaming large.
Chicago, Montreal, Philadelphia, Seattle, and Arizona State are enthusiastically racing for the bottom and “Tanking Hard for Bedard!” knowing that the next-best thing to selling success is marketing the future.
For us, however, the greatest selling point is the unknown: Where will Patrick Kane finish his contract year? Will the drama in Winnipeg cool or explode? Which breakout superstar or Cinderella squad do we not see coming?
That’s why we watch the games.
So… is it 7:30 p.m. ET yet?