Following a lengthy wait, hockey finally is back. A new NHL season starts up later today with five games on the schedule. It even features an early bird special with the Flyers and Penguins doing battle in Pennsylvania at 5:30 PM EST.
In what should be a challenge for the league due to the unforgiving and unpredictable nature of COVID-19, they’ll try to work around the early positives with the Stars, whose schedule has been pushed back. Indeed, the threat of the global pandemic isn’t going away. With it already forcing cancelations in the NBA and now even before they drop the puck in the abbreviated 56-game ’21 season, questions linger. How successful will they be at avoiding a pause? It’s a legit concern.
Everyone should be happy to have the sport back. We’ve missed it. With the league realignment of divisions that have been altered due to location even if one doesn’t make sense, you’ll have teams in each division jockeying for position with only the top four making the playoffs. It’ll be like the old days of the old divisional format when you had the Adams, Patrick, Norris and Smythe when there were a lot less teams. I don’t know why the NHL doesn’t go back to the traditional names. It was better due its unique nature.
Be that as it may, you have the East and Central comprising the Eastern Conference. Why is our division called the East? They can’t just call it the Patrick for old times sake. Then there’s the weirdness of the North Division comprised of seven Canadian teams that stretches from Ontario to Alberta with British Columbia and Manitoba. The West (Pacific) making up eight teams with a couple not even in the right timezone. This is strange. But that’s what you get these days.
It’s not worth going through all the changes to teams. Some notables. Zdeno Chara in DC will be strange. So will Torey Krug in St. Louis. Joe Thornton in Toronto will be odd. It’s blasphemy. But he’s sticking around for at least this year to see if he can help solve the Maple Leafs playoff woes. Good luck. Jacob Markstrom has changed addresses from Vancouver to Calgary. Taylor Hall is in Buffalo to team with Jack Eichel for a year. Paul Stastny returns to Winnipeg after never fitting in Vegas, who uses players as chess pieces like Beth Harmon in The Queen’s Gambit. They paid former St. Louis captain Alex Pietrangelo a lot of cash to change sides. That’ll be strange. Braden Holtby now is in Vancouver where he’ll share the net with Thatcher Demko.
These are strange times. Montreal has the look of a playoff contender with the addition of Josh Anderson even if that contract is risky. Nick Suzuki should blossom into a top center. Carey Price won’t be asked to start 50 of 56 with Jake Allen backing up. Tyler Toffoli is a good addition.
Edmonton is hoping the Connor McDavid/Leon Draisaitl tandem along with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins can carry them into the playoffs despite Mikko Koskinen and Mike Smith. Maybe the return of Jesse Puljujarvi along with key additions Tyson Barrie and Kyle Turris will help. They couldn’t even get by the Blackhawks in the qualifying round last August.
Kirill Kaprizov will compete for top rookie status after dominating the KHL. He’ll boost the Wild’s offense which still features Kevin Fiala and Zach Parise. Plus a solid D corps. Can Cam Talbot get them into the playoffs? The goalie situation will be interesting.
The Rangers are hoping the arrival of top pick Alexis Lafreniere will brighten their playoff chances. He’ll start on a questionable third line with Filip Chytil and Julien Gauthier. Chytil will make or break it. Kaapo Kakko must improve and newcomer K’Andre Miller will be looked upon to boost a shaky defense. Igor Shestyorkin is the new starter with Alex Georgiev backing up.
These are just some of the storylines entering the new season. One which could be unpredictable. Keep an eye on this year’s rookie class which prominently features Kaprizov, Shestyorkin, Lafreniere, Tim Stutzle, Alex Turcotte, Trevor Zegras and Ilya Sorokin. Defensemen could include Jamie Drysdale, Bowen Byram and Ville Heinola.