By Niles Pender: The NHL season begins on January 19th with just about every team in action. As the season begins, it will be interesting how the 48 game schedule impacts the quality of play throughout the league. What other stories or plot lines are worth keeping an eye on this season?
Should There Be An Asterisk On The Stanley Cup This Year?
The champion of the NHL this year will have played only a 48 game schedule as opposed to the typical 82 game schedule. Critics and cynics will argue that the winner this year may not be the best team in the league. However, no one is putting an asterisk on the Stanley Cup championship that the 1995 Devils team won. Still, it will be an interesting debate nonetheless.
Will There Be A Surprise Team Or Two In The Playoffs?
Last season, the Winnipeg Jets and Toronto Maple Leafs were in or close to the top eight teams at the midway part of the schedule. However, both teams cooled off significantly toward the end of the season. The Minnesota Wild were a team that could have made a run to the playoffs in a 48 schedule last season. Therefore, it is possible that a weaker team could make the playoffs due to a hot start to the season. On the flip side, it will be interesting to see if any team projected to contend for a playoff spot this year is denied that opportunity due to a slow start.
Will The Wild Get The Most Out Of Suter And Parise?
Ryan Suter and Zach Parise were the two biggest names on the free agent market last summer. They both wound up going to Minnesota after signing huge contracts. While some experts see it as a good move on the part of a small market team, the two contracts will be nothing more than an albatross if they don’t play well.
Does Trading For Rick Nash Get The Rangers Over The Top?
The New York Rangers were the number one seed in the east last season. However, they failed to make it to the Stanley Cup finals. Part of the reason was due to the lack of a premiere center who played with grit while also being able to score goals. Rick Nash should add a layer of toughness and leadership to a team that was still a piece or two away from being a complete team before the trade. With Nash, the Rangers are definitely a contender to go all the way this season.
Can The Youth Movement In Edmonton Show Dividends?
The Edmonton Oilers have been drafting near the top of the board for the past several years. With many number one picks developing in the AHL or playing with the Oilers already, there have been high expectations for this team over the past couple of seasons. However, this is most likely the year where the young guys mature into a team that can win games. If not, it may be time to think about starting over again in Alberta.
Is This The Year That Tukka Rask Stakes His Claim To The Number One Job In Boston?
Goaltender Tukka Rask was among the best goalies in the playoffs in 2010. He lead the Bruins to a first round upset of the Buffalo Sabres and then continued his play throughout the rest of their playoff run. Last season, Rask lost his job to veteran Tim Thomas. With Thomas sitting this season out, will Rask finally put a stranglehold on the top goaltender spot in Boston?
Will The Fans Come Back?
A lot of people have probably said that they were done with hockey for at least this season. The truth is that a lot of these people are going to be watching the games on television, buying team gear or going to watch games live. Although attendance will most likely be down to start the season, a large percentage of the fans will surely be back by the time the playoffs start.
If anything, the NHL may have done fans a favor. Instead of watching boring games in the middle of November between Columbus and Montreal, the season starts right when the playoff races are about to get interesting. Also, the season extends until at least May for every fan in the league. By the time your team is done playing, football is at most only a couple months away from starting up again. If your team goes all the way, it will practically be training camp by the time the season ends.
Author bio: Niles Pender is a sports writer focuising on thoughts and analysis of professional and collegiate sports. He recommends FansEdge when looking for the latest in NHL hockey apparel including licensed NHL hockey jerseys, shirts, hats and more.