NEW YORK (AP) — The 101st NHL season opens tonight and there are endless story lines to follow. The Associated Press asked a handful of its writers to suggest some of the top things to watch as play gets underway:
TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS. Adding Patrick Marleau gives a much-needed veteran presence to a youth-laden team that has designs on not simply making the playoffs, but winning several rounds.
JACK EICHEL. Having put contract talks behind him after agreeing to an eight-year, $80 million contract extension on Tuesday, it’s now on the Buffalo Sabres’ franchise player to begin performing to expectations — the team’s and his own. Eichel acknowledged his first two NHL seasons were “mediocre.”
MONTREAL CANADIENS. While much of the NHL is trending toward youth and speed, can the Habs continue winning with an aging, plodding lineup that relies on size and the performance of goalie Carey Price?
CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS. After hoisting the Stanley Cup in 2015 for the third time in a six-year stretch of success, was last year’s first-round exit an aberration? How will Jonathan Toews respond after an off year?
CONNOR McDAVID. Will the 20-year-old reigning MVP put together a second straight 100-point season and help the Edmonton Oilers qualify for the playoffs in consecutive years for the first time since 1997-2001? Or will he cool off?
HOT SEATS. Florida was the first of many NHL teams to fire coaches during last season, letting Gerard Gallant go after just 21 games. Will Detroit stick with Jeff Blashill behind the bench all season if the team’s new arena loses its luster with too many losses?
WASHINGTON CAPITALS. Will Alex Ovechkin and the big guns score enough and Braden Holtby stop enough to keep them a solid playoff team and a Stanley Cup contender?
STEVEN STAMKOS. The Tampa Bay Lightning captain was a point-a-game player before his horrific knee injury last season. If he returns to form they’ll be scary.
NEW GOALIES. Carolina has Scott Darling, Dallas has Ben Bishop, Calgary has Mike Smith and all should be better for it, while it remains to be seen with Antti Raanta in Arizona.
GOLDEN ERA. The expansion Vegas Golden Knights open their inaugural season and it will be interesting to see how Las Vegas embraces its first major professional sports franchise.
BY THE BOOK. No timeouts after icing and no line changes for teams that commit the infraction. Closer attention from the officials on slashing. But the biggest rule change might be the crackdown on face-off violations, which has already led to some preseason grumbling.
MIGHTY PENGUINS. The elephant in the room, of course: Can Pittsburgh become the first team to win three championships in a row since the Islanders dynasty of the early 1980s? Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang are back for a try.