Players and stories to watch this NHL season
The 2013-14 NHL season opens Oct. 1. Here are 10 players fans should keep an eye on:
Detroit Red Wings
A Senator since 1995, and captain since 1999, it’s hard to imagine the 40-year-old in anything but red and black. But a contract couldn’t get done and the classy right-winger shocked Ottawa by signing a one-year deal with Detroit. The Red Wings are now in Ottawa’s division, making Dec. 1 an interesting date at the Canadian Tire Centre.
He was no longer the franchise goalie, he sold his home, he was openly on the trade market for a year, but the Canucks’ favourite whipping boy hasn’t gone anywhere. Instead, Cory Schneider got traded. And the 34-year-old Luongo is committed to playing out the final nine years of a 12-year contract.
He took some time, thought it over and came up with the same decision he always makes — to play another season.
The 43-year-old’s 23rd NHL campaign should be his last. He scored 12 times in 46 games last season. He needs 25 more to reach 700.
Apparently, all is forgiven after the longtime Calgary Flames captain spurned the Bruins to go to Pittsburgh at the trade deadline. After Boston swept the Penguins in the playoffs, the 36-year-old signed a one-year deal to play in Beantown, where his grit and quick shot could be deadly with David Krejci feeding him from centre.
Columbus Blue Jackets
Eyebrows shot upwards when the 28-year-old told the Bruins he wasn’t interested in a new contract. Instead, he left a contender to ink a seven-year deal with the lowly Jackets. He’s had concussion woes in recent years and his production has dipped, but now he has to show he still wants to compete.
It’s a fresh start for the 2010 second-overall draft pick after being deemed an immature underachiever in Boston. Sent to Dallas, the 21-year-old has a chance to show he is a serious player on and off the ice.
Moving to his natural position at centre may do the trick.
He was brilliant while winning the Norris Trophy with a 78-point campaign in 2011-12, but was denied a chance to repeat when his Achilles tendon was severed by a skate early last season. Instead, the Norris went to Montreal’s P.K. Subban, setting up what could be a fine battle for the award between two of the league’s flashiest young defencemen.
The top pick in the 1998 draft won a Stanley Cup in Tampa Bay, but some felt he had lost his mojo in recent seasons. After being bought out, the 33-year-old gets to start over on a five-year contract in a city where the pressure is not to be a superstar, but just to win.
This summer there were no run-ins with cab drivers or embarrassing Internet photos. Instead, all the news was about how fit and grown up the gifted winger has become. It is beginning to look like the 24-year-old may be ready for a special campaign, after hinting at it with 55 points in 47 games last season.
New Jersey Devils
General manager Lou Lamoriello stunned the draft floor in Newark when, instead of picking ninth overall before home fans, he dealt his first selection to Vancouver — not for Luongo, but for Cory Schneider. The newcomer’s job now is simple — share the net with legend Martin Brodeur. No pressure there.
Storylines worth watching
Speculation on who should make 2014 Olympic squads, especially Canada’s, will be rampant through the first half of the season. Players from the 12 countries that qualified for the Games in Sochi, Russia, will certainly have it in mind as they approach the Feb. 9-25 Olympic break.
There used to be one outdoor game per season. This year there will be six. It may be overexposure, but the Jan. 1 to March 2 period will see Leafs vs. Red Wings, Ducks vs. Kings, Rangers vs. Devils, Rangers vs. Islanders, Penguinss vs. Blackhawks and Senators vs. Canucks. All in baseball or football venues.
Instead of six divisions, there will be four — the Atlantic, Metropolitan, Central and Pacific. The top three in each division plus two wild cards in each conference make the playoffs. There are 16 teams in the Eastern Conference and 14 in the West, which has sparked complaints that it will be tougher to qualify in the East.
The Leafs, Sens and Habs will now have Detroit in their division, while the Oilers, Flames and Canucks are in with the U.S. West Coast clubs. Jets are in the Central. No more Detroit-Chicago divisional derbies, but at least all teams will play each other, whereas in recent years some teams didn’t meet at all.
Goalies will cover a little less space this season as pads have been chopped in length by an inch or two. Whether the change will result in more goals is debatable. Shallower nets mean there will also be a little extra room for playmaking.
Roy era in Colorado
For the last eight years, Patrick Roy has been a fiery presence as GM and head coach of the junior Quebec Remparts. Now the Hall of Fame goaltender is the coach in Colorado, and has a say in management with old teammate Joe Sakic. With Roy’s gusto and lots of young talent, the Avalanche won’t go unnoticed.
So the highly strung John Tortorella leaves the Rangers and is hired by the Canucks, only to see low-key Alain Vigneault leave Vancouver to coach in New York. Is this just what the Sedin twins need in Vancouver, and what Brad Richards and Rick Nash need on the Rangers?
Is goon hockey back? It looked like it in some pre-season games, notably Toronto-Buffalo. The Leafs added muscle last year, the Sabres got the hulking John Scott and now even mild-mannered Montreal has signed George Parros. Hard to believe given that after the 2004-05 lockout, it looked like the enforcer was going extinct.
Stanley Cup repeat?
There hasn’t been a repeat Stanley Cup champion since the Red Wings in 1997 and 1998, but if another team does, it could be Chicago. They have the same core of Toews, Kane, Keith, Crawford, etc., as last season, when they played only 48 regular-season games. So fatigue will be less of a factor for the Cup winners.
The weeks leading up to the 2013 NHL draft was all about Nathan MacKinnon and Seth Jones. MacKinnon went first to Colorado, but Jones waited until fourth to go to Nashville. Two got picked in between (Alexander Barkov and Jonathan Drouin), but the MacKinnon-Jones debate rages on.