It’s time to drop the puck on the 2016-17 NHL season! Four months after the Pittsburgh Penguins hoisted the Stanley Cup, all 30 teams are raring to go again. A lot changed this offseason. Free agency and trades relocated several high-profile players. That said, here are five storylines to watch before the games start.
1. Mike Sullivan’s first full year as Penguins head coach
Six months before that Stanley Cup triumph, the Penguins were languishing at 10th in the Eastern Conference. They fired head coach Mike Johnston, and brought in Mike Sullivan to try to steady the ship. Pittsburgh finished the season with 104 points, a remarkable turnaround. His suffocating style of hockey helped Pittsburgh recapture the Cup. But with a whole offseason for the other coaches to figure his schemes out, will he have repeat success?
2. New faces in new places
No. 1 draft pick Auston Matthews could be the man that turns the Maple Leafs franchise around. The 19-year-old is the first American to be the top pick since the Blackhawks took Patrick Kane in 2007. The blockbuster trade of the summer was the Nashville Predators sending Shea Weber to the Montreal Canadians for P.K. Subban. Both of these players are offensive defensemen, and finished last season with 51 points each. Offensive defensemen are valuable commodities in the NHL, and two of the best in the league were traded for each other. It will be fascinating to see how they preform.
3. The very competitive Western Conference
The West is already regarded as the deeper of the two conferences, but that could be especially true this year. The eight teams who made the playoffs last year will be strong again, and the other six improved as well. Calgary traded for goalie Brian Elliot to complement their young firepower up front. Edmonton added another top-five draft pick, Finnish winger Jesse Puljujarvi. The Jets scored the No. 2 pick and added Finnish sniper Patrik Laine. And Colorado and Arizona both missed the playoffs by fewer than ten points last year. The West is looking more competitive than ever.
4. Canada's bounce-back
All seven Canadian teams failed to qualify for the playoffs last season. Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg, and Vancouver face an uphill climb in the Western Conference. But in the East, Montreal has arguably the best goaltender in the NHL in Carey Price, and the addition of Shea Weber should help them on the backend. In Ontario, both Ottawa and Toronto are rebuilding with some new talent. The bottom line: Some team from the Great White North needs to get in this season, or there will be a major outcry.
5. Weighty expectations
The goal for everybody is to win the Stanley Cup, but the pressure to succeed is greater for certain teams than others. The Boston Bruins have missed the playoffs in each of the last two years. With the talent on that roster, including Patrice Bergeron and Zdeno Chara, this is unacceptable. Boston’s biggest rival, the Montreal Canadians, also fall into this category. With Carey Price and Max Pacioretty only signed to team-friendly deals for two and three more years, respectively, the window to go big in Montreal is closing.
(Photo credit: Vincent Ethier/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)