While it might be winter yet, the start of the NHL opening night is already upon us. On October 2, the 2019-20 campaign will get underway when the St. Louis Blues raise their Stanley Cup banner and take on the Washington Capitals.
Every season brings a slate of new star players, coaches, and rule changes to the league. And whether you’re a diehard fan looking to check out some teams beyond your hometown club or a newbie watching the NHL for the first time, there are some things that you’ll want to keep an eye on this year.
Can the Tampa Bay Lightning get over the hump?
Last season, the Tampa Bay Lightning dominated the NHL, cruising to a 62–16–4 record. Nikita Kucherov, Steven Stamkos, and Brayden Point all broke the 90-point plateau and Andrei Vasilevskiy was a rock in net. But then the playoffs began.
After looking unbeatable all season, the Bolts were meekly swept out of the playoffs by the Columbus Blue Jackets. This year, the same stars will take the ice in Tampa Bay. While the talent is clearly there, do they have what it takes to rebound from that crushing defeat to make another run at the Stanley Cup?
Will Jack Hughes and Kaapo Kakko be the Next Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin?
In modern NHL history, Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby are permanently joined at the hip. Drafted first overall in 2004 and 2005, respectively, the two forwards have dominated the league for over a decade. Given their draft status and the divisional rivalry between the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins, the two seemed to always be in a constant battle for supremacy.
In this year’s NHL draft, the top two picks went to geographical rivals again, with Jack Hughes joining the New Jersey Devils and Kaapo Kakko signing with the New York Rangers. The pair’s differing styles—the former is a skilled center, while the latter projects as a dominant scoring winger—set up a nice rivalry; no matter which player comes out on top, there should be fireworks.
Is this finally the Toronto Maple Leafs’ year?
While the Toronto Maple Leafs are mired in a five decade long Stanley Cup drought, they have some great talent on the roster. While the salary cap implications might come back to haunt the franchise later, they have an elite top two lines; the blueline has also taken a step forward and Frederik Andersen seems to be a solid goalie, provided that he isn’t overworked.
But, given the pressures on the Leafs, nothing is ever straight forward. If the team gets off to a rocky start or meets the Boston Bruins again in the postseason, there’s bound to be a media circus. It’s up to head coach Mike Babcock and his players to keep their heads down and try to bring the Stanley Cup back to Canada.
Which St. Louis Blues team will show up?
Last year, the St. Louis Blues pulled off one of the greatest comebacks in recent memory. They struggled out of the gate, costing head coach Mike Yeo his job; on January 1, 2019, they had the worst record in the NHL. But then rookie goalie Jordan Binnington took over the net and led the team on a 30–10–5 run. They made the playoffs and won the Stanley Cup for the first time in their history.
That run to the title undoubtedly took a toll on the Blues, though. With such a short offseason, they may not physically or mentally be 100% come Wednesday night. There will also be an extra weight placed on Binnington’s shoulders; after winning the Stanley Cup as a rookie, it will be interesting to see how he copes with any rough patches this season.