The National Hockey League (NHL) will enter into its 100th season of play — 101st in operation — on October 4. With the countdown to opening day starting to tick, here is a summary of things to look for in the upcoming 2017-2018 season.
The addition of a new team, the Vegas Golden Knights, will bring the league up to 31 total teams. The last time the league expanded was in the 2000-2001 season when the Columbus Blue Jackets and Minnesota Wild popped onto the scene — both the Blue Jackets and the Wild finished last in their respective divisions in their inaugural season. Additionally, none of the past 10 expansion teams have made the postseason.
However, the Golden Knights have higher draft picks, a pick of non-protected players from any team, a league-wide salary cap and a general manager, George McPhee, who is putting his bet on advanced metrics to push the young team to be competitive.
The real question is, however, who will win the cup? Pittsburgh won their second-straight Stanley Cup during the 2016-2017 campaign with a 2-0 win over the Nashville Predators that secured a 4-2 series win. In the final two minutes of play, right wing Patric Hornqvist and left wing Carl Hagelin tucked a pair of goals apiece into the net, pushing the Penguins to victory in the sixth game of the series.
The franchise is the first NHL team that have won back-to-back titles since the Detroit Red Wings in 1997 and 1998. Odds are good that the Penguins might contend for the cup again. If they do, it would be the first time a team has won in three consecutive years since the New York Islanders took the title in the 1980, ‘81, ‘82 and ‘83 seasons.
Pittsburgh are not in the clear. They will have strong competition from the Edmonton Oilers, Washington Capitals and potentially the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The Oilers made their first playoff appearance since 2006, and the young roster is eager to repeat its performance. Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl will lead the charge. Working against the team are the bottom of their forward group and a defence that relies heavily on goaltender, Cam Talbot.
The Capitals are reeling off a disappointing season, considering they were the favourite for many to win the cup. The team boasted during the 2016-2017 regular season the most points and the fewest goals allowed. They had 111 wins over the past two seasons — much more than any other franchise. The team is in a good position to mirror their success from last year, led once again by left wing Alex Ovechkin — a key player on the Washington roster since 2005 after being taken as a first overall pick in the 2004 NHL draft.
Fans could be worried as the core of the Capitals roster is aging — not to mention expensive — so the window of opportunity for Washington to be a contender might be closing if the third and fourth lines are not bolstered.
Tampa Bay will look to capitalize on a slightly weak Atlantic Division, considering the Red Wings, Buffalo Sabres and Florida Panthers are rebuilding and the Toronto Maple Leafs are inexperienced.
Teams like the Boston Bruins, Ottawa Senators and Montreal Canadiens could pose a threat, but not enough so as to completely disregard the Lightning’s potential. The Lightning re-signed forwards Ondrej Palat to a five-year contract and Tyler Johnson to a seven-year contract and added forward Chris Kunitz to the roster.
The centennial year is showing promise for a great season ahead. Penguin fans, especially, will be holding their breath once the puck drops and the campaign begins.
Image courtesy of MG_1057