The NHL dropped the puck on its abridged, 56-game season on Wednesday and one factor turned clear: the following 115 nights — which can cram in 863 video games — are going to be a doozy. Opening evening introduced us a bit little bit of all the things: a banner elevating with out followers, a extremely dramatic puck drop, a combat, additional time, a dizzying quantity of ads and 37 mixed targets.
Listed below are our principal takeaways:
1. The Montreal Canadiens must be a participant within the North Division
In taking the Toronto Maple Leafs — the crew everyone seems to be predicting to run away with the division — to additional time, the Habs made an announcement. Do not rely Montreal out. There’s so much to love about GM Marc Bergevin’s offseason. He added depth at each place, from goaltender (strong backup Jake Allen) to protection (Joel Edmundson, in addition to the arrival of prime prospect Alexander Romanov, who seemed terrific enjoying 22:49 in his debut) to offense (Tyler Toffoli was the massive free agent get, however Josh Anderson was first to endear himself to the fan base with an all out effort, together with two targets).
The timeline is clearly accelerated, particularly with 20-year-old Jesperi Kotkaniemi and 21-year-old Nick Suzuki able to contribute. A recreation like Wednesday’s exhibits the Canadiens have swagger. “We have been the higher crew on the market,” Anderson stated after. Message obtained!
2. Issues look completely different, however we’ll adapt.
The NHL’s summer season bubble taught us that vacant hockey arenas translate nicely to a TV product. The shortage of followers by no means felt distracting; the mesh protecting the seats within the 100-level positively helps, and broadcasts principally perfected the ambient crowd noise. However so much has modified because the summer season, too. The NHL has calculated its losses from disrupting its regular schedule, and commissioner Gary Bettman stated the league and its golf equipment will lose billions — not hundreds of thousands — to even stage a 2021 season. (Gate income generated straight and not directly at video games accounts for roughly 50% of league income, and as of now solely the Coyotes, Panthers and Stars plan to have followers, in restricted capability).
So the NHL is getting a bit extra aggressive in chasing income. For the primary time, the league offered naming rights to its division names. You will not hear me name it the MassMutual NHL East Division usually, however you are going to hear it in your broadcasts. Quite a bit. The league additionally let groups put adverts on their helmets for the primary time, nonetheless they’re so discreet, I did not discover (or thoughts) them a lot. Adverts within the enviornment nonetheless? Holy cow, it felt like overload. Probably the most conspicuous was the adverts circling the glass above the boards. In Tampa Bay, it was small Adidas logos. In Edmonton, the phrases “Rogers 5G” have been printed repeatedly and once more across the glass. It was so much. However, perspective. It is preserving individuals employed and preserving us entertained.
3. It will be a protracted season in Chicago
A recreation in opposition to the defending champs may not be one of the best barometer, however Wednesday’s 5-1 drubbing by the Lightning felt simply as brutal because it was inevitable for the Blackhawks. Chicago moved on from franchise legend Corey Crawford (the one participant in crew historical past to win a number of Stanley Cups) to an unproven trio. Sport 1 starter Malcolm Subban had a number of highlight-worthy saves, but when that is one of the best defensive effort you’ll be able to trot out, yikes.
The blueline, leaky all of final season, usually left Subban excessive and dry. The Blackhawks had a tough time producing any forecheck. No Crawford, Brandon Saad, Alex Nylander, Kirby Dach and Jonathan Toews — with no inspiring replacements — is an issue. The Blackhawks lastly admitted what was changing into abundantly clear by their transactions: they’re in a rebuild.
“We do not have sufficient gamers, prime to backside, to compete with the highest groups,” GM Stan Bowman instructed me in October. “We have got loads of good gamers, we have a fairly good begin on the makings of a superb crew, however we nonetheless have a methods to go but, and I settle for that.”
Chicago is utilizing this season as an opportunity to offer the younger guys reps. Whereas it is admirable to have a plan, you have to really feel for Patrick Kane and Duncan Keith, who’re nonetheless giving it their all at a excessive degree, however simply do not have the supporting solid round them to visualise one other championship anytime quickly.
4. Convey on the offense
It has been a gradual pattern within the NHL during the last 5 seasons, with objective averages slowly ticking up (peaking at 3.02 targets per recreation/per crew final season) and goalies’ common save share waning down (.910 in 2019-20). The primary three Jap Convention video games alone introduced us 24 targets alone (common 4 targets per crew). A couple of goalies I talked to over the offseason — particularly on groups that hadn’t performed since March — stated the lengthy stretch with out recreation conditions could be a problem, and perhaps take a slight adjustment interval. When you have been questioning how the dearth of correct coaching camp and preseason exhibitions may manifest, count on some sloppy and large open video games — no less than to start out the season.
5. It is not straightforward to be the favourite
I bear in mind speaking to Nathan MacKinnon forward of final season, and he stated it was the primary time in his Avalanche profession the place he felt like his crew might really win. The ante is raised this yr, because of MacKinnon regularly enjoying like an MVP, and GM Joe Sakic regularly making shrewd strikes to make this crew stronger. Colorado opened as a Stanley Cup favourite in Vegas this season. But it surely was a sluggish begin for the Avs of their opener. They have been too sloppy with the puck, which you’ll be able to’t afford to do in opposition to the massive, powerful Blues. I used to be trying ahead to seeing the road of Gabriel Landeskog, Nazem Kadri and Brandon Saad, however they did not look proper collectively, and it wasn’t lengthy earlier than coach Jared Bednar began mixing his traces. Colorado’s usually high-functioning offense had a tough time producing a lot stress. Credit score St. Louis for a powerful crew recreation and sure, it is solely Sport 1. However the bull’s-eye is squarely on Colorado now, and it is going to get each crew’s finest, each evening.
6. Nolan Patrick and Oskar Lindblom are again, and Philadelphia could not be happier
On Wednesday, Patrick suited up in his first NHL recreation in 652 days (and also you thought 2020 was lengthy!). After which he scored within the first interval, on the ability play (Philly’s Achilles’ heel in the summertime bubble). The No. 2 choose of the 2019 draft missed all of final season with a debilitating migraine dysfunction. It was a lingering storyline for Philadelphia all season; basic supervisor Chuck Fletcher stated final January Patrick was progressing and the Flyers have been optimistic he might be a part of for a playoff push. Philly stocked up on depth facilities ultimately yr’s commerce deadline to compensate, however now are in significantly better form with Patrick manning the third line position behind Sean Couturier and Kevin Hayes.
In the meantime, Oskar Lindblom performed for the primary time since his December, 2019 most cancers prognosis. Lindblom, who was having a breakout season on the time of his prognosis, completed his last chemotherapy therapy in July. “He is a man if you see him within the locker room, you need to go to battle with him,” Hayes stated. “He is a warrior. He did not look misplaced.” Even sweeter: The Flyers’ fifth objective, initially credited to Travis Konecny, was awarded to Lindblom hours after the sport.
The Flyers offense broke out for six targets — together with three straight to shut the third — to down the rival Pittsburgh Penguins of their opener, exhibiting why loads of people in hockey predict them to contend this yr. This recreation actually flexed Philly’s depth. I am shopping for the Cup hype on this crew.
7. A couple of younger gamers to look at the remainder of the season
Nils Hoglander, the breakout star of Canucks’ coaching camp, goes to be the most recent Swedish obsession in Vancouver. With out a lot competitors behind him on proper wing, Hoglander might stick within the prime six for some time. A objective in Hoglander’s first recreation means his hype goes to ramp up, at Canadian media warp pace. Ditto for Alexander Romanov who, as talked about earlier, goes to have a giant position in Montreal, trailing solely Shea Weber in ice time on Wednesday. The defenseman performed with a ton of confidence, and did you see this stretch cross??
That vaunted prospect system the Flyers have constructed up? It is totally realized now, with 2018 first-rounder Joel Farabee shining with one objective and three assists. The 20-year-old Farabee seems like he is about to take a giant step ahead. And it will likely be good to see the Oilers’ Kailer Yamamoto get a full season in after scoring 11 targets in 27 video games final season (and one within the recreation in opposition to the Canucks on Wednesday). Seems to be on the highest energy play, and on Leon Draisaitl‘s wing, will solely enhance Yamamoto’s inventory.
Jordan Kyrou was buzzing within the Blues’ opener, and may very well be a dependable depth scoring possibility. He stated he gained 10 kilos this summer season, however does not seem like it compromised his pace.
And I am unsure how a lot rookie defenseman Cal Foote will play in Tampa Bay, however take into account me intrigued. Coach Jon Cooper sheltered Foote’s minutes in his NHL debut in opposition to Chicago (he logged simply 10:47) as he positively confirmed some first-game jitters, however he has promise. We’ll see if he is again on the taxi squad as soon as the Lightning escape their wage cap hell.
8. Goodbye, Auston Matthews’ streak
The 23-year-old American had an opportunity to be the primary participant in NHL historical past to attain in five-straight season-openers. The primary 4 occurred to happen in Matthews’ first 4 NHL seasons. It did not occur for him on Wednesday in opposition to the Habs, although he did hit a crossbar within the third. I am nonetheless predicting Matthews will chase down Alex Ovechkin for the objective scoring crown this season, he’ll simply have extra catching as much as do.