First some news from today. Kevin Klein (back spasms) is going for an MRI and his status for Thursday is in doubt. So the Rangers have scrapped their plan to get down to seven defensemen. They are at 23 and cap compliant by today’s 5 p.m. deadline, once Oscar Lindberg goes on IR.
Also today, Rick Nash was named an alternate captain, joining Derek Stepan, Marc Staal and Dan Girardi. He said he was “honored.” I asked him if he made the team (reference to his remark at the opening of camp that he didn’t think his job was safe). He smiled and said, “still a lot of forwards here …”
My predictions below.
In case you missed it, there was some big, big blog news in a post below. So scroll down to see it. Or click here. But don’t miss it again.
By Andrew Gross
The puck drops Wednesday night for the 2016-17 NHL season, though it sort of feels like it already began with the World Cup of Hockey through training camp.
Sidney Crosby led a dominant Team Canada to the World Cup title and, at the top of the game, he was poised to try to help the Penguins become the first back-to-back Stanley Cup winners since the Red Wings in 1997-98. Then came the surprising news on Monday that Crosby was, once again, suffering from concussion symptoms. Even more troubling was the fact that there seemingly was no impact during a Penguins’ practice that caused the condition.
Here’s a look at the upcoming season:
Players to watch
PATRICK KANE: At 27, the Blackhawks right wing is at the peak of his game and coming off setting career highs last season with 46 goals and 60 assists as he won the Hart Trophy as the NHL MVP and the Art Ross Trophy as its scoring leader.
CAREY PRICE: The Canadiens looked like one of the NHL’s elite early last season. Then Price hurt his knee and missed the rest of the season and the Canadiens were among the league’s worst teams. Now, the goalie is healthy again.
SHEA WEBER/P.K. SUBBAN: The two elite defensemen, swapped in an off-season blockbuster, will be compared all season as the experts try to gauge whether the Predators (Subban) or the Canadiens (Weber) won the trade.
Rookies to watch
PATRIK LAINE: The Jets selected the Finnish right wing with a booming shot with the second overall pick and he could develop into a 40-goal scorer.
AUSTON MATTHEWS: The Maple Leafs selected the center, from Scottsdale, Ariz., with the first overall pick ,and he is seen as a franchise savior much as Connor McDavid was last season with the Oilers.
MATT MURRAY: It’s easy to forget the 22-year-old goalie is a rookie after he backstopped the Penguins to the Cup. Murray will start the season sidelined after breaking his hand at the World Cup so may have to wrest the starter’s job back from Marc-Andre Fleury.
Old faces, new places
DAVID BACKES (BRUINS): The former Blues captain, a 32-year-old center, got a five-year, $30 million deal to bring his physical brand of hockey to Boston.
MILAN LUCIC (OILERS): Edmonton made a major investment in the 28-year-old left wing, one of the NHL’s top agitators, as the ex-Bruin got a seven-year, $42 million deal after one season with the Kings.
NAIL YAKUPOV (BLUES): The Oilers finally gave up on the first overall pick in the 2012 draft and traded him on Friday for an underwhelming return. But Yakupov’s game could blossom on a line with fellow Russian Vladimir Tarasenko.
Teams that will thrive
LIGHTNING: Captain Steven Stamkos re-signed for eight years, $68 million, Victor Hedman and Anton Stralman might be the league’s top defense pair, and there’s a solid mix of strong goaltending, cagey veterans and brilliant young talent.
PANTHERS: Ageless Jaromir Jagr – OK, he’s 44 – is balanced by young guns Aleksander Barkov and defenseman Aaron Ekblad plus signing Keith Yandle will bolster the blue-line corps. Points off, though, for young star Jonathan Huberdeau being out three to four months.
PREDATORS: Subban has injected a serious dose of energy into and about the franchise, Filip Forsberg is one of the NHL’s top young forwards and Pekka Rinne is still one of the league’s better goalies.
Teams that will stumble
AVALANCHE: Patrick Roy quit as coach on Aug. 11 – really late in the off-season for such an occurrence – and it likely exposed a dysfunctional rift within the organization.
CANUCKS: Daniel and Henrik Sedin are now 36 and not even the signing of right wing Loui Eriksson is likely to reverse the team’s erosion.
RED WINGS: Pavel Datsyuk has gone home to Russia and the Red Wings’ remarkable streak of 25 straight playoff appearances may be in serious jeopardy.
Games to watch
TUESDAY, FLAMES AT OILERS: The first game at Rogers Place, the Oilers’ state-of-the-art arena at the center of Edmonton’s downtown revival.
OCT. 20, SHARKS AT PENGUINS: The first of two rematches of last season’s Stanley Cup Final.
DEC. 19, DUCKS AT MAPLE LEAFS: Randy Carlyle, in his second stint as the Ducks coach, returns to Toronto for the first time since being fired by the Maple Leafs. Plus, it will be Toronto goalie Frederik Andersen’s first chance to face his former teammates.
JAN. 2, BLACKHAWKS AT BLUES, WINTER CLASSIC: Busch Stadium in St. Louis plays host for the first time to the NHL’s marquee regular-season attraction, one of four outdoor games this season.
JAN. 3/MARCH 2: Weber’s return to Nashville and Subban’s return to Montreal, respectively.
APRIL 9, DEVILS AT RED WINGS: The final regular-season game scheduled at venerable Joe Louis Arena, the Red Wings’ home since 1979.
Just a minor tweak to the rulebook this season, regarding the delay-of-game penalty. Now, it’s the position of the puck, not the position of the player’s skates that determines whether a puck has been sent out of play from the defensive zone.
Between the World Cup pushing back the start of the season by a week and each team now essentially receiving a bye week, this season’s schedule will be condensed like few before with teams often playing on back-to-back nights, or three games in four days. That will increase the premium on the backup goalies, since the starters are not likely to play as many games as usual.
Stanley Cup Final: Lightning over Predators
My predictions (I would love to see yours):
Stanley Cup Final: Washington over Chicago.
Twitter: @AGrossRecord; @RangersReport.
Photo by Getty Images.