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The status of Sidney Crosby tops list of storylines heading into season

The Sidney Crosby watch continues.

With the Pittsburgh Penguins captain still on the sidelines 10 months after suffering a concussion, his status remains a major talking point heading into the 2011-12 NHL season.

In fact, Crosby tops our list of 10 storylines to follow this year:

1. Sid's Status: A testament to the interest in Crosby's situation came earlier this week when big headlines accompanied the unsurprising news he would start the year on injured reserve. The curiosity and focus will only intensify when he finally returns to game action, something the 24-year-old centre expects to happen this season.

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2. Fight Club: The tragic death of three enforcers over the summer prompted some to raise the age-old question about whether fighting still belongs in the sport. It's also been raised as part of the discussion about concussions. While totally banning fighting still seems a long way off, the general managers are bound to dissect the issue again when they sit down together this season.

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3. Blast Off: The best story over the summer was undoubtedly the league's decision to return a team to Winnipeg after 15 years. The Manitoba capital has been bursting with excitement ever since, making the Jets a sentimental favourite. Can the enthusiasm carry them to the playoffs?

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4. Encore: After falling just one agonizing win short of the Stanley Cup, the Vancouver Canucks are back to square one. They were easily the league's best team in the regular season a year ago and have enough talent to repeat that feat. It remains to be seen whether they've truly turned the page and moved on.

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5. This The Year?: Two teams garnering a lot of pre-season Stanley Cup hype are San Jose and Washington. Sound familiar? Both franchises have been seen as powerhouses in recent years, only to fall short in the playoffs. They each made some nice off-season additions to renew enthusiasm once again.

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6. Hart Race: The title of the NHL's best player seems more open than ever. With Crosby on the sidelines and Alex Ovechkin struggling through his worst NHL season, the Sedin twins, reigning Hart Trophy winner Corey Perry and Boston Bruins goalie Tim Thomas, among others, could arguably lay claim to being the league's best last year. Who will step forward in 2011-12?

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7. Teemu and Jags: Teemu Selanne and Jaromir Jagr seem like stars from a bygone era, but both remain active in the NHL. Selanne is coming off an amazing 80-point season with Anaheim while Jagr signed with Philadelphia after three years in the KHL. Can they continue to turn back the clock for one more year?

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8. Shanahan-banned: After taking over as NHL disciplinarian, Brendan Shanahan started with a flourish—suspending nine players during the pre-season. It will be interesting to see if his strong standard continues now that the games matter and if he'll be met with any resistance from GMs tired of seeing their players on the sidelines.

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9. Bargaining: While NHL commissioner Gary Bettman would prefer the focus stay on the ice, there will be plenty of attention directed at him and NHLPA boss Donald Fehr when they start discussing a new CBA in February. The current agreement expires next September and virtually everyone associated with the sport is eager to avoid a lockout similar to the one that wiped out the 2004-05 season.

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10. Maple Leaf Misery: Toronto brings a six-year playoff drought into the season and is under considerable pressure to end its run of futility. The team enters the season with injury issues and depth questions, not to mention the uncertain contract situation of coach Ron Wilson. Can they overcome all of those things and finally get back to the post-season?

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