What will Phil Kessel do in his second season in Pittsburgh, and can the Capitals get over the hump? Those questions and more.
The arrival of September means the 2016-17 NHL season is just around the corner.
Although we still have the World Cup of Hockey to get through, here are 10 things I wonder about as the new season draws near:
After helping the Pittsburgh Penguins win the Stanley Cup, what will Phil Kessel do as an encore?
Here’s the thing, Kessel did not exactly have a storybook season, even if the ending was from a Hollywood script. Kessel had just 26 goals in the regular season and was unable to form a bond with either Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin. However, in the playoffs, playing on the Penguins third line with Nick Bonino as his center, Kessel had 10 goals and 22 points in 24 games and was a legitimate Conn Smythe Trophy candidate. Will the real Phil Kessel please stand up.
Can the goaltending tandem of Frederik Andersen and Jhonas Enroth get the Toronto Maple Leafs into the playoffs?
Certainly not on their own. While Andersen is coming off a season in which he (along with John Gibson) shared the William Jennings trophy for lowest goals-against average with the Anaheim Ducks, and is expected to play the bulk of the games for Toronto, the Maple Leafs remain a work in progress with lots of prospects and a thin blue line.
How many Canadian-based teams will make the playoffs in 2016-17?
Hot on the heels of a season in which not one of the seven Canadian-based teams made it to the Stanley Cup playoffs, it looks like it might be yet another bleak year for Canadians. The Calgary Flames have improved greatly, but certainly are no lock for the post-season. Ditto for the Edmonton Oilers. The Montreal Canadiens could make it if goaltender Carey Price is healthy all season, but the remainder of the Canadian teams are all long-shots to make it to the dance.
Can Connor McDavid have a positive impact on the Oilers?
Absolutely! Though just 19 (he doesn’t turn 20 until Jan. 13), McDavid is a generational player who, in my humble opinion, should have been named the NHL’s rookie of the year last season. Sure he missed 27 games with a shoulder injury, but McDavid had 16 goals and 48 points in 45 games. The addition of Milan Lucic should be a big help for the Oilers and McDavid.
Can Alexander Ovechkin get the Washington Capitals beyond the second round of the playoffs?
It is one of the most baffling things in hockey, the fact that Ovechkin has not made it out of the second round of the playoffs in his otherwise sterling 11-year career. While that is not all on Ovechkin, he is the face of the organization and must shoulder a lot of the responsibility. Ovechkin and the Capitals are simply too good to be denied once again. The streak stops at 11.
Who will be the first coach to be fired?
Hmmm, that is a tough one. While it's impossible to predict which teams will get off to poor starts, therefore putting their coach’s future in jeopardy, it seems that Michel Therrien of the Montreal Canadiens and Claude Julien of the Boston Bruins always seem to be on the hot seat. Both are very good coaches, but work for teams that have unrealistic expectations.
Will the Detroit Red Wings streak of 25 consecutive years in the playoffs be extended?
It is going to be extremely difficult. The Red Wings have lost Pavel Datsyuk, who wasn’t entirely effective last season by the way, and while they added veterans Frans Nielsen, Thomas Vanek and Steve Ott in the off-season, they may have trouble finding the net.
Will the NHL’s crackdown on the size of goalie equipment lead to more scoring?
Probably not. The problem isn’t all in the size of today’s goalies, it is their athleticism. Goalies are simply much bigger and better athletes than those that came before them. I have said it a million times and I’ll say it again, make the freaking nets bigger! Just about everything in hockey has changed over the years except the size of the net.
Will P.K. Subban have a positive impact on the Nashville Predators?
Listen, replacing Shea Webber is no easy task. That said, Subban is up for the challenge. His reputation as a top-flight NHL defenceman has been sullied and Subban won’t take it sitting down.
Who will win the Stanley Cup?
The Hockey News has picked the Tampa Bay Lightning to win the Stanley Cup and I see no reason whatsoever to disagree with my old friends. From dependable goaltending to a deep defence to strength down the middle and plenty of leadership, the Lightning seems to have it all.