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The Tundra: The NHL Regular Season Primer

Tonight, Hockeys comes back. Sharpen your skates. Tape your stick. The Quest for the Cup starts NOW.


The Tundra: The NHL Regular Season Primer

Estimated Reading Time: 4 Minutes

Hey, we love all our children equally. We don’t pick favorites. We would never, say, get more excited to see one of our children than the other three… Alright, I’m lying to you. When it comes to the four major sports, there’s one child that I jump for joy for when they come home.

That child’s name is NHL hockey, and tonight they come home.

After three and a half long months of, for sake of this overblown metaphor lets call it summer camp, the NHL regular season is finally back tonight and I’m positively giddy. Someone find me a cold Labatt and a mullet to wear because I am READY. Not just for that sweet sweet display of skating, shooting, and skill, but also the questions and storylines that go with it. In this article I’ll be focusing more on questions than predictions, just to get you in the mood. So let’s take a look at a few intriguing topics, shall we?

How about those Caps?

It only feels right that we start off with the defending Stanley Cup Champions. After finally getting that hairy Russian monkey off their backs, Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals are preparing their first run in the Salary Cap era as kings of the castle. How will they fair? Will their time in the sun be a one-year aberration, or will the pressure of repeating pale in comparison to last seasons pressure of finally winning it all?

I’m mean, after 13 seasons of underachieving and choking under the brightest lights, Ovechkin at least has to prefer the smell of the air from the mountaintop, right? And speaking of the Capitols…

Will Safety finally come First?

Just before the start of the regular season, the NHL revealed its decision to suspend Tom Wilson, the headhunting Capitols forward, for the first 20 games of the regular season. After an end of the 2017 season that saw Wilson seriously endanger the careers of several of his colleagues with vicious headshots, the league decided his preseason decapitating of Blues’ forward Oskar Sundqvist was the final straw, to which I applaud them.

The question, however, is will this trend continue throughout the season? The NHL has had a problem the past several years of not protecting its stars as much as they claim, letting players like Wilson off with mere slaps on the risk. I’ll be curious to see if this show of force against headhunting is a new line the league has drawn in the sand, or merely a one time bluff before sticking their heads back in the sand.

Vegas: Fluke or Duke

If you weren’t excited watching the Cinderella story of the Vegas Golden Knights, check yourself for a pulse. Not only was the idea of a rookie team going all the way to the Conference Finals the stuff of movies, but they were also electrifying to watch. Now in season two, can they give us a worthy encore? They return a lot of their key pieces, not least of which their wise-cracking All-World goalie, Marc-Andre Fleury. Then again, maybe it was the element of surprise, and not talent that made them so formidable. We shall see.

Which potential Dynasty bounces back?

The Chicago Blackhawks and Pittsburgh Penguins have been the NHL golden standard for the better part of a decade. Last year, both took respective steps backward. The Blackhawks imploded due to injury and roster turnover their two stars, Jonathon Toews and Patrick Kane, simply couldn’t overcome. They ended in the bottom half of their Conference, an unacceptable result compared to the success they’ve enjoyed.

The Penguins, on the other hand, had a successful season by other teams’ standards, but hardly by their own. After winning the Stanley Cup in back to back years, Pittsburgh and its own pair of stars, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin stumbled into the playoffs. After besting an erratic Fliers team in round one, they were usurped from their throne in round two by the eventual champion Capitols. One of the biggest questions of the season will be how these two juggernauts punch back.

Crowded Race for MVP

My final question is about who will end up as the league’s MVP in 18-19. Last season saw no fewer than ten candidates, all with such mixed resumes that it was a toss-up who would receive the award.

Taylor Hall got it, but he had fewer points than a handful of other players. If nothing else, it proves the wonderful parity that exists in the league. So who will come out of the crowd this yearend

McDavid led the league in points and was barely considered last year. Crosby had a down year by his standards, could he come back with a vengeance? What John Tavares with his new Maple Leaf supporting cast? Maybe Nathan McKinnon, who was the consensus runner-up in 17-18? Or a repeat for Taylor Hall? Not totally out of the question.

Tune in starting tonight to find out. I will be, mullet and all.

Michael is a Pittsburgh ex-pat living in NYC as a working bartender and semi working actor. He enjoys long walks down the Strip District, thinks yinz should go dawntawn 'inat, and knows that when you play Pittsburgh you play the whole city. But he's unbiased. I swear. Michael writes mostly hockey and football op eds for the Turf, but maybe soon he'll try his hand at covering horse racing or hot dog eating. Who knows. The sky's the limit.

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