NHL regular season kicks off Wednesday

The Pittsburgh Penguins will look to retain the Stanley Cup in the 2016-17 NHL season. (Fox news)

The National Hockey League’s season starts Wednesday, October 12, 2016 with 4 games scheduled including playoff rematches between the Chicago Blackhawks and St. Louis Blues, as well as the Los Angeles Kings and the San Jose Sharks. The defending Stanley Cup champions, the Pittsburgh Penguins, open their season with a celebration in front of their raucous fans, Thursday, in a primetime battle against the President’s Trophy winning Washington Capitals.

The NHL will be celebrating its 100th year throughout the regular season. The league’s celebration will culminate during the Centennial Classic Game hosted by the Toronto Maple Leafs. This outdoor game, played between Detroit Red Wings and the Maple Leafs on January 1, 2017 will feature appearances from hockey greats of the past and will be played in front of 35,000 fans. The regular season will also feature other outdoor spectacles as well. The Winnipeg Jets, Pittsburgh Penguins, and St. Louis Blues also received the honor of hosting events as well. Each promises to provide excellent visuals of the game being enjoyed as it was in its infancy.

The Boston Bruins open their season Thursday, as well, facing the Columbus Blue Jackets as the team seeks a return to the playoffs after two disappointing regular season finishes. The team welcomes some fresh new faces that the front office hopes will help to bring playoff hockey back to the TD Garden. The team’s major acquisition, forward David Backes, will bring added toughness to the team’s forward corps. The team did not address its deficiencies on defense, so the early season will be an important test for the unproven talent on the back end. Goalie Tukka Rask also returns hoping to bounce back after his inconsistent 2015-16 regular season. Coach Claude Julien remains on the hot seat, and the team needs a quick start to the season in order to calm both fans and management.  

The strength of the Bruins’ roster remains in its veteran core. Brad Marchand returns after his breakout 2015-16 season in which he led the team scoring a career high 37 goals. Marchand is the team’s sparkplug and his ability to score the puck is invaluable on a team that otherwise will be forced to outwork its opponents. Center Patrice Bergeron remains the heart and soul of the team. He anchors the team’s defensive identity, and also centers Marchand on the Bruins’ top scoring line. Defensemen Zdeno Chara will again be counted on to log heavy minutes on defense. It remains to be seen whether he has enough in the tank to silence opponents stars for the long 82 game regular season. The Bruins will be counting on youngsters including Ryan Spooner, Collin Miller, and David Pastrnak to rise up and aid the longtime stalwarts.   

The Bruins’ rivals were also very busy during the offseason. The Montreal Canadiens traded away superstar defensemen PK Subban in an exchange with the Nashville Predators receiving back a new star of their own, Shea Weber. The Canadiens also welcome back star goaltender Carey Price from injury. Price looked to be in elite form in winning the World Cup of Hockey with Team Canada this month. The defending division champions, the Tampa Bay Lightning, retained superstar center Steven Stamkos and promise to be amongst the favorites in the Eastern Conference.

Other members of the Atlantic Division promise to be improved as well. The Buffalo Sabres figure to continue their improvement as forward Jack Eichel seeks to secure his place amongst the game’s elite. The Florida Panthers shored up their defense and retained the ageless Jaromir Jagr. Despite the loss of legendary center Pavel Datsyuk, Detroit Red Wings remain a playoff contender with a talented group of forwards. Lastly, coach Mike Babcock figures to continue the improvement of the Maple Leafs in the second year of his tenure.   

Around the rest of the league, the championship winning Penguins return the core of their roster including star centers Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, although Crosby will be sidelined with a concussion for the first few weeks of the season. The Blackhawks, once again, will be a force led by star forwards Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. The Los Angeles Kings are looking to return to the Stanley Cup after a disappointing loss to the Sharks in the playoffs. Original Six teams the Flyers, Rangers, and Islanders each look to make deep runs in the playoffs after disappointing early exits in 2016-17. The season promises to be entertaining and full of performances worthy of this, the hundredth year, of the National Hockey League.