Last year, the Chicago Blackhawks won their second Stanley Cup championship in three years and their third in five seasons. As the 2015-16 season opens, the Blackhawks are one of several teams with a chance to win the cup again.
Several teams improved over the summer in an attempt to dethrone the Blackhawks. The Blackhawks are still going to lean on their core of center Jonathan Toews, wings Marian Hossa and Patrick Kane, defensemen Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith and goaltender Corey Crawford. But salary-cap constraints forced them to lose several members of their supporting cast, including forwards Patrick Sharp and Brandon Saad and defenseman Johnny Oduya. As Chicago attempts to work some new players into its program, other teams might be able to take advantage of the weakened defending champs.
The league as a whole should get a jolt from a couple rule changes:
- The five-minute overtime after regulation will be 3-on-3 instead of 4-on-4. That’ll provide plenty of open ice for the most talented players to work their magic.
- Head coaches will now be able to challenge close offsides calls and goaltender interference penalties on scoring plays.
Here’s a look at several of the top storylines to get you ready for another great season of NHL hockey:
SoCal heating up
Southern California should be a hotbed for hockey again. The Anaheim Ducks won the Pacific Division title and lost in seven games to the Blackhawks in the Western Conference finals last season. To improve on that finish, Anaheim imported defenseman Kevin Bieksa, and forwards Chris Stewart and Carl Hagelin to complement a core led by forwards Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry.
Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Kings missed the playoffs last season after winning the cup two of the previous three seasons. The Kings are still built around goaltender Jonathan Quick, center Anze Kopitar and defenseman Drew Doughty. They added forward Milan Lucic and defenseman Christian Ehrhoff to position themselves for a bounce-back season.
McDavid makes the jump
For the fourth time in six years, the Edmonton Oilers held the No. 1 pick in the NHL draft last June. This time they may have finally found the type of franchise cornerstone they’ve lacked since the days of Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier. Eighteen-year-old center Connor McDavid had 44 goals and 120 points for Erie of the OHL last season, and all indications are that he’ll be the best impact rookie to join the NHL since Sidney Crosby was drafted by the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Oilers are still a young, inexperienced team, but McDavid is a cause for optimism — he might help the Oilers at least challenge for their first playoff spot since 2006.
Eichel opening eyes in Buffalo
Although it’s easy to overlook him in McDavid’s shadow, No. 2 draft pick Jack Eichel hopes to inspire a similar turnaround with the Buffalo Sabres. Eichel, a center, had 71 points in 40 games as a freshman at Boston University last season. The Sabres also have three new imports: new coach Dan Bylsma, who won the cup in 2009 with Pittsburgh; a new goaltender, Robin Lehner; and high-caliber center Ryan O’Reilly.
Penguins turn to Kessel for spark
Disappointed after losing in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs last spring, the Pittsburgh Penguins shook up their roster by trading for a star wing to play with either Crosby or fellow center Evgeni Malkin. The Penguins traded a package of prospects to Toronto for Phil Kessel, who had 25 goals last season and has surpassed 30 goals in five of the past six full NHL seasons.