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Season Preview

New season features intriguing storylines across League

McDavid-Crosby duel, Golden Knights debut, Penguins try for history among highlights

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / Senior Writer

The 2017-18 NHL season begins with four games Wednesday. There are storylines aplenty to follow in a League that now consists of 31 teams with the addition of the Vegas Golden Knights.

Here are 17 things to watch and remember with the puck about to drop on the 101st season in NHL history:


1. Three Rivers three-peat

Last season, the Pittsburgh Penguins became the first team to repeat as Stanley Cup champions since the Detroit Red Wings in 1997-98. This season, they will try to become the first team to win the Stanley Cup three straight seasons since the New York Islanders won four in a row from 1980-83. No team has made it to the Stanley Cup Final in three consecutive seasons since the Islanders' dynasty years. The Penguins begin their journey against the St. Louis Blues at PPG Paints Arena on Wednesday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN).

Video: Can the Penguins win a third consecutive Stanley Cup


2. Sid and Connor

The debate rages in the NHL. Is 30-year-old Penguins center Sidney Crosby still the best player in the world, or has Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid, 10 years Crosby's junior, taken the title? It's possible this season could give us a more definitive answer. McDavid won the Hart Trophy as NHL MVP last season after winning the Art Ross Trophy with 100 points. Crosby won the Rocket Richard Trophy last season with 44 goals.

Video: The guys discuss McDavid's impact on the Oilers


3. Vegas, baby!

The Golden Knights will become the first major professional franchise (NHL, NBA, NFL or MLB) to play a regular-season home game in Las Vegas when they host the Arizona Coyotes at T-Mobile Arena on Oct. 10 (10 p.m. ET; NBCSN). The Golden Knights will play their first game at the Dallas Stars on Friday (8:30 p.m. ET; NHLN, SN360, TVA Sports, FS-SW, ATTSN-RM, NHL.TV). 


4. Nico and Nolan

Nico Hischier and Nolan Patrick, the top two picks in the 2017 NHL Draft, are out to make a splash. Hischier, the No. 1 pick to the New Jersey Devils, and Patrick, No. 2 to the Philadelphia Flyers, each should be playing in a top-six role in his NHL debut. Patrick will make his against the San Jose Sharks at SAP Center on Wednesday (10:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN). Hischier will make his against the Colorado Avalanche at Prudential Center on Saturday (2 p.m. ET; SN, MSG+, ALT, NHL.TV).

Video: The guys on Nico and Nolan's season expectations


5. Two for slashing

The officials will be cracking down on slashes to the hands this season to reduce the potential for injury and allow players to control the puck better and make more skilled plays. Stephen Walkom, NHL senior vice president and director of officiating supervision, said the push for vigilant enforcement of the rule came from owners, general managers, players and officials.


6. Tavares watch

New York Islanders center John Tavares is playing out the final season of his contract. Without an extension, he will become an unrestricted free agent July 1. The Islanders hope to sign Tavares to a new contract, and Tavares has remained steadfast in his desire to stay in New York. Tavares also said he has no issue negotiating during the season.

Video: Five key questions about the Eastern Conference

7. Stamkos is back

Nov. 15. That was the last time Tampa Bay Lightning captain Steven Stamkos played in an NHL game that counted. He is ready to go for the Lightning's season opener against the Florida Panthers at Amalie Arena on Friday (7 p.m. ET; FS-O, MSG+, NHL.TV). He missed the final 65 games last season with a knee injury that required surgery and has played in 18 of the past 99 Lightning games. He missed all but the last game of the Lightning's run to the 2016 Eastern Conference Final because he was trying to come back from surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome.


8. Face-off crackdown

The NHL wants officials to strictly enforce the penalty for a face-off violation. The consensus among League personnel, officials, GMs and players is that the integrity of the face-off has eroded with players encroaching illegally to gain an edge. Officials called 17 face-off violation penalties last season and 15 in the 2015-16 season. They called 26 in 28 preseason games from Sept. 16-20. The goal is to create fair and balanced competition for the puck on the face-off while also giving the linesman the ability to safely back away after dropping the puck.


9. Karlsson's comeback

Ottawa Senators defenseman Erik Karlsson hopes to make his season debut in October after he had surgery in June to repair damage to tendons in his left foot. Karlsson skated for the first time last Wednesday and said his foot felt better than it did in the playoffs last season, when he played injured and helped Ottawa get to the Eastern Conference Final. Karlsson's game is predicated on his mobility, so whenever he returns, his skating will be watched closely to see if he's the same player he was before the surgery.

Video: NHL Tonight breaks down Erik Karlsson's injury


10. Ducks start shorthanded

The Anaheim Ducks are expected to be a Stanley Cup contender, but they'll start the season without center Ryan Kesler and defensemen Hampus Lindholm and Sami Vatanen. Kesler might be out until Christmas as he recovers from hip surgery. Vatanen and Lindholm, who each had shoulder surgery, could be back in early November. The Ducks are deep on defense with the emergence of Josh Manson and Brandon Montour. Rickard Rakell is shifting to center to replace Kesler.


11. Check the video twice

A two-minute minor penalty for delay of game will be the consequence when a team loses a coach's challenge for a potential offside infraction on a goal. The minor penalty replaces the loss of a timeout, which was the consequence for an unsuccessful offside challenge. A team does not need to have possession of its timeout to issue a challenge, but if unsuccessful, it will have to kill a penalty immediately after allowing the goal in question.


12. Toronto's next step

The Toronto Maple Leafs were a year ahead of schedule last season, when they made the playoffs for the second time since 2004. The Maple Leafs, who lost to the Washington Capitals the Eastern Conference First Round, got 304 points (123 goals, 181 assists) from nine rookies, including Auston Matthews, who scored 40 goals and won the Calder Trophy. Matthews, Mitchell Marner, William Nylander, Connor Brown, Zach Hyman and Nikita Zaitseveach is back for his second season and is a big part of Toronto's core. Expectations are higher. Simply making the playoffs won't be good enough anymore.

Video: Expectations for the Maple Leafs' upcoming season


13. New men behind benches

Six teams have new coaches, including three that brought in a coach with no previous experience as an NHL head coach. Phil Housley (Buffalo Sabres) and Bob Boughner (Florida Panthers) each will make his NHL coaching debut after a successful stint as an assistant. Travis Green (Vancouver Canucks) had a successful run in the American Hockey League, grooming him for his first NHL job. Ken Hitchcock (Dallas Stars), John Stevens (Los Angeles Kings) and Rick Tocchet (Arizona Coyotes) each bring some experience to their new team. Hitchcock is fourth all-time in NHL coaching wins (781).


14. No breaks after an icing

Teams will no longer be allowed to call a timeout immediately after icing the puck. The team committing an icing infraction is not allowed to change personnel except for an injury or to bring a goalie back on for an extra skater. The inability to call timeout increases the odds that it will have tired players taking a face-off in the defensive zone, something that could create more scoring opportunities for the opposition.


15. Drouin makes the move

Not only did the Montreal Canadiens acquire Jonathan Drouin in a trade from the Lightning on June 15, they signed the 22-year-old forward to a six-year contract reportedly worth $33 million. Almost doubling down on their investment, the Canadiens are transitioning Drouin to be their No. 1 center. Drouin played on the wing in his first three pro seasons, including last season, when he scored 21 goals and had 53 points in 73 games.


16. Star power

No team aside from the Golden Knights underwent a bigger overhaul in the offseason than the Stars, who changed coaches (fired Lindy Ruff, hired Hitchcock), signed a No. 1 goalie (Ben Bishop), acquired a top-pair defenseman (Marc Methot), and signed two potential game-changing forwards (Alexander Radulov and Martin Hanzal). The Stars went from being a team on the outs to being a legitimate playoff contender.


17. Hockeytown's facelift

The Detroit Red Wings are starting a new era in the brand new, state-of-the-art, $863 million Little Caesars Arena this season. After 38 years in Joe Louis Arena, the dusty old barn that was home to four Stanley Cup championships and a 25-year run in the playoffs, the Red Wings are moving into their new digs this season, complete with a concourse featuring a transparent roof, a 600-foot video screen wrapping the outside of the building, LED lighting across the inside ceiling, the largest scoreboard in the NHL (5,100 square feet), more than 20,000 seats, the largest home locker room in the NHL (25,000 square feet), a full practice facility and a family lounge.

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