NHL Season Outlook

Conor Scanlon, Sport's Reporter

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Mid-October brings several guarantees: leaves on the ground, crisp weather and the start of the National Hockey League season. Despite a busy offseason, many of last year’s contenders look to remain atop their respective conferences competing for the Stanley Cup. This coming season may be one of the most exciting in recent memory, however, due to the great abundance of young talent in the league. Regardless of prior NHL viewing experience, if one considers themselves a sports fan, this particular hockey season is a must watch affair.

There were several notable, unexpected trades this offseason. The most active team was the Edmonton Oilers. After losing the 2006 Stanley Cup Finals in seven games, the Oilers have missed the playoffs for ten consecutive years—the longest streak in the league. In an effort to sure up their defense, the Oilers shockingly flipped their 2010 first overall draft pick, forward Taylor Hall, for the New Jersey Devils’ best defenseman Adam Larsson. Hall was completely taken off guard by the trade, telling reporters, “In a breakup, you try to forget about it as quick as you can, right? That’s what I’m trying to do.” Both teams will likely see an increase in wins as a result, however, as it addresses New Jersey’s desperate need for offense and Edmonton’s need for defense.

The most shocking move of the offseason was the Montreal Canadiens’ shipment of charismatic defenseman P.K. Subban for the Nashville Predator’s older captain Shea Weber. With more upside than Weber, most see Montreal’s move of Subban as more of a personality trade than a hockey trade. As an attention grabbing fan favorite, Subban’s individual swagger did not comply with the traditional team-first coaching style implemented by Canadiens’ coach Michel Therrien. Subban claimed that the trade was “the furthest thing” from a hockey trade. Most Montreal fans are disappointed by the trade, as Subban, a Toronto native, has donated over $10 million to the Montreal Children’s Hospital. Their disappointment will be justified by Subban’s absence on the ice, too. Expect the Canadiens to struggle this season without Subban’s heavy slapshot from the point on the powerplay.

The most exciting thing to look forward to this NHL season is the emergence of the league’s new generation of dominant talent. Seasoned veterans Sidney Crosby, Patrick Kane and Alexander Ovechkin remain the frontrunners to win the season’s MVP and highest scoring awards. However, sophomores Shayne Gotisbehere of the Philadelphia Flyers, Connor McDavid of the Edmonton Oilers, Jack Eichel of the Buffalo Sabres and Artemi Panarin of the Chicago Blackhawks will look to chase the veterans from their throne. All 24 and under, this new generation of superstars plays a faster, less physical brand of hockey that has led to a surge of goals in the few games played so far in the 2016-2017 season. Not to be outdone by their sophomore peers, several of the players selected in the 2016 NHL Draft may be generational talents. Number one overall pick, Toronto Maple Leafs’ Auston Matthews, netted four goals on his NHL debut–the first player to score at least four goals in his debut since 1917. After the game, Matthews told reporters his performance “was pretty surreal” and that he “couldn’t believe that had happened.” Fans can look forward to these players taking over as the faces of the league in the next few years.

If they can stay healthy, the defending Stanley Cup Champions, the Pittsburgh Penguins, are the favorites to capture the cup again this year after losing only two players from their 23 man roster over the summer. The two Eastern Conference teams with the best chance to dethrone the champs are the Washington Capitals and the Tampa Bay Lighting, both of whom were ousted from the 2016 playoffs by the Penguins. Challengers from the Western Conference include the perennial challengers the Los Angeles Kings and the Chicago Blackhawks, who have combined to win five of the past seven Stanley Cups. With the addition of P.K. Subban, the Nashville Predators may be a dark horse threat to win the Cup.

While the current closest NHL team to Walla Walla is over 400 miles away in Vancouver, British Columbia, Seattle may be a perfect target for expansion in the coming years. In the meantime, Whitman students can tune into over 105 NHL games nationally broadcasted this year on NBC and NBC Sports.

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