Speculation on who should make 2014 Olympic squads, especially Canada's, will be rampant through the first half of the season. Players from the 12 countries that qualified for the Games in Sochi, Russia, will certainly have it in mind as they approach the Feb. 9-25 Olympic break.
There used to be one outdoor game per season. This year there will be six. It may be overexposure, but the Jan. 1 to March 2 period will see Leafs vs. Red Wings, Ducks vs. Kings, Rangers vs. Devils, Rangers vs. Islanders, Penguinss vs. Blackhawks and Senators vs. Canucks. All in baseball or football venues.
Instead of six divisions, there will be four — the Atlantic, Metropolitan, Central and Pacific. The top three in each division plus two wild cards in each conference make the playoffs. There are 16 teams in the Eastern Conference and 14 in the West, which has sparked complaints that it will be tougher to qualify in the East.
The Leafs, Sens and Habs will now have Detroit in their division, while the Oilers, Flames and Canucks are in with the U.S. West Coast clubs. Jets are in the Central. No more Detroit-Chicago divisional derbies, but at least all teams will play each other, whereas in recent years some teams didn't meet at all.
Goalies will cover a little less space this season as pads have been chopped in length by an inch or two. Whether the change will result in more goals is debatable. Shallower nets mean there will also be a little extra room for playmaking.
Roy era in Colorado
For the last eight years, Patrick Roy has been a fiery presence as GM and head coach of the junior Quebec Remparts. Now the Hall of Fame goaltender is the coach in Colorado, and has a say in management with old teammate Joe Sakic. With Roy's gusto and lots of young talent, the Avalanche won't go unnoticed.
So the highly strung John Tortorella leaves the Rangers and is hired by the Canucks, only to see low-key Alain Vigneault leave Vancouver to coach in New York. Is this just what the Sedin twins need in Vancouver, and what Brad Richards and Rick Nash need on the Rangers?
Is goon hockey back? It looked like it in some pre-season games, notably Toronto-Buffalo. The Leafs added muscle last year, the Sabres got the hulking John Scott and now even mild-mannered Montreal has signed George Parros. Hard to believe given that after the 2004-05 lockout, it looked like the enforcer was going extinct.
Stanley Cup repeat?
There hasn't been a repeat Stanley Cup champion since the Red Wings in 1997 and 1998, but if another team does, it could be Chicago. They have the same core of Toews, Kane, Keith, Crawford, etc., as last season, when they played only 48 regular-season games. So fatigue will be less of a factor for the Cup winners.
The weeks leading up to the 2013 NHL draft was all about Nathan MacKinnon and Seth Jones. MacKinnon went first to Colorado, but Jones waited until fourth to go to Nashville. Two got picked in between (Alexander Barkov and Jonathan Drouin), but the MacKinnon-Jones debate rages on.