The dawn of a new NHL season is upon us and given the paralyzing impact of the global pandemic, it will be a memorable one regardless of which team hoists the Stanley Cup.
On the ice, the players themselves will author the story of a campaign that will no doubt be talked about for decades to come.
With that in mind, here are some burning questions concerning the Canadian teams before the puck drops on Wednesday.
Will Canada fall in love with Vancouver defenceman Schmidt?
Traditionally, the hockey world is not fond of big personalities and players who speak their minds.
Enter Nate Schmidt. The gregarious blue-liner is fresh off three years with the Vegas Golden Knights.
Canadian hockey fans will get to know him intimately over the next four months via their televisions, smartphones and laptops.
Paired with Alex Edler, Schmidt likes to talk — a lot.
“As a hockey player, you dream of being on the big stage and this is it,” Schmidt told reporters after the Golden Knights dealt him to the Vancouver Canucks for a third-round draft pick. “Don’t tell anybody they pay me to have fun every day.”
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Is Jumbo Joe the Maple Leafs’ missing ingredient?
Joe Thornton is a future Hockey Hall of Famer making the league minimum of $700,000 US and set to play in his 23rd NHL season. At age 41, he’s clearly in the twilight of his career.
But don’t assume Thornton is only in Toronto for his leadership skills.
Throughout training camp, Thornton has been skating alongside Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner on the top line. The old guy badly wants to win his first Stanley Cup.
He’ll no doubt hold the young guns accountable for their work ethic and attention to detail.
Will Laine shine in what could be his last season as a Jet?
The Patrik Laine trade rumours became more than just rumours during the off-season when agent Mike List said parting ways would be beneficial for both the Winnipeg Jets and his client.
Problem is, trades will be hard to come by with quarantine rules surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic making in-season deals between Canadian and American teams nearly impossible. And the chance of the Jets trading Laine to a Canadian opponent is pretty well non-existent.
A pending restricted free agent, Laine’s best bet is to go on an offensive tear to increase his value, wherever he ends up playing next season.
A Maurice Richard Trophy, as the NHL’s leading goal scorer, is a distinct possibility for the 22-year-old sniper.
Can Suzuki, Kotkaniemi build on bubble brilliance?
Giving Canadiens fans reason to dream, Jesperi Kotkaniemi, 20, and Nick Suzuki, 21, are two young centremen with the promise of joining the NHL’s elite up the middle.
In the Toronto bubble, Suzuki tied Jonathan Drouin for the team lead in post-season scoring with seven points in 10 games. Kotkaniemi collected four goals.
“We want to be important players for this franchise moving forward,” Suzuki told reporters via Zoom. “And we’ve talked about building our game towards winning a Stanley Cup.”
What does an improved McDavid bring to the Oilers?
He’s already a superstar, but Connor McDavid is determined to up his game.
This year, the Edmonton captain vows to pay more attention to detail in his own end, win more faceoffs and fine-tune his shot.
“This is a smart man’s league,” said McDavid, 23. “You’re never going to beat a guy the same way twice.”
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Have the Flames finally found a replacement for Kiprusoff?
When the fabulous Finn, Miika Kiprusoff, retired in 2013, the Flames embarked on what has felt like an endless search for the next franchise goaltender. Every summer, Calgary fans pray the new guy would claim the blue paint.
Change was the only constant.
Nearly eight years later, 30-year-old Jacob Markstrom has arrived on the scene. The Flames landed the former Vancouver Canucks goalie on the first day of free agency with a six-year contract worth $36 million.
“I’m really looking forward to having him on our side,” captain Mark Giordano told reporters via video conference. “There’s a lot of firepower in our division. There’s a lot of offensive guys who can put the puck in the net.”
Will the Senators blossom before our eyes?
There’s no questioning the fact the rebuilding Sens will swallow some tough lessons this season courtesy of the likes of Connor McDavid, Elias Pettersson and Auston Matthews.
But is there a better way for Brady Tkachuk, Thomas Chabot and Tim Stuetzle to develop than to play, and sometimes fail, under the intense spotlight of the NHL’s all-Canadian North Division?
“It really is like old school hockey when it comes to inner-division play,” Ottawa head coach D.J. Smith said via video conference. “It’s going to come down to, obviously, talent and ability, but also come down to will and which team wants to play the hardest every night.”
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