The NHL drops the puck on its regular season tonight with four games, followed by seven more tomorrow. By Sunday, every team will have played at least once, which means we’ll be in a position to draw firm conclusions about how the rest of the season will turn out.
Oh, we’ll be told not to. We’ll be admonished and scolded and constantly reminded not to overreact to one or two games. But where’s the fun in that? We’re hockey fans. Overreacting to every little thing is what we do.
But it’s important to be prepared. So here are seven story lines to keep an eye on this week, along with prepackaged overreaction you should have ready to go, just in case.
Did this happen? Connor McDavid fails to register a hat trick in his NHL debut tomorrow in St. Louis.
Then that can only mean … : BUST!
Or maybe not: McDavid is the most heavily hyped prospect to enter the league since Sidney Crosby, and when you factor in the explosion of media coverage over the last 10 years, he may be the most hyped ever. He’ll be under a microscope every time he takes the ice, with fans looking for signs that he can somehow live up to it all.
And he almost certainly will … eventually. But this seems like a good time to remember that teenage rookies rarely take the league by storm. In fact, in the two decades since the onset of the dead puck era, only one such player has managed a better season that Patrick Kane’s 72 points in 2007-08.
That would be Crosby, who totaled an impressive 102 in 2005-06, and that’s where some will want to peg the McDavid comparisons. But that was the first year after the season-long lockout, and scoring was way up thanks to a leaguewide mandate to make sure the entire game was spent on the power play. Scoring is down more than 10 percent from that peak, and there’s far less power-play time for the stars to divvy up, so Crosby’s total is almost certainly out of reach.
Since Crosby and Kane, no teenage rookie has had more than 63 points. McDavid isn’t your average rookie, but it’s not hard to see him topping out around that mark. And if he does, lots of fans will call it a disappointment. We shouldn’t. McDavid will be challenging Crosby for the Art Ross within three or four years; there’s no need to crank up the comparisons in Year 1.
Did this happen? One of the teams in tomorrow’s Dallas-Pittsburgh game ends up losing.
Then that can only mean … : The fancy-pants winger you traded for might score a lot of goals, but you can’t win in this league with a bunch of All-Star forwards if they’re supported by an average blue line and questionable goaltending!
Or maybe not: Before we go any further, let’s offer up some thanks to the league for providing this fantastic matchup on opening night. The Stars and Penguins may well be the two most entertaining teams in the league, and both spent the offseason loading up on even more offense. Seeing them pair off is a gift from the NHL, and I’m so grateful that I’m going to go an entire paragraph without criticizing the league for anything.
Yep. Sure will.
With that out of the way, I’m pretty sure one of these teams will indeed lose, since the league hasn’t quite reached its ultimate goal of giving everyone two points for every game played and hoping we won’t notice. That will give a head start to all the naysayers who’ll be lining up to criticize a team for daring to build around offense. And that will be especially true if we get blessed with the sort of 6-5 barn burner we’re all hoping for.
Look on the bright side, Stars or Penguins fans: You’re going to hear this stuff all year long. Might as well get used to it early.