Will it be a season of promise or heartbreak for Canadian NHL fans? Here are five NHL storylines to watch this season:
CanCon—The Canucks took the boldest steps to try and keep pace in the tough Western Conference. They were forced to part with Ryan Kesler but got centre Nick Bonino as part of the Ducks deal and went on a trading/buying spree that included a new No. 1 goaltender in Ryan Miller. Calgary stuck with its rebuild but lost top goal scorer Mike Cammalleri to free agency. Edmonton is still waiting on Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Jordan Eberle et al to hit their stride. And the Jets stood pat. In the East, the Canadiens made the conference final and remain a contender. The Leafs shook up the management/coaching side but on-ice changes were in depth positions. The Senators lost Jason Spezza and Ales Hemsky, which just doesn't seem good.
NHL expansion—Well, maybe not. Sports Business News stirred things up with a suggestion the NHL would expand into Las Vegas, Seattle, Quebec City and add a second franchise in the Toronto market by 2017. That would almost certainly mean announcements in the near future, perhaps this season. But NHL commissioner Gary Bettman says that report was a "complete fabrication" and so was the suggestion it could happen for $350 million per team, which he said was too low. None of this is good news for Quebec City, which is hoping to land a team to replace the Nordiques, who left in 1995.
Generational change—Teemu Selanne is the biggest name absent from a roster in 2014-15 and Anaheim has Toronto-area native Devante Smith-Pelly poised for what could be a season to watch, depending on how much he plays and on what line. There's a lot of potential throughout the league with players like Calder Cup winner Nathan MacKinnon in Colorado, Reilly Smith in Boston, Mark Scheifele in Winnipeg and Sean Monahan in Calgary, plus new rookies and top draft picks looking for a shot this season.
No diving, please—Will stiffer fines for players and coaches keep hockey from turning into professional soccer? Players and now coaches face escalating penalties from $2,000-$5,000 for embellishing. The hand dipping into a coach's wallet is new, although coaches don't start getting dinged until a player's fourth offence. Also, diving to knock a puck off an opposing players stick, even though it took the player down, was legal if the puck was touched first. It will now result in a tripping call. Ice dancing also took a hit with the ban on the "spin-o-rama" move during penalty shots or shootouts.
Playing for the draft—If all else fails in 2014-15, being bad could be good for a team's talent pool. The 2015 draft is making scouts snap their pencils again, with possible franchise players like Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel up for grabs. And, if that's the only hope you have at the end of this season, 2015 also is the last best chance you're going to have to make it pay. The NHL is changing the lottery rules over the next couple of years, so finishing in the basement will be less likely to guarantee a top pick. In 2015, the odds of drawing the No.1 pick decline just a little for the worst four teams. Starting in 2016, however, it gets a lot worse for the cellar-dwellers.