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Sports Illustrated cover story previews the 2013-14 NHL season

SI's NHL covers this week. (Photos by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images :: Patrick McDermott/NHLI via Getty)

Patrick Kane and SIdney Crosby on covers of Sports Illustrated's September 30, 2013 issue.

A new NHL season is here and the operative word is new. This week’s Sports Illustrated devotes 20 pages to previewing the realigned, revamped league with its new divisions, playoff format, rivalries, salary structure and host of outdoor games, six in all. Coming off a thrilling Stanley Cup Final that generated the best TV numbers in the league's history, the outlook is certainly far brighter than it was at this time last year when the NHL was in the throes of its third lockout since 1995.

“The NHL is practically all rainbows and unicorns at the start of 2013-14,” Michael Farber writes in his cover story. But there is one problem that has defied solution. Teams scored an average of 5.31 goals per game in 2013, the fewest since ’03-’04, the dreaded days of the dead puck era. “While the flow of the game has improved since the crackdown on hooking and holding, hockey’s red light district (the red goal light flashing, the siren, the roar, the celebration) is not the fun place it was in the not so distant past.”

The NHL’s solution? Unleash goal scorers, like Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby, who graces our regional cover. (The national cover features Patrick Kane of the Blackhawks, the team that SI expects will become the first since 1998 to win back-to-back Stanley Cups. You can see both full covers in full below.)

Farber checks in with Senior Manager of Hockey Operations Kay Whitmore, the league's goalie cop who is spearheading the effort to trim the advantage enjoyed by the current generation of big, athletic netminders. The hope is that by shrinking goaltenders’ equipment and creating more space around their nets for playmakers, fans will see at least a partial return the electric days when Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux and other snipers routinely lit up the scoreboard and rewrote the record book. But defense never sleeps. Wily coaches are keeping the league locked in a constant chess game.

"Scoring is down not only because goalies got bigger, but so did hockey's IQ," Farber explains.

This week's issue is also loaded with picks, predictions and analysis from SI's hockey experts Brian Cazeneuve, Sarah Kwak, Allan Muir and Pierre McGuire.  For more, check out our preseason Power Rankings, subscribe to Sports Illustrated or purchase the tablet edition of this week's magazine.

GALLERY: 2013 Sports illustrated covers

Patrick Kane on the cover of Sports Illustrated's September 30, 2013 NHL preview issue.
Sidney Crosby on the cover of Sports Illustrated's September 20, 2013 NHL preview issue.