Ten stories to watch for the 2011-12 NHL season

The weather grows colder and that means one thing, hockey is back. Here are ten things that should grab your attention this NHL season:

  1. Winnipeg Jets

The Jets are back! But this isn’t any old expansion team coming north. Winnipeg is inheriting a young, exciting core: led by Andrew Ladd, Evander Kane and Dustin Byfuglien. Playing in front of an excited and passionate Winnipeg crowd should help the team improve on a 17-17-7 home record accumulated in Atlanta the previous season. In their first year back, the Jets could very well sneak into the playoffs.

  1. The Cup Comes Home?

As for the rest of Canada, is this finally the year the cup comes home? The Canucks and Canadiens should retain their spots in the postseason, but can any other teams join them? The Senators are rebuilding. The Oilers are young and exciting, but weak on the back end. The Flames missed out by three points last season, but did little to improve their team in the off-season. The Maple Leafs however, might finally break the slump. Brian Burke has built a squad that can be competitive every night. If the Leafs can improve on special teams, and James Reimer can be the star goalie people expect, Toronto fans might have more than baseball to cheer about in April.

  1. Sidney Crosby

The Crosby watch was one of the biggest stories in the off-season and it has carried into the opening weeks of the new year. With no definitive time-line for a return, fans wait patiently for the game’s biggest star to return. Even when he does come back, one may wonder if he can be the same player that dominated last year, scoring 32 goals in 41 games. Only time will tell…

  1. Boston Bruins

The NHL hasn’t had a repeat champion since 1998. The Boston Bruins know it will not be easy, but no team in recent memory has looked more primed to repeat then this team. The Bruins did not lose any of their core, and can look forward to young players like Brad Marchand and Tyler Seguin playing a bigger role this season. With Vezina winner Tim Thomas between the pipes, don’t be surprised to see this team go the distance again.

  1. Hits to the Head

Brendan Shanahan is ushering a new era into the NHL. He has shown through the preseason that he will not tolerate questionable hits to the head (see Macarthur suspension). It will certainly be interesting to see the effect this has on the recent trend of concussions in the league.

  1. NHL Rookies

Rookies just aren’t intimidated by the NHL anymore. Look at the seasons had by Logan Couture, PK Subban and ex-Kitchener Ranger Jeff Skinner. All produced big numbers in their NHL infancy. Who will emerge from this year’s class? Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Gabriel Landeskog, or maybe even Kitchener’s own Mark Scheifele.

  1. Wheeling and Dealing

Once again the off-season provided some surprising moves. Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, Dany Heatley and many others found new homes this summer. By the end of the year who will be on the winning end of these deals?

  1. Chokers Rise to the Occasion?

Every year, it seems that the San Jose Sharks and the Washington Capitals are at the top of the Stanley Cup discussions. And every year, these teams find a new way to disappoint come playoff time. After each team had some big off-season moves, its time to produce. Otherwise there may be some changes coming their way.

  1. Steven Stamkos

    One of the game’s most exciting young players should have an outstanding season. After training during the off-season with Gary Roberts he is stronger, faster and ready to lead the Lightning to new heights.

  2. Gaining Steam South of the Border

The end of the NBA lockout appears to be nowhere in sight. This opens the door for the NHL to gain interest in US markets in which it was previously ignored. Who knows, maybe the Coyotes won’t have to give away tickets this year.