Dates Every NHL Fan Should Have Marked on Their Calendar for the 2015-16 Season

Carol Schram@pool88Featured ColumnistAugust 14, 2015

Dates Every NHL Fan Should Have Marked on Their Calendar for the 2015-16 Season

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    Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

    This fall, the National Hockey League will begin its 99th season of operation—and its 98th season of play because of the loss of a year from the 2003-04 lockout.

    As the league creeps up on the century mark, we'll see new coaches behind seven benches, players on new teams and a couple of significant rule changes—most notably the switch to 3-on-3 overtime, the expansion of video replay and introduction of the coach's challenge, per NHL.com.

    Here's a look at the key dates to mark on your calendar for the 2015-16 campaign, including a few that could warrant hockey road trips for the game's most ardent fans.

    What are you looking forward to the most next season?

3 Teams Kick off the NHL Preseason

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    Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

    Date: Sunday, September 20

    Significance: Once training camps begin in mid-September, the NHL exhibition schedule kicks into gear shortly thereafter. The Nashville Predators will host the Florida Panthers for the first of three games on Day 1, September 20.

    During the two weeks of the usual preseason grind, out-of-market games will be played in nine locales this year.

    Kraft Hockeyville will hold its annual celebrations in North Saanich, British Columbia, and Johnstown, Pennsylvania, while other exhibition games will be played north of the border in Saskatoon, Quebec City, Halifax and St. John's, Newfoundland.

    In the U.S., watch for the New Jersey Devils and Boston Bruins in Providence, Rhode Island, the New York Islanders and Philadelphia Flyers in Allentown, Pennsylvania, and the Los Angeles Kings and Arizona Coyotes in Bakersfield, California.

Chicago Blackhawks Raise Stanley Cup Banner on the NHL's Opening Night

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    Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

    Date: Wednesday, October 7

    Significance: After a tumultuous summer, the Chicago Blackhawks and their fans will start the season on a positive note. On the first night of regular-season action, the Blackhawks will raise the team's third Stanley Cup banner in six seasons to the rafters of the United Center to commemorate their dominating run to the league championship last spring.

    The Blackhawks' game against the New York Rangers will be one of four matchups on the NHL schedule for opening night.

    The first day of the regular season is also the day when all teams must submit their salary cap-compliant roster of 23 players—including players on their roster who will ultimately be moved to long-term injured reserve.

    The recent trades of the contracts of players such as Nathan Horton, Marc Savard and Chris Pronger has made it easier for those players' original teams to make themselves cap compliant next season.

    As of August 13, only the Tampa Bay Lightning are currently listed as being over next year's salary cap of $71.4 million, according to General Fanager. Some teams, most notably Chicago, are already tight to the cap and still need to add players to get their rosters up to 23 men.

    The Lightning will most likely make some paper transactions by sending one or more waiver-eligible players to the minors before putting Mattias Ohlund and his $3.8 million cap hit back on long-term injured reserve for another season. Ohlund is now in the last year of his contract but hasn't played since May 2011.

    As for the Blackhawks, for now, let's just say Patrick Kane's potential legal trouble means there are plenty of variables still in play, as David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune explained.

New York Islanders Start New Era in Brooklyn at Barclays Center

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    Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

    Date: Friday, October 9

    Significance: After 42 seasons at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum on Long Island, the New York Islanders are relocating to the Barclays Center in Brooklyn this fall, as their old home is about to be demolished.

    The Islanders started play in the NHL when the Coliseum was brand new in 1972-73. After amassing a mother lode of talent during their early years, the team won four consecutive Stanley Cups between 1980 and 1983.

    Much like their building, the Islanders endured decades of decline after those early glory years. The team hasn't made a playoff run in more than two decades—the Islanders' last series win came when they reached the Eastern Conference Final in 1992-93.

    In recent years, franchise player John Tavares and the new crop of talent around him have given the Islanders a glimmer of hope. In 2014-15, the Islanders made the playoffs after finishing with 101 points—the first time the team has hit triple digits since 1983-84.

    Barclays Center wasn't built with hockey in mind—about 400 of the 15,975 seats that are being sold for the Islanders' upcoming season feature obstructed views, according to Allan Kreda and Jeff Z. Klein of the New York Times.

    It remains to be seen how many of the Islanders' existing fans will make the trek from Long Island into Brooklyn to see if the move marks the dawn of a new, more successful era for their long-suffering team.

Connor McDavid Makes His Home Debut for the Edmonton Oilers

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    Erich Schlegel-USA TODAY Sports

    Date: Thursday, October 15

    Significance: The Edmonton Oilers have one more year before they move into their shiny new arena, but they'll be debuting their latest draft lottery prize this fall.

    Connor McDavid represents the fourth No. 1 pick that the Oilers have acquired in the past six seasons, following Taylor Hall in 2010, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins in 2011 and Nail Yakupov in 2012. But McDavid's considered to be a cut above the others—a potential franchise-changer.

    Hall, Nugent-Hopkins and Yakupov all stuck with Edmonton as 18-year-olds rather than being sent back for another year of junior hockey. It's expected McDavid will do the same.

    Interest in McDavid is running very high in Edmonton, as our own Adrian Dater explained in a recent column.

    You can bet the hype machine will be turned up to 11 when McDavid steps onto the ice for his first official NHL game.

Chicago Blackhawks Host Tampa Bay Lightning in Stanley Cup Final Rematch

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    Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

    Date: Saturday, October 24

    Significance: With their trip to the 2015 Stanley Cup Final, the Tampa Bay Lightning proved they're an elite National Hockey League club.

    Unlike the Blackhawks, the Lightning go into the new season with their playoff lineup basically intact. That could make for a very interesting matchup when Tampa Bay visits Chicago for the only time this year just three weeks into the regular season.

    The Blackhawks may have triumphed when the Stanley Cup was on the line, but Tampa Bay is set to be among the Eastern Conference contenders for the foreseeable future.

    Expect an intriguing battle between two foes who now know each other well.

    Chicago will visit Tampa for the only time in 2015-16 a week before the All-Star break, on January 21, 2016.

Boston Bruins Host Montreal Canadiens at Gillette Stadium for NHL Winter Classic

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    Charles Krupa/Associated Press

    Date: Friday, January 1, 2016

    Significance: The NHL has locked into a successful new tradition with the annual Winter Classic outdoor hockey game.

    In 2016, the Boston Bruins will host the event for the second time after defeating the Philadelphia Flyers 2-1 in overtime in front of 38,112 fans at Fenway Park in 2010.

    This time around, they'll be meeting up with the Montreal Canadiens at the New England Patriots' Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts—a game that should feature plenty of intensity in a venue that seats more than 68,000 fans for football.

    This year's Winter Classic will mark the third outdoor game for the Canadiens, but their first outside of Canada. Montreal faced off against Edmonton in the first Heritage Classic game in 2003 and lost 4-0 as the visitors at the 2011 Heritage Classic at McMahon Stadium in Calgary.

    The NHL has two other outdoor Stadium Series games planned for later in the year, both featuring first-time hosts. The Minnesota Wild will take on the Chicago Blackhawks at the University of Minnesota on February 21 as the headlining event for Hockey Day in America, then the Colorado Avalanche will renew an old rivalry with the Detroit Red Wings on February 27 at Coors Field, home of the Colorado Rockies.

Nashville Predators Host 2016 All-Star Game at Bridgestone Arena

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    Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

    Date: Sunday, January 31, 2016

    Significance: For the first time in franchise history, the Nashville Predators will play host to the NHL's annual All-Star Weekend.

    Expect to see fans, sponsors and players alike kick up their heels in Music City, a locale that's traditionally better known for its ability to throw a party than it is for professional hockey.

    Another expansion team and first-time host, the Columbus Blue Jackets, did a bang-up job with the hospitality for the 2015 event last season. Expect to see Nashville raise the bar.

    The annual skills competition will take place on Saturday, January 30, with the All-Star Game itself taking place on January 31.

NHL Trade Deadline

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    Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images

    Date: Monday, February 29, 2016 (presumably)

    Significance: According to the Collective Bargaining Agreement, the NHL's annual trade deadline falls on the 40th day before the end of each regular season.

    After three years of play under the current CBA, that has only occurred once. In the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season, the trade deadline fell on April 3, 2013, per NHL.com—just 25 days before the end of the 48-game regular-season schedule.

    In 2013-14, the NHL set the deadline for March 5, per NHL.com, most likely because of the extended Olympic break during February. That deadline fell 38 days before the end of the season.

    Last year, the March 2 deadline fell 40 days before the end of the regular season, as prescribed.

    The NHL hasn't officially announced the date for the 2016 trade deadline. If the league follows the letter of the law again this year, it'll land on Leap Day, February 29.

    According to BBC News, the most significant tradition that accompanies Leap Day involves women proposing marriage to men. Trade deadline offers in hockey may not last a lifetime, but they can also involve similar leaps of faith.

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