10 Things That Every NHL Fan Wants for the Holidays

Allan Mitchell@@Lowetide_Featured ColumnistDecember 23, 2016

10 Things That Every NHL Fan Wants for the Holidays

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    Joe Skipper/Associated Press

    NHL fans are getting ready for the Christmas break, meaning it is a time to dream of gifts under the Christmas tree and what might be in the coming year.

    There are some players like Jaromir Jagr of the Florida Panthers who have universal appeal. As he reaches major milestones or his team reaches the playoffs, fans across the league are thrilled to see an icon reaching new heights.

    More national television exposure for the league's young stars, fantastic playoff races in every division, and strong performances for each major award are among the things fans would love to see in the coming months.

    Here are 10 things NHL fans would love to see in the new year.

More Records for Jaromir Jagr

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    Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

    Jagr is now No. 2 all-time in NHL points, the result of a hockey lifetime climbing the Mount Everest of hockey records.

    The great thing about starting your career in 1990 is there are lots of career marks to reach each and every season. Fans are rightfully thrilled to witness history—passing Mark Messier is a monster achievement—but there are other goals to be reached.

    Jagr needs just a few more assists to move into the top 5 all-time in the category. He is also 56 goals away from tying the immortal Gordie Howe for No. 2 on the goal-scoring list.

    Hockey fans who remember Jagr as a rookie have witnessed the entire career of one of the best who ever played the game. Fans of all ages can look forward to more highlights from the great winger in the coming months of 2016-17.

More National Exposure for Young Impact Players

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    Claus Andersen/Getty Images

    The NHL is exploding with young talent across the league, but many of them play in smaller markets. Exposure can be an issue for these players, and yet true hockey fans want to see these emerging and elite talents.

    Connor McDavid of the Edmonton Oilers, Jack Eichel of the Buffalo Sabres and Zach Werenski of the Columbus Blue Jackets are fantastic talents, but networks on both sides of the border haven't featured them as much as their talent warrants.

    Auston Matthews of the Toronto Maple Leafs is an even more interesting case. He plays in a massive hockey market, but he is also one of the truly impressive American players to arrive in the NHL in a decade or more. The media exposure opportunities are clearly there, but the exposure has been slow and fans in the United States are missing out on an amazing rookie season.

    It will all work itself out, but for now it is clear that hockey-starved fans are not getting to see the flashy young stars that are driving the league scoring charts enough this year. The schedule next year, especially for nationally televised games, should see a major overhaul in both Canada and the United States.

Edmonton Oilers Make the Playoffs and Miss the Lottery

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    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    The last time the Edmonton Oilers made it to the playoffs, it was 2006 and the club boasted a roster that featured Chris Pronger, Michael Peca and Dwayne Roloson. Since then, Edmonton has missed the playoffs in every season—often finishing inside the bottom-five overall.

    This has led to a long list of early draft picks, stretching out from Sam Gagner in 2007 through McDavid in 2015 and Jesse Puljujarvi in 2016. This has led to the rest of the league watching the Oilers draft, develop and lose with a generation of high-end prospects. The first group are now finding traction in other cities, as players like Devan Dubnyk of the Minnesota Wild and Justin Schultz of the Pittsburgh Penguins can attest.

    The fans of Edmonton have earned the chance to attend a home playoff game, and the team has a brand-new home to celebrate the occasion in Rogers Place. Fans across the league want to see a draft lottery without the Oilers involved, so making the playoffs has appeal across the NHL. The club has posted a good first half of the year, so it could happen.

A First-Time Stanley Cup Champion

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    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    The last time fans saw a franchise win its first Stanley Cup was the Los Angeles Kings in 2012. In fact, most of this century has seen previous winners holding the trophy high at the end of the year. Only the three-year run beginning in 2004—that produced the Tampa Bay Lightning, Carolina Hurricanes and Anaheim Ducks—has given fans a chance to celebrate an initial championship.

    The San Jose Sharks got close last season, and recent finals appearances by the Vancouver Canucks and Ottawa Senators offer some hope. This year, the Columbus Blue Jackets—possibly the least likely championship contender before the season—have the look of a team of destiny.

    There is a distinct feeling about a first-time Stanley Cup championship: The city remembers it forever and the players have a special status among fans of that team. It has been a few years. Fans could use another reminder about the incredible rush of winning the championship for the first time.

A Return to the 2006 Standard of Officiating

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    Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

    After the 2004-05 lockout season, the NHL made every effort to bring fans back to arenas and television. Along with new impact players like Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin, the league implemented—and enforced—new rules designed to increase offense.

    More penalties were called and obstruction was especially verboten. The result was more opportunity for the best players to wheel and create offense. For several years after the lockout, the league saw impressive offensive seasons by the NHL's best players. In 2007-08, Ovechkin scored 65 goals, and Steven Stamkos hit 60 in 2011-12.

    Time impacts all things, and NHL officials are back to allowing obstruction and interference at a higher level than a decade ago. The result is less entertainment, more frustration and a fanbase weary with a plodding offense.

    Another set of rule changes, along with enforcement, would allow teams to open up offensively and entertain fans with more goals per game. It is an idea whose time has come.

Reduction of Goalie Equipment Is Instituted

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    Derik Hamilton/Associated Press

    The NHL has been working toward reducing the size of goalie equipment for some time, as ways to increase offense are constantly pursued. Any fan who has seen a smaller goalie during the anthem—without the mask—knows there is a lot of armor designed to make every goalie bigger in the net.

    If you have ever watched an NHL game or seen a photo from the 1970s, it is immediately obvious that goalie equipment has grown enormously over the last 30 seasons. At some point, goalies stopped being athletes with quick reflexes and became positional players who allowed the puck to hit them.

    The NHL is trying to get back to smaller equipment, and we hear about changes happening soon. At this point, we look forward to all 30 teams icing goalies with more realistic equipment. It will be fascinating to see if offense is increased because of it.

More Than One 50-Goal Scorer

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    Jeffrey T. Barnes/Associated Press

    The NHL rarely gets more than one 50-goal scorer in a season, something that has been an issue for most of this century. Since 2005-06, there have been 20 seasons of 50 or more goals—seven of them from Ovechkin.

    The last time the NHL produced two 50-goal scorers in one season was 2011-12. That season, Stamkos scored 60 goals and Evgeni Malkin produced 50. The last time the NHL saw three 50-goal scorers came in 2009-10, the thought of that many reaching the pinnacle seems impossible in this era.

    This year, Crosby is on pace to score 50 goals, and David Pastrnak of the Boston Bruins is also on pace to reach the mark. Patrik Laine of the Winnipeg Jets—a rookie—is off the pace but is having a great deal of success. We should also see the usual spike in goals by Ovechkin, who has dominated the category since he arrived in the NHL.

A Great Rookie Race for the Calder Trophy

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    Billy Hurst/Associated Press

    The NHL has been blessed with another brilliant crop of rookies, and the chase for the Calder Trophy this year should be outstanding.

    Laine leads the league in rookie scoring, followed closely by a trio of Toronto Maple Leafs in Matthews, Mitch Marner and William Nylander. The key player may be a defenseman—the brilliant Werenski of the Columbus Blue Jackets. He is a mobile puck-carrier and already capable of contributing as a top-four defenseman.

    Whatever happens through the rest of the season, fans are going to see as many as six rookies pushing to win the Calder Trophy. It seems all are worthy, and most are quite famous as we approach the halfway point of the season. It is anyone's guess who wins the race from here.

A Strong Expansion Draft for the Vegas Golden Knights

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    John Locher/Associated Press

    This summer, the NHL will add team No. 31, the Vegas Golden Knights. Not much is known about what the team will look like, and we are a long way from knowing the names of the first roster players for the club.

    There is time now to talk about the strength of the team, and how the expansion team's management should proceed. Each of the 30 established teams will lose one player. General manager George McPhee has plenty of experience in the role, and fans should be ready for a rugged defense, strong goaltending and skill that comes with size and physicality.

    For fans of the current NHL teams, it is fun to make lists of roster losses and compile a mock team of Las Vegas players. Many fans hope for a strong expansion team—there is nothing worse than watching a bad team flounder for years—and for an offensively capable club in the desert.

    It will be one of the major highlights of next summer's business. Fans are already talking about it, and the hope is that McPhee's first team has a lot of success.

An Injury-Free Season for All the Big Stars

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    Jay LaPrete/Associated Press

    Crosby is having an incredible season, but injury has reduced his games played total and made his heroics seem less impressive. Currently No. 3 in points, Crosby has played seven or eight fewer games this year than some of the names on the list. Those lost games have also reduced his goal-scoring, although his 23 goals lead the league at this time.

    A year ago, the Montreal Canadiens saw its entire season flushed when Carey Price was injured, and the team never recovered. When fans of NHL teams talk about what might have been, injuries and their impact are often close to the top of the list of regrettable moments.

    For fans across the NHL, a wonderful gift would be good health for all impact players across the league. In fact, healthy rosters all season would be the best test, but that is impossible. If the NHL can keep their best players on the ice and productive, the overall product should be incredible.

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