NHL Schedule Release: 12 Games We're Most Excited About

Carol Schram@pool88Featured ColumnistJune 23, 2017

NHL Schedule Release: 12 Games We're Most Excited About

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    Keith Srakocic/Associated Press

    On Thursday, the NHL released its complete schedule for the 2017-18 season.

    It's now official: There's no time off for an Olympic break in February. The All-Star break is booked for January 26 until January 29.

    New wrinkles include a couple of preseason games in China for the Vancouver Canucks and Los Angeles Kings, a midseason jaunt to Europe for the Colorado Avalanche and Ottawa Senators and two new locations for outdoor games, in Ottawa, Ontario, and at the U.S. Naval Academy in Maryland.

    We've also got a new arena in Detroit and a brand-new team ready to launch in Las Vegas.

    Here are the key dates to mark on your calendar for the 2017-18 season.

Pittsburgh Penguins Raise Another Stanley Cup Banner

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    Fred Vuich/Associated Press

    Date: Wednesday, October 4


    Location: PPG Paints Arena, Pittsburgh


    Why We're Excited: The Pittsburgh Penguins and their fans enjoyed a banner-raising just one year ago, but this year's ceremony will carry additional significance. It's the first time any NHL team has won back-to-back championships since the salary cap was introduced at the beginning of the 2005-06 season and the first time that a team has gone back to back since the Detroit Red Wings won the Stanley Cup in 1998.

    With three titles in nine years since 2009, the Penguins are homing in on the Chicago Blackhawks' territory as the closest thing we have to a dynasty in today's NHL, where parity is the norm.

    After the 2017 Stanley Cup banner is raised to the rafters, the Penguins will kick off their new season on the league's opening night against the St. Louis Blues.

Detroit Red Wings Launch Little Caesars Arena

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    Paul Sancya/Associated Press

    Date: Thursday, October 5


    Location: Little Caesars Arena, Detroit


    Why We're Excited: It's a shame Detroit Red Wings owner Mike Ilitch died in February, aged 87, just seven months before his team's new arena was ready to open for business.

    Per the Associated Press (via CBC), Detroit's downtown arena project was announced in 2012 and approved in 2013, just as the city started grinding its way through bankruptcy proceedings. It opens in September as the hub of the District Detroit, a new community that will also feature residential development, as well as a hotel, restaurants and retail—all in close proximity to Detroit's other sports stadiums, Comerica Park (Detroit Tigers) and Ford Field (Detroit Lions).

    Little Caesars Arena is a fitting symbol of revitalization in Hockeytown. It will seat 20,000 fans on opening night, when the Red Wings host the Minnesota Wild.

Penguins Host Predators in Stanley Cup Final Rematch

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    Date: Saturday, October 7


    Location: PPG Paints Arena, Pittsburgh


    Why We're Excited: The Stanley Cup Playoffs are awesome, but by the time we get to the Final, the entertainment value often dips. Players can be too tired and banged up to give their best, and the rivalries aren't as strong between teams from different conferences.

    This year, though, we got a great Final from the Pittsburgh Penguins and Nashville Predators. The defending champs lined up against the underdogs with plenty of momentum swings, lots of storylines and a decent dose of hate thrown in for good measure.

    After the Penguins clinched the Stanley Cup on Patric Hornqvist's goal with just 1:35 to play in the third period of Game 6, there wasn't much time to reflect on the series before the handshake line was assembled and the trophy was awarded.

    Both sides will have had the opportunity to relive the highs and lows of the series when the two teams meet in Pittsburgh on the first weekend of the regular season. Expect sparks to fly as the Penguins and Predators renew acquaintances.

Ken Hitchcock Returns to St. Louis as Coach of the Dallas Stars

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    LM Otero/Associated Press

    Date: Saturday, October 7


    Location: Scottrade Center, St. Louis


    Why We're Excited: From November 6, 2011 until February 1, 2017, Ken Hitchcock patrolled the St. Louis Blues bench as the team's head coach. In 438 games, he amassed a record of 248-124-41, good for second place behind Joel Quenneville on the list of all Blues coaches, per Hockey Reference.

    In 2015-16, Hitchcock took the Blues on their first trip to a conference final in 15 years. At season's end, he announced he'd be retiring after the 2016-17 season. But Hitchcock didn't make it to the end of the year. On February 1, he was replaced by the associate coach who had been brought in to succeed him at the end of the year, Mike Yeo.

    It took under three months for Hitchcock to throw his retirement plans out the window. On April 13, the Dallas Stars announced they had brought him back for a second tour of duty on a multiyear deal that "includes coaching now and consultant work for the team when he's no longer on the bench," per the Associated Press (via Sportsnet).

    Hitchcock previously coached the Stars between 1996 and 2002, including guiding the club to its only Stanley Cup in 1999. He has something to prove and should be especially fired up when his Stars visit his old stomping ground in St. Louis on the first weekend of the regular season.

Vegas Golden Knights Play Their 1st Home Game

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    John Locher/Associated Press

    Date: Tuesday, October 10


    Location: T-Mobile Arena, Las Vegas


    Why We're Excited: The Vegas Golden Knights will open their inaugural season with two road games, but the real fun will come when they play their first game in front of their home fans at T-Mobile Arena on October 10.

    The game will be part of a home-and-home against one of their geographic neighbors and a likely Pacific Division rival, the Arizona Coyotes. It's not a reach to suggest the fan experience will be packed with the razzle-dazzle that has made Vegas the adult playground it is today.

    The home opener kicks off a seven-game homestand that includes visits from three Original Six teams—the Detroit Red Wings, Boston Bruins and Chicago Blackhawks. It'll be an important test of how well the Golden Knights sales team has done its job in selling hockey to an audience with plenty of choice in one of the busiest entertainment hubs in the world.

Crosby and McDavid Come Face-to-Face

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    Codie McLachlan/Getty Images

    Date: Tuesday, October 24


    Location: PPG Paints Arena, Pittsburgh


    Why We're Excited: We saw a changing of the guard on Wednesday at the NHL Awards, when the 29-year-old Sidney Crosby sat stone-faced in the audience while the 20-year-old Connor McDavid accepted the Ted Lindsay Award and the Hart Trophy.

    In just his second NHL season, McDavid was voted the league's most valuable player by his colleagues, the members of the NHL Players' Association and the members of the Professional Hockey Writers Association. McDavid also won this year's Art Ross Trophy as the NHL's leading scorer.

    Ten years ago, just over a month before his 20th birthday, Crosby turned the same triple in his second NHL season.

    Sid the Kid must have been musing on how quickly time passes as he watched McDavid—the first true heir apparent for Crosby's title as the best player in the world—follow in his footsteps.

    We saw Crosby turn his game up a notch when P.K. Subban tried to beat him with mind games during the playoffs. Prepare for a vintage performance when he faces off against McDavid on the ice this fall.

Colorado Avalanche and Ottawa Senators Square Off in Sweden

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    Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

    Date: Friday, November 10 and Saturday, November 11


    Location: Ericsson Globe, Stockholm, Sweden


    Why We're Excited: For the first time since 2011, the NHL will head back to Europe—this time for a pair of regular-season games in Stockholm. If all goes according to plan, the games will feature two of Sweden's most dynamic stars.

    Norris Trophy finalist and Ottawa Senators captain Erik Karlsson is recovering from post-playoff surgery to repair two torn tendons in his foot. According to Tim Campbell of NHL.com, he should be healthy in about four months, which would put him back on the ice in late October, just a couple of weeks before the trip to Sweden.

    Colorado Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog has been the subject of trade rumors for months as his last-place team searches for a game plan to climb out of the cellar. It's not hard to imagine he could be on a different team by the time these games take place in November.

    According to NHL Public Relations, the series marks the sixth time the NHL has played regular-season games in Europe. Fingers crossed that Karlsson and Landeskog will be on hand to play in front of their hockey-loving compatriots.

Montreal Canadiens and Ottawa Senators Celebrate the NHL Centennial Outdoors

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    Jana Chytilova/Freestyle Photo/Getty Images

    Date: Saturday, December 16


    Location: TD Place Stadium, Ottawa, Ontario


    Why We're Excited: When the Ottawa Senators host the Montreal Canadiens outdoors, a game featuring two natural rivals will also celebrate the NHL's centennial and pay particular tribute to the first NHL game, which took place on December 19, 2017.

    In addition, the all-Canadian matchup in Canada's capital is part of the celebration of the nation's 150th birthday. It's also the 125th anniversary of the venerable Stanley Cup.

    According to AccuWeather, on December 16, Ottawa historically sees high temperatures of 27 degrees Fahrenheit and lows of 12. In 2016, there was a cold snap that saw the temperature reach just three degrees.

    Here's hoping the weather conditions allow for good ice without endangering the players and fans.

Jonathan Drouin Returns to Tampa Bay

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    Rocky W. Widner/NHL/Getty Images

    Date: Thursday, December 28


    Location: Amalie Arena, Tampa, Florida


    Why We're Excited: The biggest trade of the offseason so far saw Jonathan Drouin head to the Montreal Canadiens in a deal that saw defense prospect Mikhail Sergachev shipped to the Tampa Bay Lightning.

    It's no secret Drouin wasn't happy with his treatment by the Lightning organization. In January of 2016, his agent, Allan Walsh, publicly requested a trade through a release sent to Bob McKenzie of TSN. The Lightning suspended Drouin for a time, but the two sides mended their fences. Drouin played 73 games with the Lightning in 2016-17, recording career highs of 21 goals and 53 points.

    But it looks like the bad blood continued to boil. Faced with the prospect of negotiating a new contract with his restricted free agent, Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman chose instead to deal the Quebec native to the Canadiens. They get the offensive punch they need and the chance to create a homegrown Canadien superstar, and the Lightning get out from what could have been a big-money negotiation when they have other free agents they need to sign.

    If Drouin felt like the Lightning didn't value him as much as he deserved, he'll have a great chance to make his point when he returns to Amalie Arena in December, particularly on the other side of an intense Atlantic Division rivalry.

Maple Leafs and Golden Knights Ring in the New Year, Vegas Style

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    Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

    Date: Sunday, December 31


    Location: T-Mobile Arena, Las Vegas


    Why We're Excited: Auston Matthews was a winner on his first NHL-related visit to Las Vegas. Though he's still 19—too young to hit the tables or the nightclubs—Matthews cashed in big time when he won the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year at Wednesday's NHL Awards, capturing 164 of 167 first-place votes according to Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet.

    Matthews' next visit to Vegas will come on New Year's Eve, when the Toronto Maple Leafs roll into town for their first trip to T-Mobile Arena. With the temperate climate and party possibilities, Leafs Nation is probably locking down travel plans right now for a brand-new kind of hockey New Year's Eve party.

Toronto Maple Leafs and Washington Capitals Join the Navy

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    Claus Andersen/Getty Images

    Date: Saturday, March 3


    Location: Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, Annapolis, Maryland


    Why We're Excited: There's nothing new about the idea of a Winter Classic game on New Year's Day, with next season's event being held at Citi Field between the Buffalo Sabres and the New York Rangers. But March's matchup between the Washington Capitals and Toronto Maple Leafs carries some intrigue.

    It's only the second outdoor game for the Leafs, who showed they could bring the drama with their fantastic come-from-behind overtime win against the Detroit Red Wings in the 2017 Centennial Classic in Toronto. Washington has played outside twice before. This time, their appearance is juiced by the location—the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland—about an hour's drive away from Verizon Center in Washington.

    The game is expected to kick off a partnership that extends to other military academies like West Point and the U.S. Air Force Academy at Colorado Springs, according to Kevin Lilley of Military Times. It will also allow fans to revisit one of the tastiest moments of the 2017 playoffs, when the Maple Leafs pushed the Capitals to six games in a tightly contested and highly entertaining first-round series.

Jordan Eberle Returns to Rexall Place

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    Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

    Date: Thursday, March 8


    Location: Rexall Place, Edmonton, Alberta


    Why We're Excited: The New York Islanders and Edmonton Oilers will meet at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York, on November 7, but the more emotional game is bound to be Jordan Eberle's homecoming at Rexall Place in March.

    Drafted 22nd overall in 2008, Eberle became a national sensation with his heroic performances at the World Junior Championships, salvaging a gold medal for Canada with a tying goal late in regulation and the shootout winner in the 2009 final, then scoring two goals to force overtime as Canada won silver in 2010.

    Though Eberle was a consistent point producer during his seven seasons with the Oilers, his salary, with the $6 million cap hit, became too cumbersome for the team to maintain with young stars like McDavid and Leon Draisaitl on the rise—and soon in need of new contracts. The Oilers' recent rise and the evolution of their new wave of young stars deemed him expendable.

    He was traded on Thursday, as reported by the Canadian Press (h/t Sportsnet). Eberle was the Oilers' scoring leader among players with the team. According to QuantHockey, he had 165 goals and 217 assists for 382 points in 507 games with Edmonton, second only to Ales Hemsky's 477 points among players who are active in the NHL. Eberle also ranks an impressive 12th overall in franchise scoring—mostly behind the giants of the dynasty of the '80s.

    Like Taylor Hall, Eberle left an imprint on hockey culture in Edmonton before he was pushed aside. Expect an emotional tribute when he returns to Rexall Place in March as a member of the Islanders.


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