Finally, it’s Game On!

Hockey is here. Rejoice, friends. We’ve made it.

The puck drops tonight, the genesis of a raucous 56-game campaign. Don’t blink. You’ll miss the whole season.

Yes, the NHL is back and that’s cause for celebration. Whether it’s 56 games and featuring divisions sponsored by Honda and Discover, the fact the frozen biscuit will be passed around tonight is something to be happy about.

At the same time, we need to stay realistic. We need to understand that the likelihood of COVID-19 leaving its mark as the games go is going to happen.

Look no further than the NBA, and what the NFL endured at times. The NBA has already canceled games with two more coming this week. Some football games forced shuffling of bye weeks and had games played on days you don’t normally see the NFL (hello, Tuesday).

The NHL has already postponed games. The Dallas Stars will start their season no earlier than Jan. 19 after six players and two staffers tested positive. This won’t be the last instance, and I can’t imagine this being the only instance in January.

Frustrations will be high from coaches and players fighting through this virus, to the fans in need of an escape. Until things return to normalcy, these are the times we live in and adapting will be key.

Award predictions

This was forgotten last week, but there will be awards given out this season.

As usual, these are likely wrong and will have no bearing on what happens in 2021. Alas, let’s have fun.

(Note: Due to my role with NHL.com, I am not a member of the PHWA and do not have a vote.) By the way, you can wager on who wins at many sportsbooks or on their mobile apps, so have at it.

Hart Memorial Trophy: Nathan MacKinnon. Much like I think it’ll be the Avalanche’s chance to flex their contender muscle, this is the year MacKinnon takes his rightful place as the best player in the world.

Norris Trophy: Victor Hedman. The absence of Nikita Kucherov could heavily impact the role of Tampa Bay’s blueliners. If Hedman builds off his Conn Smythe performance, a second Norris in four years could be in the cards.

Vezina Trophy: Connor Hellebuyck. Not since Martin Brodeur has there been a back-to-back Vezina winner, but given the condensed schedule, teams that don’t have a clear 1A-1B in net are key. Hellebuyck may be the workhorse of the league this season.

Selke Trophy: Mark Stone. Second place two years ago, fifth place last season. Have to think this is the year a winger wins it, and Stone takes his place as one of the game’s best.

Calder Trophy: Kirill Kaprizov. Yes, Alexis Lafreniere is ideal, but Minnesota’s scoring has to come from someone. Kaprizov is ready to live up to the hype.

Jack Adams Award: Jared Bednar. The bulk of the competition will come from that West Division, and the Avs are expected to win that crowded field. Bednar will finally get some well-deserved recognition.

Stanley Cup Final prediction: It’s Colorado’s time. This is the Avs’ best chance to win the Cup. Joe Sakic has done a great job the past two years adding depth to this team and did so again this offseason with Devon Toews and Brandon Saad.

Whoever comes out of the West Division will be the odds-on favorite, where they will meet a resurging Tampa Bay team — with a healthy Kucherov — gunning for a repeat. Avalanche over Lightning in six games.

Thursday

Flames at Jets: Terrific goaltending battle with Hellebuyck and new Flames goalie Jacob Markstrom. While both were -110 entering Tuesday, and the Flames at +250 at -1.5 is tempting if Markstrom comes out strong, Winnipeg wins outright in this one. JETS

Friday

Penguins at Flyers: Pittsburgh will likely be a road dog (+105 in Wednesday’s matchup), but these results will fluctuate because of these two-game series to start. Philadelphia likely wins opening night, but a rebound effort from the Penguins at a higher number can’t be counted out. PENGUINS

Saturday

Ducks at Golden Knights: Be weary that the underdogs won’t cash often, especially early on. Talent will rule, hence Vegas at -210 Thursday. Anaheim might play better Saturday, but not enough to where that -1.5 looks tempting for the Knights. GOLDEN KNIGHTS