One of the best quotes in history comes from Howard Cosell.
“Sports is the toy department of human life,” he said.
There’s the enjoyment we get from the sporting event. There are the storylines that encompass us and keep the excitement alive.
And then there’s the cruel sense of humor. That’s what the first week of the 2019-20 NHL season is going to feature the most as training camps open later this week to prepare for what should be another intriguing season.
As if the world didn’t get enough of the Vegas Golden Knights and San Jose Sharks playing each other, the schedule gods thought it funny to have them play three times in six days; once in the preseason finale on Sept. 29, and then the teams’ respective home openers.
The Pacific Division rivals will meet Oct. 2 at T-Mobile Arena for the first meaningful time since Game 7 at SAP Center on April 23. They’ll meet again two days later at the scene of the crime where Joe Pavelski’s blood trickled down the ice from Cody Eakin’s love tap.
Get used to these two. One of them is going to the Western Conference Final, and a case can be made for either or. As for the rest of the league, storylines are aplenty.
The St. Louis Blues will defend their first-ever championship. Most of their team is intact –Conn Smythe winner Ryan O’Reilly is back; young goalie Jordan Binnington is getting a full year under his belt; Craig Berube is no longer the interim coach. Things are good in the land of Gloria.
But are the Blues even the best team in the Central? The Dallas Stars return nearly everyone from last year’s squad that almost knocked off St. Louis in Game 7 of the second round.
The Colorado Avalanche came within one win of the conference final themselves as the second wild card. They somehow got even better.
There’s the top line of Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen. Joonas Donskoi provides needed offense for their bottom six. Nazem Kadri is a high-risk, high-reward addition if he doesn’t get himself suspended. Pierre-Edouard Bellemare will provide much-needed aid on the penalty kill and solid play on the fourth line.
Oh, and Colorado gets a full year of Hobey Baker winner Cale Makar, and it drafted Bowen Byram with the No. 4 pick in the 2019 NHL Draft. If not this year, the Avs’ blue line is going to be formidable for years to come.
We didn’t even get to Winnipeg and Nashville.
The Jets have yet to sign Patrik Laine and Kyle Connor. Preseason starts next week, you know.
The Predators are entering a new era without P.K. Subban after trading the star defenseman to New Jersey, but that’s why they threw all the dollars at Matt Duchene. The Central is wide open.
Speaking of the Devils (pun fully intended), they had a fun summer, huh?
Here, have Jack Hughes with the No. 1 pick. You can have P.K. Subban, too.
Need more offense? Have Nikita Gusev.
The Devils retooled and put themselves in a great position to sign Taylor Hall to a long-term deal, so long as New Jersey starts winning again. That’s a tall task in a stacked Metropolitan Division.
Both New York teams will be intriguing. Kaapo Kakko is bringing life back to Madison Square Garden. Robin Lehner is now in Chicago, and the Islanders have to hope Semyon Varlamov is enough in goal to keep momentum going for Barry Trotz.
Meanwhile, the Carolina Hurricanes might be even jerkier this year. The Eastern Conference finalists just signed Jake Gardiner to a four-year contract and stacked more to that already stacked defense.
Carolina’s offense still centers around Sebastian Aho, Andrei Svechnikov and Teuvo Teravainen, but Erik Haula could be an X-Factor. Haula, whom Carolina acquired from Vegas, missed almost all of last season with a gruesome knee injury. Don’t forget he scored 29 goals in 2018.
Pittsburgh and Washington are still going to hang around, per usual. Sidney Crosby doesn’t have Phil Kessel anymore, and Alex Ovechkin is going to score 50 goals. Do they have enough help?
One of those teams will have to find a way to get past the Boston Bruins, who are a collective mad bunch after losing to the Blues in seven games.
Not as mad as the Tampa Bay Lightning, though. Remember them? Their goal is to win just one playoff game this year.
In the immortal words of Chance the Rapper, let’s do that hockey.