2017-18 NHL Preview: 5 Stories to Watch

elSOjtThe National Hockey League is one of the major sports leagues in North America but it is often ranked at the bottom of those leagues.

It is a league that can be a way of life or a footnote depending on where someone is in the USA.

Some places the NHL is the biggest league and cannot be missed as there are generations of fans that come to see their teams.

In other places, you might be hard-pressed to find anyone that even realises that the NHL season is underway.

In the northeast, it is a massive part of the season as places like New York and Boston have all kinds of time for the sport.

In places like Florida and Texas, nobody seems to care about their teams unless they make a run late in the season when football and baseball are no longer on.

It is a tough place to be for any league as the NHL is competing in one of the most saturated markets with leagues that are some of the biggest in the world.

The NHL does have one thing that they are becoming known for though and it is helping to grow the sport to places that nobody thought the sport would work.

As much as it might anger the traditional hockey markets the NHL is willing to go out on a limb and be the first team to try something out.

They are a league that is trying to be forward thinking and trying to do things that nobody else is doing in order to get ahead.

The NFL and the MLB are the most popular leagues in North America making a massive amount of money.

They are of the thinking though that “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it” which continues to help them make money but also stops them from evolving.

The way they do things works right now but refusing to do certain things because of the unknown is not going to help them evolve as the sports world changes.

The NHL is quite the opposite and they have that freedom because they still have a lot of room to grow and they can take the risk.

The fact is that the fans of the NHL right now are so committed to the NHL, especially in Canada, that no matter what they do the league will still be big in those places.

They can try new things and see how they work because they aren’t at the top and at risk of being knocked off.

There are certainly issues with this attitude and not everything has gone right for the league where some believe they are simply forgetting their base.

The name of the game though is to grow and become the biggest league not only in North America but in the world.

For the NHL international play has been a key to their growth for decades holding European tours as early as 1938.

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Where the MLB and NFL have only recently begun to look to expand to big international games the NHL has been doing it for a very long time and continue to do it with plans to go to China and Sweden this year.

The NHL was also one of the first leagues to begin looking to big special games in the middle of the season to help grow awareness.

Ten years ago the NHL held the first ever Outdoor Classic and since then have held outdoor games every year with the Outdoor Classic, Heritage Classic and Stadium Series.

More than ever the other major leagues in North America are all looking to find their own big games like the NFL’s London Series or the recently created Little League Classic in the MLB.

In the NHL these innovations are just starting as they continue to look for new ways of growing the game.

They continue their big outdoor games and are recommitting to their international strategy as they get set for a new season.

Possibly the biggest thing for this new season through is their focus on being the first team to a market that everyone wants to be a part of as every league looks to expand.

The NHL will be the first major league to head to Las Vegas with a new team this year as it only continues their progress.

Hockey continues to grow with places like California and Tennessee becoming legitimate hockey hotbeds.

As it continues to grow the NHL continues to get bigger and there is more to talk about including this new season as there are plenty of stories to look to throughout the 2017-18 season.

2017 NHL Stanley Cup Final - Game Six

Almost every professional sports league is in a period where parity is ruling the league and new teams are constantly winning championships. The NHL was always a part of this trend and for the league, it was a great thing as they were not only seeing new teams but new markets taking home championships. That is big especially when it is markets that aren’t necessarily the biggest hockey markets. It helps to develop the sport in places that need the development more than anywhere else. That pattern has begun to go away in the league though as the NHL saw their first repeat champion since the Detroit Red Wings won back to back titles in 1997 and 1998. It has been a long time since the NHL has faced the prospect of a dominant dynasty that has ruled over the league. There haven’t been many teams to play consistently good enough to win Stanley Cups on a regular basis. The Chicago Blackhawks did it in the early 2010s when they won three Cups in six seasons and the Red Wings did the same in the late 1990s into the early 2000s. Even these teams as great as they were couldn’t take home the Cup every season as they needed six seasons to win three Cups. It hasn’t been since the 1970s and 80s that the NHL saw dynasties that were simply too far ahead of everyone. The Edmonton Oilers won five Stanley Cups in seven years, before that the New York Islanders won four straight and before them, the Montreal Canadiens won four in a row. That was a different era as dynasties ruled the league with a few teams competing to be that dominant group. Only a few have come close since then and heading into the 2017-18 season one team has a chance to be the next. Not since the Islanders won their four Cups from 1980-83 has anyone been able to win more than two titles in a row. The Pittsburgh Penguins are now in that boat after taking the championship in the last two seasons. With the greatest player in the sport still going strong and a cast of great players around him, the Penguins have the ability to win a third straight. The debate about whether or not that is good for the league will continue all season and the pressure is on the Penguins. It is expected that they get back to the playoffs and win the title but whether or not they do is completely unpredictable as anything can go right or wrong the two-time defending champions.

vegas

It has long been a place that leagues have looked to in terms of their expansion but for decades they have avoided it at all costs. Las Vegas has been a desirable and terrifying place for professional sports as it seems like a clear choice to set up shop but comes with so many other issues. On one hand, Vegas is a major city that is considered the entertainment capital of the world but has no professional sports teams. There is plenty of space to put up a stadium and there is a desire for the city to get a professional team. On the other hand, professional leagues have been running from gambling for years despite the fact that it is a major part of the popularity of the sport. With Vegas being the gambling capital of the USA professional leagues are scared of getting involved and making it seem like they approve. Not to mention the pitfalls of potential betting scandals that can come with being in the only major US city that has legal gambling. Add that to the fact that although Vegas seems like a big city but is only really big due to tourists and the fact that the amount of distractions in the city exceeds any other city in the country and it is not a sure bet for any league. All it was going to take was one league to take the chance and give the city a professional team. That team would get the advantage of being the first team in and gaining a fan base before anyone else. The NHL took that chance approving a new team in Vegas that will begin their first season this year. After two years of preparing the Vegas Golden Knights are now a part of the NHL and are the first part of the Vegas sports scene on a professional level. They will eventually be joined by the Oakland Raiders in the NFL who decided to move this past summer and are waiting for their stadium before they move. The Knights are the first professional team from the big four and will look to make an impression on this fan base. The questions will continue to swirl throughout the season though as this has never been done before. Are there actually enough fans in Vegas to make a professional team worth it? Are those professional fans hockey fans? Will they lose interest if the Knights struggle through their first season? All of those questions will be on the minds of everyone, even other leagues, as the Knights start their historic first season as the NHL’s first expansion team since Columbus and Minnesota in 2000.

olympics

It has been a topic for debate since the Olympics closed up shop in 2014 as from the moment the hockey tournament ended many wondered if the best players in the world would be back. The NHL had already had a tough time getting a deal together to get the NHL players to go to the 2014 Sochi Olympics. In the end, it might have been the pressure put on from a number of big-name Russian players that got the NHL to agree and send their players. Once those Olympics ended though, the NHL seemed to change their attitude and it seemed inevitable that the league would need a lot more to get to the Olympics in 2018. It didn’t start out well with the IOC and IIHF refusing to ensure the players or pay for their travel leaving NHL teams on the hook. It might have been alright had the NHL then been able to use the Olympics as a selling point but without any rights to any of the images or video, the NHL had little motivation. The only motivation they received was likely from the players themselves who want to go to the Olympics every four years. After all, it has long been considered the ultimate tournament for international supremacy. The best players in the world are on those Olympic teams and it is truly one of the only tournaments that is best-on-best. The NHL has never really liked to send their players as it always meant taking a full two weeks off of their own schedule and seeing the best players being paid massive money playing halfway across the world where the owners got nothing. For the league, it was always an issue but for the most part, they allowed their players to attend in part to appease the players and in part because they enjoyed the free publicity it brought to the game. The attitude has changed as the money has increased and for the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics, there will be no NHL players in attendance. The NHL could not come to a deal with the IIHF and the IOC and so the players will not be attending the Olympics in February. It is going to be strange to see an Olympic hockey tournament without the best in the world playing but what is more interesting will be the effect it has on the NHL. Fans will need to choose whether or not they want to watch the not-so-professional teams in the Olympics or the NHL in the middle of the season. It might inform how the league approaches the 2022 Olympics in Beijing.

oldguard

It has been a couple of decades since a Canadian team won the Stanley Cup but that wasn’t always the case. The NHL was once ruled by Canadian teams with a few making a massive impact on the league. The Toronto Maple Leafs and Edmonton Oilers form two of the most legendary teams in the NHL. The Leafs are still one of the most successful franchises in the history of the league while the Oilers formed one of the greatest dynasties in league history. The Leafs and the Oilers have not been a factor in the NHL for a very long time though as they are now among the longest suffering franchises. Both are among the proudest franchises in the NHL and yet they haven’t been able to put much of it together for a long time. Edmonton was good enough in 2006 to make the Stanley Cup finals but couldn’t finish or find their way back. The Oilers were the team that consistently finished in the bottom of the league and got top picks every year. Yet no matter who they took they continued to sit at the bottom of the league in a constant state of rebuilding. Toronto hasn’t seen the Stanley Cup Finals since they last won the Cup in 1964 but for the longest time, they just hovered at mediocrity. The Leafs were never quite that bad but also never quite good enough hovering at the bottom half of the league but never bad enough to get those franchise-changing players on their team. It has been a rough few decades for these fan bases with the Leafs making the playoffs for a long time but never doing anything and the Oilers getting to the top but not able to finish it off. Things might be beginning to change though as Edmonton and Toronto are entering the 2017-18 season as two of the most exciting teams in the league. The bad luck of the draft ended for Edmonton when they finally got that franchise changer that they thought they were getting in the years before. Connor McDavid has changed this team in only two years in the league as the next coming of Sidney Crosby is making good on the promise that everyone thought he had. They found their way to the playoffs last year with McDavid leading the team and hope to build on it again this time around. Toronto turned things around last year when they drafted Auston Mathews, another generational player, and made a real run at the playoffs with a team full of promising rookies. Both will try to build on the success of a year ago and both should be fun to watch with some of the best young talent leading two of the most legendary franchises in the league.

international

It may not be talked about all that much in terms of the innovation of the NHL but this league has always been a big player in the international sports scene. Every league is now looking to grow internationally but the NHL has been doing it for longer than some leagues have been around. It began in 1938 when the Montreal Canadiens and Detroit Red Wings held a European tour taking them through England and France. Since then the NHL has regularly held tours and challenges and small tournaments throughout the world. They have always known that success on a grander scale means success in places outside of North America. They also already have a big following throughout Europe as hockey has always been more international than any of the other major North American sports. Almost all of Europe consider it one of their top sports with places like Russia loving it almost as much as Canadians love the sport. The NHL has always tried to make sure that they are getting in front of those markets and beat out their local professional leagues to be an international brand. The league has never gotten away from that as they have rarely let too many seasons go without travelling in some form to a market outside of the USA or Canada. This year will be no different as the NHL is taking their show on the road for multiple games this season targeting some old favourites and some newer markets that have been the focus of most leagues over the past few years. Before the season even began the NHL travelled to China for some preseason hockey action. Vancouver and Los Angeles took a trip to Beijing and Shanghai to bring the best brand in the sport to an area that every professional team wants. The move was an important one as they were the first league to hold any professional game in those two cities and some see it as a sign that come the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics the NHL will want to be involved. It is a big part of the world with a lot of people and the first league to make a real breakthrough could be in for a big boost, and the NHL wants to be that team. Later in the year, the NHL will host some more meaningful games in Sweden where Ottawa and Colorado will play two games in Stockholm for the Swedish fans. It has always been a part of the plan for the NHL and as they look to expand they will continue to look at these outside markets to continue to grow as one of the more international sports in North America.

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