If you're already feeling hockey withdrawal just over a week after the Stanley Cup was handed out, have no fear, the NHL is already setting the stage for next season.
On Sunday the NHL unveiled the entire schedule for the 2014-15 season before we've even hit the draft, let alone free agency. It's missing some of the excitement to look ahead and circle the calendar without seeing how the dust will settle after an offseason of moves but at this point there are still some real barnburners to look forward to next season.
Because you're a hockey fan, you're looking forward to just about every game next season (though we won't blame you if you bypass Buffalo-Florida on Oct. 17) but some just stand out a bit more than others. So here are 10 games to look forward to next season, knowing full well that other games will be added to the list based on player movement in the coming weeks.
Canadiens at Maple Leafs, Oct. 8: If the champions can't be the first to drop the puck on a new season it might as well be the Canadiens and Maple Leafs in Toronto. The two Canadian teams will get the season started with a renewal of their rivalry. Just like Habs-Bruins, that's always a lot of fun.
Sharks at Kings, Oct 8: It doesn't officially begin the season given the fact that LA is on the West Coast, but the champs take the ice against the team that they stunned with an improbable first-round comeback and sent into a summer of questions. Of course it will include a banner raising in addition to being a good rivalry game in the brutal Western Conference. We're pretty sure Logan Couture won't have an easy time with it.
@JVReemer21 there is.— Logan Couture (@Logancouture) June 14, 2014
Interestingly enough, the season will end with these two teams playing in LA. That's probably not an accident.
Rangers at Lightning, Nov. 26: It already is starting to feel like a while ago but this will be the first time since last season's trade that Martin St. Louis will return to the city he called home for so many seasons and where he won the Stanley Cup a decade ago. How he is received by the Lightning crowd will be of interest given his messy departure. One question: Will the main piece he was traded for, former Rangers captain Ryan Callahan, be on the ice for the Lightning? He will hit free agency if the Lightning can't reach a deal in the next week and a half.
Red Wings at Senators, Dec. 27: We're still not even sure yet that Daniel Alfredsson will play another season but if he does (and that's the expectation), it will most likely be back in Detroit where he had a nice season for the Wings. If he does decide to come back, this game already has the feeling of being his last in Ottawa and while he will finish in another team's uniform, Alfie will always be a Senator. Playing what could very likely be his final game in Ottawa is going to bring forward the emotions again.
Blackhawks at Capitals, Jan 1: It took a long time, but we finally figured out who the Caps would play in their home Winter Classic and it wasn't one of the teams on everybody's radar. They just played outdoors last season but this will be "only" their second Winter Classic, same for the Capitals. Given that it's Washington, DC, and not Michigan, don't expect another snow globe but hopefully the conditions will be favorable. No matter, it's a game with some of the league's biggest stars and the Winter Classic remains the NHL's biggest regular-season stage.
Rangers at Kings, Jan 8*: After a very tight five-game series (not an oxymoron) the Stanley Cup finalists from last season meet again. LA should look pretty close to being the same team while the Rangers could have some changes. We know they'll have one big one with Brad Richards out; we'll just have to see if any more follow. The Final was tight but it didn't have the residual nastiness we sometimes see. Still, it's a Cup rematch and that's always fun, if for nothing else than to see how far each team has come since.
(*We're going to add one other game to this date as well; the Panthers will visit Vancouver, meaning Roberto Luongo will play his first game in front of the Canucks faithful since the deadline deal that sent him back to Florida.)
Capitals at Predators, Jan. 16: This one doesn't make the list because of the hockey game -- though that shouldn't be too bad either -- but instead because Barry Trotz will coach a game in Nashville ... from the opposing bench. They are used to him coaching games in Nashville, obviously, just not from there. After serving as the only coach in Predators history until Peter Laviolette's first game this season, Trotz left Nashville still a beloved figure and you can bet the Predators will pull out all the stops to welcome him back. You can also bet it will be emotional.
All-Star Weekend, Jan 22-25: Wait, what is this? An All-Star Game? Yes, the NHL does still have one of those, we just haven't seen it in a few years because of the lockout and then Olympics. This year's host will be Columbus and while you can be sure the game itself will be pretty dull even if it's very high scoring -- few watch All-Star Games for the actual sport being played -- the entire weekend has become a fun hockey showcase with the shootout competition giving us such memories as Alex Ovechkin's crazy outfits to Superman Patrick Kane.
Kings at Sharks, Feb. 21: Another Kings-Sharks game on the list? Indeed, yes. Not only is it a big West Coast rivalry growing by the year but this game has a lot of flags about it suggesting it will be more than just another game. It's at the right time of the year to still be cold, is a night game on a weekend -- LA's only such visit to San Jose of the season -- and is scheduled for a national broadcast in Canada (NBC's schedule will come out later). Certainly it could all mean nothing but with a lot of speculation that the Sharks could host an outdoor game, this could very well be it.
April 11: OK, so we're kind of cheating on this one but obviously there's no telling how the races will shape up making it tough to pick out a game right now. Regardless, the NHL hit a real home run with this idea to have each and every team playing on the final day of the season, the drama should be palpable. We'll need to see another season with the new alignment to see if it will reduce the drama with the playoff races or not -- I would lean toward not and this past season being a bit of an anomaly -- but if nothing else, we could still have matchups to decide. Either way, this will undoubtedly be one of the best, if not the best, days of the NHL season.