The 2017-18 NHL season is finally upon us.
What better way to welcome the new season than with, and ?
Oh, and five burning questions to consider as another round of hockey gets underway:
1. Can the Penguins overcome a bench transition?
The defending -- and repeat -- champions are still stocked with elite scorers, from reigning Conn Smythe winner Sidney Crosby and longtime teammate Evgeni Malkin to postseason hero Jake Guentzel and veteran winger Phil Kessel. Throw in goaltender Matt Murray, whose clutch outings in the biggest of spotlights make him a safe bet to fill Marc-Andre Fleury's regular-season shoes, and you have an all-around contender -- a 100 percent legitimate candidate to vie for the Stanley Cup. Again.
But if there's a pressing question for Pittsburgh to answer (and there is), it's whether the depth will hold up quite as well in the wake of Nick Bonino, Chris Kunitz, Trevor Daley and Matt Cullen all heading elsewhere. Ryan Reaves and Matt Hunwick are among those tasked with stepping up.
2. How will the wide-open West unfold?
If the Eastern Conference is a stage for the Penguins to defend their title, the West is wide open to interpretation. Sure, the Anaheim Ducks have the defense to make a sixth straight bid for the Pacific Division, the Minnesota Wild have the forwards to give Bruce Boudreau another shot at playoff redemption and the Edmonton Oilers are everyone's favorite Stanley Cup contenders after Connor McDavid's magical MVP run last season. But beyond those three, who knows what's in store? Friendly reminder that the Dallas Stars, St. Louis Blues, Chicago Blackhawks, Calgary Flames, San Jose Sharks, Los Angeles Kings, Winnipeg Jets and the defending conference champion Nashville Predators aren't all going to make the playoffs if the Wild, Ducks and Oilers go. And speaking of the latter ...
3. Are the Edmonton Oilers getting too much hype?
Is it possible to both admire the Oilers' star duo of McDavid and Leon Draisaitl and also think the hype that surrounds them might end up disappointing Edmonton?
You're talking to the guy Cam Talbot is no pushover in net and the offense that McDavid and Draisaitl create on their own is enough to boost the Oilers' ceiling. Still, especially in a league where the champs have yet to be outdone two straight years, it's not easy to predict a new title winner in total confidence. Especially considering the Oilers' blue-line question marks.at season's end, of course, but we all have to be careful in crowning this team. For the most part,
4. Which 2016-17 playoff team will miss out?
There's bound to be a drop-off from a handful of contenders, but which one will actually end up without a repeat shot at the Cup? Contrary to anyone who subscribes fully to the title-loss hangover theory, the Predators should be just fine. In fact, they should enter the playoffs better seeded than a season ago. How about the Blues, though? Their summer said they're hungry for postseason success now, but their early-season injury count is awfully daunting and no one is sure if Jake Allen will be his playoff self. The Boston Bruins should also be back on the fringe, and it's not out of the question to say both the New York Rangers and Montreal Canadiens, longtime postseason favorites, could be hard pressed in the East. And that leads to a similar question ...
5. What about the Washington Capitals?
Well, it ain't good, whatever it is. OK, so maybe the Caps have enough of a regular-season track record -- you don't earn two Presidents' Trophies for nothing -- and a handful of big-time veterans, including a bound-to-rebound Alex Ovechkin. But everything else about the Capitals isn't promising.
Salary cap constraints finally hit them and hit them hard over the summer, and there is absolutely no question their roster is worse off than when it last took the ice. How much worse, though? Are the losses of Karl Alzner, Justin Williams, Kevin Shattenkirk and Marcus Johansson enough to throw them completely off course? The safe bet is that Washington will be right in the mix for the playoffs, albeit after a significant decline from a season ago.