Originally posted on Red Light District Hockey  |  Last updated 10/5/11


Believe it or not, we are a little over 24 hours from the opening puck-drop of the 2011-12 NHL season. Here are ten key storylines to watch this season…

Status of Sidney Crosby
When will ‘Sid the Kid’ finally take to the ice? We know that with a healthy Evgeni Malkin and Jack Adams Award winner Dan Blysma, the Penguins can afford to ease him back into the lineup. At this rate he likely comes back at the end of October at the absolute earliest as he still has not been cleared for contact (and won’t until the Pens return to Pittsburgh on October 11th).

As a generational talent, there really is no reason to believe he can’t jump right back into the scoring mix. Despite playing only half the season he still finished the season in the top 50 in scoring with only 13 players scoring more goals than him over the full season. He will eventually be back, and dominate, which is great for the sport.
- Alexander Monaghan

Suspensions and head-shots
In three weeks of preseason hockey, Brendan Shanahan has already laid down the hammer on borderline hits and head-shots. A total of nine players were suspended for a total of 31 regular season games. One can only assume he will continue to send a statement throughout the season.

With that in consideration, how will it change the mindset when players are lining up an opponent for a big hit? Will players, particularly repeat offenders, ease up? Shanahan has made it known that head hits will have consequences, especially for repeat offenders (see James Wisniewski’s 8-game suspension). Hopefully harsher suspensions from Shanahan will help minimize the controversial hits this season.
- Ryan Porth

Boston Bruins gunning for a repeat
The Bruins will attempt to repeat their Stanley Cup Championship season, becoming the first back-to-back champs since the Detroit Red Wings accomplished the feat in 1997 and 1998. Last season, the team seemed to catch lightning in a bottle when the games mattered most, featuring the league’s best goalie in Tim Thomas and arguably the best defender in Zdeno Chara mixed with forward corps that was fast, gritty and well-rounded.

In theory, the team should be successful this season considering they are icing a remarkably similar lineup. Locker room leader Mark Recchi will be missed, as well as veterans Tomas Kaberle and Michael Ryder. But the B’s should do just fine with youngsters like Tyler Seguin and Brad Marchand destined to improve.
- Alexander Monaghan

NHL’s return to Winnipeg
15 years after darting to the desert, the Jets are back in Winnipeg. One of the subplots to the playoffs last spring was actually the ongoing rumors surrounding the Atlanta Thrashers. Their move to Winnipeg was made official in June, once the season was completed. Between the release of the logo and jerseys, the Jets stole headlines all summer long.

Ever since mid-May, the whole city has been overflowing with excitement about the Jets’ return. The first preseason game at MTS Centre was described as a playoff atmosphere… which means Sunday’s first official home game (and the other 40 home games, for that matter) will be even better.
- Ryan Porth

Vancouver bouncing back
Make no mistake – the Canucks will be back in the mix. Despite the scrutiny of Roberto Luongo in goal, the Sedin Twins’ physical play or the team’s blue-line depth, they will be back. Their top two centers are arguably the best 1-2 combination in the NHL, while their division remains decidedly weak. In short, they are the Capitals of the Western Conference.

A very long season, or short offseason, which includes injuries to Ryan Kesler and Mason Raymond still withstanding, should create a Stanley Cup hangover of sorts. However, they are simply too talented not to make the playoffs and only a few pieces away from getting over the top. Remember, this team was just one win shy of taking home the game’s greatest prize; they shouldn’t be written off so quickly.
- Alexander Monaghan

Looming CBA talks
The subject in the back of everyone’s minds will be the collective bargaining agreement, as it enters its final season. The current deal will expire on Sept. 15, 2012, so this may be a storyline that extends into the summer. As reported by ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun on Tuesday, official negotiations may not commence until the All-Star break has passed.

Among the topics that will be the pressing issues for the new CBA are: Cap circumvention, post-entry level contracts, revenue sharing and the 2014 Winter Olympics. The two individuals that will be at the forefront here will be NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr. Let’s hope they can hammer out a deal before another lockout occurs.
- Ryan Porth

Will Washington solve their playoff problems?
The Washington Capitals continue to disappoint in the postseason mainly due to their higher expectations. A highly skilled team with talent to burn will try a hybrid of their past two systems – not too offensive, not too defensive – which should bode well with a fresher, improved supporting cast. Their biggest postseason issue lies in their adaptation and consistency when the games actually matter, so they hope Roman Hamrlik, Joel Ward and Tomas Vokoun will help with that.

Alex Ovechkin will lead the charge following his worst statistical season. In his second full campaign as team captain, he remains the centerpiece in the nation’s capital and should respond accordingly. Nevertheless, the team needs consistency from Game 1 to June, or else they will find themselves, once again, on the golf course in May.
- Alexander Monaghan

Realignment
With Atlanta’s move to Winnipeg, division/conference realignment for the 2012-13 season and beyond is necessary. The board of governors meeting in early December will be the focal point for when the future makeup of the NHL will be decided upon. The league must come to a resolution at that meeting to give everyone enough time to adjust accordingly.

Will the NHL blow up the current format and make a drastic change? Where will Detroit, Columbus and Nashville end up – the East or the West? How will Phoenix’s future play into all of this? There are so many question marks and scenarios surrounding realignment, which makes the discussion topic so fascinating.
- Ryan Porth

How will Philadelphia’s shake-up work out?
June 23rd will always be affectionately referred to as the day “EVERYTHING IS HAPPENING” following GM Paul Holmgren’s bold moves. Not only were the faces of the franchise – Mike Richards and Jeff Carter – shipped out of town, but several uncharacteristic players like Jaromir Jagr, Ilya Bryzgalov and Jakub Voracek will don the orange and black this season. The result: still undecided.

While we are not sure the Philadelphia Flyers have actually improved, or hindered their team, we are pretty sure they will be good. Returning are the two playoff heroes in Claude Giroux and James van Riemsdyk, as well as staples Danny Briere, Scott Hartnell, Chris Pronger and Kimmo Timonen. Expect plenty of interesting storylines and rivalries formed with December 29th at the Consol Energy Center a must-see for every hockey fan.
- Alexander Monaghan

Grand finale for Nicklas Lidstrom and Teemu Selanne?
In all likelihood, this will be the final season for two classy individuals and future Hall of Famers – Nicklas Lidstrom and Teemu Selanne.

Lidstrom, 41 years old, will go down as one of the best defensemen to ever lace up the skates in the NHL. The Red Wings captain has won a staggering seven Norris Trophies en route to tallying over 1,100 points. Lidstrom has also been a part of four Stanley Cup-winning teams in Hockeytown. Selanne, also 41, enters his 19th NHL season with 637 goals and 1,340 points to his credit. Whether it’s been in Winnipeg, San Jose, Colorado or Anaheim, the ‘Finnish Flash’ has always been a league-wide fan favorite.
- Ryan Porth

Photos credit: Getty Images

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