The NHL isn’t new to change. From rule alterations, to relocations and blockbuster trading, the league has done its best to maintain the spirit of the game while adjusting to different circumstances such as; player safety, economy, and marketability. In the past, changes to scoring systems, tie-breakers, offsides, icing, and contact rules received more criticism than praise from fans and players alike. The shootout has been one of the most controversial changes since the 2005 lockout.
In other changes, like big-name trades and signings, the fan base and hockey world are always excited and eager to see great players with new teams. The feeling can be compared to getting a puppy, exciting at first, until the novelty fades. We’ve recently seen this with Dion Phaneuf to Ottawa, Eric Staal to New York, and Milan Lucic to Los Angeles. While other players strive and succeed, like we saw with Tyler Seguin in Dallas, Joe Thornton in San Jose, and even the Great One himself when he was moved to Los Angeles.
Despite those exceptions it seems that the biggest and most lasting changes come in the form of new teams, through relocation or expansion. Fans from around the league love to see new colours hit the ice and new franchises tend to get a lot of fan support both locally and nationally. The Winnipeg Jets are a great example of this, born from the Atlanta Thrashers. The league embraced the rejuvenated Jets and the outpouring of support, especially in Canada was inspiring.
Let’s take a look at the top 11 changes on the horizon for the NHL. They include rule changes for better or worse, big player moves we should expect in the off-season, and most excitingly, plans for an expansion both in Canada and the U.S.
12 The Re-emergence of the Maple Leafs
The Maple Leafs are still in the infancy stages of their re-build, as the past 12 months have been about shedding salary and stockpiling assets. The Leafs have done that and are in a tremendous position to start adding pieces, be it through a guaranteed top-4 pick this coming draft and/or adding premium free agents this summer. It's very possible that the Leafs could find themselves two quality centres this offseason (we'll get to who later).
“The future of our organization is very bright," said coach Mike Babcock at the season end presser. "There is still some pain coming. But we’re going to get a lot better very fast."
11 The Gold Plan
No other team knows tanking quite like the Edmonton Oilers, as they're within striking distance of the 1st overall pick for the NHL Entry Draft for a 5th time out of the last seven years. In hockey terms, they've been cherry-picking at the blue line and it is bothering the other NHL franchises. One solution that has picked up steam lately is the 'Gold Plan,' which encourages bottom teams to compete for wins after they've been mathematically eliminated from the playoffs.
10 End of the enforcer
John Scott will likely retire this offseason after his stint with the Montreal Canadiens and his All-Star MVP performance in January. His departure will mark a final turning point in the NHL-- the end of the one-dimensional enforcer.
9 Full 2 minute Power Plays and more Icing
In another attempt to increase scoring, it was recently discussed by GMs to change the rules of power plays. The idea would be making them a full two minutes even if a goal is scored, as well barring the team on the penalty-kill from icing the puck. There's only one problem with the suggested rule changes; it suggests that more penalties may be called. Even if the changes do create scoring chances, the truth of the matter is that fans don't want to watch power play hockey.
8 Well Oiled for Playoffs
Is it finally time for a push from Edmonton? Odds are, yes. The core group of young talent they've acquired through a string of less than impressive seasons, followed by the luck of a leprechaun's rabbit foot at the lottery, have finally grown into veteran roles with the team. After bottoming out once again this season, they may finally acquire the missing pieces through the draft, free agency, and maybe a Nail Yakupov trade to really compete for a playoff spot next season.
7 Datsyuk to Russia
Datsyuk wants to close out his hockey career back in Russia. He has already announced this season will be his last in the NHL. Still a team leader in scoring, Datsyuk seems to have a lot left in the tank, but if he does leave, it wouldn't hurt the Red Wings for very long if they can pass off his rights to another team. His contract could be unloaded and give the Red Wings the cap space to shop in free agency.
6 Fall of the Two-Headed Beast - Crosby and Malkin
All good things must come to an end. It looks like the relationship between Crosby and Malkin has mostly deteriorated to just awkward eye contact at times. After acquiring Phil Kessel from Toronto, it looks like the two top lines are balanced enough to keep everyone at peace, but it's more of a piece of duct tape over the hull breach of the Titanic. Malkin's return from a long-term injury is throwing a wrench into what's been working for the Pens. It's possible we see Malkin centering the 3rd line when he returns. There's just not enough ice for the talent Pittsburgh has.
5 Smaller Goalie Equipment
The league's first step in increasing scoring is to crack down on the "extra fat" goalies have when using pads meant for bigger players.
4 Stamkos to Toronto
Since his recent diagnoses with a blood clot in his arm, Stamkos is likely done for the rest of the season. This leave Tampa Bay with two star players, arguably present and future with unclear futures.
3 More Rule Changes for Head Contact
2 Las Vegas team
Viva Las Vegas! Vegas could join the league around the same time as the anticipated Quebec City team, but if both are given their own franchise to add to the 30 existing NHL teams, it wouldn't be great for the league. Remember the Minnesota and Columbus expansion? They've both come a long way but it took 15 years to get to the above-average point they're at now. Splitting the scraps of the other 30 teams is not a great strategy for building successful franchises.
1 Quebec City Team
Rumors are swirling that Carolina is on the move and headed to Quebec City. Can't say we didn't see this coming, since Carolina hasn't done much in the sense of succeeding in recent memory, and it's been operating in debt for the last decade. Witnessing the impact of Winnipeg's new franchise, berthed from a complete fallout of the Atlanta Thrashers, we can see Quebec City being a similar saving grace for the league, which is desperately looking to generate more income from their teams.
Can we expect a rebirth of the beloved Nordiques like we saw with the Winnipeg Jets? We certainly hope so.
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