10. New Looks for Fall
The lockout is over, and players have adjusted to their new streamlined RBK jerseys. And you know what that means—time to break out everyone's favorite cash-in ploy, the third jersey! After a one-season ban, teams are again allowed a uniform other than home and road. The first to debut were the Carolina Hurricanes, who have gone with an all-black number inspired by their boring and depressing 2007–2008 season.
9. Six Back
For the first time in a long time, almost all of the NHL's "Original Six" teams expect strong seasons, perhaps spelling the end of the Stanley Cup's run in—no offense—hockey wastelands like Tampa Bay, Carolina, and Anaheim. Montreal is once again in the hunt, the Bruins finally appear done rebuilding, Chicago is riding a playoff-potential youth movement, the Rangers have shed some dead weight in the hopes of improving on their second-round playoff ouster, and Detroit is the defending champ. The only ones playing spoiler are the Toronto Maple Leafs, who will remain terrible.
8. Gretzky's Dogs
The man who has literally done it all on the ice, Wayne Gretzky, seemed doomed to fritter away his legacy coaching in the no-man's land of Phoenix, Arizona. But lo and behold, the Coyotes might finally be…good? Young guns like Peter Mueller and first round draft choice Kyle Turris provide the future, while the off-season grab of former Florida Panthers captain Olli Jokinen provides some depth. Maybe the Great One isn't earmarked for a shallow desert grave just yet. Plus, anytime Gretzky gets press, it's good for the league. (Unless said press involves the words "Janet" and "gambling.")
7. Habs 100
The Montreal Canadiens (who played their first home opener on a frozen sheet of primordial soup) are 100 years young this season, and have a league-best 24 Stanley Cups to show for it, not to mention so many retired numbers that this year's rookies may have to wear triple digits. (Goaltending legend Patrick Roy's No. 33 is set to join the rafters this year.) In honor of the "Habs," the NHL is also holding the 2009 All-Star Game in Montreal. Hopefully, such an occasion means they can ditch the silly "slam dunk breakaway" contest that tarnished last year's event.
6. Kids Are Alright
The NHL's future is already solid, thanks to dynamic young superstars like Sidney Crosby, Alexander Ovechkin, and Evgeni Malkin, who had the decency to be awesome right out of the draft gate. That trend appears poised to continue this season with No. 1 overall pick Steve Stamkos set to jump right into a talent-heavy Tampa Bay roster, and blueliners Drew Doughty and Thomas Hickey hoping to lift lowly Los Angeles out of the league basement. Did we also mention that Chicago just named 20-year-old Jonathan Toews their captain?5. Windy City Rebirth
Speaking of Toews, he and last year's Rookie of the Year Patrick Kane have people suddenly paying attention to the Blackhawks again. While a city with a great hockey history, Chi-town has lately become a place where draft picks and old free agents go to die. Not anymore—the Indian head is a bit more chin-up these days, thanks to its young guns, and signing solid goalie Cristobal Huet and rocket-launching D-man Brian Campbell has die-hard Chicagoans cautiously whispering "playoffs" in their funny accent.
4. The Most Irritating Team of All Time?
The Dallas Stars were already tough to play against, thanks to Spencer Pratt–caliber irritants Steve Ott and Brenden Morrow, the kind of guys who inspire "accidental" high sticks to the dome. So what did the Stars do in the off-season? Only sign the league's biggest douche bag, Sean Avery (he of the Vogue internship, constant media whoring, and childish rules-changing playoff antics). Avery in Dallas is like covering a chalkboard in sandpaper and raking it with the edge of a Celine Dion CD. But it'll be fun as hell to watch.
3. Bitter Rivals
Last year, the league held its second outdoor game ever in snowy, blustery Buffalo, New York. It was fun, sure, but there wasn't much heat generated by its Pittsburgh Penguins–Buffalo Sabres matchup. This year, the NHL is doing it right. The spot? Chicago's legendary Wrigley Field. The fight card? Longtime rivals the Chicago Blackhawks and the Detroit Red Wings. It will be cold, it will be intense, and, yes, there will be blood.
2. Broken Records
New Jersey goalie Martin Brodeur may cement his reputation as one of the all-time greatest when he takes down not one, but two, goaltending legends. When Canadiens/Avalanche demigod Patrick Roy retired with 551 wins in 2003 (making him No. 1 on the all-time list), Brodeur was already nipping at his skates—now, the Devils' masked man is a scant 14 wins shy of knocking Roy off the pedestal. Plus, Brodeur is only eight shutouts away from taking down Hall of Famer Terry Sawchuk's career record of 103—a mark that has stood for 38 years.
1. Wing Dynasty
Over the past few seasons, the Cup has been passed around like Jennifer Aniston, but a little team from D-town may be restoring the glory days of the dominant dynasty. The Detroit Red Wings already have a roster that reads like an all-star team (captain Nicklas Lidstrom alone has owned the Norris Trophy for Top Defenseman six of the last seven years), and in the off-season, not only did they not lose any significant players, they actually added coveted goal scorer Marian Hossa. That's right, they actually got better. That shudder you heard is the rest of the league.
10. New Looks for Fall