What will Stanley Cup winning Blues do for an encore?

Los Angeles (AFP) –


The St. Louis Blues will be looking for a Stanley Cup encore, Tampa Bay are hoping to exorcise their playoff demons, and Toronto is seeking to end a 51-season championship drought.

The NHL is set to raise the curtain on a new season as 31 teams have their sights set on a Stanley Cup title, including the Blues who capped a worst-to-first performance by delivering the first NHL title in the franchise's 52-year history.

"It's the hunger that you want," said forward Alex Steen. "Before, you might not have really known what it's like to win, but you're really hungry to find out. But now that we've done it, it's an addictive feeling."

St. Louis, who beat Boston in seven games in the NHL finals, will get the regular season started with a banner-raising ceremony at home on Wednesday as they battle Alex Ovechkin's Washington Capitals.

Edmonton Oilers and Connor McDavid host the Vancouver Canucks, the San Jose Sharks travel to the Vegas Golden Knights and the Maple Leafs play the Ottawa Senators on opening day.

This season marks the arrival of rising stars Kaapo Kakko in New York and Jack Hughes in New Jersey and several teams have new managers, such as Ken Holland in Edmonton and Detroit's Steve Yzerman.

Some of the biggest moves have been behind the bench, where it seems NHL coaches have never been on a shorter leash.

Last season saw 13 teams change coaches and the trend has continued, with Joel Quenneville taking over in Florida, Dallas Eakins being hired in Anaheim and Dave Tippett joining Edmonton.

Progress was made off the ice. The league tweaked the video review rules to ensure that the hand pass that led to San Jose's playoff goal in overtime against St. Louis won't happen again.

Owners and the players union settled their labour issue earlier this month when the players decided not to re-open the collective bargaining agreement, which means there will be no work stoppage for at least three years.

If Tampa Bay is going to live up to its billing as one of the favourites to win the Stanley Cup, they are going to have to use last year's playoff failure as motivation.

After a record-breaking regular season in which they won 62 games, the Lightning were swept in the opening round by Columbus.

42 goals to reach 700 -

They are bringing back almost all of their major contributors, including star forwards Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos, and added some nice pieces as well, such as Pat Maroon, who won a Cup with St. Louis.

Sidney Crosby's Pittsburgh Penguins are three years removed from winning the Stanley Cup, but they are still in the conversation for the trophy.

The 32-year old Crosby remains arguably the best player in the game and doesn't appear to be slowing down as evidenced by his 35 goals and 100 points last season.

It was the sixth 100-point season of his career for Crosby, who is nursing a bruised foot after blocking a shot in preseason.

Of course for the Penguins to go on a long playoff run, they have to get by division rival Ovechkin and the Capitals.

Ovechkin will be motivated to score as the Russian needs 42 goals to reach 700 in his career. He has one of the best offensive supporting casts in the league, including Nicklas Backstrom, T.J. Oshie, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Lars Eller.

The Maple Leafs already got off to an inauspicious start with the news that rising star Auston Matthews is facing disorderly conduct charges in his hometown of Phoenix, Arizona.

Toronto fans have been planning a parade ever since Mike Babcock rode into town four years ago, but there is no hiding the fact they remain the team with the longest Stanley Cup drought at 51 seasons and counting. An original six team, their dry spell includes the league's entire expansion era, which began in 1967.

The Chicago Blackhawks still have one of the best one-two punches in the league, with American Patrick Kane and Canadian Jonathan Toews who, like fellow Canadian Crosby, enjoyed a resurgence last season with 35 goals and 81 points.

The big question mark for Blackhawks is on defence, where Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook aren't getting any younger, and in goal with Corey Crawford, who won just 14 games last season.

Look for Mathew Barzal to continue bringing fans out of their seats with his spectacular rushes and playmaking ability. But Islanders coach Barry Trotz needs to get Barzal some offensive help after they finished 22nd overall in goals scored last season.