Hey, so the NHL, IOC and IIHF finally figured out that Olympic situation, eh? Here we are on July 19 and the league will send its players to Sochi next February and on this Friday afternoon in mid-summer, we finally have an NHL schedule to talk about.
(What's even cooler this year is the 34 bonus games the NHL added to each team's schedule compared to last season.)
And with a full 82-game campaign, that means the season will once again have a natural rhythm to it, somewhat. We'll have an opening night in October; the NBC Black Friday afternoon slat in November; the Christmas break; a January 1 Winter Classic (plus all those other outdoor games); followed by the 17-day Olympic break in February, before the playoffs begin in April. The Stanley Cup won't be handed out on June 24 in 2014, either -- probably around June 10 or so.
As you begin your hockey road trip planning and penciling dates to tell your loved ones not to bother you on, here are 10 dates on the NHL's 2013-14 calendar that you just won't want to miss.
1 | Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2013: Opening Night
An NHL season starting in October? What a novel concept! Kicking off the 2013-14 season will be three games: Montreal/Toronto, Chicago/Washington (with the Blackhawks raising their Cup banner) and Winnipeg/Edmonton.
Rick Nash never had the chance to play against his former team last season. He'll get that opportunity early on with a visit to Columbus. How will the fan base react to their former captain visiting for the first time wearing a Rangers jersey? Will it be a mixed reception or will the team's recent upswing bring out an appreciative applause for his contributions to the team?
Vincent Lecavalier returns to Tampa as a member of the Flyers. Who would have thought this would ever happen? The former Lightning captain was one of the team's compliance buyouts this summer and joined Philadelphia on a 5-year, $22.5 million deal earlier this month. Unlike some other players going back to their old haunts for the first time this season, the reception will likely be incredibly warm for VL4.
4 | Saturday, Nov. 30, 2013: Vancouver Canucks at New York Rangers
He won’t be on the ice, but the media circus that will likely come with John Tortorella’s return to New York City will be one to see, if not containing reporters just there to hopefully see the head coach give one of his famous press conferences. We can only hope the Canucks are on some long losing streak when this game arrives, just to see Classic Torts back in form.
How will Senators fans react to seeing No. 11 on the Canadian Tire Centre ice on the visitors’ side? Daniel Alfredsson’s departure from Ottawa to Detroit -- because they give him the best chance at a Stanley Cup -- will result in some hearty boos toward the former longest-serving captain in the NHL. But will some small set of fans in the stands start an "ALFIE!" chant at the 11:11 mark of the first period?
Jarome Iginla never got a chance to say goodbye to Flames fans. He was a late scratch from the lineup before what would have been his final home game in March at the Saddledome. After a brief stop in Pittsburgh, Iginla will return to Calgary dressed in Boston black and yellow as a member of the Bruins.
7 | Wednesday, Jan. 1, 2014: Toronto Maple Leafs at Detroit Red Wings
A year later than originally planned, but that won't stop the Big House in Michigan from packing in over 100,000 fans for the 2014 Winter Classic. Even with the slew of outdoor games on the NHL schedule this upcoming season, the game at Michigan Stadium will bring the most buzz, what with the return of HBO 24/7, the inclusion of a Canadian team in the New Year's Day game and the attendance record the league would love to shatter.
8 | Saturday, Jan. 18, 2014 - "Hockey Day in Canada": Rangers/Senators, Oilers/Jets, Canadiens/Leafs, Flames/Canucks
Sunday, March 2, 2014 - "Hockey Day in America": Flyers/Capitals, Bruins/Rangers
OK. It's really eleven dates.
Two days with matinee games to give you an excuse to lay on the couch, have a couple of pops and further procrastinate on that "to-do" list.
It's not just another outdoor game. It's an outdoor game in California! Granted, the NHL has put on one of these warm-weather games before -- the 1991 exhibition game in Las Vegas between the Rangers and Kings -- but the technology and fan fare will be much better than it was 22 years ago. And if you weren't sick enough about the number of ice updates we get around Winter Classic time in a cold-weather city, just wait for the week before this game.
Because of the intra-conference schedule thanks to the lockout, Zach Parise never had the opportunity to visit New Jersey as a member of the Wild. His buddy, Ryan Suter, did play in Nashville last season, but Parise will finally play at the Prudential Center for the first time since Game 5 of the 2012 Stanley Cup Final.
Follow Sean Leahy on Twitter at @Sean_Leahy
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