This used to be so much easier when the NHL announced the schedule in the middle of July.
But while free agency is sure to add a few "must watch" games to the list, there's still some tilts next season that we're already looking forward to.
The NHL released it's 2011-12 schedule on Thursday and now we can begin planning our hockey road trips for the next year ... and begin circling those dates on the calendar when we will have to apologize to our friends and family
NHL Premiere (October 7/8, 2011)
While it's odd to kick off the season overseas, the NHL Premiere games aren't going away and have become the official launch party of the hockey calendar. Helsinki, Stockholm and Berlin will host NHL games this coming season featuring the New York Rangers, Anaheim Ducks, Los Angeles Kings and Buffalo Sabres; and while games in Finland and Sweden have been done before, it's nice to see the League venturing into a different European hockey market in Germany.
The Bruins' home opener at TD Garden will be extra special this coming season as they'll be adding a Stanley Cup banner to their already decorated rafters. It's also been a while since Boston lost at home (Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Final) and what better way than to celebrate a championship than doing so in front of one of your bitter rivals.
Emotions will be high; Nathan Horton(notes) will likely have recovered from his concussion and be on the ice ready to play; Bobby Orr and other Bruins legends will sure to be part of the festivities; and Rene Rancourt has already started his daily rotator cuff exercises to deliver the fist pump of all fist pumps after he belts out the "Star-Spangled Banner".
Montreal Canadiens at Winnipeg TBAs (October 9, 2011)
After 15 long years hockey is back in the 'Peg. The "Drive to 13" was an absolute success for True North Sports and Entertainment and the MTS Centre will be a packed house nightly. If you thought the parties on Portage and Maine were something after the initial relocation news broke, we can only imagine what the entire city will be like the day of Winnipeg's home opener.
Los Angeles Kings at Philadelphia Flyers (October 15, 2011)
Phoenix Coyotes at Winnipeg TBAs (December 1, 2011)
The Coyotes and Winnipeg each visit each other once this season with Phoenix hosting the yet-to-be-names team during their home opener on Oct. 15. But when the Coyotes head up north to Winnipeg, the fans will see the team they were incredibly close to acquiring over the past year.
New York Rangers at Philadelphia Flyers (January 2, 2012)
With no Heritage Classic on the 2011-12 schedule, the Rangers and Flyers will take part in the NHL's only outdoor game of the season. Citizens Bank Park will play host making us wonder how good the sightlines will be in the baseball stadium for a hockey game. CPB doesn't have the nostalgia of a Fenway Park, so it'll be up to the team's to help develop a hook for the casual viewer. Hopefully the prospect of seeing Chris Pronger(notes), Sean Avery(notes) and John Tortorella on 24/7 every week will be that hook. Currently the game is scheduled for 1 p.m. ET, but wouldn't it be nice if we could see another primetime Winter Classic?
Vancouver Canucks at Boston Bruins (January 7, 2012)
The one and only rematch of the season between the 2011 Stanley Cup combatants. There'll be little love lost between the two and with the stakes much lower than they were two weeks ago, we wonder what type of antics we might see.
Hockey Day in Canada
Twelve hours of hockey coverage; Ron MacLean wearing crazy, old-school jackets; and Don Cherry ... well ... Don Cherry potentially dressing up as a medieval thespian to deliver a Shakespearian soliloquy? Yes please. Oh, and three games on Hockey Night in Canada giving you the perfect excuse to put off the "honey do" list and spend a Saturday on your couch buried deep in a pile of pretzel crumbs and beer bottles.
NBC's Black Friday (November , 2011)
This is a new venture for the Peacock as part of the new 10-year television deal with the NHL. The day after American Thanksgiving has also been one featuring an afternoon slate of games, but this is a great opportunity for the NHL and NBC to start hyping the early storylines of the season and begin their promotion for the Winter Classic.
Super Saturday (April 7, 2012)
The 2011-12 NHL season ends on a Saturday this year and what a way to go out. All 30 teams will be in action for what will make for an exciting day of puck as there's sure to be some final playoff spots and seedings up for grabs. It also marks the return of the Puck Daddy Super Saturday Drinking Game after a one-year absence. Rejoice!