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Connor McDavid
AP
The Week Ahead

NHL finally returns to regular season action

by Michael Finewax
Updated On: January 9, 2021, 11:44 am ET

We’re Back!!!! It’s been 308 days since my last Week Ahead, and finally the NHL regular season will start on Wednesday.

It’s going to be different this season, starting with a new realignment of the NHL divisions since the US-Canadian border is still closed to non-essential business. Therefore, a Canadian Division was needed and Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Winnipeg, Edmonton, Calgary and Edmonton will form the North Division. This division will have it the toughest travel-wise as it’s the only division to cross all four time zones.

The East will be the toughest as far as the talent of teams as Buffalo, Boston, the New York Rangers, the New York Islanders, New Jersey, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Washington will comprise the division. Five of the top-11 teams during the regular season, are in the East and that doesn’t even include the much-better Rangers.

The Central will have Tampa Bay, Florida, Carolina, Columbus, Dallas, Detroit, Chicago and Nashville. There are the two Stanley Cup Finalists in this division in Tampa Bay and Dallas but it is probably the second weakest of the divisions.

The West has some very strong teams in Colorado, Vegas and St. Louis, a couple of playoff contenders in Arizona and Minnesota and three weaker California teams in Los Angeles, Anaheim and San Jose.

Be careful this season as it is like a baseball schedule where teams stay in town for two or three games at a time. It will be more like playoff series in the sense as you can’t just go in with a plan for one game and then move on to the next team. Coaches will be able to plan better and that could lead to tighter lower-scoring games, as well as tempers flaring by the end of the second contest.

Anyway, hockey is back and let’s enjoy it, even if we still are unable to attend games.

WEEK OF JANUARY 13-17

3 Games –Chicago, Edmonton, Pittsburgh, Toronto, Vancouver, Washington

2 Games – Anaheim, Arizona, Boston, Buffalo, Calgary, Carolina, Colorado, Columbus, Detroit, Los Angeles, Minnesota, Montreal, Nashville, New Jersey, New York Islanders, New York Rangers, Ottawa, Philadelphia, San Jose, St. Louis, Tampa Bay, Vegas

1 Game –  Florida, Winnipeg

0 Games - Dallas

 

Edmonton plays three games at home.

Chicago, Vancouver and Washington play three games on the road.

INJURIES

Nikita Kucherov is out for the season after undergoing hip surgery. (Click here to see the rest of the injury list.)

ANAHEIM

Games this week

@ Vegas, @ Vegas

Tired: None

Rested: None

Notes

The Ducks have to be thrilled with the play of prospect Trevor Zegras at the World Junior Championships this past two weeks. Zegras led all scorers with 18 points and was named the MVP of the tournament…Rickard Rakell is hoping that some small changes in positioning can enable him to regain the scoring touch he had in 2016-17 and the following year when he hit the 30-goal mark in each season…Newcomer Kevin Shattenkirk is slated to partner with Hampus Lindholm on the first defense pairing…The Ducks signed Ryan Miller to a one-year deal to back up John Gibson…Lukas Dostal has been outstanding for Ilves of the Finnish Liiga and should back up Gibson as early as next season.

ARIZONA

Games this week

vs. San Jose, vs. San Jose

Tired: None

Rested: None

Notes

The Coyotes play a pair of games with the Sharks who are also using Phoenix as their home base for now with San Jose in a lockdown…Arizona inked Derick Brassard to a one-year deal. He had 10 goals and 32 points in 66 games with the Islanders last season and will help the Coyotes…Ex-Leaf Frederik Gauthier, Jordan Schmaltz and goaltender Zane McIntyre are in camp on PTOs…Schmaltz will be reunited with his brother Nick who led the Coyotes in points last season with 45…The Coyotes will have a strong goaltending duo in Darcy Kuemper and Antti Raanta if both can remain healthy…After a very tough 2019-20 season when he had only 14 goals and 38 points in 70 games, Phil Kessel will look to get closer to 40-45 points in the 56-game schedule this season.

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BOSTON

Games this week

@ New Jersey, @ New Jersey

Tired: None

Rested: None

Notes

The Bruins named Patrice Bergeron their 20th captain, as he has replaced the departed Zdeno Chara…The Bruins were hurt in the off-season on the blueline with the departures of Torey Krug and Chara but the loss of Krug will give Charlie McAvoy a big fantasy boost as he should be on the top power play…David Pastrnak will miss the start of the season after undergoing off-season hip surgery and was expected to be ready to go by mid-February but he is ahead of schedule and could be back before that. No timetable has been given however, for his return…Brad Marchand is expected to start the season after undergoing sports hernia surgery. He had problems over the last couple of seasons but is now 100 percent and expected to have a big season.

BUFFALO

Games this week

vs. Washington, vs. Washington

Tired: None

Rested: None

Notes

The Sabres are home twice to the Capitals this week. They had one of the off-season’s biggest signings in inking former Hart Trophy winner Taylor Hall to a one-year deal. He will play alongside Jack Eichel who was upset in the off-season that the Sabres had yet to make the post-season during his five years with the squad…Victor Olofsson will play on the other side while Sam Reinhart moves down to the second line with veteran Eric Staal in the middle and Jeff Skinner on the other side…Skinner is looking to come back after a horrible 2019-20 season where he had only 14 goals in 59 games after scoring 40 the previous year in 82 games… I love Rasmus Dahlin this season. With all the hype given to Cale Makar and Quinn Hughes, Dahlin gets lost when talking about the best young defenseman in the NHL but don’t be fooled, Dahlin is better and is outstanding.

CALGARY

Games this week

@ Winnipeg, vs. Vancouver

Tired: None

Rested: None

Notes

The Flames could be using Rasmus Andersson on the top power play this season and he has started out as the quarterback of the first unit with Johnny Gaudreau, Elias Lindholm, Sean Monahan and Matthew Tkachuk…Gaudreau will look to return to his former glory after picking up just 58 points last season after a career-best 99 in 2018-19…Josh Leivo was an off-season signing who could be sneaky good in fantasy drafts as he is starting in training camp on the second line with Lindholm and Tkachuk. That’s a nice spot for Leivo who has never really had a shot as a top-six forward…The Flames should be better in net after the off-season signing of Jacob Markstrom.

CAROLINA

Games this week

@ Detroit, @ Detroit

Tired: None

Rested: None

Notes

The Hurricanes are reuniting Nino Niederreiter, Teuvo Teravainen and Sebastian Aho…Right now Andrei Svechnikov, Jesper Fast and Vincent Trocheck make up the second line…Dougie Hamilton wants to sign a long-term extension with the Canes after the defenseman had 40 points in 47 games last season…Brett Pesce is back in the lineup after missing the playoffs in the summer with a shoulder injury…The Hurricanes signed their first-round pick (13th overall) Seth Jarvis, to a three-year, entry-level contract…The Canes are hoping that former first round pick for 2016, Jake Bean, cracks the lineup on the blueline.

CHICAGO

Games this week

@ Tampa Bay, @ Tampa Bay, @ Florida

Tired: None

Rested: None

Notes

The Blackhawks play all three games in Florida this week…Chicago has had terrible luck in the off-season at center as both Kirby Dach and Jonathan Toews are out of action. Dach will miss four-five months after fracturing his wrist in a pre-tournament World Junior Championship game against Russia while Toews is out indefinitely with a medical issue that has left him feeling drained and lethargic…Patrick Kane is starting the season on the first line with Dylan Strome and Alex DeBrincat while Pius Suter is centering Dominik Kubalik and Andrew Shaw…The Blackhawks are going into the season without a veteran goalie as Malcolm Subban, Collin Delia and Kevin Lankinen will battle it out.  

COLORADO

Games this week

vs. St. Louis, vs. St. Louis

Tired: None

Rested: None

Notes

The Avalanche have to be considered the top contender out West as they are talented everywhere including having one of the top-three players in the NHL in Nathan MacKinnon as well as one of the best young defensemen with Cale MakarGabriel Landeskog is still unfit to play as are Erik Johnson, Brandon Saad, Philipp Grubauer and Keaton Middleton…The Avalanche will soon have Bowen Byrum in camp after he completes quarantining as he played for Canada at the World Juniors. Coach Jared Bednar thinks that Byrum will be a depth defenseman this season but he is worth picking in dynasty pools…The Avs picked up Devon Toews from the Islanders in the off-season and he is expected to play alongside Makar.

COLUMBUS

Games this week

@ Nashville, @ Nashville

Tired: None

Rested: None

Notes

The Blue Jackets are in Nashville for a pair of games this week and it is likely that Joonas Korpisalo and Elvis Merzlikins will split the net. Look for this goaltending arrangement all season…Columbus finally inked Pierre-Luc Dubois to a bridge contract but the talented center still wants out of Columbus…The Blue Jackets signed Oliver Bjorkstrand to a five-year extension on Wednesday worth $27 million. The deal kicks in next season…They picked up Max Domi via trade in the off-season and he was centering Nick Foligno and Cam Atkinson on the second line to start camp…Gustav Nyquist underwent off-season surgery on his shoulder but is expected to be out until early April or May. That should render him useless in fantasy pools this season.           

DALLAS

Games this week

No games

Tired: None

Rested: None

Notes

* An outbreak of COVID-19 on Friday to six Dallas Stars players and two staff members has forced the team to wait until January 19 at the earliest to start their schedule. Their first four games of the season, three this week and one next week have been postponed.

The Stars play three games in four nights this week, so look for Anton Khudobin to play twice while Jake Oettinger playing once…Ben Bishop is out of action until late March or early April after undergoing surgery to repair his knee…Tyler Seguin also underwent surgery in the off-season on his hip and he is slated to return around the same time as Bishop. It’s hard to think either will have much in the way of fantasy value this season in re-draft leagues…John Klingberg is expected to quarterback the first power play with Miro Heiskanen qbing the second unit this season…Both were outstanding in the playoffs in the summer…Joe Pavelski partook in practice Tuesday after sitting out Monday.

Michael Finewax

Michael Finewax is entering his 16th season as the Senior Hockey Writer and Editor for Rotoworld. You can follow him on Twitter @mfinewaxhockey.