As the shortened 2013 NHL season gets underway on Saturday, there are plenty of questions that will be answered over the next five months.
Who will make the playoffs? Who will be the last team standing in late June? But there will be other underlying interesting matters to follow.
Can the Detroit Red Wings continue their consecutive season playoff streak without Nicklas Lidstrom?
It's at 21 and counting. The Montreal Canadiens had made the playoffs 24 straight times entering the last shortened season in 1995. But that streak went kaput with an 11th-place finish in the East.
Will this be the swan song seasons for Ottawa Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson and Anaheim Ducks forever-young forward Teemu Selanne?
The 40-year-old Alfredsson and the 42-year-old Selanne both topped the 25-goal mark last season and may keep going if they can stay healthy. We'll also see how the extra four months off will help their games.
Can a Canadian NHL team win the Stanley Cup?
This spring will mark the 20th anniversary of the Canadiens' successful Stanley Cup run, the last time a Canadian-based NHL team won the Cup. If the Vancouver Canucks are considered Canada's best hope, the 2011 finalists have to get by without two-thirds of their second line - Ryan Kesler and David Booth - to start the season.
Will Edmonton Oiler teammates Nail Yakupov and Justin Schultz engage in a season-long battle for the Calder Trophy?
There are plenty of rookie-of-the-year candidates, including Alex Galchenyuk (Montreal), Jakob Silfverberg (Ottawa), Dougie Hamilton (Boston), Chris Kreider (N.Y. Rangers), Jonathan Huberdeau (Florida) and Mikael Granlund (Minnesota).
But expect Schultz and Yakupov also to be in the mix. By the way, Detroit rookie Damien Brunner is not eligible because at age 26 he's too old. The last time teammates finished one-two in the Calder Trophy race was when Dany Heatley his Atlanta Thrashers colleague Ilya Kovalchuk in 2002.
How much will Ryan Suter and Zach Parise help the Minnesota Wild's cause?
The two big unrestricted free agents from last summer signed identical 13-year, $98-million US deals to play for the Wild, a team that hasn't made the playoffs since 2008. The Wild had the NHL's best record a week before Christmas, but faltered badly in the second half due to injuries and an offensive collapse.
Suter, Parise, Granlund and a healthy Pierre-Marc Bouchard should help the Wild get into the playoff picture. But it remains to be seen how a short training camp will affect teams with a lot of roster turnover like Minnesota.
How long will Roberto Luongo's stay last with the Canucks and will speculation on a trade become a distraction in Vancouver?
With only a week-long training camp, no exhibition games, maybe failing to move Luongo will prove to be a good thing for the Canucks. But what happens if Luongo outplays No. 1 Cory Schneider? It will be intriguing to see how this soap opera plays out.
Can the Los Angeles Kings repeat?
We've had nine different winners in the past nine seasons and no repeat Stanley Cup champion since the Red Wings accomplished the feat in 1996-97 and 1997-98. The Kings will begin their title defence without Anze Kopitar and Willie Mitchell. Both are out with knee injuries. But the defenders return with the same lineup and a healthy Simon Gagne, who after being sidelined with a concussion returned in time for four games in the Stanley Cup final.
Which head coach - Bob Hartley (Calgary), Ralph Krueger (Edmonton), Michel Therrien (Montreal) or Adam Oates (Washington) - will make the biggest impact with their new team?
Hartley, Krueger and Therrien all are trying to lead their clubs to playoff berths after disappointing results in 2011-12. Oates will try to build on the Capitals playoff success last spring that saw them advance to the second round.
How many Canadian teams will make the playoffs?
Last year, only Ottawa and Vancouver made it to the post-season. The Flames haven't been in for three years. The Jets have gone five years without a playoff game, dating back to their days as the Atlanta Thrashers. The Oilers haven't returned to the post-season since they advanced to the final in 2006. The Leafs have the longest playoff-less drought in the NHL at seven seasons and counting.
How much will injuries play a role?
The 48-game schedule has been condensed to 99 days. There will be fatigue. There will limited days to recover. There won't be much practice time. With all those factors dressing room infirmaries may need a waiting room.
Good health will be important. When the New Jersey Devils won the Stanley Cup in the shortened season in 1995, the only key players to miss extended time with ailments were defenceman Ken Daneyko and Randy McKay. But both were healthy for the Devils long and fruitful playoff run.
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