NHL·Preview

5 NHL storylines to watch this season

Patrick Kane, Connor McDavid, Steven Stamkos, Mike Babcock, and the new NHL OT rules are among the biggest storylines to watch heading into the new NHL season.

3-on-3 OT could shake up the league

Lightning star Steven Stamkos' contract situation is one of the major storylines heading into this NHL season. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Patrick Kane, Connor McDavid, Steven Stamkos, Mike Babcock, and the new NHL OT rules are among the biggest storylines to watch heading into the new NHL season. 

1. The Patrick Kane Saga

The sexual assault investigation involving Chicago Blackhawks star Patrick Kane stemming from an alleged incident in Buffalo, N.Y., in early August has been the biggest story ahead of the regular season. Kane has not been charged in the case, which took a bizarre turn last week when the accuser's lawyer abruptly quit. The mother of the accused is alleged to have fabricated a story that she found an evidence bag pertaining to the case in her doorway. The prosecutor overseeing the investigation later said the accuser's mother lied about finding the bag, adding that all the evidence — including the rape kit used to examine the accuser — was handled properly and is still in custody of authorities. The NHL has not sanctioned Kane in relation to the alleged incident, and he continues to take part in team activities ahead of the Blackhawks' first regular-season game against the New York Rangers on Oct. 7.

2. McDavid Mania

Connor McDavid is the most hyped rookie to enter the NHL since Sidney Crosby back in 2005. The 18-year-old was taken first overall by the Edmonton Oilers at June's draft and is viewed as the league's next superstar. He joins a franchise that hasn't made the playoffs since losing Game 7 of the 2006 Stanley Cup final, but has a stable of young talent that includes Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. How much of an impact will McDavid, the odds-on favourite to win the Calder Trophy as the top rookie, have with Edmonton in Year 1?

3. New overtime format, coach's challenges

Vancouver Canucks goalie Jacob Markstrom called his experience with 3-on-3 overtime in the AHL last season "a gong show," but it will be interesting to see how NHL teams adapt to the new format. Will coaches deploy two forwards and a defenceman, or three forwards? Playing 3-on-3 should open up more scoring chances and result in fewer shootouts. Another change for this season is the coach's ability to challenge officials' calls on plays involving offside and goaltender interference that result in goals.

4. Will Stamkos get a contract extension?

Steven Stamkos is entering the final season of a $37.5-million US, five-year contract he signed in 2011 with the Tampa Bay Lightning. The two sides are negotiating, but have yet to put pen to paper on a new deal. Stamkos is set to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1, 2016. The captain of the Lightning has said he wants to remain with the club, but he has also had issues with how he fits into head coach Jon Cooper's system. Stamkos and the Lightning have eight months to get a new deal done before he's scheduled to hit free agency. The longer it drags on, the more of a distraction his status will become.

5. The Babcock effect in Toronto

Mike Babcock starts his first season as head coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs after signing an eight-year deal worth an eye-popping $50 million. The Leafs traded mercurial sniper Phil Kessel to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the off-season, but a number of veterans remain with the club that has missed the playoffs nine of the last 10 years. The Leafs also added general manager Lou Lamoriello to the fold after 28 years with the New Jersey Devils. Team president Brendan Shanahan is the architect of both moves and has stressed that rebuilding the franchise will take time.

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