It’s almost sad to say, but Olympic hockey is now behind us, with Canada having won gold quite emphatically. The plus side, of course, is that it’s back to NHL action for hockey fans, and it certainly looks as if we’re in for a thrilling home stretch leading up to the playoffs! So just to get everyone properly prepared and excited for the games to come, here’s a look at five major storylines for the rest of the NHL campaign.
The Upcoming Trade Deadline
In its own article on upcoming storylines, the Yahoo Sports section notes that every year fans tend to get too excited for the trade deadline, expecting enormous deals and ultimately being disappointed by relative inactivity. This year, however, there are a few cases for an active deadline. The two most significant indications that this year could be wild are as follows: first, there are enough playoff and Stanley Cup contenders that many teams will be looking to take that last step toward success in the form of a trade. Second, owners and GMs just had an extended break during the Olympics to plot and discuss potential deals. We’ll just have to wait and see if action follows expectation.
The Search For A Favorite
For this late in the season, it’s remarkable that we have nothing even resembling a runaway favorite. There’s a lot of hockey left to be played, so such a team may well emerge, but as of now the race for the 2014 Stanley Cup appears to be wide open. The Anaheim Ducks have the league’s best record as of this writing, but the pack is right at their heels, so naming them favorites may be a bit of a stretch. To put things in perspective, as of the conclusion of the Olympics, 22 teams have records above .500 (for 16 playoff spots of course), and 10 teams have accumulated 70 points or more. This paints a crowded picture for both playoff qualification and favorite status, and should make for an extremely exciting home stretch!
The Olympic Boost
This is a concept it’s difficult to analyze or discuss in a statistical sense, but we’ve seen before that players in various sports can receive a bit of a boost after playing in an Olympic event. The confidence surge that can come after performing well for one’s country can certainly continue into NHL play, and this possibility should make it fun to watch our NHL stars who participated in Sochi. Will Jonathan Quick keep his game at the incredibly high level we saw when the U.S. played Russia? Will T.J. Oshie reach new levels of stardom? Will Alex Ovechkin redeem a poor Olympic showing with a run of NHL dominance? Only time will tell.
The Devils’ New Sponsorship
In news unrelated to hockey but still with the potential to have an enormous impact on the NHL fan experience, Partypoker reached a sponsorship agreement earlier this year with the New Jersey Devils and the Prudential Center that will not connect NHL and online poker fan experiences in multiple ways. The partnership can only work as currently constructed in New Jersey, where online gambling is legal. But for fans who care deeply about their arenas, it will be fascinating to watch just how tangible the impact is on Prudential Center activity, as legalization for online gambling (and therefore potentially similar partnerships) are likely on the way for the rest of the U.S.
Finally, it will be fun to see which teams that were absent from the postseason in 2013 can squeeze into the playoffs this year. In the East, Tampa Bay looks likely to get back to the playoffs, and Philadelphia, Columbus, and even Carolina all have legitimate shots as well. In the West, Colorado, Dallas, and Phoenix are all fighting for playoff spots. Certainly there aren’t enough spots to go around for all of these newcomers, but a few will undoubtedly get in and provide us with some fresh faces for the 2014 playoffs!