Here are a few storylines to follow as the new hockey season begins
Inspired by cover subject Zach Werenski (his uniform number is 8), here are eight things that will go a long way toward determining whether the Blue Jackets can build on last season's success.
Head Coach John Tortorella told me last season that it takes a long time for a team to truly establish what it does and what it is on the ice. Can the Jackets do this in a season that likely won't feature a near-record winning streak and possibly even fewer regular season wins/points? Can a team define its success on advancing in the postseason when it hasn't proven it can get there consistently?
Colorado's Matt Duchene is still rumored to be on the trading block, but despite summer-long interest, GM Jarmo Kekalainen hasn't made a move for him. Can Brandon Dubinsky rebound (he did play a strong second half last season)? Can Alex Wennberg thrive with newcomer Artemi Panarin on his wing? Will someone else step up (Boone Jenner? Nick Foligno? Former Buckeye Zac Dalpe, a camp surprise?) at this all-important position?
Kekalainen traded gifted forward Brandon Saad back to Chicago for dynamic scorer Artemi Panarin, the human video game cheat code. Can he prove those who suggest his success was predicated on playing with Patrick Kane wrong and provide the dynamic offensive talent the team felt it needed to add?
Obvious, right? Sergei Bobrovsky won his second Vezina Trophy (given to the NHL's top goaltender) last season before stubbing his toe (not literally) in the playoffs. Which Bob will we get, and will it matter if he can't improve his postseason play?
Recent first-round draft picks Pierre-Luc Dubois and Sonny Milano look to make this year's squad. What kind of an impact can they have in replacing successful vets like Scott Hartnell and Sam Gagner?
Powerful or powerless?
Last season, the power play got off to a ridiculous start and faded as, perhaps, other teams figured out how to defend the scheme. Can the brain trust respond?
Will his prolonged contract situation affect his play? He was a significant contributor last season, with 17 goals and strong physical play. There are young(er) players who can contribute in similar fashion, but Andy is the kind of player you win with, if he's the kind of player he can be.
You remember the fuss over the Jackets having such a great record but still finishing third in their division (behind Washington and Pittsburgh) and the playoff format's not fair and what have you, right? Even if the Penguins have a Stanley Cup hangover (they've won the last two, so it has to happen sometime, doesn't it?) and the Caps take a step back (very possible), the rest of the teams in the Metropolitan Division are looking for their own improvement. The Rangers were right there in the division standings last season, and don't sleep on the Carolina Hurricanes.