Canadiens Celebrate Home Opener No. 99

It’s the first big Tuesday night in the NHL, and one of the headliners will be the Montreal Canadiens opening up the Bell Centre against the Pittsburgh Penguins, the 99th opener for the Habs. It will also be the home debut for big ticket defenseman Shea Weber, acquired from Nashville over the summer.

Here’s the slate of games for Tuesday; Colorado at Washington, 7; Anaheim at New Jersey, 7; San Jose at N.Y. Islanders, 7; Pittsburgh at Montreal, 7:30; Florida at Tampa Bay, 7:30; Arizona at Ottawa, 7:30; Dallas at Nashville, 8; Los Angeles at Minnesota, 8; Philadelphia at Chicago, 8:30; Buffalo at Calgary, 9; Carolina at Edmonton, 9; St. Louis at Vancouver, 10.

Players to Watch

Colorado: Gabriel Landeskog; The Avs captain has nine points in seven games against the Captials, the second-highest output against a team that has been in the Eastern Conference the entirety of his career. He has 10 points in seven games against Ottawa.

Washington: Evgeny Kuznetsov; The Capitals pivot has yet to record a point through two games. Tuesday’s matchup against Colorado would seem like a setup for a breakout for Washington’s leading scorer last season. In two games against the Avalanche last year, he had a 1-3–4 line. Against 28 games against Western Conference opponents last season, he had 36 points.

Anaheim: Ryan Getzlaf; Has landed 17 shots but has just one goal, coming off a season in which he buried just 7.3 percent of his chances. They have to go in at some point, don’t they?

New Jersey: Kyle Palmieri; Had a 30-goal season in 2015-16, his first year in New Jersey following five seasons in Anaheim. The Ducks would gladly take him back.

San Jose: Brent Burns; He’s got six points in three games. Looks like a man on a mission.

N.Y. Islanders: Cal Clutterbuck; Three points through three games to begin the season.

Pittsburgh: Chris Kunitz; Passed Mike Bullard for 15th place on the Penguins all-time points list with his 361st career point on Monday night. Next up is Greg Malone, at 364. Within striking distance: Mark Recchi (385) and Ron Schock (404). Needs a few seasons for Mario Lemieux’s 1,723.

Montreal: Al Montoya; Carey Price still isn’t ready to return to the ice. Thankfully, Montoya has been pretty good, with 65 saves on 69 shots through two games.

Florida: Jon Marchessault; The 26-year-old is filling in nicely for the injured Jonathan Huberdeau, with two goals and four points through two games.

Tampa Bay: Alex Killorn; He has 11 points in 16 games against the Panthers, the most points against any opponent for the 27-year-old forward.

Arizona: Oliver Ekman-Larsson; Played a yeoman-like 31:46 in the Coyotes opener.

Ottawa: Erik Karlsson; Facing Ekman-Larsson, he makes up half of the showdown between go-to Swedish defensemen.

Dallas: Kari Lehtonen; Will get his first start of the season after making 12 saves on 13 shots in relief of Antti Niemi on Saturday.

Nashville: Mike Fisher; The newly-elected captain has played 19:23 while scoring two points, taking a team-high 44 faceoffs, winning 26.

Los Angeles: Tyler Toffoli; Has put eight shots on net, but just one goal to show for it.

Minnesota: Zach Parise; His next goal will be No. 300 for his career. He ranks 18th among active players.

Philadelphia: Claude Giroux; The only player left over from the Flyers 2010 Stanley Cup run who remains on the Philly varsity.

Chicago: Richard Panik; His four goals in three games are two off the pace he totaled in 30 games for the Hawks.

Buffalo: Ryan O’Reilly; Has 40 points in 55 games against the two Alberta franchises, coming off a monstrous four-point performance against Edmonton on Sunday.

Calgary: Johnny Gaudreau; No goals on nine shots, he’s snakebit.

Carolina: Sebastian Aho; The Finnish phenom has points in each of his first two NHL games.

Edmonton: Cam Talbot; The Oilers netminder has stopped just 86 of the 99 shots he’s faced.

St. Louis: Jake Allen; Needs a shutout to tie Brent Johnson for fifth on the Blues all-time shutout list. A shutout after that matches the 13-shutout output by Roman Turek, who played 121 games from 1999-2001. Lurking in the distance was Glenn Hall, whose 16 shutouts stood as a club record for 42 years until Jaroslav Halak recorded his 17th of 20 shutouts he had in a Blues uniform in October 2013. Brian Elliot, who is the franchise leader at 25, became the standard bearer in March 2015.

Vancouver: Alex Edler; The defenseman is averaging 25:20 through two games. His 24:27 ice-time per game last season was a career-high.

#HatTrickChallenge

Kyle Okposo: The big winger had a great debut on a Sunday, with a goal and assist in the Sabres 6-2 win over Edmonton. He puts up three against a Flames defense corps that looks suspect yet again.

Game of the Night

Pittsburgh at Montreal: It’s the defending Stanley Cup champions visiting the franchise with the most. You can count on the bleu, blanc et rogue reminding them of that at some point during the night. Opening night at the Bell Centre is always a spectacle.

Lock to Win

St. Louis: The Blues jump out to a 4-0 start against a Vancouver team who is out to a 2-0 start, but hasn’t faced a team as good as St. Louis and will be playing its backup goaltender.

Links

Craig Custance looks into Doug Armstrong’s penchant for scooping up first-round picks that didn’t work out for other franchises.

Shea Weber set to introduce himself to the Montreal faithful.

Zach Parise, closing in on his 300th career goal, touches upon his unique relationship with Wild assistant Scott Stevens. Parise’s early days in New Jersey (he was drafted by the Devils with the 17th pick of the 2003 draft, played there until 2012) intersected with the final days of Stevens’ years with the Devils, where he played 13 of his 22 seasons in his Hall of Fame career.

Blues forward Jaden Schwartz, originally expected to miss a month, could return earlier than initially expected. Matt Murray could be close to returning for the Penguins.

With Ryan Miller unavailable, the Canucks have called upon University of British Columbia netminder Matt Hewitt as an emergency backup for Tuesday’s game against St. Louis.

The Avalanche feed off the energy from new coach Jared Bednar and captain Gabriel Landeskog.

 

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Preseason Power Rankings: Lightning the Class of the NHL

Here’s how the last two seasons have ended for the Tampa Bay Lightning; 2014-15, two wins shy of winning its first Stanley Cup since 2004; 2015-16, one win shy of becoming the first team in seven years to win back-to-back Prince of Wale Trophies.

And here’s the thing – the Bolts are only getting better.

The talk in the East has been about Washington, whether or not its the year the Capitals finally break through and put Alex Ovechkin’s name on the Stanley Cup. Of course, that’s been the dialogue for quite some time now. Then there’s also those who bring up the yearly ‘is this the year a Stanley Cup winner defends its title?’ That’s the conversation around Pittsburgh.

Meanwhile, down in the central Florida resides the best team the NHL has to offer.

The Lightning are a team built for the modern NHL. A team the plays at a pace that emulates its name, Tampa goes four lines deep of skill players who use their legs as their greatest weapons in creating pressure and forcing teams to make mistakes. The defense corps is among the elite fluent-skating blue lines, led by behemoth Victor Hedman.

Steven Stamkos leads the charge as he kicks off an eight-year pact to remain in Tampa Bay. He’s complimented by rising superstar Nikita Kucherov up front, along with Tyler Johnson, who comes in poised for a breakout campaign.

Goaltender Ben Bishop is one of the world’s premier puck stoppers, while Andrei Vasilevskiy is as good a second option you’ll find.

Health is the big x-factor going into the season, which kind of goes without saying. But when you consider injuries that have befallen key players on the club over the past couple seasons, including Stamkos, Johnson, Bishop, and Anton Stralman, it becomes a little more magnified.

Regardless, this looks like the team to beat at the early goings.

2- Washington: Some might say 1-A. The Capitals have never been built so well for the playoffs during the Ovechkin era.

3- Anaheim: The window is closing. Expect Bob Murray to deal Cam Fowler or one of his blue-chip defensive prospects to provide help up front.

4- Pittsburgh: No team has repeated since the 1997-98 Red Wings. Reports out of Pittsburgh is that the Penguins really want to be that team to do it.

5- Chicago: 30 goals and 77 points as a rookie, yet Artemi Panarin remains grossly underrated.

6- Montreal: Shea Weber and Andrew Shaw add a lot of what was missing in the Canadiens room last season.

7- Dallas: Jim Nill needs to find a goaltender. But you knew that.

8- San Jose: The young guys on the Sharks were flying under the radar this time last year.

9- Nashville: The most exciting team in the NHL. Mike Fisher caps first year as captain by posing for a picture alongside Gary Bettman.

10- St. Louis: If Jake Allen performs to expectations, this team won’t miss a beat.

11- Florida: The Cats have a rebuilt blue line that emulates its in-state rival.

12- Calgary: The Flames won’t finish 30th in defense this season.

13- N.Y. Rangers: Sleeper Stanley Cup pick.

14- Detroit: A defensively suspect team, but the Red Wings should score at a pretty reasonable clip.

15- Minnesota: Bruce Boudreau wins. I could make a cheesy Donald Trump pun, but I’m not going to.

16- N.Y. Islanders: John Tavares wins the Hart Trophy.

17- Philadelphia: Steve Mason is solid, but the goaltending is still feast-or-famine. Everybody is falling in the Michael Leighton trap with Michal Neuvirth.

18- Boston: They’ll be in the thick of the wildcard race again, but the Bruins remain a good year or two away.

19- Los Angeles: The Kings are an Anze Kopitar away from being Team USA-bad.

20- Winnipeg: Newly-christened as the Jets captain, Blake Wheeler finally gets his due among the NHL’s best.

21- Buffalo: Don’t be surprised if this team makes the playoffs.

22- Edmonton: Connor McDavid leads the league in points.

23- Arizona: Oliver Ekman-Larsson makes a push for the Norris.

24- Carolina: Justin Faulk is a finalist for the Norris.

25- Ottawa: Erik Karlsson wins the Norris (again).

26- New Jersey: Cory Schneider can only do so much.

27- Toronto: Still 2-3 years away.

28- Columbus: Potential surprise team. Blue Jackets dispel the ‘John Tortorella only plays guys who trap and block shots’ theory. Zach Werenski wins Calder Trophy.

29- Colorado: MacKinnon and Duchene the bright spots in Denver.

30- Vancouver: It was clear Alain Vigneault was the problem.

Facts, Figures, Predictions on the Atlantic

*If the Boston Bruins miss the postseason, it will be the first time the B’s have missed the postseason since missing it eight straight years from 1960-67.

*Erik Karlsson’s 82 points was the most for a defenseman since Brian Leetch (85) and Ray Bourque (82) hit that total in 1995-96.

*Jaromir Jagr needs 19 points to tie Mark Messier for second place on the all-time points list, with 1,887. Currently sitting in third at 1,868, he needs 132 to become the second player ever to notch 2,000 NHL points. Last season he closed within 1,000 of Wayne Gretzky, who stands atop the leaderboard at 2,857.

*Max Pacioretty is one of just four players to record 30 goals and 60 points in each of the last four 82-game NHL seasons. The other three are Jamie Benn, Alex Ovechkin, and Joe Pavelski.

*Steven Stamkos is one of four players with three such seasons; joining Corey Perry, John Tavares, and Tyler Seguin. The one season in which Seguin failed to hit 30-60 was 2011-12, when he managed the 60 (67, to be exact) but scored just 29 goals for Boston.

*Morgan Reilly, who averaged 23:14 of ice time last season at the age of 21, is the youngest Toronto defenseman to log 23 minutes per game since the stat began being recorded in 1998.

*Average production by Henrik Zetterberg the last two seasons – 15.5 and 59.8 goals and points per 82 games. Nine seasons prior – 32 and 83.9.

*Brad Marchand has scored 0.35 goals per game going back to 2010-11, his first full NHL season, which equates to about 29 goals per season. That ranks fifth among left wingers, trailing only Ovechkin, Benn, Rick Nash, and Patrick Sharp.

*Ryan O’Reilly led all forwards last season with an average ice-time of 21:44. Evander Kane was second with 21:02. *Buffalo hasn’t had a 30-goal, 60-point season since Jason Pominville put up 30 goals and 73 points in 2011-12.

*Patrice Bergeron and Marchand were on the ice for 192 of the 493 shorthanded faceoffs the Bruins took last season, according to puckbase.com. One-hundred one of those draws were won by the Bruins.

*No Eastern Conference player has averaged 29 minutes of ice-time since Adrian Aucoin averaged 29-flat for the Islanders in 2002-03. Karlsson averaged 28:58 last season.

*Of the top 12 goaltenders in terms of save percentage over the last three seasons (min. 125 games played), five are expected to be starters for Atlantic Division teams this season; Carey Price (1st, .931), Ben Bishop (t-3rd, .922), Tuukka Rask (t-3rd, .922), Roberto Luongo (t-6th, .921), and Frederik Andersen (12th, .918).

*Price’s 17 shutouts over that span, which ranks second to Marc-Andre Fleury (20), came in just 137 games. Four other netminders posted 15 shutouts over that span (Fleury, Jonathan Quick, Braden Holtby, Bishop), all needing at least 186 games.

*Buffalo allowed just 30.6 shots per game last season, the first time it had allowed less than 31 shots per game since 2010-11 (30.7), the last time the Sabres qualified for the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Predictions

1- Tampa Bay: The most complete team from top to bottom. Expect a breakout season for Tyler Johnson.

2- Montreal: The Canadiens go as far as Price takes them.

3- Detroit: The Red Wings acquisition of Frans Nielsen the best offseason signing nobody talked about.

4- Florida: The Panthers have made the postseason in back-to-back years just one time; 1995-96 and 1996-97.

5- Buffalo: If they don’t make the playoffs this year, you can pencil them in for next season.

6- Boston: Three straight playoff DNQs could be too much for Claude Julien to overcome.

7- Ottawa: Guy Boucher came within a win of the Prince of Wales Trophy in Tampa Bay. He won’t be pushover in Ottawa.

8- Toronto: The pieces are moving into place, but more holes must be filled.

 

 

2020 Vision: Why the Atlantic Division Will Be the NHL’s Best in Four Years

It’s 2020.

The Montreal Canadiens have never looked more poised to win Stanley Cup No. 25 since winning Stanley Cup No. 24 back in 1993. The Toronto Maple Leafs are knocking on the door of its first title of the NHL’s Expansion Era while the Buffalo Sabres are in pursuit of its first title in, well, ever. On the verge of he 10th anniversary of its only Cup in the last half-century, the Boston Bruins aren’t to be counted out. Nor are the Ottawa Senators. Meanwhile, the Florida Panthers, Tampa Bay Lightning, and Detroit Red Wings are still there, like they’ve been for quite some time.

The Atlantic Division has no let up. The best division in the NHL. It’s not even up for debate.

It’s amazing to think the Montreal Canadiens have gone nearly three decades without a Stanley Cup. Prior to this latest drought, the longest the Habs had gone without winning a title was eight between 1916-24, when the bleu, blanc et rouge took a backseat to the original rendition of the Ottawa Senators – who won three Cups in that span – while having the 1919 final wiped out due the great flu pandemic ripping through the world at the time.

But that was 100 years ago, and the Canadiens are looking to erase a drought nearly four times longer. A 2021 Stanley Cup will be its first in 28 years. They’ve been close the last two years. In 2019, they fell to Pittsburgh in the Eastern Conference finals before getting to the Cup final in 2020, losing to Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers.

Max Pacioretty hoisting the revered 35-pound trophy isn’t hoped for — it’s expected.

Montreal hasn’t had a goaltender like Carey Price since Patrick Roy, who appropriately enough manned the crease of the most recent championship. At 33, Price is on the back end of his prime. He’s going for his fifth straight Vezina Trophy, looking to become just the fourth player to win six Vezinas, joining Montreal legends Jacques Plante and Bill Durnan, along with Dominik Hasek.

Nobody in the Montreal lineup makes anyone forget about Jean Beliveau, Guy Lafleur, Maurice Richard, or Larry Robinson, but there’s plenty to be desired. Shea Weber might not be the player he was when general manager Marc Bergevin famously swapped P.K. Subban for in 2016, but he doesn’t have to be. Mikhail Sergechev is quickly blossoming as one of the world’s best blueliners. Up front, mainstays Pacioretty and Alex Galchenyuk lead the Habs charge.

The Canadien faithful has its swagger back, and the time to win is now.

But it won’t be that easy.

For one, there’s a border battle brewing between Western New York and Southern Ontario.

Jack Eichel and Auston Matthews, currently pegged to bring Team USA back from the shadows of its 2016 embarrassment at the upcoming World Cup of Hockey, lead the way for two of the most rabid yet tortured fan bases; the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Buffalo Sabres. The Leafs haven’t won a title since 1967. The Sabres have never won one ever.

Eichel and Matthews were second and third in last season’s Art Ross Trophy race behind McDavid, whose 131 points were the most since 1995-96, when Mario Lemieux and current Florida Panthers player-coach Jaromir Jagr eclipsed that mark.

Defending Norris Trophy winner Morgan Reilly anchors the Toronto blue line, which is backed up by Frederik Andersen. Buffalo counters with Norris favorite Rasmus Ristolainen and ace netminder Cal Petersen. Buffalo’s one-two center combination of Eichel and Ryan O’Reilly is the envy of the division.

Meanwhile, for Boston Bruins fans, it’s been years that end in ‘1’ that have been kind to the B’s; at least of late (we can forget about Ken Dryden in 1971, or Ulf Samuelsson’s cheap shot on Cam Neely in 1991). In 2001, Bruins fans watched black-and-gold icon Ray Bourque retire with his first Stanley Cup (albeit with Colorado). In 2011, it was the B’s capturing a Stanley Cup of their own, the first since 1972.

It’s been a rough past few years for Bruins fans. Amidst a rebuild, the B’s have missed the playoffs four of the last six seasons. Goaltender Tuukka Rask, who turns 34 in March, is playing for what would be the last big contract of his career. With dynamic duo Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand well into their 30s, the top line of Jake DeBrusk, Ryan Spooner, and Zach Senyshyn have picked up the load offensively for the B’s. The backline continues to come of age, with many expecting 23-year-old Jeremy Lauzon to hop into the Norris discussion as seamless as the way he can jump into the rush. The pairing of Lauzon and Brandon Carlo are among the top young defensive pairings in the game.

The Ottawa Senators continue to pride themselves on being the Minnesota Twins of the NHL, finding ways to sneak into the playoffs despite being glossed over year after year in the preseason talk. The player who is no longer being glossed over? That would be Erik Karlsson, who last season became just the third defenseman ever to record multiple 100-point seasons, joining Bobby Orr and Paul Coffey. Yeah, can’t say it’s bad company.

Let’s not forget about the three teams that represent the old guard of the division, the veteran teams giving chase to the young blood atop the division.

Captain Dylan Larkin leads the charge for the Detroit Red Wings, which has rebuilt itself on the fly once again while continuing the make the playoffs. The Wings finally won a playoff round after losing in the first round six years in a row. It’s been 30 years since Detroit last missed the playoffs. The Panthers are led by player-coach Jaromir Jagr, who last season became the second player to record 2,000 points in the NHL. Approaching his 49th birthday, Jagr is giving no indications he’ll step away anytime soon. He even says he plans on catching Wayne Gretzky’s record of 2,857 points. Based off his average of 35 points over the last four years, it will only take about 25 seasons for him to reach that mark. The Lightning continue to dazzle offensively, with Tyler Johnson coming off his first 40-goal season. And we all know about that Stamkos guy.

None of the eight teams in this division have won a Stanley Cup since the Bruins most recent banner, in 2011. If it doesn’t change in 2021, the wait won’t last much longer.

How much longer? Who knows.

But what we do know? No division stacks up with this one.

Janmark Injury the Latest Injury the Dallas Stars Don’t Need

It seems like every year there’s that one team we look back at and say ‘holy crap were they ever crushed by injuries.’

The defending champ of that crown is probably the Montreal Canadiens, a team that entered last season expected to make a deep playoff run, then got off to an historical start, even by standards for what is one of the most decorated franchises in sports. Well, then all-world goaltender and 2015 Hart Trophy winner Carey Price had his season derailed by injuries, as was right-winger/top-six pest Brendan Gallagher (limited to 53 games). P.K. Subban suffered a neck injury in a collision with Alexei Emelin on March 10, with the Habs trying to hang on in the playoff race. He missed the final 14 games of the season.

The preseason favorite for that non-trophy might be Dallas, who saw its Walking Wounded group expanded on Friday morning with the news of Mattias Janmark expected to be out 5-6 months after having a ‘joint issue’, a Stars GM Jim Nill put it, needing surgical reinforcement.

The Janmark news is the latest shoe to drop, as the Swedish forward is coming off a fine rookie season in which he scored 15 goals and 29 points in 73 games. He joins Cody Eakin, Ales Hemsky, and Tyler Seguin on the Dallas disabled list as the preseason slate rolls along.

The big name on that list, of course, is Seguin, who had a hairline fracture in his heel discovered during an MRI two weeks ago. The injury doesn’t appear serious, but a heel is not something you want to play around with. Seguin had 73 points in 72 games last season, his third in Dallas. He has 234 points in 223 games for Dallas since being sent south in the Independence Day blockbuster trade between the Stars and the Boston Bruins in 2013. He’s assisted on 57 of the 110 goals Jamie Benn has scored over the last three seasons.

The four players take 176 points off the ice, which comes after the 37 lost via the departure of defenseman Alex Goligoski, who signed with Arizona over the summer. When you factor in Seguin’s repertoire with Benn, who is second behind only Sidney Crosby with 255 points in three seasons since becoming Seguin became his centerman (his 193 points in his first four NHL seasons prior was tied for 54th), you can take a few more points off the board.

And even Benn is working his way back from an injury himself, having undergone a procedure to fix an injured core muscle in July.

Dallas’s ability to put the puck in the net, the electricity of Seguin and Benn (did we mention Valeri Nichushkin going to the KHL?), was the primary reason why the Stars had its first 50-win season since 2006 and reached the second round of the playoffs for the first time since 2008. The need for the team defense to improve has been heavily emphasized, and wasn’t helped with Goligoski, who led the Stars with 23:50 of ice-time per game, signing with the Coyotes. Jason Demers, who logged 2:23 of shorthanded time per game for the Stars in 2016-17, signing with Florida in the offseason.

Vernon Fiddler, who took a brunt of the defensive zone faceoffs along with Eakin, is now in New Jersey.

Luckily for the Stars, heavy lifter Johnny Oduya is back to lead the Dallas back end while John Klingberg should continue to take steps in his emergence as an elite NHL blueliner. Jason Spezza is a reliable three-zone pivot, who won 54.8 of the 981 faceoffs he took last season.

The Stars are continuing to build its defense and gain ground on its Western Conference competition that prides itself on complete 200-foot play. But the possible loss of that offensive safety net that’s existed in recent seasons could prove a rocky start for the Stars.

Winter Classic Post-Mortem: We’re Onto 2017..But Where?

The hype for the Winter Classic between the Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens was real right up until the puck was dropped just after 1:30 on Friday afternoon.

Habs forward David Desharnais scored 74 seconds in, setting the tone for the Habs 5-1 victory over a Bruins team that performed as if they’d rolled out of bed at 1:15 following a night of a few too many cocktails.

So it’s onto the next Winter Classic. Or in the Bruins case, Tuesday night’s date with current Eastern Conference standard-bearer Washington. But who wants to talk about that potential ugliness given the B’s recent stretch (four losses in last five games)?

So let’s bury the tape of B’s-Habs No. 910 next to the Pats infamous 30-10 loss to the Dolphins in Week 4 of the 2001 season and move onto the 2017 classic.

Here’s 10 possible matchups for the ninth Winter Classic:

Pittsburgh vs. Philadelphia at Beaver Stadium, Penn State. Penn State has had a hockey renaissance, with its men’s hockey program (which began competing in NCAA Division I in 2013) ranked 14th in the country, playing with NCAA Tournament aspirations. And why has there not been a Flyers-Penguins Winter Classic yet? Imagine that matchup. Eating nails for breakfast while the rest of the world feasts on bacon. It wouldn’t be bad television, that’s for sure. Though, I suppose the same was said about Bruins-Canadiens.

Dallas vs. Minnesota at Target Field, Minneapolis. I’m not a fan of these games being played a baseball parks, but U.S. Bank Stadium, the new home of the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings set to open later this year, is a retractable roof facility. When in doubt, go with the open-air facility. So I’ll give the Ballpark Exception because Minnesota deserves to have a bone thrown its way. They’ve had it twice in Massachusetts and Pennsylvania, once in Michigan, Buffalo, Chicago, then once in Washington D.C. Do you really think Washington D.C. is more of a hockey hotbed than Minnesota? Don’t answer that.

Anyway, a reunion of sorts, the artists formerly known as the North Stars against the Wild, who helped fill the Mike Modano-sized void in Minnesota’s heart after the Stars departed for Dallas in 1993. Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn will put on a show opposite$98 million boys Zach Parise and Ryan Suter.

Colorado vs. Detroit at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. It was the rivalry of the 1990s. Upon the 15th anniversary of the New Year’s Day sandwiched between the successive Stanley Cups the franchises won in 2001 (Avs) and 2002 (Wings), the last of five Cups the two teams combined to win over a seven-year span between 1996 and 2002, what better way to celebrate that great rivalry than a Winter Classic?

Vancouver vs. Boston at CenturyLink Field, Seattle. Granted, it’s highly unlikely there’ll be a second straight Bruins appearance in the classic after Friday’s showing. But listen to this idea. It’s been five years since the Bruins and Canucks seven-game fight where a few hockey games broke out. Time flies when you’re having fun. And, as Jack Edwards would say, who has more fun than us? Seeing a hockey game in the deafening home of the Seattle Seahawks and the 12th Man would be really fun. Since Seattle has no team to hitch its wagon to, the Vancouver crazies can make the trip down to Seattle, which is less than three hours away from British Columbia’s largest city. It could be a nice litmus test for whether Seattle is a viable destination for NHL expansion/relocation.

New Jersey vs. Philadelphia at MetLife Stadium. A trip to the old stomping grounds for the Devils, who spent 25 years across the parking lot at the Izod Center before moving to nearby Newark in 2007. It’s where the Devils lived out their glory days, winning all three of their Stanley Cups (1995, 2000, 2003) as residents of East Rutherford, N.J. What better celebration of those years than a tilt with the Flyers, who New Jersey defeated in in the Eastern Conference Finals that preceded its first two cups?

Columbus vs. NY Rangers at Ohio Stadium. Gotta play one at The Horseshoe. Only problem is the Blue Jackets don’t move the needle in Columbus. Or anywhere for that matter. Get the ratings machine that is the Rangers and play one before 100,000. Blueshirts fans can make a visit to the Football Hall of Fame, or something.

St. Louis vs. Chicago at Busch Stadium. Sightlines! Sightlines! Sightlines! Play in the masterpiece of ballyard architecture beneath the Gateway Arch. Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews against Vladimir Tarasenko and David Backes. Two-time Norris Trophy winner Duncan Keith against Alexander Pietrangelo, who is too good not to win one or two eventually. A celebration of the St. Louis-Chicago sports rivalry, one that doesn’t get the love it deserves. This one passes the Ballpark Exception with flying colors.

Chicago vs. Detroit at Lambeau Field. There’s a lot of injustices in this world, among the greatest being the fact the Great State of Wisconsin doesn’t have an NHL franchise. Sunrise, Fla., but not Milwaukee. Makes perfect sense. Send the Packers on the road for Week 17 and give the Cheeseheads a grudge match of the 2009 Winter Classic, and another classic Original Six rivalry.

NY Islanders vs. Washington at Citi Field. If I had my druthers, this game would be at the Mack Sports Complex at Hofstra University, and give the Isles a home game back where they belong. But more than 5,000 seats are needed, which is why ‘The Mack’, or the 6,000-seat Bethpage Ballpark in Central Islip, N.Y., doesn’t cut it. Sorry, no Ballpark Exception for the home of the Long Island Ducks. So Citi Field is the closest thing. Ballpark Exception because it’s the biggest facility that side of the Throng’s Neck.

Islanders-Capitals, John Tavares vs. Alex Ovechkin, a meeting of the old Patrick Division rivals, who had six consecutive playoff tilts from 1983-88. Dale Hunter and Pierre Turgeon meet at center ice and drop the ceremonial first puck. OK, maybe not.

Buffalo vs. Edmonton at Ralph Wilson Stadium. Sometimes you just have to go home. It was the first Winter Classic at Ralph Wilson Stadium that got the ball rolling on this thing. Who wouldn’t want to see a showdown between Jack Eichel and Connor McDavid, the first two picks of the 2015 NHL Draft?

Hey, as long as it’s better than the dud that was the game played Friday afternoon at Gillette.

Winter Classic..Nothing Like It

There’s few things sports fans crave more than being able to relate to the athletes they idolize. In a time where players make more money in a month than most make in a lifetime, the search for such common ground has grown more arduous by the year.

That’s where the Winter Classic comes into play.

Since its inaugural showing on the first day of the year 2008, a Buffalo Sabres home tilt with the Pittsburgh Penguins at Ralph Wilson Stadium in Orchard Park, N.Y., the classic has been the NHL’s journey to the outdoors for one day. An escape from the concrete-padded arena into the wilderness of the outdoors. From 40,000-seat baseball stadiums to 100,000-seat college football venues to 70,000-seat NFL facilities, the game has been a journey to where the game began.

OK, so maybe we’re not going into the middle of the woods with negative temperatures, whipping winds, and conditions that make most yearn for the summer months. The 2016 Winter Classic will be played between the Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens on Friday afternoon amidst Gillette Stadium, the home of the NFL’s New England Patriots. The high temperature is supposed to be 40 degrees. So it’s not necessarily the holy cornfield of pucks that is a frozen pond in frigid weather in the deep, dark cold of winter. But you get the point.

The sight takes you back to the lake behind your house where you’d lace up the skates when you couldn’t feel your toes. You’d meet up with some buddies and play some pick-up. It wasn’t really the Bruins and Canadiens, but you pretended it was. You fought over who was Bobby Orr. Meanwhile, Guy Lafleur was up for the taking.

For Billy from Brockton watching the game from Row 215, he’ll harbor similar memories as Patrice Bergeron, skating in his second Winter Classic as one of the premier hockey players in the world. There’s nothing like it.

We’ve seen it all in just a short time. Games being delayed due to warm temperatures causing the ice to melt. Who hasn’t had that letdown of unseasonable warmth when they just want to skate around for a bit? Snow has fallen as players battle for the puck, fight for the two points at stake.

It’s the biggest stage. NBC. Doc Emrick. Pierre McGuire. The chances of Thursday’s games being the most watched regular season NHL game ever outweigh the chances of it not. Yet here you are, back in the virtual world of being a kid. The beauty of the game. The serenity of the scene. It’s not what you get for admission within the concrete walls of the TD Garden or Bell Centre, or the hockey cathedrals that preceded them, the Boston Garden or Montreal Forum.

The event’s uniqueness is one of a kind. Find such an example of the NBA, NHL, MLB taking a game and making a masterpiece of it. Good luck. And don’t say the MLB All-Star Game because it decides which pennant winner hosts the first game of the World Series. That’s a travesty, not a masterpiece.

The Winter Classic does count. Two points will be a stake. The break-glass-in-case-of-emergency third point will be on site in case a decision isn’t reached after 60 minutes of hockey, as has happened three times in the first seven classics. The winner takes over first place in the NHL’s Atlantic Division.

The game will captivate the imaginations of all within the friendly confines of Gillette Stadium from players to fans to staff, as well the millions watching the game on television in restaurants, bars, and living rooms across North America. The memories of going out on the ponds will be triggered. You’ll lose feeling in your hands a little bit – don’t be alarmed, it’s just nostalgia – as the thoughts flow through your mind.

In a time where NHL players earn an average of $2.6 million with players earning as much as $14 million, such a common ground seems impossible to come by. By going back to where the game originated, where the love of the game for many was found, that common ground is achieved annually upon the commencement of a new year.