The NHL opens up tonight with four games on the schedule which matches up some great rivalries to kick off the 2016-17 NHL season. After a busy off season and weeks of training camps, plus a World Cup of Hockey tournament taking place weeks before the season openers, the stars of the league are not well-rested. But that doesn’t matter as teams hit the ice in their crisp uniforms ready to battle it out for another season of surprises, upsets, disappointments and dark horses making a run for the Cup. That also means a host of great games daily to bet on, to make following your favourite team that much sweeter.
One of these great games tonight that the NHL will kick its season off with is the Toronto Maple Leafs visiting their neighbours up the street at the Ottawa Senators. In the battle of Ontario time and again, fans can expect a high scoring affair, especially since the Leafs have revamped their roster with tons of youth, and the Sens have Dion Phaneuf on their roster, the Leafs’ ex-Captain. This rivalry runs deep and hot, so expect the arena to be over-run by Blue and the first overall draft pick, Austin Matthews to put on a show.
After winning the World Cup of Hockey, Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock will try to translate that success to his NHL squad, though bookies have Ottawa as the -160 favorites, a game between these two is never that straightforward.
Yes it’s true that last season, the Leafs finished last in the league with the worst record, but that allowed them to have increased odds to win the draft lottery and so they did, choosing the top prospect: Auston Matthews. He already is touted as Calder Trophy level rookie, and the odds are favoring him to do just that. GM Lou Lamoriello somehow pulled off a deal sending to Ottawa Dion Phaneuf’s huge contract. William Nylander is also looking good, he’s the first round pick from 2014 called up late last season who showed a lot of promise by getting 13 points. There’s a lot of excitement in Toronto about D-man Morgan Rielly, who looked in top form at the World Cup tournament.
The Leafs had a good preseason but nothing stunning at 2-4-2 record. The team in a rebuild, but they and coach Babcock are clearly hard at work changing the culture of this team. There are a lot of youngsters being developed here, and they have a strong defensive core.
A lot of pressure will be on new goalie Frederik Andersen this year who Toronto had to trade for with two high draft picks. He will have a lot to prove but is touted to be a high quality goaltender.
The Ottawa Senators ar further along the path of development even though last season, the Sens were in 5th place in the Atlantic divisions and missed the playoffs by a longshot, but they had a strong offense with 236 goals, what killed him was that they also allowed 247 goals. D-man Erik Karlsson had a great season, and finished 5th in NHL scoring, earning the bragging rights as the first d-man in 20 years to rack up 82 points. Their special teams are still bad news though, since they rank in the bottom five in power-play and penalty-killing in the league.
So in the off-season, new GM Pierre Dorion fired coach Dave Cameron, hired Guy Boucher, traded Mika Zibanejad to the New York Rangers for Derick Brassard to get some more muscle and experience on the ice and in the dressing room. He also sent down Curtis Lazar, the Sen’s first-round draft pick in 2013, to their AHL affiliate in Binghamton to get more experience. The only constant is Craig Anderson who will be in net for the home opener.
The Toronto Maple Leafs don’t always get a ton of respect from other teams recently, but that would be a mistake since there are young players though rookies that can make a difference such as Mitch Marner, Nikita Zaitisev and William Nylander who could all see substantial time for a Leafs team that was in the basement last year. Nazem Kadri and Van Riemsdyk are a few veterans that should step it up this season too. Expect their new and improved lineup to put the right foot forward tonight.