There are fewer total games on the NHL schedule this season, but there remains plenty of intriguing dates featuring top stars, new faces, and players returning to familiar places.
Jan. 19: The season begins, with the 60th season of Hockey Night in Canada featuring a tripleheader involving five Canadian teams: Ottawa visits Winnipeg (3 p.m. ET), Toronto travels to Montreal (7 p.m. ET) and Vancouver hosts Anaheim (10 p.m. ET)
Elsewhere around the league, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia renew hostilities after their crazy first-round series last spring.
The Los Angeles Kings host Chicago, unveiling their Stanley Cup banner before the game.
Detroit will visit St. Louis in a division encounter, but the real noteworthy aspect is that it will be the franchise’s first regular-season game in two decades without Nicklas Lidstrom as part of their plans. As an aside, with Lidstrom living in Sweden, the Wings likely won’t hold a jersey retirement ceremony until 2013-14.
Boston would figure to be a top contender under normal circumstances, but will they be a strong team without their goaltending tandem of recent years? The Bruins begin their season against the New York Rangers, and it will be up to Tuukka Rask and Anton Khudobin to carry the load after quirky veteran Tim Thomas decided he has no interest in playing this season.
Jan. 20: The Alberta teams get in on the action. Calgary hosts San Jose in their first game with Bob Hartley calling the shots on the bench, while rookie Nail Yakupov will join the rest of Edmonton’s young cast in a game in Vancouver.
Marian Hossa is back to full health after suffering a frightening concussion last spring from a Raffi Torres hit. Chicago will face Phoenix on this date, but due to a Torres suspension, the pair won’t conceivably be in the same game until a Feb. 7 matchup.
Jan. 21: The Ontario teams enjoy their home openers. Toronto gets a visit from Buffalo, with Ottawa hosting Florida.
Jan. 22: Edmonton’s home opener, against San Jose.
Jan. 26: The first installment this season in the Battle of Alberta, to be played in Calgary, gets a national platform on Hockey Night in Canada.
Jan. 27: With a two-year contract signed, Martin Brodeur may not be making his last visit to his native Montreal as a member of the New Jersey Devils, but with few such encounters left, one to watch regardless.
Feb. 3: The pre-eminent NHL stars since the lockout (the previous one), Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin, face off for the first of two games in five days between Pittsburgh and Washington.
Feb. 9: Scotiabank Hockey Day in Canada returns, with matchups which include Toronto/Montreal, Vancouver/Calgary, Edmonton/Detroit and Winnipeg/Ottawa.
Feb. 16: The Battle of Ontario picks up in 2013, also on Hockey Night, at the Air Canada Centre, where the Leafs host the Senators.
Feb. 24: Superstars Crosby and Steven Stamkos, who shared the Rocket Richard Trophy a few years back, share the same ice as the Lightning visit Pittsburgh.
Feb. 28: Jordan Staal skates this season alongside his brother Eric as a member of the Carolina Hurricanes. Jordan Staal faces his former Penguins teammates on this date, with his first game back in Pittsburgh on the final day of the regular season. The two brothers are set to team up against sibling Marc for the first time on March 18, when Carolina plays the New York Rangers.
March 2: Crosby and the Penguins make their only season trip to Montreal in an HNIC game.
March 9: Zach Parise won’t face his former team, New Jersey, but the other $100-million US dollar man for the Wild gets that opportunity. Ryan Suter and Minnesota skate in Nashville against the Predators.
April 3: The NHL trade deadline. The much-loved hockey media paradigm of “buyers” and “sellers,” insufficient at the best of times, will likely have little relevance this season, where the standings figure to be tightly packed. Perhaps even the Toronto Maple Leafs will participate given that Brian Burke is no longer around (Burke has long lamented the trade deadline as rife with boneheaded moves, often making no more than minor transactions).
On a related transaction note, unlike typical seasons, there will be no deadline by which restricted free agents are required to sign. So while no one expects it will get to that point, the likes of PK Subban (Montreal) and Jamie Benn (Dallas) could in theory not join their clubs until very late in the season.
April 27: The final day of the regular season, with the total number of games ultimately reaching 720 (A traditional NHL season features 1,230). There are 13 games on the schedule on this date, and with a compressed season, you can bet that nearly all of them will have playoff implications. Hockey Night in Canada games are as follows: Montreal at Toronto, Philadelphia at Ottawa, and Vancouver at Edmonton. The final game is a 10:30 p.m. ET tilt between San Jose and Los Angeles.