Lots to look forward to as puck drops on new NHL season

The wait is finally over.

Well, almost. On Wednesday night the National Hockey League will drop the puck on a brand new season, simultaneously signalling the unofficial start of winter for many Canadians.

It’s that wonderful time of year where the looming inevitable arrival of colder days meets the heart-warming feeling of renewed hope.

Although, the more grizzled fans know all too well that it’s just that, a feeling. The cold reality of highs and lows brought by a gruelling 82-game calendar will inevitably set in (sooner than later for some). Nevertheless, the hype is real and, personal allegiances aside, Canadian puck fanatics have much to look forward to this hockey season which promises plenty of captivating storylines.

READ: Winter sport season looms

Will the Cup return to Canada?

Last NHL post-season was as good a year Canadians could hope for in recent memory to bring Lord Stanley’s Cup back to Canada for the first time since 1993. The Calgary Flames, Vancouver Canucks, Montreal Canadiens, Ottawa Senators and Winnipeg Jets all qualified for the playoffs last spring leaving the Toronto Maple Leafs and Edmonton Oilers as the only two Canadian teams on the outs of the 16 squad tournament.

While a five team playoff appearance repeat seems unlikely, Canada might have as good a shot this year quality wise if the Habs and Flames continue to build on last season’s progress after both teams were ousted in the second round.

The Canadiens lost to the eventual Eastern Conference champions, the Tampa Bay Lightning, while the Flames were unable to overcome the Ducks, considered to be among the top contenders this year.

Another stellar campaign between the pipes from Sochi 2014 gold medallist Carey Price and added offensive weapons up front may help the Habs take that extra step towards the Cup.

Deprived of their captain Mark Giordano during last year’s playoff run, the Flames are hoping that their best player can stay healthy this time around. The addition of Toronto native Dougie Hamilton over the summer also adds offence and stability to an already impressive blue line.

New rules

Maple Leafs bench boss Mike Babcock

Maple Leafs bench boss Mike Babcock

In an attempt to increase goals and have less games be decided by shootouts, this year NHL hockey fans will be treated to 3-on-3 overtime action for the first time.

Another interesting addition to the rule book will be the ability for coaches to challenge a goal. The rule allows coaches to request offsides or goalie interference calls to be reviewed, but only for scoring plays. Teams are allowed one challenge per game and must have a timeout available. If the original ruling stands, the timeout is forfeited.

READ: Winter is coming… to a Canadian city near you

Expansion on the horizon?

Quebec City's Videotron Centre.

Quebec City’s Videotron Centre.

Las Vegas and Quebec City have made it through the third and final step to be considered as potential destinations if the NHL decides to move forward with its expansion plans.

There are still many factors at play, but it remains possible that an eighth Canadian franchise could be announced by the end of the season, perhaps even sooner as the owners are set to meet in early December.

Quebec City hasn’t enjoyed regular season hockey since the Nordiques moved to Colorado back in 1995.

World domination

Team Canada captain Sidney Crosby hoists the 2016 IIHF World Championship trophy.

Team Canada captain Sidney Crosby hoists the 2015 IIHF World Championship trophy.

After a nearly perfect showing on the world stage last year, Canada’s national squads will once again contend for a sweep in 2016. The men and junior teams both captured gold in 2015 while the women will look to bounce back from their World Championship finals loss against the U.S. last spring in Sweden. This year’s women’s tournament will be held in Kamloops, BC.

2016 IIHF World Championships:

World Junior’s: December 26 to January 5th in Helsinki, Finland

Men: May 6-22 in Moscow & St. Petersburg, Russia

Women: March 28 to April 4th in Kamloops, Canada

There are of course many more stories to follow during the course of this NHL season which begins tonight with an all-Canadian doubleheader starting with the Canadiens and Leafs facing off at 7 pm ET, followed by the Flames and Canucks at 10 pm ET.