Hockey quality, business boom as new NHL season begins

Cale Makar won the Stanley Cup and earned playoff MVP honors after being voted the NHL’s Defensive Player of the Year for one season.

He may be the best hockey player in the world, but he still looks around Connor McDavid, Patrick Kane, Auston Matthews and Colorado teammate Nathan MacKinnon and marvels at all the talent.

“I just want fans to have fun watching it,” Makar said. “It’s a great time for hockey.”

It’s hard to argue with that. The NHL is coming off its highest-scoring season in decades and a cup final between the Avalanche and back-to-back champion Tampa Bay Chargers that showcases the best playoff hockey has to offer.

Business is booming thanks to unprecedented levels of technology and speed on the ice, and this is expected to be the league’s first full season on a regular schedule since the pandemic.

“The race has never been faster,” McDavey said. “And I think the offensive game has never been more dynamic. Not going to bash any other era or anything like that, but I just think the skill is pretty crazy in the NHL right now, and it’s fun to be a part of it.”

Edmonton captain Mike Davey had career highs with 44 goals, 79 assists and 123 points, but is still not an MVP. That’s because Toronto’s Auston Matthews scored 60 points, the most in an NHL season since Alex Ovechkin’s 65 in 2007-08.

Matthews scored the most, but he certainly wasn’t alone. The 6.3 goals per game averaged last season was the most since 1995-96, and with the schedule being less packed, questions arose, “Can Matthews score 65 goals?” and “Can Ovechkin get it again?” 50 points?”

Maybe. Keep goalie.

“Everyone in this league can score,” Boston goalie Jeremy Swyman said. “Some nights I have the best seats in the house. It’s unbelievable what these players can do.”

On the ice, players are still repaying owners for losses due to the pandemic under their collective bargaining agreements, but the NHL has bounced back strongly thanks to U.S. TV deals with ESPN and Turner Sports and other business deals that began last season . Revenues hit a record $5.2 billion last year.

That number is expected to continue to rise, in part due to the addition of ads to jerseys for the first time, the second of the four major North American men’s professional sports leagues after the NBA. Montreal captain Nick Suzuki said, “That’s how this generation develops” — a mutual benefit between hockey heritage and income needs.

“It’s tough, but we’ve got to do everything we can to make some money back,” Chicago forward Max Domy said.

McKinnon will become the highest-paid player in the league after signing a $100.8 million extension a year later. He and Avalanche are favored by FanDuel sportsbooks and other oddsmakers to win the cup again, which opponents see as the product of talented teammates pushing each other to get better.

“Arguably, I think they have the best forward, the best defense and a lot of incredible players,” Anaheim forward Trevor Zeglass said. “It’s just that the talent on that team is ridiculous.”

Zegrass was responsible for the most absurd highlight game of last season, scoring a goal from behind the net towards his teammates. Creativity is on the rise, and stars like Matthews are at the forefront of a generation of players who aren’t afraid to be themselves and stand out in a sport that has long discouraged individuality.

But it’s still hockey, the ultimate team sport where winning replaces chasing milestones.

“As long as I play well and help the team win, we play well as a team and everything, it doesn’t matter how many goals I score,” Matthews said. “Whether I score 20 goals or 100 goals, As long as those things are consistent, that’s fine.”

Matthews and the Maple Leafs will try again to exorcise some playoff demons after a six-game losing streak, while McDavid and the Oilers will try to overtake Colorado in the West. But that won’t start until after the regular season ends in mid-April, as the Stanley Cup goes on as scheduled two months later.

But first, 1,312 regular-season games, starting with San Jose and Nashville in Prague, the return of the NHL Global Series. The Avalanche will raise the third championship flag in franchise history in the season opener and begin the hunt for the Stanley Cup in Denver before heading to Finland to take on the Blue Jackets in November.

“Nothing really changed,” McKinnon said. “Obviously it’s going to be a long season before the playoffs, but now it’s fun to have that experience and the confidence to do it again.”

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