Dates to remember for 2010-11 season
LAS VEGAS -- Smack on the heels of the Stanley Cup finals, and even before handing out its annual harvest of hardware at Wednesday's awards ceremony, the NHL unveiled next season's schedule.
Talk about efficiency.
The league has normally waited until at least July to unveil the new slate of games, but league officials have been more proactive about highlighting the upcoming campaign.
Hey, why wouldn't you want your schedule out and tickets on sale when your favorite team grabs the No. 1 overall player in Friday's draft, makes a blockbuster trade or signs a big-name free agent? You get the point.
For those of you already chomping at the bit for the return of Ovi, Sid, Greyhound (or whatever his teammates are calling Dave Bolland these days) and the rest of the gang, you can start counting down to Oct. 7, when the NHL will kick off the 2010-11 season.
Here are some events and dates to highlight on your calendar:
Oct. 7 to Oct. 10: NHL Premiere GamesThe NHL's Premiere Games will coincide with the rest of the league for the second straight season, a blend of North American and European opening acts. The league has expanded the overseas openers from four to six teams this time around. The two-game sets include Carolina and Minnesota in Helsinki on Oct. 7 and Oct. 8; San Jose and Columbus in Stockholm on Oct. 8 and Oct. 9; and Boston and Phoenix in Prague on Oct. 9 and Oct. 10. The Blue Jackets' opener will mark the first game for rookie coach Scott Arniel, who moves up from the American Hockey League.
Oct. 8 and Oct. 9: Other coaching debutsRookie coach John MacLean will make his introduction (as will repatriated center Jason Arnott) on Oct. 8 when the Devils host Dallas, against whom Arnott scored a Stanley Cup game winner back in 2000. Guy Boucher, the sought-after coach of the AHL Hamilton Bulldogs, will start to earn his NHL keep with the Tampa Bay Lightning against Atlanta on Oct. 9.
Oct. 9: Hawks come homeThe Chicago Blackhawks will raise their first Stanley Cup banner since 1961 against Detroit. Think it'll be loud at the Madhouse on Madison that night? Yes it will. The Blackhawks will also meet their foes from the just-completed Cup finals, the Philadelphia Flyers, on Jan. 23 in Chicago.
Oct. 30: A full slateAt no point during the 2010-11 season will all 30 teams be in action on one night. The closest the league will get to full participation will be Oct. 30, when 28 teams will be in action, the busiest day of the season.
Nov. 6: Hall of Fame GameThe annual clash will feature neighbors and Northeast Division foes Buffalo and Toronto at the Air Canada Center, the on-ice centerpiece of the Hockey Hall of Fame weekend in Toronto.
Jan. 1: 2011 Winter ClassicThe fourth annual Winter Classic will see two of the NHL's biggest stars, Washington's Alex Ovechkin and Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby, displaying their wares in the middle of frozen Heinz Field in Pittsburgh. Something to note: At least one team from the past three Winter Classics has advanced to the Stanley Cup finals (Pittsburgh in 2008, Detroit in 2009 and Philadelphia in 2010).
Feb. 20: Heritage ClassicAfter much complaining from north of the border, Canada will get its own outdoor game, the Heritage Classic Part Deux. This outdoor frost fest is expected to be played at McMahon Stadium in Calgary, Alberta, when the Canadiens will face the Flames.
Jan. 27 to Feb. 1: Return of the All-Star breakAfter skipping the All-Star festivities this past season because of the 2010 Winter Olympics, the NHL's annual All-Star break returns, beginning with the SuperSkills Competition on Jan. 29 and All-Star Game on Jan. 30.
Feb. 12: Hockey Day in CanadaThe nation's annual day of pucks will feature hundreds of stories about hockey in small towns and three Canadian NHL tilts, including Ottawa at Edmonton, Toronto at Montreal and Calgary at Vancouver. Sounds good, eh?
Feb. 17: Old foes meetNo doubt new Lightning GM Steve Yzerman has marked this date on his calendar. Yzerman's longtime NHL team, the Detroit Red Wings, will visit Tampa Bay.
Feb. 20: Hockey Day in AmericaIsn't pretty much every NHL day a hockey day in America? Well, the official celebration will showcase four games: Washington at Buffalo, Philadelphia at the New York Rangers, Pittsburgh at Chicago and Detroit at Minnesota. The Penguins-Hawks tilt will be the first meeting of the season of the two most recent Stanley Cup champions.
Homestands and road swingsThe Lightning will have the league's longest homestand during a 12-game stretch from Jan. 23 to Feb. 25. At the other end of the travel spectrum, the Los Angeles Kings, host of this week's NHL draft, will own the season's longest road trip, 10 games from Feb. 1 to Feb. 23.
March 10: Old foes meet, Part IIThere will be big players heading to new cities, and therefore old teammates playing in emotional reunions. The biggest offseason deal so far saw Montreal netminder and playoff hero Jaroslav Halak traded to St. Louis last week. The unflappable Slovak netminder will host Montreal in his new digs March 10.
April 10: Closing bellFor those of you already dreaming of another postseason, the regular season comes to a close April 10, 2011, with the playoffs set to start April 13.
Scott Burnside covers the NHL for ESPN.com.
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