- E.J. Hradek, Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine
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Hockey fans don't get much down time. Less than a month ago, we were still wondering who was going to win the Stanley Cup. Since then, we've seen the Hurricanes hoist Lord Stanley. We've also had the awards ceremony and the draft. We've watched some of the biggest stars change addresses through trades or free agency.
Now, we get (drum roll, please) ... the 2006-07 schedule.
I know fans really love to see the new schedule. They want to see who their team will face to open the new season. Sometimes, it's no real surprise. For example, this season, the rival Senators and Leafs open Oct. 4 in Toronto, but I don't think Islanders or Coyotes fans figured they'd play each other. That desert matchup features an interesting coaching battle: Wayne Gretzky vs. Ted Nolan. Interestingly, in his last junior game, Nolan went head-to-head with another legend, Patrick Roy.
Unlike last season, when the league came back from the lockout with a 15-game opening night, there will be just three games on the Oct. 4 debut.
Hard-core fans also will go through the new schedule game by game, looking for possible road trips. Because of my local geography, I still look to find situations where I can see two games in the same day. My first chance for such a doubleheader comes Dec. 16 -- the Wings skate against the Devils in Jersey in the afternoon, followed by a Thrashers-Isles nightcap on Long Island.
If you like the All-Star weekend festivities, get ready for a change. This season, the All-Star Game will be played on a Wednesday night (Jan. 24) in Dallas. The YoungStars Game and SuperSkills Competition will take place Tuesday night. It's the first All-Star Game since 2004. Last season, the league shelved the game due to its participation in the Winter Olympics. The clubs will begin the All-Star break on Jan. 21 and resume play Jan. 26.
It's not easy to choose a group of must-see games from a 1,230-game schedule, but I'll give it a try. Remember, it's my list.
Oct. 4 -- Buffalo at Carolina
The Hurricanes raise their Stanley Cup banner to the roof of the RBC Center, and they do it in front of the Sabres, who nearly knocked them off in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals. Isn't it a little cruel to send the Sabres to Raleigh, N.C., for such an occasion? I get the sense the good folks in Carolina aren't too concerned about the Sabres' feelings.
Oct. 12 -- Boston at St. Louis
The Dave Checketts-John Davidson era opens in St. Louis. They'd love to get off on the right skate in their home opener. New Blues Jay McKee, Bill Guerin and Dan Hinote make their regular-season debuts. This makes my list because I still think St. Louis is a really good hockey town. It would be great to see J.D. put the Blues back on the map.
Nov. 2 -- New York Rangers at San Jose
After a spring of arguing with readers about the Jaromir Jagr-Joe Thornton Hart Trophy battle, we get to see the two players go head-to-head. I'll still take Jagr.
Nov. 28 -- Anaheim at Edmonton
Chris Pronger returns to Edmonton for the first time since his surprising trade request. Do you think he's going to get booed? Oh, yeah. And I think it's going to be loud -- really loud. If you miss it the first time, Pronger and his new team return to Edmonton on Jan. 28.
Dec. 6 -- Carolina at Edmonton
Well, we're right back at Rexall Place for a Cup finals rematch between the Hurricanes and Oilers. Edmonton natives Cam Ward and Ray Whitney can show off their new Stanley Cup rings.
Dec. 11 -- Pittsburgh at Washington
The Sidney Crosby vs. Alexander Ovechkin matchup will be a staple on my list well into the next decade. This is the first of four meetings between the two young stars. Ovechkin's pal, Penguins prospect Evgeni Malkin, might be there to help out Sid the Kid.
Dec. 19 -- Boston at Ottawa
Zdeno Chara makes his first appearance in Ottawa since signing a big-money, free-agent deal with the Bruins. The Big Z probably won't get a hero's welcome.
Jan. 7 -- Florida at Vancouver
Do Canucks fans really love or hate Todd Bertuzzi? We should get an answer when he returns with the Panthers. On the flip side, the Panthers will find out what it's like to try to score on former goalie Roberto Luongo in a real game.
Jan. 13 -- Hockey Day in Canada
A tripleheader for Canadian hockey fans, and for those of us in the United States who have the Center Ice package. The day opens with the Canadiens at Senators (2 p.m. ET), followed by the Canucks at Leafs (7 p.m.) and the Oilers at Flames (10 p.m.). Get a Blue and kick back.
April 8 -- Vancouver at Phoenix
This is the final game on the regular-season schedule. It will be an important battle for a playoff spot or a meaningless tilt. Either way, new Coyote Ed Jovanovski gets to see old friends with the real season just a few days away.
The Blackhawks came back from an early scare to bounce the Predators and move to the second round.
The Flames used a seven-goal effort to put the Canucks away in Game 6 of their first-round playoff series to advance to the second round against the Anaheim Ducks.
Duncan Keith scored at 16:12 of the third, and the Chicago Blackhawks beat the Nashville Predators 4-3 on Saturday night to win their first-round playoff series 4-2.
Petr Mrazek stopped 28 shots and the Detroit Red Wings rebounded from a disappointing loss to shut down the Tampa Bay Lightning 4-0 and take a 3-2 lead in the first-round NHL playoff series.
Nikolay Kulemin scored the go-ahead goal with 9:27 left and the Islanders beat the Capitals 3-1 on Saturday to force Game 7 in the first-round playoff series.
New York Rangers forward Mats Zuccarello was knocked out of Game 5 against the Pittsburgh Penguins Friday night after being hit in the face by teammate Ryan McDonagh's slap shot.
Ottawa Senators forwards Clarke MacArthur and Jean-Gabriel Pageau were injured in Friday night's 5-1 win over the Montreal Canadiens.
The Oilers are making sweeping front-office changes after another disappointing season.
Proving they ain't dead yet, the Islanders rode the sound waves at boisterous Nassau Coliseum to force Game 7.
Senators goalie Craig Anderson poked the wrong player in Brandon Prust, says Canadiens coach Michel Therrien.
The Wild have a chance to finish off the Blues thanks to a strong bounce-back from goalie Devan Dubnyk.
Minnesota's Devan Dubnyk, Montreal's Carey Price and Nashville's Pekka Rinne are the three finalists for the Vezina Trophy, awarded to the top goalie.
They needed overtime to do it, but the Rangers pushed past the Penguins into the second round of the playoffs.
New GM and president of hockey operations Peter Chiarelli will bring a much-needed new mindset to the once-proud Edmonton Oilers franchise.
Craig Anderson's 45-save performance kept the Senators alive and shifts the momentum away from the Canadiens.
Florida's Aaron Ekblad, Calgary's Johnny Gaudreau and Ottawa's Mark Stone are the finalists for the Calder Memorial Trophy, awarded to the top rookie.
Things have gotten uglier and uglier between the Flames and Canucks. So, who's to blame? We've narrowed down a list of suspects.
The playoffs are a week old, so it's time to look at the players standing out, agitating opponents and putting on disappearing acts.
Barry Melrose explains the biggest difference between regular-season and playoff hockey and how the movie Major League is an inspiration for it.
Losing out on the draft lottery and potential superstar McDavid hasn't crushed Buffalo exec