A new NHL season is here and the operative word is new. This week’s Sports Illustrated devotes 20 pages to previewing the realigned, revamped league with its new divisions, playoff format, rivalries, salary structure and host of outdoor games, six in all. Coming off a thrilling Stanley Cup Final that generated the best TV numbers in the league’s history, the outlook is certainly far brighter than it was at this time last year when the NHL was in the throes of its third lockout since 1995.
“The NHL is practically all rainbows and unicorns at the start of 2013-14,” Michael Farber writes in his cover story. But there is one problem that has defied solution. Teams scored an average of 5.31 goals per game in 2013, the fewest since ’03-’04, the dreaded days of the dead puck era. “While the flow of the game has improved since the crackdown on hooking and holding, hockey’s red light district (the red goal light flashing, the siren, the roar, the celebration) is not the fun place it was in the not so distant past.”
The NHL’s solution? Unleash goal scorers, like Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby, who graces our regional cover. (The national cover features Patrick Kane of the Blackhawks, the team that SI expects will become the first since 1998 to win back-to-back Stanley Cups. You can see both full covers in full below.)