Boy, that was a long summer. But it's over, folks. Hockey is back. The 2016-17 NHL season begins on Wednesday with the battle of Ontario, as the Maple Leafs take on the Senators at 7 PM, with three other games taking place, including the Flames and Oilers, where Connor McDavid will make his season debut in Edmonton's new arena.
We covered plenty of stories leading up the start of tonight's season opener, and you can read all of our NHL preview coverage here.
But as we await for the puck to drop, here are a few other big-ticket items that went down this week.
After coming back to his dominant form, leading the Pittsburgh Penguins to the 2016 Stanley Cup and Team Canada to a World Cup of Hockey championship, it looked like nothing could stop Sidney Crosby. Unfortunately, the star who has a history of head injuries suffered another one at practice last week and was diagnosed with a concussion days before the Penguins' season opener against the Capitals.
Crosby will be out until further notice, and after an impressive playoffs and offseason, the timing couldn't be worse for the Penguins' captain. Pittsburgh will certainly take a cautious approach with the league's biggest star due to his concussion history, but here's hoping he's back on the ice soon.
Johnny Hockey Signs
After an impressive 2015-16 campaign where Johnny Gaudreau scored a career-high 78 points as a 22-year-old, the Calgary Flames finally managed to sign their left-wing prodigy to a six-year, $40.5 million extension. Flames fans should be delighted with this signing, as the team has a strong, young roster with an improved goaltending situation and should push for a playoff spot come April. They could be surprisingly good this season.
Other big signings of the week include the stacked Tampa Bay Lightning signing 23-year-old Nikita Kucherov to a team-friendly three-year, $14.3 million deal and the surging Buffalo Sabres signing 21-year-old defenceman Rasmus Ristolainen to a six-year, $32.4 million deal. It wasn't all good news for the Sabres, though…
The big news that came down today was the ankle injury to Sabres rising star Jack Eichel. The future of the Sabres fell down in Wednesday's practice, and the freak injury is expected to sideline him for at least four-to-six weeks. Eichel, unsurprisingly, made our list of the most exciting 21-and-under players in the NHL. This is awful news all around.
Out in Boston, meanwhile, Bruins star Patrice Bergeron will miss the season opener with a lower-body injury and is considered day-to-day. He won't travel with the Bruins to Columbus.
Carey Price, the Montreal Canadiens goaltender who is coming back from injury and is expected to bounce back to Vezina form this season, is sick with the flu and won't be suiting up for Thursday night's game in Buffalo. That means no Price and no Eichel for the season opener, which sucks.
Auston Matthews, the No. 1 overall pick from the 2016 draft, will make his NHL debut on Wednesday, centering the Leafs' third line with Zach Hyman and William Nylander on the wings. After an impressive World Cup tournament with Team North America, there is plenty of excitement surrounding the Calder favourite and his young-and-skilled line should be fast and entertaining to watch.
He isn't the only big-time Leafs prospect making his debut.
The fourth overall pick from 2015, Mitch Marner, did just about everything he could in the OHL last season to get a look in Leafs camp. And Marner's speed and skill impressed Leafs management enough to earn him an opening night roster spot alongside Tyler Bozak and James van Riemsdyk. Watch out for the Leafs' skilled teenagers to take the NHL by storm.
We'll have to wait until Thursday to see the debut of Jets rookie and No. 2 overall pick Patrik Laine, who "looked like a Finnish version of Ilya Kovalchuk during the World Cup."
Gretzky Returns to Edmonton
The Great One has returned to Edmonton, joining the organization he made his debut with and powered to four Stanley Cups during a dominant run in the 80s, as a partner and vice-chairman of Oilers Entertainment Group. Team owner Daryl Katz said he'll work with Gretzky and CEO Bob Nicholson overseeing the business side of the Oilers Entertainment Group, although the details of the NHL's all-time leading scorer's role have yet to be finalized.
Next, we hope Gretzky can get a shift in with McDavid.
Get your maple syrup crepes and Molson Canadian pints ready, because hockey season is here.