In anticipation of the new season, theScore surveyed a dozen players about a variety of topics recently at the BioSteel camp in Toronto and the NHL/NHLPA media tour in Chicago.
The All-Star panel includes Matt Duchene of the Predators; Mat Barzal of the Islanders; Matt Dumba of the Wild; Derek Stepan of the Coyotes; John Gibson of the Ducks; John Klingberg of the Stars; Tom Wilson of the Capitals; Jaccob Slavin of the Hurricanes; Jonathan Huberdeau and Brett Connolly of the Panthers; and Ryan O'Reilly and Vladimir Tarasenko of the Blues.
The interviews, lightly edited for brevity and clarity, were held individually and compiled to form the discussion below.
The NHL offseason brought a ton of activity. So many GMs, coaches, and players changed addresses. Which division is now the toughest?
Dumba: "You asked this because you know I'm going to say the Central (laughs) … It is the Central, man. Put some respect on it. It's been ridiculous, right? And the whole Central acquired guys for this year, dominant players from other divisions. It's going to be fun. Those are good matchups. It pushes you to be on your game every night, and it definitely helps you with other matchups when you do play teams from the East or the Pacific. Those Central games, they're tough."
Duchene: "Geez, you know what, you never know until the season is over. Every year it looks like, 'Oh, this division, that division, whatever,' and then you come out of the year, and it’s like, 'Oh, geez, that one was pretty good this year.' I definitely know our division (the Central) is very tough. That's confirmed. I've played in three of the four (divisions) now and they all have their different attributes and challenges. I don't think there's a toughest or least tough. They're all just different."
Slavin: "Toughest division? I don't say this just because I play in the Metro, but you've got so many talented players in the Metro. ... You've got two of the best players in the game (in Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin), and now Jack Hughes to the Devils, where they have (Nico) Hischier and (Taylor) Hall already. They're going to be a pretty dangerous forward lineup this year."
Stepan: "I mean, it's hard not to say the Central with the Blues being in it. But the Atlantic is really stacked up nicely, too, this year. I think I'm going to go with the Stanley Cup champions (and the Central), just because I feel like that's the safe bet."
After a hectic postseason, the NHL has revamped its video review process. Is that good? Do you have the patience for more reviews and coach's challenges?
Wilson: "It's a slippery slope for a lot of those calls (in the playoffs). In one of them, there's a hand pass. How far do you go back? If there's a hand pass two minutes ago and there hasn't been a whistle yet, do they (review)? If it directly leads to a goal, that's different, but if there hasn't been a whistle for five minutes since the hand pass, are they going to go play it back and disallow the goal? That's really not the way the sport was meant to be played.
"Every sport's (officials are) in the same place - umpires in baseball - where they have split seconds to make decisions and then there's a video. And if they make the wrong call, they're scrutinized. I think refs probably have some of the toughest jobs in any sport."
Barzal: "I don't mind it at all. If you're going to (try) to get it right, you might as well get it right (through review). I do feel like the game has certain aspects where not everything's going to be perfect.
"We had a tough bounce against Carolina in Game 1 (of the playoffs last year). I had the goal disallowed with Anders Lee in front of the net. ... On the goal I'm talking about, Carolina's goalie is out of the crease. I don't know what Anders Lee is supposed to do there. He's being pushed in. ... There is a fine line there, where if a goalie is out of the crease, it doesn't make sense to me why a player has to move around himself to accommodate him."
Tarasenko: "I (like) the idea of (when a team requests) an offside challenge and (gets) it wrong you get a two-minute penalty. Goalie interference is important, too. But, I think (all the reviews), just a little bit, kill the dynamics of the game.
"Sometimes there's a break (for review) and we'll follow it with a TV timeout. And if there is no TV timeout by (the 10-minute mark), we get another TV timeout. There's a couple of games where you just sit down for so long."
Huberdeau: "It's still hockey. It's gotta still be a human sport. It can't be all cameras and reviewing everything. Mistakes happen. It was just tough. I feel (last) year everything that was happening was on the refs (in the playoffs). They're human, they make mistakes, it was unfortunate, but they're trying to make a fair deal on the reviews.
"I think for five-minute majors you should have reviews for that. It was not good to see (Joe) Pavelski get hurt like that, but I don't think it was (worthy of) five minutes either. If they were to review it for a bit, I think they would have maybe called two minutes. But, anyway, it's in the past. I think, yeah, there's some plays they should review, but not everything. It slows the game down, and (at some point) it's not going to be hockey anymore."
NFL quarterback Andrew Luck recently retired at 29 years old in part because he feels "mentally worn down." As a pro athlete, can you relate at all?
O'Reilly: "I don't think I'm retiring anytime soon (laughs) ... Oh gosh, that's a completely different sport. The amount of pressure that's on those guys - what they go through, and what they put their bodies through - is a whole other level. That's tough, but he's an incredible player that gave everything he had. It's a completely different situation. If I'm playing good hockey, I'm not going to get hit too much. I'm not a very physical guy, so you're not taking that abuse as much. And it can be tough, yeah, being a professional athlete. There's so much that goes into it, so many different things that you have to deal with, and that's one of the beautiful things about sports. It's never easy."
Wilson: "I can relate to that, for sure. At 29, he's probably got a fair amount of miles on the body and on the mind. It's not like he's 22. He had a career, he's (dealt with) a lot of pressure, especially for someone at his position. Pretty much every game he plays the outcome rides completely on him. I think a lot of people see athletes, see the money they make, the life that they live, but a lot of times there's other stuff going on. It's a grind. You're working extremely hard, there's a lot of pressure. You hope the best for him for his next chapter."
Connolly: "Everyone deals with dark days (in) their career, there's no question. I think it takes a lot of courage for him to do that. That's not an easy thing. He's obviously thought about it for a long time. When you're not happy doing something, it's (difficult) like any job. I think it just gets amplified because he's a professional athlete, star quarterback. There's so much money around it, so many people that are watching, and so many people that are depending on you to bring a Super Bowl (to the city)."
Gibson: "Honestly, everybody has their own stuff going on. … You've got a life to live after. He made what he thought was the best decision for his health, and his family, and his future. And you can't blame a guy for doing that.
"I think people think that (athletes are) immune to everyday problems, or problems in general. People can criticize, but you don't know what's going on in his life or his health or his family. ... We're human beings too, just like everybody else."
Teammate or opponent, who's your pick for breakout player in 2019-20?
Connolly: "This is going to be probably not the answer a lot of people are expecting but: Tom Wilson. He got suspended last year. You look at his numbers, and he had (22 goals in 63 games). That's not easy to do. He's had a great summer. He’s been playing with the same linemates. He's going to play a little power play. He's a very hungry guy. I would say that he would be a guy whose numbers are going to jump out at you."
Dumba: "I skated with him in Florida (in late August, early September), and he's already established, he's a really good player, but I think he could do some real damage this year. That's Matty Barzal."
Gibson: "I keep referring to our young guys, but I think one of them's going to break out. Whether it's Troy Terry, or Max Jones, or (Maxime) Comtois. … With the more games they played (last year), it looked like they got more comfortable. You look at those three, in particular, (and) two of them are going to get a chance to play probably with some good players. I think one of them's going to take the ball and run with it."
Klingberg: "I think Roope Hintz is going to be really good. We saw just a glimpse of him in the playoffs. But the guy is a helluva player. He's fast, he's strong, he's got a good sense of the game as well. I think that guy is going to be really huge for us in the top six. With guys like (Tyler Seguin), (Jamie) Benn, Pavelski, (Corey) Perry, and those guys maybe getting shut down some games, I think you're going to see Roope Hintz take off as well."
John Matisz is theScore's national hockey writer.