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2018-19 NHL PREVIEW

THE CHANGING of the guard came during the last week of September, when Louise St. Jacques loosened four screws inside the Stanley Cup and separated the punch bowl from its sterling barrel. Slipping off its five circular bands, the Montreal silversmith made sure to set the top one aside. It was the oldest of the group, the one recording the champs from 1954 to '65 and stamped with the names of legends: Bobby Hull, Maurice Richard, Ted Lindsay, Gordie Howe, Jean Béliveau.... ¶ Before long, that band was flattened, cleaved in half and shipped to the Hockey Hall of Fame for permanent display. Back in St. Jacques's studio, meanwhile, it will be replaced by a fresh band, blank except for its first entry: WASHINGTON CAPITALS 2017--18. ¶ This circle-of-life process will be repeated when that band fills up in 13 years—otherwise Lord Stanley would resemble an elephant's leg—but the timing feels especially fitting as the NHL enters its 101st season. The league is younger (average age: 26.36, lowest of the cap era) and sleeker (average weight below 200 pounds, lowest since the 2004--05 lockout). It is embracing analytically minded GMs and hiring coaches from the college ranks. And it is loaded with how-did-he-do-that? dynamos such as Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews, ready to be inscribed as the next generation of superstars. Speaking of which....