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Originally published Monday, September 30, 2013 at 9:35 PM

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New NHL season will have a break for Sochi Olympics

Much of the 2013-14 NHL season, which starts Tuesday, will be about the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

The New York Times and The Associated Press

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A full schedule after a lockout-truncated season, a new divisional setup, outdoor games galore, the Chicago Blackhawks seeking their third Stanley Cup in five years.

Those are all nice story lines for the 2013-14 NHL season, which begins with three games Tuesday. But make no mistake, much of this season will be about the Winter Olympics.

The Sochi Games will cast a long shadow over the season until Feb. 9, when the league pauses to allow nearly 150 players to fly to Russia for the 12-day tournament. If those dozen days produce anything like the 2010 men’s tournament in Vancouver, B.C., which was capped by Pittsburgh Penguins superstar Sidney Crosby scoring the golden goal for Canada against the United States, it will be well worth the wait.

The Olympic question will hang over many NHL games. Will the Buffalo Sabres’ Ryan Miller rebound from three middling seasons to tend goal again for the United States, or will it be the Kings’ Jonathan Quick? Who will man the nets for the Canadians: Roberto Luongo, Corey Crawford, Carey Price or Cam Ward?

Can Crosby stay healthy to play for Canada, and can Penguins teammate Evgeni Malkin stay healthy to play for Russia? When NHL play resumes Feb. 26, it will be back to hockey as usual: the home stretch, the playoffs and the Stanley Cup Final.

The Columbus Blue Jackets made the perhaps biggest catch of the offseason when they signed free-agent wing Nathan Horton from the Boston Bruins.

Horton has scored 402 points in 562 regular-season games, but more important are his 36 points in 43 playoff games during the Bruins’ Stanley Cup run in 2011 and their appearance in the Final last spring.

Ensconced in the Eastern Conference after previously playing in the West, the Blue Jackets, behind their president for hockey operations, John Davidson, are making a run at respectability. All they have to do is make the playoffs, something they have done once in 12 seasons. They narrowly missed last season, finishing ninth in the West.

Some other key players putting on new sweaters: Tyler Seguin (Dallas Stars, from Bruins), Jaromir Jagr (New Jersey Devils, from Bruins), Cory Schneider (Devils, from Vancouver Canucks), Jarome Iginla (Bruins, from Penguins), Bobby Ryan (Ottawa Senators, from Anaheim Ducks), Daniel Alfredsson (Detroit Red Wings, from Senators), Valtteri Filppula (Tampa Bay Lightning, from Red Wings), Vincent Lecavalier (Philadelphia Flyers, from Lightning) and Tim Thomas (Florida Panthers, from a season off).

In a rules change, the players’ association voted Monday to allow the implementation of “hybrid icing” as a way to cut down on dangerous races for the puck. Many players said they were confused by the rule during the exhibition-season trial period, but they approved the change anyway.

The Blackhawks began last season in Los Angeles, where they watched the Kings celebrate their 2012 Stanley Cup title, and then cruised to an emphatic 5-2 victory that set the tone for their own championship run.

Now they are looking for another strong start, while Washington is hoping to do what the Blackhawks did last season when the Capitals visit Chicago for a game Tuesday.

“It’s something we were talking about today, is that I felt the start of our season last year put us in the perfect spot for the whole season,” Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said after the Blackhawks practiced Monday.


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