Even though the National Hockey League season is a few days old, with every team playing at least one game, it is still not too late for my thoughts on this 2021-22 season. The first ‘normal’ season since the start of the pandemic a couple of years ago.
Rather than a team-by-team or division-by-division breakdown, here are my thoughts on some things that are happening or might happen during the regular season.
WILL THERE BE A THREE-PEAT? – The league has not seen a team win three consecutive Stanley Cups since the New York Islanders four straight from 1980-83. The Tampa Bay Lightning have everything a team needs to accomplish the feat. Starting in goal with Andrei Vasilevsky, on defense led by Victor Hedman and up front in Nikita Kucherov and Pat Maroon.
They added depth and experience in Corey Perry and Brent Seabrook. A lot of things have to break right to win three in a row. It’s a long way to the playoffs and the ‘Ning will find a way as the season progresses to make run to defend.
EAST CHALLENGERS – Two right off the bat in the Eastern Conference to challenge Tampa Bay are the Islanders and the Florida Panthers.
THE ISLANDERS came within possibly two goals of dethroning the Lightning in the Playoffs and bring back the same lineup with a couple of exceptions. The biggest was signing F Zach Parise and G Cory Schneider from free agency. They have a solid goalie in Semyon Varlamov. A defense led by Ryan Pulock, Andy Greene, and newcomer Zdeno Chara. Up front they will have a healthy Anders Lee to go with Matt Barzal, Casey Cizikas, and Brock Nelson. Add to that head coach Barry Trotz.
The Isles must get through this 13-game road trip to start the season before the team moves into their new home the UBS Arena in November on the grounds of Belmont Park.
THE PANTHERS pushed the Lightning in the first round and are ready to take the next step. They have solid goaltending in Sergei Bobrovsky and youngster Spencer Knight. A defense led by Aaron Ekblad and a forwards led by Alexander Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau, and Sam Bennett who came in free agency.
OUT OF THE WEST – Who might come out of the Western Conference?
VEGAS – The Golden Knights seem they have been one of those teams since they made the Cup final in their first season four years ago. They are still strong with veterans like Alex Tuch, Max Pacioretty, and Alex Petrangelo. They will have Robin Lehner in goal this season.
COLORADO – Many observers believe the Avalanche took take everything when it’s all said and done. The Avs have the talent and youth in D Cale Makar and Ryan Murray. Up from they have Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog, and Mikko Rantonen. The goaltending with newcomer Darcy Kuempfer. The Avs were surprised by the Knights last year in the playoffs, the have that to their advantage.
TAKING THE NEXT STEP – Teams that have to raise their game and contend in 2021-22.
EDMONTON – The Oilers have the best one-two punch in the league with Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. The defense led by Tyson Barrie, Darnell Nurse, and Duncan Keith. The key will be in goal with veteran Mike Smith and Mikko Koskinen.
CAROLINA – The Hurricanes have stepped up the past two seasons reaching the Eastern Final in 2019 and then last season giving Tampa Bay all they can handle in the second round. They come into this season as that team to make that move. They have a solid goalie in Fredrik Anderson. A defense led by Ian Cole and up front in Jordan Staal and Patrik Stepan.
NEVER COUNT THEM OUT – Teams you should never overlook this season are squads who might have one final run at the Cup with this core group.
PITTSBURGH – The Penguins used a lot of no-names in winning opening night in Tampa. They will have Sidney Crosby back soon along with Evgeni Malkin. Their hopes will be riding on G Tristan Jarry can he bounce back from a horrific first round playoff last year against the Islanders.
WASHINGTON – Yes, the Capitals have Alex Ovechkin who signed possibly his last contract with the team in the off-season. However, this core is aging and like Pittsburgh might depend on a young goaltender in Vitak Vanicek.
BOSTON – The Bruins lost longtime leader Andrew Krejci to retirement. They signed Taylor Hall whose seem rejuvenated coming at the trade deadline and they have Brad Marchand. The defense has recently signed Charlie McAvoy but this group is starting to age and will use youngster Jeremy Swayman in the nets to start.
TEAMS THAT COULD MAKE SOME NOISE
PHILADELPHIA – The Flyers got better with new acqusitions Cam Atkinson, Ryan Ellis, Keith Yandle, and Rasmus Ristolainen. The fate of a playoff spot will be a bounce back year from G Carter Hart.
NEW JERSEY – The Devils made the biggest splash in free agency signing D Dougie Hamilton. They have Nico Hischer and Jack Hughes another year of experience. If P.K. Subban can return to form as well as Tomas Tatar and Jimmy Vesey.
NEW YORK RANGERS – A new coach and GM, the best young goalies in the league in Alexander Gregoriev and Igor Shishertkin. The reigning Norris trophy winner in Adam Fox. Up front is Arteri Panarin along with Barclay Goodrow, Kappo Kakko, and Sammy Blais. Problem? They are playing in the toughest division (metropolitan) in the league.
SEATTLE KRAKEN – The expansion team did well in the expansion draft getting veterans like Jordan Eberle and Mark Giordano. They might have a find in D Vince Dunn and Adam Larsson, along with F Jaden Schwartz, Jared McCann, and Alexander Wennberg. Their biggest pickup within free agency with G Phillipp Grubauer. The Playoffs? YES!!!
THE OLYMPICS – As of now, the NHL will send their players to Beijing for the 2022 Winter Olympic Games. Everything is still flexible due to COVID-19. When the pros have played in the games, Canada has won the last two gold medals and should be favored right now with that initial roster.
NEW RULE CHANGE – The league has said it will tighten up the cross-checking penalty and did so during the preseason. There is a question mark if they will continue to enforce the new rule in the regular season and the playoffs.
JACK EICHEL – The never-ending story of the Buffalo Sabres forward on where he might play. According to reports, five teams are interested in trading for him. The teams would allow Eichel to have the disc surgery he has requested. However, it might be up to four months before he sees the ice in a regular season game. Stay Tuned!
THE NHL NEW US TV DEAL – The league’s new television partners in the U.S. (ESPN and Turner) opened this week to rave reviews and surprising numbers. My question is the network’s staying power and how they will do the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
There you have it. My look at the NHL at the start of the 2021-22 season. It is a long way to June so let me journey to the Stanley Cup begin!!!