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NHL Season Preview

Deep Dive

The best game you can name is back, so we’re here to give you the scoop on the NHL’s 105th season. Let’s go!

October 12, 2021
SOURCE: BILL WIPPERT/NHLI VIA GETTY IMAGES
SOURCE: BILL WIPPERT/NHLI VIA GETTY IMAGES

QUOTE OF THE DAY

If you’re not trying to be 82-0, you’re not trying. That’s what you’re supposed to do — win.

— Former Ottawa Senators head coach John Paddock, on the reason for the season. Hashtag winning.

⚙️ Season setup

SOURCE: TIM NWACHUKWU/GETTY IMAGES

And now, back to your regularly scheduled programming. The NHL is returning to its October-to-April regular season after running January to July last season (so weird), and all 31 teams — plus one newbie — are ready to get the party started.

  • The league is also returning to its pre-COVID-19 alignment, with teams split between the Eastern Conference (EC) and Western Conference (WC), then further split into divisions: the Atlantic and Metropolitan in the EC and Central and Pacific in the WC.
  • It’s not all same same but different, though. With the addition of the Seattle Kraken to the Pacific, the Arizona Coyotes are moving to the Central Division, giving each division eight teams for the first time ever. We love equality.

Over the next six months, each team will play 82 games — 41 at home and 41 away — to rack up points in the official standings: two points for a win, one point for an overtime loss and a big ol’ goose egg for a regulation time loss.

  • The top three teams in each division move on to the postseason, along with the two next-best in each conference, for a total of 16 teams battling for the greatest trophy in sports. Iconic.

🏆 Reigning champs

SOURCE: FLORENCE LABELLE/NHLI VIA GETTY IMAGES

Tampa Bay Lightning: The Stanley Cup has been hanging out in Champa Bay for two straight years, thanks to back-to-back wins from captain Steven Stamkos and the boys. Ahead of both wins, the Lightning entered each season as favorites to take the Cup, and many are already predicting another win. Third time’s the charm?

  • To get a three-peat, the Lightning will have to rely on their depth. They don’t have a ton of star players, but they have lots of solid ones, and any team is as good as the sum of its parts. Luckily, most of last year’s core roster is returning.
  • Of note, goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy — who won last year’s Conn Smythe Trophy, awarded to the playoffs MVP — will be back on the ice, as will Stamkos, Victor Hedman, and the most hated man in Montreal, Nikita Kucherov.

💪 The contenders

SOURCE: MATTHEW STOCKMAN/GETTY IMAGES

Colorado Avalanche: Many picked the Avs to win the Cup last year, and despite an early second-round exit from the postseason, the latest odds also have them favored to win it all this year.

  • That’s mainly due to their stacked defense, brickwall goaltending and strong offense, including their top line of Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog…so basically they’re perfect.

Vegas Golden Knights: The biggest question mark in Vegas this season will be goaltending. They traded away star netminder Marc-André Fleury in the offseason, signed former Winnipeg Jet backup Laurent Brossoit, and named Robin Lehner — who’s been making off-ice headlines lately — as their starter. Lots of movement for a Stanley Cup contender.

  • Still, they have a solid core, with captain Mark Stone — who led the team in points last season — and vet Max Pacioretty — who racked up 24 goals — returning to lead the team to a fifth consecutive postseason.

Toronto Maple Leafs: Sorry Montreal Canadiens fans, but the Leafs are favored to be the top Canadian team again this season…and according to some projections, the second-best team in the league.

👀 Storylines to watch

SOURCE: DAVE SANDFORD/NHLI VIA GETTY IMAGES

Health and wellness: Montreal Canadiens goalie Carey Price is taking some time off to focus on his mental health, Buffalo Sabre Jack Eichel is still fighting for treatment for a herniated disc, and Golden Knight Robin Lehner is trying to use his past experiences to make health and wellness a priority in the league.

  • For more on Lehner’s push for better, check out last week’s episode of The GIST of It.

COVID-19: With a projected 98% vaccination rate among players, COVID-19 shouldn’t play as much of a role as it did last season. Still, there are a few vocal unvaccinated players who could cause some issues, especially with frequent travel between Canada and the U.S.

New kids on the block: The Seattle Kraken are the first expansion team since the Golden Knights entered the scene in 2017. Vegas’ roster of misfits selected from other teams proved to be powerful right from the start, making the postseason every year of their existence, and even getting to the Stanley Cup Final in their first year. Will Seattle be as luckygood?

📺 How to watch

SOURCE: NANCY LANE/MEDIANEWS GROUP

Buckle up, it’s going to be a long season. Check out the full schedule here and then get set to watch tonight’s opening game between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Tampa Bay Lightning at 7:30 p.m. ET. We repeat: It’s the best game you can name.