The NHL can’t wait to get back to normal on the ice and in the stands. After two chaotic years (and two titles for the Tampa Bay Lightning), the league hopes to crown a champion next spring without unwanted pandemic drama.
When does the season start?
There is a double schedule Tuesday, available on ESPN in the US and Sportsnet in Canada. The Pittsburgh Penguins will visit the Lightning at 7:30 p.m. EST and the Seattle Kraken will travel to Las Vegas to meet the Golden Knights in nightcaps at 10 p.m. in the franchise’s regular season debut. expansion.
There are five more games on Wednesday and each team will be in action on Saturday.
The Seattle Kraken join the league, playing in a remodeled version of the venue formerly known as KeyArena, now called Climate Pledge Arena.
While Seattle has never had a team in the NHL before, it won a Stanley Cup: the Seattle Metropolitans of the Pacific Coast Hockey Association won it in 1917, when the cup was still open to teams from different leagues.
The Kraken appear to have made up a decent roster: Players include Mark Giordano, the longtime Calgary Flames defenseman who won the Norris Trophy in 2019 as the league’s top defenseman; Right winger Jordan Eberle, who played for the Edmonton Oilers and Islanders; and goalkeeper Philipp Grubauer, who recently played with the Avalanche. Center Matty Beniers, whom the Kraken took second in the draft, will remain at the University of Michigan this season.
The immediate historical precedent is promising. The latest expansion team, the Golden Knights, reached the Stanley Cup final in their first year and are four-on-four in qualifying for the playoffs.
After a five-game road trip, Seattle will play its home opener on Oct. 23 against the Vancouver Canucks, who, due to their geographic proximity, are considered the team’s main rival. They will begin the road trip Tuesday in Vegas less at full strength, as five players were in the league’s Covid protocols on Monday, coach Dave Hakstol said.
After 10 years on NBC’s networks, the league’s US television contract passes to ESPN and Turner Sports. National matches will also be broadcast on the NHL network. CBC and TSN will broadcast games in Canada.
What is returning to normal?
The teams will fill the house again after a season with few fans. For most of the 2020-21 season, teams played differently with their arenas at 10-50% capacity. In Canada, most games did not have fans.
The league is also returning to its conventional regular season schedule from October to April after the 2020-21 season ran from January to May, and the 2019-20 campaign was halted in March due to the pandemic and the playoffs. took place five months later. The league plans to play its full complement of 82 games for the first time since 2018-19. The playoffs will run from April to June in the conventional format: 16 teams, with each series a best of seven.
Last season, due to strict restrictions on cross-border travel, Canadian teams were all placed in the same division and each team only played against division opponents. Intradivisional games are back, as are clashes between the United States and Canada, starting with the Winnipeg Jets versus the Anaheim Ducks on Wednesday.
There will be outdoor games in Minnesota in January, Nashville in February and Hamilton, Ont., In March. After skipping a season, the All-Star Game is expected to return to Las Vegas.
Where are things with Covid?
The league said it expects all but a handful of players to be vaccinated on opening night. Part of the high compliance rate is that unvaccinated players will be mostly limited to the hotel and arena while on the road.
The Oilers have been particularly affected by the Covid. Striker Josh Archibald, who spoke openly against the vaccine, was found to have serious heart disease that doctors suspect is caused by the virus. Duncan Keith, the newly acquired veteran defenseman, got the shot but expressed frustration at feeling pressured to do so.
Are the players going to the Olympics?
Yes. After missing the 2018 Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, when a deal could not be reached, NHL players will return to the Beijing Olympics in 2022. The league will close for three weeks in February to allow its stars to play. This is good news for the players, who almost unanimously want to participate, but perhaps not for the owners, who feel that the league is not getting enough of the Games, either financially or in publicity.
Who are the big stars?
Connor McDavid of the Oilers won his second Hart Trophy as the league’s MVP last season. He also led the league in assists and points, scoring 105 points in 56 games, but was edged out by Auston Matthews of the Maple Leafs in goals with 41. The Oilers also have 2020 Hart winner Leon Draisaitl as their team. throwing a fearsome two punches, and Edmonton fans are getting excited for the team to finally get into a playoff run.
It doesn’t seem like that long ago that Sidney Crosby was a dazzling young phenomenon in the league. He is now 34 and the Penguins have lost in the first round of the playoffs in two of the past three years and have fallen in the qualifying round in the modified 2020 format. Closing to 500 career goals, he will seek a comeback to the excellent consecutive Cup years of 2016 and 2017.
Drama on and off the ice
Despite Tampa Bay being the two-time defending champion, punters see the Colorado Avalanche as the frontrunner, with a 5-1 chance of winning the Cup for the first time since 2001. Tampa Bay and Vegas are the closest challengers. (Colorado tied Vegas for most points last season and won the Presidents’ Trophy.) A finalist for the Hart’s in three of the past four seasons, Avalanche center Nathan MacKinnon has never made it past the second round of the playoffs.
The Buffalo Sabers are unlikely to shine: After 11 regulation wins in 56 games last season, they are considered the team least likely to win the Cup. After six seasons of stellar play with a bad team around him, Jack Eichel may have finally come to the end of the road with the Sabers, and the team are looking to trade him.
Evander Kane is in the midst of a lucrative seven-year deal with the San Jose Sharks he signed in 2018, but finds himself in the midst of chaos on several fronts. The league said an investigation had cleared him of betting charges on his own games, but several reports said he was also under investigation for violating Covid rules. He also faces allegations of sexual and domestic abuse from his ex-wife, Anna. There is a cloud of uncertainty over his future in San Jose, or anywhere in the league.