The NHL season is right around the corner, but it will look a little bit different this year.
The league realigned its divisions to reduce travel due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Many arenas won’t allow fans for at least the start of the season and teams will play 56 games beginning Jan. 13.
It certainly will be an interesting season. Here are 21 thoughts before the puck drops:
The division alignment isn’t all that bad
Sure, it impacts some teams more than others, but we’re about to get some heavy-hitting matchups.
The North Division will see four of Canada’s teams reach the playoffs, while fans gets a 2019-20 Stanley Cup rematch with the Tampa Bay Lightning and Dallas Stars eight different times.
Avalanche might win the Stanley Cup
Colorado is a favorite to win the Stanley Cup this year, which shouldn’t shock anyone with the group it boasts.
The Avs were fourth in the league with 3.37 goals per game in the 2019-20 season, and likely will go up considering three of their top-four forwards missed time last season. They become more dangerous with a healthy Nazem Kadri, Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog back in the mix with Nathan MacKinnon.
This could be a season unlike any other
That’s probably an understatement given the changes, but it will be fun nonetheless.
It will be a fight to the finish, especially with some divisions boasting more than four playoff teams, meaning we’ll see playoff-caliber teams left out of the postseason.
Don’t sleep on the Jets
It won’t be an easy path for Winnipeg, and we’re not saying it will skate its way to the playoffs. But the Jets should be a team to keep your eyes on.
They do have Vezina Trophy winner Connor Hellebuyck back between the pipes, and if he can mirror last season, it may help cover up what the team lacks on defense.
There will be Canadian teams going deeper into the playoffs
One cool thing about the all-Canadian division is the fact that four teams will make a run at the Stanley Cup.
It’s probably unlikely one of those teams will hoist Lord Stanley in July given the strength of other teams throughout the league, but a team from up North will get deep into the postseason.
The Rangers will surprise you
It’s probably a safe bet the Rangers won’t make the playoffs, but they’re going to be a fun team to watch, especially with 2020’s No. 1 draft pick Alexis Lafrenière joining the offense.
The Hurricanes could make the Stanley Cup Final
Carolina was the Cinderella story during the 2018-19 Stanley Cup Playoffs, but the Boston Bruins put an end to that in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Final.
The Hurricanes’ hopes again were cut short over the summer, but with the division alignment and the motivation to make it further, this could be the year they make a run at the Cup.
Helmet ads are fine
They’re not as bad as the internet is making them out to be. They won’t interfere with your viewing experience.
Lightning won’t have hangover
Tampa Bay is stacked, there’s no denying that, and there’s no real reason to believe it will suffer that dreaded hangover after winning the Stanley Cup in September.
And even though the Bolts will be without Nikita Kucherov for the regular season, they essentially avoided cap hell due to his injury and could have him back for the playoffs.
Some good teams will be left out of the playoffs
Like we mentioned earlier, the division alignments could hurt playoff-caliber teams’ chances in getting out of the regular season.
Take the Arizona Coyotes, for example, who probably would have a shot at the playoffs had the divisions stayed put. But now they have to play the Vegas Golden Knights, Colorado Avalanche and St. Louis Blues eight times each.
Tyson Barrie will boost the Oilers
This was a sneaky good signing by Edmonton that gets overlooked due to his performance with the Toronto Maple Leafs last year.
But if he returns to the 50-point defenseman he was on three different occasions, he may turn out to be the Oilers’ X-factor.
The Canucks have a strong team
Vancouver dethroned the defending Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues in the Edmonton bubble and took the Vegas Golden Knights to seven games before packing their bags.
All the Canucks really need is a little more depth to be a true contender, but it’s fair to bet on them making the playoffs.
Ilya Samsonov has his work cut out for him
The Capitals goalie impressed last year and will need to build on that.
Of course, his workload likely increased with the news of Henrik Lundqvist needing surgery for a heart condition that will have him miss the entire season. But Samsonov has Alex Ovechkin and Zdeno Chara there to help him along the way.
Still, he will need to be on his A-game in a tough division to give the Caps a chance at Lord Stanley.
The Bruins’ defensive depth will be tested
Both Torey Krug and Zdeno Chara signed elsewhere in the offseason, meaning it will be time to see what the Bruins’ young defensive prospects can bring to the table.
Alignment did Detroit Red Wings, New Jersey Devils no favors
Both teams were downright bad last season, but the alignment doesn’t exactly make things better for them as they try to rebuild.
Kevan Miller will be just fine
Sure, the defenseman hasn’t played a game since April 2019 due to a twice-broken kneecap and myriad of setbacks, but Miller has looked good during the Boston Bruins’ training camp thus far.
A healthy Miller will provide a boost to the defense that has a lot of questions. Plus, he brings some size and a veteran presence.
Don’t forget about the expansion draft
There’s a lot to keep up with this season, but the expansion draft is happening in July for the Seattle Kraken. It certainly will be interesting to see what players are available and who they draft.
No exhibition games could make for a slow start
We saw the NFL take this route, but most NHL teams will hold scrimmages before games start in order to get their legs back under them.
It wouldn’t be a surprise to see teams get off to a slower start, especially with a shortened training camp.
Imagine a Bruins-Maple Leafs Stanley Cup Final?
That certainly would fuel the rivalry and would be a once-in-a-lifetime series.
It would be a battle with the Bruins winning it all in Game 7.
Trade deadline should be interesting
It makes you wonder whether the North Division will trade with its teams in order to avoid any quarantine protocols by trading with a United States-based team. Protocols also could be loosened by the April 12 trade deadline, but we’ll see if any team makes a splash
Drop the puck
We’re getting antsy. Is it Jan. 13 yet?