The 2021-22 NHL season is just days away, and with it comes the excitement and anticipation — especially with the return of normal divisions and the 82-game schedule.
But before the season starts, we took stock of each team and jotted down a thought for all 32 of them.
Off we go.
Anaheim Ducks — The Ducks are going to be bad again. Not Buffalo Sabres bad, but it probably will be a long season. That said, Trevor Zegras is going to get a ton of ice time, and that alone makes them worth watching.
Arizona Coyotes — No clue what their direction is, and they might not either. The Coyotes have made a series of bad decisions that have cost them draft picks, cap space and respect, so Arizona has a long road back to relevancy.
Boston Bruins — The Bruins are positioned for some regression this season, but, locally, the expected drop-off seems overstated. The Bruins still are a good team, and any step back they take this season likely won’t reach the point that they might not make the playoffs.
Buffalo Sabres — They are the unequivocal worst team in the league, and somehow their on-ice play isn’t the most disgraceful thing about them. What’s happening with Jack Eichel is a black eye on the Sabres and the league.
Calgary Flames — Calgary seems like they are a bad start to the season away from Brad Treliving just blowing things up. Perhaps that is past due, but they need to get off to a good start.
Carolina Hurricanes — The Hurricanes have been felled by subpar goaltending for so long, and we’re not convinced Frederik Andersen-Antti Raanta is the tandem that is going to save them. It’s better, but might not be enough, which is a shame.
Chicago Blackhawks — So, the Blackhawks might actually be a fun team to watch this season. Whether or not they can compete for a playoff spot is another story, but suddenly there is a ton of star power playing at the United Center once again.
Colorado Avalanche — They should be a wagon again this season, but it is going to be real interesting to see what the dropoff is from Philipp Grubauer to Darcy Kuemper.
Columbus Blue Jackets — This particular writer interned for the Springfield Falcons in 2013-14 when Brad Larsen was the coach. And while he led that Falcons team to a successful regular season, we’re not sure he is the right person for this Blue Jackets job. He’ll get them to continue playing hard, but that team has a variety of issues to work out, and a first-time NHL head coach might not be the best person to steer the ship. Yes, that anecdote might’ve been a bit needless.
Dallas Stars — Last season was bad in a number of ways for them, but the Stars are a better team than that reflected. We think they’re positioned for a bounce-back season.
Detroit Red Wings — They actually made some nice moves on the margins this offseason (Nick Leddy, Pius Suter), but they aren’t close to competing for the playoffs yet, especially in the Atlantic Division and without Tyler Bertuzzi for some games because he refuses to get vaccinated.
Edmonton Oilers — The absence of Oskar Klefbom isn’t getting addressed enough. Their top six could be among the NHL’s best this season, especially after signing Zach Hyman, but that defense might be ugly.
Florida Panthers — We remain convinced the Panthers will be a very good team this season. They gave the Lightning a decent fight in the playoffs last season, and with some retooling in the offseason might be ready to fight for something other than a wild card.
Los Angeles Kings — The signing of Philip Danault indicated they think they’re ready to compete, and they might be, the Kings are a team to watch this season.
Minnesota Wild — The Wild have a ton of exciting young players, and hopefully this season Marco Rossi will be among them. He had a major health scare last season, but came out of the 2020 draft as one of the most NHL-ready players. It would be a great story if he has a nice year.
Montreal Canadiens — It feels like the Canadiens are walking a tightrope. Probably no Shea Weber, Carey Price is out to start the season and they lost Danault in the offseason. It will be a tall task for them to even get to the playoffs, no less the Stanley Cup Final again.
Nashville Predators — We are about to find out just how good Juuse Saros is. Some guys fare fine as the clear No. 1, others are best when they are in a split tandem, which is what he had been doing with Pekka Rinne. The Predators are like Calgary, seemingly on the precipice of a teardown, and they can’t afford to have bad goaltending.
New Jersey Devils — The Devils are going to be better. They might not be out of rebuild mode just yet, but there is some direction there, and, if nothing else, they could be playing meaningful games in March and April.
New York Islanders — Hands up, we find the Islanders remarkably boring to watch — but it’s for that reason they are so good. They are defensively sound and structured in all three zones, and one of these days they’ll finally push through.
New York Rangers — They can say otherwise, but Tom Wilson is in their head after what happened last season. Barclay Goodrow is definitely not worth the contract he got, and the Ryan Reaves addition was just superfluous. They have a lot of promise, but they’d be wise not to railroad it by getting obsessed with being tougher.
Ottawa Senators — They need to figure out the deal with Brady Tkachuk, because that is a contract they cannot afford to bungle. Ottawa has a ton of exciting young players and is heading in the right direction, but the Sens need Tkachuk in order to make that happen.
Philadelphia Flyers — This is a huge year for Carter Hart. He was a puddle last season, as was the rest of the team. Now is the time for him to show which version of him is the aberration, and the guess is that whichever way he goes, the rest of his team will join him.
Pittsburgh Penguins — For a team that has Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, it feels like the Penguins have become forgettable. Maybe that’s because they haven’t been super good or super bad the last few seasons, but as long as those two are around, Pittsburgh will be competitive. The problem is how long both Crosby and Malkin will be out because that ultimately could make or break this season.
San Jose Sharks — They need to put everything together this season, or else there will be some tough decisions being made ahead of the trade deadline or in the offseason. They have too many big contracts and supposed impact players to be performing the way they have.
Seattle Kraken — We think the Kraken will be good, but it’s going to come down to whoever scores for them. Maybe it’ll be someone like Morgan Geekie who sort of comes out of nowhere, but they are going to need that. Defensively and in net they should be fine.
St. Louis Blues –They by no means are void of flaws (look no further than their goaltender), but the Blues could have a nice season. Up front they are looking increasingly loaded, and the Pavel Buchnevich and Brandon Saad additions could give them a nice jolt.
Tampa Bay Lightning — They will step back this season after having to take a hatchet to their roster due to cap issues. Still, they have quite the collection of starpower, and a bit of regression still keeps them firmly in the playoff picture.
Toronto Maple Leafs — It’s put-up or shut up time for the Leafs. For as much as folks fawn all over Kyle Dubas, his roster construction has been brutal, and it stagnating the team as a whole. This is the season for them to prove that theory wrong, or else it might be back to the drawing board.
Vancouver Canucks — The Canucks saw a lot of personnel changes this offseason, and that might be for the best. They went through a lot last season with their COVID-19 outbreak, and maybe getting some fresh faces in the fold is what they need to start reaching their potential.
Vegas Golden Knights — We really love what they did this offseason with the Nolan Patrick and Evgenii Dadonov additions. The Pacific Division might not be very good this season, so there will be ample time for them to iron out any kinks from the small bit of roster turnover.
Washington Capitals — They had stability in net for so long, but it feels like goaltending is what will kill them. Ilya Samsonov has not been as good as advertised, while Vitek Vanecek, while a fascinating player, hasn’t been good long enough to give the Caps peace of mind that things are fine in net.
Winnipeg Jets — A full season of Pierre-Luc Dubois, free of distractions, no less, could be just what’s needed in Winnipeg. They always have questions on defense, but up front they should be a delight to watch once again.