By: Tucker Terranova ’23
NHL 2021-2022 Season Preview
While the weather is getting colder and many are grasping onto summer, hockey fans across the globe are gearing up for another great season. The NHL will return to an 82 game season, after a two year hiatus due to the COVID 19 pandemic. The pandemic not only forced a new playoff “bubble” in 2020, but also realignment and empty stadiums for a large portion of the past season. This year, however, the league will return back to normal with some new storylines. Expansion teams, superstars vying for the record books, and 32 teams giving everything they have from the first preseason practice in September, to hopefully lifting the Stanley Cup in June.
New York Teams Previews
As two of the fiercest rivals in the league, the New York Islanders and New York Rangers both have high hopes going into the new year. The Islanders, coming off of two straight Conference Final losses to the Tampa Bay Lightning, are ready to flip the script, with a new state of the art stadium at Belmont Park. Over the off-season, the Islanders decided to strengthen their defensive system, by resigning Andy Greene and bringing in veteran Zdeno Chara on a one year deal. The Islanders also re-signed Adam Pelech, Kyle Palmieri, Anthony Beauvillier, Casey Cizikas, and young goaltender Ilya Sorokin, who gives the Islanders the best goalie tandem in the league alongside Semyon Varlamov. While the Islanders did lose Jordan Eberle and Nick Leddy due to the salary cap, Oliver Wahlstrom and newly signed Zach Parise will need to step up and give the Islanders a much needed boost on offense. For one of the deepest rosters in the league with a suffocating defense, anything short of a championship this season is a bust for the Islanders. The Rangers will have a much different look this season. Coming off of yet another season where they fell short of the playoffs, the Rangers decided to hire Gerard Gallant to bring their high powered offense back to relevancy. Gallant, who’s most famous work was taking the Vegas Golden Knights to the Stanley Cup Finals in their first year, will look to do the same with his new team. This group, similarly to Vegas, is stacked with young talent. The offensive combo of Artemi Panarin and Mika Zibenajad, with the reigning Norris Trophy winner Adam Fox patrolling the blue line has laid the blueprint for a future Cup contender. However, Kappo Kakko, Alexis Lafreniere, and Igor Shesterkin will need to step up in order to do so. New York hockey has been on the rise over the past few seasons, and the rivalry between these two foes continues to grow.
Three Storylines for Beginners
With ESPN resuming their broadcasting of hockey, many new fans will be introduced to the sport this year. If you have not watched hockey before, you are in luck! Here are three storylines to watch for this upcoming season.
Expansion: Seattle Kraken
If you are trying to find a team to root for as a beginner, the Seattle Kraken may be your best option. The Kraken will be playing their inaugural season as a part of the Western Conference. On July 21, they held an expansion draft where they chose one player from each team. If you have been following hockey for a while, names such as Mark Giordano, Jordan Eberle, Yanni Gourde, and Phillip Grubauer will ring a bell, as they are the core of this young squad. While expectations are low, we have seen before that an expansion team could make some noise, as the Golden Knights did in the 2017-2018 season.
Stars of the Game
The NHL is a star driven league. The ability to score, make plays, and make incredible saves at will wins games. When you are talking about stars however, you have to begin with Connor McDavid. McDavid, coming off of the league MVP, is a lock to dominate once again this year with his blazing speed and his playmaking ability. After scoring an absurd 105 points in 56 games, he and Leon Draisaitl will look to take the Oilers over the hump.
The Tampa Bay Lightning are the perfect example of starpower resulting in wins. Led by the best goalie in the world, Andrei Vasilevksiy, Nikita Kucherov, and Victor Hedmam, Tampa has stormed through the league over the past two seasons, and will look for a three-peat this year. Other superstars, such as Nathan McKinnon, Auston Matthews, Sidney Crosby, Patrick Kane, David Pastrnak, and Alex Ovechkin are also names to watch this year.
The Upcoming Olympics
With the upcoming Winter Olympics coming up in February, the NHL had to make a decision of whether or not to send their athletes. They chose to allow it, which will create a tournament with the skill level we have never seen before. The favorites, as they are every time they are involved in hockey, is Canada. This year’s team is sure to be one with more skill than ever before. Some of their talent includes Connor McDavid, Nathan McKinnon, Sidney Crosby, Brad Marchand, Cale Makar, and Carey Price. This group will have their eyes set on gold, and anything short of that is a disappointment. The United States will also be able to succeed, led by Auston Matthews and Long Island born defensemen Adam Fox and Charlie McAvoy. Some other teams who can realistically compete include Russia, Sweden, Czech Republic, and Finland. No matter what happens, this Olympics will be one for the ages.
This season is set to bring a new level of talent, high scoring games, and intrigue like never seen before. Can the Lightning three peat? Can the Avalanche, Golden Knights, or Islanders get over the hump? How will the Kraken fare in year 1? These questions and more will be answered shortly.