Another NHL season is kicking off and with it, comes some intriguing storylines. A flat salary cap made for some interesting moves for NHL teams in the offseason. That, paired with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, there’s a lot to keep track of. Here are some of the most captivating storylines that should play out during the 2021-22 NHL season.
These are based on trends we’ve noticed over the past year or so and if they’re worth keeping an eye on. It could be a player, team, or entire division that generates interesting content throughout the season.
Storylines to Keep an Eye on for the 2021-22 NHL Season
The Entire Atlantic Division
There are individual teams that are worth watching in the Atlantic Division this year and for that reason, they all get included. The Tampa Bay Lightning are looking to three-peat as Stanley Cup champions. The Toronto Maple Leafs and Florida Panthers are trying to make it out of the first round of the playoffs. The Boston Bruins are trying to re-tool with their dominant core for another deep run. The Montreal Canadiens are looking to prove their cup run wasn’t a fluke. The Ottawa Senators and Detroit Red Wings are both in the midst of a rebuild with exciting young players. And the Buffalo Sabres are entertaining for their own reasons that we’ll get into later.
Every team in the Atlantic Division has something to prove and it could end up being a log jam for the three or four playoff spots available. Chances are, a very good team from this division will miss out on the postseason be it from injuries or disappointment.
The Seattle Kraken
Of course, it’s hard to ignore the biggest ongoing storylines of the 2021-22 NHL season. No matter how they perform, the Seattle Kraken will be looked at closely by all. They’re a brand new expansion team trying to capture a city that has a rabid fan base for its other sports franchises. Plus, they already have a geographical rival with the Vancouver Canucks just over the border.
The Kraken are worth watching this year not just because they’re new, but because they’re unpredictable. The Pacific Division is wide open this season, with the Vegas Golden Knights being the favourite to take it. Aside from that, the Edmonton Oilers, Calgary Flames and Canucks are all looking for better results. Plus, the San Jose Sharks, Anaheim Ducks and Los Angeles Kings are looking to burst out of rebuilds. The Kraken could make a splash and get into the playoffs in their inaugural season, or just as easily find themselves near the bottom of the standings. Either way, they’re worth keeping a pulse on.
Jack Eichel and the Buffalo Sabres
Much has been made of the situation between Jack Eichel and the Buffalo Sabres. It’s not looking like the centreman will suit up with the team any time soon. That follows an off-season dispute on a procedure for a neck injury the player suffered in the spring. The dispute led to the Sabres stripping Eichel of the captaincy. It seems like a foregone conclusion that the superstar centre will not play another game in Buffalo.
The situation carries significance for a couple of reasons. First, Eichel is one of the top players in the NHL who’s been stuck with a bad team his whole career. If he finds a better situation, it would interesting to see what he’s capable of. Second, Eichel being able to force his way out of a situation could set precedent. Given it had to do with the centreman’s health, it could proliferate into other players going ahead with what they think is best for them rather than the team making the decision. It could open the door for more player autonomy in the league. That could impact trades and contracts in the years to come if players take more into their own hands.
For the Sabres, it’s another chapter in what, frankly, has been a disastrous decade. Maybe moving on from Eichel will signal yet another rebuild. Maybe fans will give up on the team altogether, prompting bigger changes like moving the team. What happens with their star centre could have an impact on the future of the team.
It’s been 19 months since the 2019-20 NHL season was abruptly cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Since then, we’ve seen bubble playoffs and a regular-season played solely in divisions. Within that, some teams have been ravaged by the coronavirus like the Vancouver Canucks were last season. Some players, like Brandon Sutter, have yet to recover from the virus. As long as the world is in a global pandemic, it will play a factor in the NHL.
Even when things were seemingly running smoothly in last year’s playoffs, Canadiens coach Dominique Ducharme was forced to miss big playoff games due to COVID-19 protocols. Granted, virtually the entire league is now vaccinated against the virus which will cut down on the number of man-games missed to COVID-19. With that said, protocols and exposures could still lead to big names missing big games. That could be the difference in playoff series come springtime.
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