If you're a fan of hockey, you can feel it in the air. The NHL is back!
This season is looking like it will be a real doozy (that's great!). Lots of last season's best teams are returning in excellent shape. But alongside them, many other clubs have used trades and new signings to really improve. In other words, there will be no easy rides in the 2022-2023 season.
And that season opens this evening with a prime time matchup between last year's thrilling Eastern Conference finalists: The Tampa Bay Lightning at the New York Rangers.
(Actually, technically, it opened last Friday with a pair of games in Prague, Czechia between the Nashville Predators and San Jose Sharks. This is a part of the league's Global Series, where teams play a few regular season games at a neutral site outside North America.)
We already did a preview of the seven Canadian teams in Issue 150 of our OWLconnected eMag. So to get ready for tonight, we're going to answer three big questions for the new season.
Are you ready to hit the ice? Let's goooooooo!
Will Cale Makar be even better?
This is a difficult thing to measure, but if you're a Colorado Avalanche fan, we have good news. Yes, he will.
In fact, we think that even after winning the Norris Trophy (best defenseman), Conn Smythe Trophy (playoffs MVP), and a Stanley Cup, this season will be an even better one for him. At only 23, he hasn't even reached his prime (best) years yet. He has proven himself to be exceptional under pressure, and is surrounded by some of the best players in the game. Every time he steps on the ice, something seems to happen. Like this ...
We think that he will be the first NHL defenseman to score 30 goals in a season since Mike Green in 2008-2009. And we also think he will win the Hart Trophy as the league's MVP.
How many Canadian teams will make the playoffs?
Last season, three of Canada's seven made the playoffs. Of those three teams—Edmonton, Calgary, Toronto—all three have returned with equally solid teams. We think that that they will be joined by one more club.
Which one? Will it be Winnipeg, led by vets Mark Schiefele, Kyle Connor, and Connor Hellebuyck? Will Ottawa's youth blow away expectations and reach the postseason ahead of schedule? Or will Montreal continue their recent way up-way down trend with shock return?
Anything is possible, but we think that the Vancouver Canucks are primed for some big success. They finished last season on a major hot streak and have added some solid new pieces to their lineup. Expect Elias Pettersson, Quinn Hughes, Bo Horvat, Brock Boeser, and J.T. Miller to be riding an orca wave into the playoffs.
Will Matthew Tkachuk and Johnny Gaudreau excel in their new homes?
Over the summer, Calgary hearts were broken not once, but twice, when the teams two best players left the club. Winger Johnny Gaudreau signed with the Columbus Blue Jackets, while his linemate Matthew Tkachuk forced a trade to the Florida Panthers. Thanks to some trades and new signings, the Flames managed to replace these losses with some top level star talent. But how will these players fare in their new homes.
Last season, the Florida Panthers rode the league's best offence to the President's Trophy and the NHL's best regular season record. Tkachuk's physical, no-nonsense style will give them a type of winger that was really the only thing that they lacked last year. He is going to fit like a glove (and enjoy some warm weather all year while he's at it).
But for Gaudreau, the immediate future is a lot tougher. Even though he is one of the league's very best players, Columbus is a team that is still rebuilding after losing a lot of their top talent in the last couple years. This means that 'Johnny Hockey' is more a cornerstone to a brighter future for the Ohio team than a piece to propel them to immediate greatness.
Who will win it all?
As always, the biggest question is who is going to win the Stanley Cup. Colorado looks ferocious and hungry to repeat as the champs. Tampa Bay will be willing (and able) to win back their mantle as the league's best. And teams like Florida, the New York Rangers, Minnesota, Carolina, and Toronto are all full of talent and eager to wipe away past disappointments with the NHL's biggest prize.
But consider keeping your eyes on the Edmonton Oilers.
As magnificent as Connor McDavid already was, he elevated his play in last year's playoffs to a level that was almost unimaginable. He was the only player close to Cale Makar's level during these games, and the only reason he and his Oilers didn't advance was because Makar's Avalanche was simply the more complete team. After years of Nathan MacKinnon knocking on the door, it was their time.
This season, it could be Connor's time. It seems almost impossible that a team with two of the best players in hockey today (McDavid and Leon Draisiatl) won't win a Cup at some point. Maybe Edmonton will win Canada's first Stanley Cup since 1993!
Of course, a lot can, and will, happen between now and then. And we couldn't be more excited!