"It's been a long time coming!"
With the new NHL season about to begin this evening, you could say that about a few things.
Maybe you're one of those rabid hockey fans—the kind who the moment the Stanley Cup is over begins counting down the days to the start of the next season.
Or perhaps you're someone who—after the pandemic—has been waiting for a year of hockey that feels like normal.
OR maybe you just happen to be a brand new team that is about to play its first-ever season of NHL hockey! And what do you know? That actually applies this year!
Whatever your feelings, the start of the 2021-22 NHL season is here, so let's get stuck into what to expect, shall we?
Seattle gets Kraken
Easily the biggest story of this season is that it is the first for the Seattle Kraken. Since it was announced in 2018 that the city was getting the newest NHL franchise, everything has been building up to this moment.
The uniforms look slick, the first captain has been named (sorry, Calgary fans—it's your former captain Mark Giordano), and a hot new Pacific Northwest sports rivalry is about to begin (you know what we're talking about Vancouver—it's Canucks versus Kraken in a battle for seaside supremacy!).
The addition of the Kraken also brings some kind of cool mathematical symmetry to the league as well. How so?
As the 32nd team, Seattle finally brings balance to the Western and Eastern conferences with 16 teams a piece. It also means that each club officially has a 50 percent chance of getting into the playoffs—16 teams in, 16 teams out. And speaking of 50, the Kraken are also the 50th franchise to have ever played in the NHL.
But of course, the only number this team's players will really care about is the score each night. And they'll get their first chance at a big win tonight when they face off against the league's second youngest franchise, the Vegas Golden Knights!
Canadian hopes abound
Hockey is often called 'Canada's game', but that hasn't exactly translated into a lot of recent success for the country's seven clubs. Despite an heroic run last summer by the underdog Montreal Canadiens, it remains 28 years and counting since the last Canadian Stanley Cup win. So who is most likely to make a run at stopping this run of national bad luck? Let's look at all seven teams now!
The Habs have some really exciting young players, including centre Nick Suzuki, defenseman Alexander Romanov, and rookie sharpshooter Cole 'Goal' Caufield. Fresh off a finals appearance, they should be in great shape, right? But the team also heads into this season without their two leaders—captain Shea Weber is out for the year and superstar goalie Carey Price has taken an indefinite break for health reasons. This is a determined group, but they will need some big performances to repeat last year's feat.
Speaking of youth, let's look at one of the younger teams in the league, the Sens! Thomas Chabot, Brady Thachuk, Tim Stützle, Drake Batherson, Alex Formenton, Shane Pinto ... there are so many talented new players on this team. If you're fan, you also probably know that they're still a couple years away from being great. It's a tough league! But the future is extremely bright here and this will be an exciting team to watch, at the very least.
Toronto Maple Leafs
The summer in Toronto was not a fun one for hockey fans. After blowing an enormous three games to one series lead against Montreal, the Leafs failed to make it past the first round of the playoffs again. This despite having two of the league's best players—Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner—and being a terrific team in the regular season. For this season, captain John Tavares is back after recovering from last year's difficult injury, and he is joined by some intriguing new faces, including young winger Michael Bunting and gritty centre David Kampf. It's time for this skilled group to prove what it's got.
The Jets are a tough team to pin down. Mark Scheifele. Connor Hellebuyck. Nikolai Ehlers. Kyle Connor. Blake Wheeler. They're big, strong, quick, can score, and have an elite goalie. And yet, they're also prone to long stretches where they struggle—like when they followed up a four-game sweep of Edmonton with getting swept themselves by Montreal in the next round of the playoffs. This year will be all about a good team reminding everyone of just how good they can be, night after night.
Connor McDavid is the best hockey player on the planet. And one of the only players who can come close to him is a teammate—German machine Leon Draisaitl. They should be unstoppable. But like the Leafs, this team has struggled to turn their superstar talent into playoff success. The hope is that the addition of two veteran players—three-time Cup winner Duncan Keith and ex-Leaf spark plug Zach Hyman—will be the spark to ignite a team that on paper is as flammable as, well, oil!
And speaking of flames, Calgary is another club in search of some explosive punch. Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, and Matthew Thachuk are a handful for any team, and Jacob Markström is capable of being one of the best goalies in the league. This is also a team that just lost long-time captain Giordano to Seattle though. They will be looking to newcomer Blake Coleman, who comes fresh from winning his second Stanley Cup in a row with Tampa. His arrival completely changed that Tampa team, so why not the same in Calgary?
The Canucks had a really difficult last season. Hit with a massive COVID outbreak that affected nearly the entire team, their games were so delayed that they were still finishing their regular season after the playoffs had begun. But it's a brand new year and they have reason to believe that they can put it all behind them. Swedish double threat Elias Pettersson and Nils Höglander join Brock Boeser and Connor Garland to make for lots of scoring threats. And there may not be a better young defenseman in the league than Quinn Hughes, who can change a game in the blink of an eye.
Let's play some hockey, everyone!