With fall in the air and the puck set to drop on another NHL season, some constants remain for hockey fans.
The Lightning and Avalanche are juggernauts. Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews and other young stars will make our jaws drop on a near-nightly basis. John Tortorella will be bag-skating his players into oblivion on the regular. The Vegas Golden Knights Twitter account will be consistently cringey. We know these things.
But after an offseason featuring lots of change, some tantalizing storylines have surfaced and plenty of uncertainty remains. Where will Patrick Kane end up? Have the Oilers finally found their goalie? Are the Red Wings a sleeper playoff team? Will Sid and Ovi continue to defy the aging curve? How good can Owen Power be? How bad is this Coyotes rink situation?
As the NHL season looms, we’re about to find out the answer to those questions and more.
Which Cup contender acquires Patrick Kane, and when?
Arguably the biggest move that didn’t happen this summer was the departure of Blackhawks stars Patrick Kane and, to a lesser extent, Jonathan Toews.
With Chicago seemingly in full-blown “tank hard for Bedard” mode after off-loading Alex DeBrincat, Kirby Dach and others since the end of last season, Kane, along with Toews, have both made it known how unhappy they are with the team’s current direction, signalling an almost certain end to the Kane-Toews era in Chicago.
Though Toews has seen his production and reliability drop pretty steeply over the past few campaigns, he could still be a solid 3rd-4th line piece on a contending squad. Kane, on the other hand, is still an absolute prize and one of the more talented, coveted point-producing forwards in the league. He’s the one to really watch here as any team that can secure him at the deadline or before would add immediate firepower to their top six.
As the duo enters the final season of the identical 8-year, $84-million contracts they signed together in 2014, and Chicago in position to retain salary and maximize the assets they receive in return, it’s not a question of if they get dealt, just when — and to who.
Does Jack Campbell finally solve Edmonton’s goalie conundrum?
With the Mike Smith and Mikko Koskinen experience finally coming to a close, the Oilers solidified their goaltending — or so they hope — by prying 2021-22 All-Star goaltender Jack Campbell away from the Maple Leafs with a five-year, $25-million deal.
When he’s healthy and on his game, Campbell has the potential to be that guy. The only problem is, he’s yet to show that he can sustain his ridiculous stretches like the one he had in October and November for Toronto last season for extended periods of time.
If Campbell can just stay on the ice and off the IR and provide above-average, consistent netminding for Edmonton, it might be enough to finally put the star-studded Oilers over the top.
Is this the end of Kyle Dubas’ tenure in Toronto?
In case you haven’t heard (yeah right), the Maple Leafs general manager is entering this crucial season without a contract extension. A “lame duck” GM, if you will.
Dubas inked a five-year contract after being promoted to general manager in 2018 following Lou Lamoriello’s departure for the Islanders. Though the team has consistently been one of the league’s best during the regular season over his tenure, the star-studded squad has also disappointed mightily in the postseason while being perpetually cap-strapped year after year with no results to show for it.
Without extending Toronto’s GM, ownership is making it clear it’s very much a “put up or shut up” season for Dubas’ club. Another early playoff exit could mean a very different looking Leafs front office by this time next year. The team has the talent to save its GM’s job, but will this finally be the season that potential yields results?
Who benefits most from the Panthers-Flames blockbuster?
The superstar swap between Florida and Calgary was the biggest trade of the summer, as Hart candidate Jonathan Huberdeau and potential top-pair blueliner MacKenzie Weegar were shipped to the Flames in exchange for Matthew Tkachuk.
Flames GM Brad Treliving was able to salvage what was nearly a disastrous summer in Calgary by hauling in Huberdeau AND Weegar for Tkachuk — who told the Flames he wouldn’t be signing long-term shortly after Johnny Gaudreau’s departure in free agency. Securing the services of Nazem Kadri later in the summer, the new look Flames are at least deeper — if not better — on paper than they were before the offseason, which is wild considering the disadvantageous position they were working from. Will that translate into success, though?
As for the Panthers, one of the best teams in the NHL last season, will Tkachuk be enough to help get them through a deep, top-heavy Atlantic Division boasting some of the league’s premier squads?
Not only is star-for-star trade like this a rarity, swaps like this between two contending teams on the cusp of Stanley Cup contention are even more uncommon. This will be an intriguing one to track in the months ahead.
What does Owen Power have in store for Year 1?
Highly-touted prospect and 2021 first overall pick Owen Power will finally be a full-time NHLer this season after choosing to play with Michigan rather than with the Sabres last year, and it should be an absolute delight to watch this kid compete.
Putting up twi goals and a helper while logging big minutes (22:05 per game) in eight contests with the Sabres at the end of last season, we saw glimpses of just how special Power can be — and there should be a lot more of that in 2022-23.
How quickly will he develop into the Sabres’ best D-man? A perennial All-Star? A Norris contender? And just how far can he take a young Sabres squad this season? Does Rasmus Dahlin also hit his stride as the Sabres’ blueline becomes deeper? Does he run away with the Calder? The coming months will tell a lot.
Can the Red Wings or Senators be a sleeper playoff team?
The Yzerplan is in full swing in Detroit, and it might even be ahead of schedule as the Red Wings had themselves a nice little summer with a number of acquisitions and signings including netminder Ville Husso, forwards Andrew Copp and David Perron, and blueliner Ben Chiarot, among other depth pieces.
With reigning Calder Trophy winner Moritz Seider already looking like a bonafide NHL stud on the back end during his first season and poised to get even better — plus youngsters like Lucas Raymond and Filip Zadina making strides — the future looks bright in Detroit. But is the future already now, or will they need more time to break through in a tough Atlantic Division?
Ottawa, meanwhile, had quite a summer of its own. The big move was acquiring 40-goal guy Alex DeBrincat from the Blackhawks, while also adding hometown star Claude Giroux as a free agent. Pair those moves with the solid, youthful core Ottawa already had in place including Brady Tkachuk, Tim Stutzle, Drake Batherson, Josh Norris and Thomas Chabot, and the Senators are no longer “automatic win night” on any NHL team’s schedule.
Look for either (or both) of these teams to be in the mix for a wild card spot if any of the big guns in the Atlantic or Metro falter.
The Torts-Flyers experience
The Flyers, on paper, stink, there’s not much debate there. But you know new Flyers bench boss John Tortorella isn’t believing any of that outside noise as he prepares for his first season behind the bench.
And that’s what makes this situation so intriguing.
Maybe Torts will be just what the doctor ordered for the ailing Flyers and lead the club’ turnaround in the weeks, months and seasons ahead. Or, maybe this is an absolute train wreck. It’s sure to be a spectacle either way.
Will Ovi and Sid continue to defy the aging curve?
The top overall draft picks in the 2004 and 2005 drafts, respectively, Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby have continued to play like superstars well into their mid-30’s, but how long can they hold off Father Time’s inevitable embrace?
The pair haven’t slowed down much during their 35-plus combined NHL campaigns, and Ovechkin, specifically, is arguably at his goal-scoring best as he enter his age-37 season. Fresh off his ninth (!!) 50-goal campaign in 2021-22, Ovi has averaged 49.5 goals per over his last four “full” seasons (49, 51, 48, 50) — absolutely ridiculous production at that age. Why shouldn’t it continue?
Crosby, meanwhile, is still Crosby as the Penguins captain hasn’t potted less than 84 points in any full season since he was 20 years old and is coming off another 50-plus assist season where he missed some time due to injury. Sid is still elite, and looks as healthy as ever.
Will either, or both, still contend for major individual awards like the Rocket Richard, Art Ross and Hart Trophies in 2022-23, and can they put their teams on their backs for one last Cup run?
As fun as the Stanley Cup hunt always is, the race to the league’s basement will be as interesting as ever this season with a generational prizes like Connor Bedard and Matvei Michkov waiting to be claimed.
There’s a larger-than-usual pool of teams in the mix to be crowned the NHL’s worst this season, with the Blackhawks, Coyotes, Flyers, Ducks, Jets, Canadiens and Sharks all in the mix to round out the league’s bottom 2-3 spots and earn the best chances of landing the first or second overall picks.
With so many options, who will as emerge on top (bottom)? May the most futile win.
Phil Kessel’s ironman streak (yeah, that Phil Kessel)
I’ll forgive you for being unaware of Phil The Thrill’s pursuit of the league’s ironman record because, well, it seems too incredible to be true.
But that guy who ate hot dogs out of the Stanley Cup is indeed within striking distance of Keith Yandle’s NHL “ironman” record of 989 consecutive games. Sitting at 980 consecutive contests played, Kessel only needs to suit up for the first 10 games of the 2022-23 campaign to break Keith Yandle’s mark of 989, which he established just last season.
Phil Kessel forever.
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