Ice, nice to see you again
As 2021-22 slate begins, what to know, expect
There is more high-level hockey on tap over the next nine months than ever before.
Thanks to the addition of the Seattle Kraken as the NHL’s 32nd franchise and the return to a full schedule, 1,312 regular-season games are set to be played before the start of the playoffs next spring. Add 30 games in Beijing as the league’s players return to the Olympics and the road to the Stanley Cup is a marathon.
The season gets under way Tuesday night when the back-to-back champion Lightning raise another banner and host the Penguins, the last team to win the Cup twice in a row in 2016 and 2017.
The Kraken also play their first regular-season game — in Las Vegas, four years after the Golden Knights were the league’s last expansion team.
AP Hockey Writers Larry Lage, John Wawrow and Stephen Whyno get you ready for the season with a rundown of what to know.
Unleashing the Kraken brings the NHL to the Pacific Northwest with a team that’s selling merchandise at a rapid pace and should contend right away like the Knights did. The Kraken would have to reach the Stanley Cup Final to match the Knights.
The two teams that get to the final will again go the traditional way through the Eastern or Western Conference, after the 56-game 2021 season was played entirely within four divisions until the semifinals. Cross-border play is back, too, and every team is scheduled to play the other 31 at least twice — once at home and on the road.
Those games will air on ESPN’s networks, ABC and TNT in the U.S. in the first season of a new TV deal. Puck movement will be tracked with microchips for the first time, opening the door for a Zamboni load of new data and gambling opportunities.
Barring a turn for the worse by the pandemic, the league will take a threeweek break in February for players to participate in the Olympics for the first time since 2014.
Hart Trophy (MVP)
Lage: Oilers center Connor McDavid, who won the award last year for the second time in five years and finished third or fifth the other three seasons. Wawrow: The Avalanche’s Nathan MacKinnon, who has finished second twice and third once in the voting. It’s time the NHL’s most complete player gets top billing.
Whyno: MacKinnon is a man on a mission. He’ll play a Hart-caliber season, but he wants the Cup.
Vezina Trophy (goaltender)
Lage: Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy doesn’t get the credit he deserves because he plays for the best team in the league.
Wawrow: Let’s go with a long-shot with the Flames’ Jacob Markstrom. The Flames are playing in a Pacific Division that might be the NHL’s weakest in featuring six of eight teams that failed to make the playoffs last year.
Whyno: Nothing against reigning
Vezina winner Marc-Andre Fleury, but Vasilevskiy is the best goalie on the planet.
Norris Trophy (defenseman)
Lage: Knights defenseman Shea Theodore, a rising star who’s due for the honor playing for a Cup contender. Wawrow: Unsure what more the Lightning’s Victor Hedman had to do last year to earn his second Norris. Hedman is too good to not be a contender again this year.
Whyno: Cale Makar stacks the trophy case for the Avs. He just has to stay healthy.
Calder Trophy (rookie)
Lage: Red Wings defenseman Moritz Seider, drafted No. 6 overall in 2019, gives a rebuilding team desperately needed help on the blue line. Wawrow: The Canadiens’ undersized Cole Caufield proved during the Cup Final run he can produce on a big stage. There’s no reason to expect him to take a step back.
Whyno: Going off the board here with the Capitals’ Hendrix Lapierre, who surprisingly sticks in the NHL at 19 and puts on a show.
Who wins the Cup
Lage: Lightning over the Avs. The Lightning will be the first NHL team to three-peat since the Islanders dynasty in the early 1980s.
Wawrow: Islanders over the Jets. The Cup returns to Long Island for the first time since 1983.
Whyno: Avs over the Islanders. MacKinnon earns Olympic gold in Beijing and makes sure the Cup is lifted a mile high in Denver.