Lightning quest for three-peat among NHL storylines to follow this season

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The Tampa Bay Lightning will try to win a third straight Stanley Cup title, and the 31 other NHL teams, including the Seattle Kraken, who are playing their first season, will try to prevent that from happening. 

“They’re probably thinking we did it once, why can’t we do it again?” said Chicago Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane, a three-time Stanley Cup champion. “Yeah, I think they could do it but hopefully someone gets in the way. Hopefully that’s us.”

The NHL is debuting new national television partners in the United States with ESPN and Turner Sports. 

The Stanley Cup Final will be on ABC.

The 2022 Discover NHL Winter Classic between the St. Louis Blues and Minnesota Wild on Jan. 1 will be on TNT (7 p.m. ET). 

The former division alignment is back, with the Metropolitan and Atlantic divisions making up the Eastern Conference, and the Central and Pacific divisions making up the Western Conference.

The League realigned last season because of COVID-19 concerns and restrictions. 

The 2022 NHL Trade Deadline is March 21 at 3 p.m. ET. The last day of the regular season is April 29. The last possible day of the Stanley Cup Final is June 30.

Here are 10 storylines to follow as the NHL prepares to go through its first full season since 2019-20:

 

Three-peat potential

The Lightning will raise their second Stanley Cup championship banner to the ceiling at Amalie Arena in a span of seven months before they open the season against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Tuesday (7:30 p.m. ET; ESPN, ESPN+, SN, TVAS).

The Lightning raised the banner for their 2020 Stanley Cup championship March 13, when they could do it with fans in attendance. It was their 11th home game of the season. They’re not waiting this year because Amalie Arena is expected to be filled to capacity opening night.

No team has won three Stanley Cup championships in a row since the New York Islanders won four straight from 1980-83.

Video: Tampa Bay Lightning 2021-22 Season Preview

 

Seattle is open for business

Seattle’s first season will be judged against what the Vegas Golden Knights did in their first season of 2017-18. Vegas set the bar by reaching the Stanley Cup Final before losing to the Washington Capitals.

“Everyone around us is going to adjust because everyone saw what happened in Vegas and the quality of team they put together,” Seattle defenseman Mark Giordano said on the NHL @TheRink podcast. “We have to form our own identity, our own path here in Seattle.”

The Kraken’s first game is at the Golden Knights on Tuesday (10 p.m. ET; ESPN, ESPN+, SN, TVAS).

 

Encores for McDavid, Matthews

Connor McDavid won the Art Ross Trophy as the League’s leading scorer last season with 105 points (33 goals, 72 assists) in 56 games. The Edmonton Oilers center averaged 1.88 points per game, 22nd all-time among players who played in at least 56 games.

McDavid was on a 154-point pace for an 82-game season. Can he do it again? Can he be even better?

Auston Matthews won the Rocket Richard Trophy as the NHL’s leading goal-scorer last season with 41 goals in 52 games. Five players in NHL history scored at least as many goals while playing in fewer games than the Toronto Maple Leafs center did last season:

Cam Neely (50 in 49, 1993-94), Maurice Richard (50 in 50, 1944-45), Joe Malone (44 in 20), 1917-18), Cooney Weiland (43 in 44, 1929-30), Dit Clapper (41 in 44, 1929-30).

Matthews was on a 64-goal pace for an 82-game season. Lightning center Steven Stamkos is the last player to score at least 60 goals in a season, doing it in 2011-12. Can Matthews be the first to reach 60 in a decade?

 

Will this be the season…?

The Maple Leafs haven’t won a playoff series since 2004, losing in seven games four times, including last season, after they had a 3-1 lead against the Montreal Canadiens. Will this be the season the spell breaks and the Maple Leafs go on a run?

The Colorado Avalanche haven’t been able to get out of the second round of the playoffs for three straight seasons. Will this be the season they do?

The Islanders have lost in the third round against the Lightning each of the past two seasons, including 1-0 in Game 7 last season. Will this be the season they get over the hump and reach the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 1984?

The New York Rangers haven’t won a postseason series since 2017. They went into an announced rebuild in 2018. Will this be the season they break their playoff drought?

The Los Angeles Kings have won one playoff game in two appearances since winning the Stanley Cup in 2014. Will this be the season they recreate some magic again?

 

Montreal’s missing pieces

The Canadiens made a run to the Stanley Cup Final last season partially on the backs of goalie Carey Price and defenseman Shea Weber, but they are not available to start this season. 

Weber’s career is in jeopardy because of various injuries, and Montreal general manager Marc Bergevin has talked about him as a player in the past tense, saying Thursday “he left a legacy.”

Price will be away from the team while voluntarily taking part in the NHL/NHLPA player assistance program. It’s not clear when he will return, but Bergevin said he’s confident it will be this season.

Bergevin said he believes the Canadiens have enough leaders in the room to carry on without Price and Weber.

“I think they’ll rise to the occasion one more time,” Bergevin said.

Video: Montreal Canadiens 2021-22 Season Preview

 

Penguins’ injuries to test postseason streak

The Penguins have reached the postseason in 15 consecutive seasons, the longest active streak in the NHL. They haven’t missed since 2005-06, when center Sidney Crosby was a rookie.

But they are dealing with injuries to Crosby and center Evgeni Malkin, and neither will start the season.

Malkin won’t play for at least the first two months while recovering from knee surgery he had June 4. Crosby will miss games recovering from wrist surgery he had Sept. 8.

“We’re up against it, we all know it,” general manager Ron Hextall said. “We’re going to have some guys that have an opportunity to show us some things they probably wouldn’t otherwise, and we need some guys to step up.”

 

Islanders’ road start, new building

The Islanders are opening UBS Arena this season, but not before playing 13 straight road games. Their first game at their new arena is against the Calgary Flames on Nov. 20. 

The Islanders will play 12 different teams (they play the Panthers twice) in nine states and two provinces in a span of 34 days before their first home game.  

However, they make up for it later by playing 10 home games each in December and January and 11 in March. They close the season with five of their last seven games at home.

 

Motivated by an Olympic year

There will be constant roster watches and mock lineups with the NHL gearing up for a return to the Winter Olympics for the first time since 2014. 

Several countries have already named the first three players to their Olympic roster.

“I think it gives you that extra energy, or whatever you want to call it, during the season because you know you have to make the team,” said Rangers center Mika Zibanejad, who was one of three players named to Sweden’s Olympic team. “That leads up to the better you play the better your team is going to be here. That’s a good competitive thing for us during the season.”

The NHL will pause for All-Star Weekend followed by the Olympic break from Feb. 3-22. 

The Olympic tournament will run from Feb. 9-19.

 

Ovechkin’s surge toward Gretzky’s record

Alex Ovechkin has 730 NHL goals and begins a five-year, $47.5 million contract ($9.5 million average annual value) he signed with the Capitals on July 27.

The 36-year-old would break Wayne Gretzky‘s record of 894 goals near the end of his five-year contract if he averages 33 goals per season. He scored 24 goals in 45 games last season. 

“He’s definitely got a legitimate shot,” Gretzky said. 

Ovechkin could finish the season in third place on the all-time list behind Gretzky and Gordie Howe (801). He is one goal behind Marcel Dionne for fifth place, 11 behind Brett Hull for fourth and 36 behind Jaromir Jagr for third.

 

Big names are back

Jonathan Toews headlines a group of players who are back for their respective teams to start this season after missing most or all of last season.

Toews, the Blackhawks’ 33-year-old captain, is hopeful of playing in the season opener at the Avalanche on Wednesday after missing all of last season because of chronic immune response syndrome.

Anders Lee is back for the Islanders after the forward and team captain missed the last 29 games of the season and all 19 games in the playoffs because of a torn ACL. 

Aaron Ekblad is returning to the Panthers. The defenseman missed the last 21 games of last season and all six Florida played in the playoffs because of a fractured leg, an injury he sustained March 28. 

Tyler Seguin returned to the Dallas Stars lineup for three games at the end of last season after missing the first 51 recovering from hip surgery. The center, who didn’t play in Dallas’ last two games last season, is healthy to start this season.

Vancouver Canucks center Elias Pettersson is also back after missing the last 30 games of last season because of wrist injury. Pettersson signed a three-year contract with a $7.35 million annual salary cap charge Oct. 3.

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