Missing hockey? Me too. It’s only been a month since the Lightning lifted the Stanley Cup, but it feels like we’ve been without hockey forever. But luckily the next hockey season is right around the corner. So, to quench your thirst for talk of hockey, here are some NHL predictions for the 2021-22 season, which begins on October 12.
1: The Islanders fall off
The Islanders were one of the most surprising teams in the 2021 Playoffs, stunning the Pittsburgh Penguins in 6 games and even taking the Tampa Bay Lightning to 7 games in the Stanley Cup Conference Finals. But they’ve made some interesting signings or lack thereof. Nick Leddy was traded to the Detroit Red Wings for Richard Panik and a second-round pick, which they used to select center Aatu Raty. Additionally, they have not re-signed Kyle Palmieri, Casey Cizikas, or Travis Zajac. While not signing Zajac is understandable, he only had two points in 14 Playoff games, Palmieri and Cizikas are baffling. Palmieri lit up the playoffs with seven goals in 19 games, always finding a goal when the team needed it. Cizikas was also a good center in the Playoffs, winning a staggering 61.2% of faceoffs. It seems that the Islanders are unsure of their next step, holding onto both 33-year-old Semyon Varlamov and 26-year-old Ilya Sorokin. Keeping both appears to be a contending move, but letting Palmieri, Cizikas, and Zajac walk appear to be a backward slide.
2: Vegas Collapses
In the biggest news of the offseason, the Golden Knights shipped off newly honored Vezina-winner Marc-Andre Fleury to the Chicago Blackhawks for minor-league forward Mikael Hakkarainen. Fleury had easily the best year of his stellar career last year, going 26-10-0 with a .928 save percentage and a 1.98 goals-against average. While everyone expects the Blackhawks to be much improved with Fleury in the net, less is talked about the Golden Knights situation. They will be trusting Robin Lehner to be the starter, who has been up and down in his tenure with Vegas. In the regular season, he went 13-4-2 with a 2.29 GAA and a .913 save percentage. While still good, that isn’t as good as Fleury. Additionally, Lehner was disappointing in the Playoffs, going 1-2-0 with a below-average 3.62 GAA and a .887 save percentage. Lehner must be better for the Golden Knights to continue their streak of reaching the Playoffs, which has happened each of their four years in existence. But this year is different with Fleury gone, and it will be noticeable.
3: The Blue Jackets Will Go Full OKC Mode
For those of you that know, you know. The Oklahoma City Thunder have embraced a tanking method that incorporates taking bad contracts for draft picks and taking older players, rehabilitating them, and then trading them away for more draft picks. The Blue Jackets should be taking notes. After trading away Seth Jones, the Blue Jackets don’t have much going for them. They still have Patrick Laine, but he should be traded for more assets. Nick Foligno is already gone to the Bruins, and David Savard is on the Canadiens. The Blue Jackets should go into a full rebuild sooner rather than later.
4: The Hurricanes become Eastern Conference Favorites
We’ve talked enough about disappointing teams, let’s talk about exciting teams. The Carolina Hurricanes have one of the most fun lines in hockey, with Sebastian Aho, Teuvo Teravainen, and Andrei Svechnikov. They also have Martin Necas, all of whom are under 26. They traded away Alex Nedeljkovic, a move that signified they were trying to win now and not wait for Nedeljkovic to grow. The Hurricanes nabbed Frederik Anderson in free agency, a 31-year-old who went 13-8-3 last year. Anderson, along with the veterans for the Hurricanes like Jordan Staal and Jaccob Slavin, will lead the Hurricanes deep into the President’s Trophy race, and with that make them a favorite to win the Stanley Cup.
5: Sidney Crosby has a bounce-back season
The Pittsburgh Penguins had a disappointing end to their 2021 season, losing in 6 games to the New York Islanders in the first round. While they won their division, Sidney Crosby did not perform up to his usual standard. In 55 games he only notched 62 points. While a big factor was the changes in the team and the loss of Evgeni Malkin for most of the year, he is 34 and nearing the end of his incredible career. However, he has one more great season in him. He will top 100 points, netting 40 goals for his highest goal total since 2016-17. With Malkin’s status uncertain for the 2021-22 season, Crosby will shoulder more of the scoring load while still setting up his teammates with his usual skill.
6: The Red Wings Push for a Playoff Spot
The Red Wings have been out of the Playoffs since 2016 and they were one of the worst teams last year. But this year looks different. GM Steve Yzerman traded for Alex Nedeljkovic, giving the Red Wings their hopeful starting goaltender of the next five or more years. Then, he drafted Simon Edvinsson and Sebastian Cossa in the 2021 NHL Draft. While these two will likely not play until 2023 at the earliest, Nedeljkovic will help right away. Additionally, they traded for Nick Leddy and signed Pious Suter while keeping Tyler Bertuzzi and Marc Staal. This team is honestly exciting.
Getting Suter gives the Red Wings two good scoring lines with Dylan Larkin, Jakub Vrana, Bertuzzi, Robby Fabbri, and Filip Zadina joining Suter. Having Leddy on defense allows him and Staal to mentor the younger players, especially Moritz Seider, who will most likely play with Edvinsson when he comes over from Sweden. Having Nedeljkovic and Thomas Greiss in goal gives the Red Wings options while allowing the youth to grow and develop for the future. They may not make the playoffs this year, but by 2022-23 they should be locks for an over .500 season
7: The Stars Return to the Playoffs
After an incredible run to the Stanley Cup Finals during the 2020 season in the bubble, the Dallas Stars missed the Playoffs in 2021. Their regression was understandable. Their best center Tyler Seguin was out with hip surgery and Ben Bishop was out with knee surgery. But this year, Seguin is back. Bishop might not be but the Stars have Anton Khudobin, Jake Oettinger, and Braden Holtby in the net. Jason Robertson and Roope Hintz were rising stars last year and will only get better. Robertson posted 45 points in 51 games and made the All-Rookie Team. Hintz posted 43 points in 41 games and the Stars also signed Ryan Suter, Jani Hakanpaa, and Luke Glendening. While they might not be great, they will return to the playoffs after a year’s hiatus.
8: McDavid and Draisaitl Join Gretzky and Nicholls
Only one team in NHL history has had two players achieve 150+ points in the same year, with Wayne Gretzky and Bernie Nicholls doing it in 1988-89. Gretzky ended with 168 and Nicholls had exactly 150. McDavid and Draisaitl will join these two in 2021-22. In 2021, McDavid would’ve had over 150 points in an 82-game season, and Draisaitl would’ve had 123. Having Duncan Keith net a few goals on defense will add to their total, as well as the projected growth of Kailer Yamamoto and the addition of Zach Hyman to play with McDavid will all give the dynamic tandem more assists, and the two have already proven their ability to get a goal whenever they want. McDavid and Draisaitl will cement themselves as superstars and they will both notch over 150 points this next season.
9: Carey Price Wins Vezina Trophy
Carey Price is one of the most beloved goaltenders in hockey. Seeing him make a Stanley Cup Finals run was surreal, even though it hurt seeing him lose. After his knee surgery, he will have another incredible season next year. Last year he went 12-7-5 in the regular season with a 2.64 GAA and a .901 save percentage. In the Playoffs, he went 13-9-0 with a 2.28 GAA and a stingy .924 save percentage. He will be even better next year, posting a .930 save percentage or better. His stellar play will earn him another Vezina, becoming the first goaltender to win two or more Vezina’s since Martin Brodeur in 2008. The Canadiens brought in David Savard, a great defenseman who will limit shots on Price and allow Price to post his highest career shutouts with 10.
10: The Avalanche Win the Stanley Cup
Let’s end this article with a bang, shall we? This year is put up or shut up for the Colorado Avalanche. They finished third in the regular season two years ago and were the President’s Trophy winners this past year, and all they have accomplished is two series wins and two second-round exits. Nathan MacKinnon went off for 69 points in 50 games last year, Gabriel Landeskog is back for the next eight years, and while Philipp Grubauer is gone from the net, they traded for Darcy Kuemper who will share the net with Pavel Francouz and Jonas Johansson. In the 2021-22 season, MacKinnon will win the Hart trophy, for Most Valuable Player. But that won’t be all the hardware he ends the 2022 season with, winning the Stanley Cup and the Conn Smythe to bring the Cup back to Colorado for the first time since 2001.