The start of the 2021-22 NHL Season is underway. And yes this is a day late forgive us here for a minute. However, it was only two games. So we are still within range with five more games getting underway here on a Wednesday night. There are always things to watch heading into a new season, but this season is a little different especially with the potential of an Olympic break happening. Not to mention COVID-19 is still going around. And obviously, that has to be mentioned. Oh yeah, this is the first time since the 2018-19 season the NHL played a full 82 game season.
So with the off-season behind us and the puck already dropped on the 2021-22 NHL season, here are the top five storylines to watch.
Jack Eichel and the Buffalo Sabres
One of the biggest storylines heading into this season is will the Buffalo Sabres ever trade Jack Eichel. Eichel has not been happy with the Sabres for two years now. Not to mention he was happy with the way the team handled his injury. Eichel is dealing with a neck injury and the parties are arguing what the best course of action is for the player medically. While this is going on Eichel requested a trade out of town. However, teams are concerned over his medical procedure, but that information is being released to the interested parties. General manager Kevyn Adams stripped Eichel of the captaincy and will look to trade the forward. However, this will be difficult and he is not budging on his price.
This will be interesting to follow to see how long this will last? Many thought it would get done before the season started. That did not happen. Could we see Eichel traded before the deadline? It all depends on what route he decides to go for his procedure.
Can the Tampa Bay Lightning Three-Peat?
Another storyline this 2021-22 season is can the Tampa Bay Lightning three-peat? That was one of the topics discussed on the FPH Weekly Hockey show. It will be difficult, but most of the core is intact from the past two Stanley Cup runs. However, the loss of their third line of Barclay Goodrow, Yanni Gourde, and Blake Coleman will be huge. That line brought so much energy and played such a crucial role in the Lightning’s run to back-to-back Stanley Cup titles. It will be hard to replace that kind of production considering they played in every situation. However, Jon Cooper, who just got a new extension has shown his ability to adapt to the roster in front of him. Would it shock anyone if they did it again? No way, but it will be tough. Despite a loss opening night, there is a long season ahead and do not overreact to one game.
Seattle Kraken Inaugural Season
It is the Seattle Kraken’s first season in the NHL. Expectations are high as they play in the Pacific Division. They have a team constructed that can make the playoffs. However, to expect anything similar to the Vegas Golden Knights is unfair. What Vegas did in their first year was incredible. Everything fell their way as they went to the Stanley Cup Final. Do not expect the same thing with Seattle. The Kraken drafted conservatively as the deals were not there like they were for Vegas. However, they made splashes in free-agency signing Philipp Grubauer as their number one goalie. He has proven he can carry a team. Do not count this team out especially in the weakest division in the NHL.
Battle of Florida
Another storyline to watch this 2021-22 NHL season is the battle of Florida. Their battles in the regular season were fun, but the rivalry got taken to the next level in the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs when the Lightning and Florida Panthers met in the first round. And boy were those games fun to watch. They left the fans wanting more. The intensity from the playoffs carried over into the preseason as the two teams had multiple scrums after the whistle. The question will be can the Panthers can over the hump of the first round something they haven’t done since 1996. If the Panthers want to be taken seriously they will have to beat the Lightning. The Lightning are the champs, but the Panthers are on the rise especially with Joel Quenneville behind the bench. Florida has that Chicago feel before they won three Stanley Cups. Not saying that will happen, but they are getting close.
It would be hard to go through storylines without mentioning COVID-19. It will be a factor this year with only four players in the NHL unvaccinated. However, COVID-19 is still going through the league even with players vaccinated. Seattle will be without a player or two for their first game of the season. Not to mention the Colorado Avalanche will be missing Nathan MacKinnon for at least one game because of COVID-19 protocols. However, some players that have gone through are still feeling the side effects, for example, Brandon Sutter. Remember the Vancouver Canucks were ravaged by COVID-19 last season. So let’s see how that plays out because it is a storyline.
In addition to these storylines, everyone will be keeping an eye on the Toronto Maple Leafs and Edmonton Oilers and what they do. Not to mention where will Vladimir Tarasenko finally end up. And finally, does the NHL go to the Olympics. That and a whole lot more is waiting for you during the 2021-22 NHL Season.