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The NHL is coming back: Here’s what you may have missed and what to expect this year


For anyone working in or near professional hockey, the schedule is not much different from that of a student or teacher.

Once the calendar clicks past Labor Day, it’s time to get back to work.

NHL players who haven’t made it to their work cities yet are doing so now. For veterans, there are unofficial rentals, and tournaments for beginners are on the horizon. The main camps will open in less than two weeks. The exhibition season starts long before you know it, and in case you forgot, the NHL regular season kicks off in Europe on October 7th with a two-legged game in Prague between Nashville and San Jose. NHL Global Series.

In many ways, those seven weeks were the NHL’s first real off-season in three years.

In 2020, the 24-team Bubble Playoff started in August, and by the second week of September, they had qualified for the final four. In 2021, the 56-game season only started in January with divisional reorganizations and travel restrictions leading to a year-long experiment with an all-Canadian division, among other things. Both times the result was the same: the Tampa Bay Lightning won the Stanley Cup in a row.

But by the time the 2021 expansion drafts and free agent were completed, half of last summer had already passed.

This year, for everyone but maybe Flames general manager Brad Treliving (more on his off-season work later), it seemed like the league finally had a chance to collectively take a deep breath and then exhale heartily.

September optimism is upon us now, and it seems sincere, batteries are being collectively recharged across the league.

The last time we parted ways, NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly presented the Stanley Cup to Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog because Commissioner Gary Bettman tested positive for COVID-19.

Colorado celebrated what seemed like a long-overdue Stanley Cup after an epic final against the Lightning, who didn’t give up on the trio without a fight. This championship streak followed an exciting two-month playoff run that helped cover up just how flat the last NHL regular season was from a competitive standpoint. It’s been a year without real drama since Christmas.

Early on, the Eastern Conference was clearly divided into eight haves and eight have-nots, and the playoff spots were actually decided a few months before the scheduled time. In the West, the competition wasn’t much higher, with six teams (Winnipeg, Chicago, Arizona, San Jose, Anaheim, and Seattle) falling behind the pace early, and five teams (Colorado, Minnesota, St. Louis, Calgary, and Edmonton) booking effortlessly playoff spots.

So in a 32-team league after the Kraken debuted last season, that meant only five clubs (Los Angeles, Vegas, Vancouver, Nashville, and Dallas) were actually in contention for three playoff spots during the stretch. .

So here we are, training camps are just around the corner, and we have the Coyotes about to start playing in the 5,000-seat arena on the Arizona State University campus.

We have a divisional champion in Calgary wildly redesigned up front. We have Ottawa suddenly a popular destination; Columbus too.

The Panthers’ reigning regular-season champion replaced finalist Andrew Brunet Jack Adams with veteran coach Paul Maurice and traded NHL second-leading scorer Jonathan Huberdeau to Calgary for an agitated Matthew Tkachuk in hopes of a better career. playoffs.

A competitive imbalance in the regular season turned the 2022 bidding deadline into an early version of Boxing Day, with “For Sale” signs posted on franchises across the continent.

The rotation and trade resumed almost as soon as the teams went to Montreal for the draft.

This, in turn, caused unsustainable turmoil in several different markets.

It’s fair to say that 2022 has been an extraordinary summer in the NHL.

Now summer, like no other, always guarantees an unforgettable season. But you can’t dispute the fact that intrigue and curiosity heading for the camps are at their peak.

Oddly enough, the two teams that rotated the most also represent two of the NHL’s smallest markets – Ottawa and Calgary, two franchises that tend to make little impression on the larger national picture.

Calgary and Ottawa have made significant changes to their respective cores, which is really the only way to quantify the narrative. The only difference was that the Flame’s movements were driven by forces largely beyond their control, and in most cases could be seen as lateral. Two key members were missing (Johnny Gaudreau, Tkachuk); three key members came (Huberdo, Nazem Kadri, Mackenzie Vigar).

The changes will result in a shift in leadership and roles within the Flames, but that’s debatable: are they better, worse, or just different?

Of course, sometimes just being different – if what you have doesn’t work to your satisfaction – makes you a better person. In Calgary, a section of fans have been frustrated with the core for some time now, despite the fact that the core helped them clinch the division title last season and set the second-best record in the NHL in 2019.

So it’s not exactly the kind of franchise that’s been wandering the desert for a long time.

Ottawa, on the other hand, was like that.

But this offseason is, frankly, impressive performance by general manager Pierre Dorion.


Alex DeBrinkat. (Stan Szeto / USA Today)

First, a deal to bring in Alex DeBrinkat, an elite-level scorer young enough to fit into the core of the team without giving up much of the NHL’s roster. Then he poached key free agent Claude Giroud to Ottawa to further strengthen the backbone of the team. And adding veteran goaltender Cam Talbot to stabilize the goal control system was a subtle part of a good horse trade—taking advantage of Talbot’s desire not to share a job with Marc-Andre Fleury in Minnesota.

There is hope that Josh Norris, Drake Baterson and Tim Stutzle will keep their promise, because the commitments made by them, as well as by Brady Tkachuk and Thomas Schabot, are serious. Ottawa has a long way to go to make up the gap between the Atlantic’s best and worst four teams, but the Senators should be on their way – not only better, but fun to watch, which will hopefully energize fans and get them into Kanata in more numbers.

Perhaps the closest comparison to this offseason was the summer of 2016, when two deals — Taylor Hall for Adam Larsson and P.K. Subban for Shea Weber — brought the wow factor to this offseason. Hall eventually emerged as the MVP of his new Devils team in 2018, while Subban also thrived in Nashville early on, earning a Norris Trophy finalist nod in 2018. Meanwhile, Weber overcame some serious physical challenges to help Montreal qualify for the 2021 Stanley Cup. The final.

So, influence the players who have influenced their new locations. That’s what they want in Ottawa and Calgary, where they’ll use training camp and the start of the season to unravel the mystery of chemistry because it all has to freeze on the ice eventually; and that’s the nasty, mysterious part of the equation that no one can accurately predict.

But they remember that Hall achieved a historic turnaround during a year in New Jersey before being traded to Arizona and then, as a highly valued free agent, joining the Buffalo on a one-year, $8 million demonstrative contract. me a contract.

Hall’s contract that year was similar to the one John Klingberg had signed with the Ducks earlier that summer.

With all the other key free agents getting dollars and terms, Klingberg lingered in the market and finally agreed to a $7 million one-year deal. That seems to be the way new Ducks CEO Pat Verbeek has been trying to — as far as possible — fill in the gaps in his roster with a series of short-term decisions.

The Ducks have been keeping a close eye on the biggest hockey game of the summer – the rescheduled World Junior Championships in Edmonton, where they got impressive results from Mason McTavish, who looked like a young Ryan O’Reilly. Nice part to build around.

Two of the three California teams, the Ducks and Sharks, received new management in Verbeck and Mike Grier, respectively. But Verbeck has a much easier task ahead of him, as he inherited a team from the previous mode that, in addition to McTavish and Olen Zellweger, features two of the most intriguing young talents in the game – Trevor Zegras and Jamie Drysdale.

Verbeek also had the luxury of getting a draft pick on deadline by trading useful veterans like Rickard Rackell, Hampus Lindholm and Josh Manson, who ultimately helped the Avs win the Cup. In short, the hard work had been done before Verbeck even arrived on the scene; now it’s his job to take that young core to the next level. Grier, by contrast, faces a much more difficult task.

More and more teams have embraced this scorched-earth rebuilding philosophy over the last few seasons outside of Anaheim and Ottawa. Arizona tops the list, but Buffalo, Detroit, New Jersey, and now Montreal and Chicago are on the same substantial path, with Seattle on the more traditional path of slow but steady expansion.

Q: If 10 teams go into reset at about the same time and painfully rebuild, how many of them will actually succeed in reaching the ultimate goal of winning the Stanley Cup? Colorado did so shortly after scoring 48 points in the regular season. Three of the Atlantic’s four underdogs — Ottawa, Buffalo and Detroit — have made it clear this offseason that they’re ready to make a dash for respectability, apparently hoping one of last year’s playoff clubs will drop into the league. table.

On paper, Boston was theoretically such a candidate because the Bruins would start the season with several key players, including Brad Marchand and Charlie McAvoy, who would be recovering from off-season operations. Their absence along with Matt Grzelczyk means they could start slower than anticipated, though the return of Patrice Bergeron and David Krajci for another year will ease worries.

Another caveat: the same was said about the Penguins a year ago because they were going to start the season without Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby and other key figures. Reality was different. A handful of minor players helped keep the Penguins afloat until the big boys returned. After that, there was not much rivalry.

On paper, the 2022-2023 playoff races promise to be much closer and more interesting than a year ago. How will all this happen on the ice? We will soon begin to see.

(Top photo of Nazem Kadri: Ron Chenoy / USA Today)





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