The NHL 2021-22 season kicks off on Tuesday with a full 82-game schedule set to run until April 29. This year 32 teams, with the addition of the Seattle Kraken, will battle it out with the hopes of hoisting the coveted Stanley Cup in what will be the first regular season since the pandemic struck mid-season in March 2020.
The league is split into the Eastern and Western conferences and returns to its original four divisions, the Atlantic, Metropolitan, Central and Pacific, with eight teams in each.
Read below for a breakdown of the Central Division.
Oct 7, 2021; Dallas, Texas, USA; Colorado Avalanche goaltender Darcy Kuemper (35) faces the Dallas Stars attack during the second period at the American Airlines Center. (Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports)
The Avalanche boasted the best record in the NHL last season after going 39-13-4, so it was a bit of a surprise when they lost in the second round to the Golden Knights, although Nazem Kadri’s suspension seemed to play a large role in that.
Colorado stands a good chance of winning the division again, but the pressure will be on the top line to produce after Joonas Donskoi was picked up by the Kraken in the expansion draft and Brandon Saad signed with the division-rival Blues over the summer.
That shouldn’t be much of a problem, though. Mikko Rantanen led the team in points with 30 goals and 36 assists in the shortened season. Nathan MacKinnon also led the team in assists with 65 points.
Boston College standout Alex Newhook could fill a void left on Colorado’s top two lines. Drafted in 2019, Newhook signed a three-year deal with the Avalanche back in March and played well in the minors before being called up last season.
The biggest hurdle for sure will be overcoming Philipp Grubauer’s absence in the net after a strong campaign in 2020.
Oct 7, 2021; Dallas, Texas, USA; Dallas Stars goaltender Anton Khudobin (35) and right wing Alexander Radulov (47) celebrate the win over the Colorado Avalanche at the American Airlines Center. (Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports)
The Stars’ 2020 season was defined by a failed playoff attempt, injuries and a COVID-19 outbreak. After losing in the Stanley Cup finals to Tampa Bay the season before, the Stars are in a make-or-break situation.
Boasting one of the more mature rosters in the league, the Stars have premier players like Joe Pavelski, 37, Alexander Radulov, 35, and Ryan Suter, 36, all of which could be slowing down in the next few seasons.
On the bright side, Tyler Seguin will make a return after being sidelined most of last season following multiple hip and knee surgeries, and Radulov will also return after undergoing core muscle surgery. Jason Robertson is also expected to have a bigger role this year after a solid rookie season.
The only thing standing in the way is perhaps Dallas’ goaltending situation. Ben Bishop’s health concerns led to Braden Holtby’s signing in the offseason, but he joins Jake Oettinger and Anton Khudobin on a crowded bench.
Oct 8, 2021; Calgary, Alberta, CAN; Winnipeg Jets center Pierre-Luc Dubois (80) during the warmup period against the Calgary Flames at Scotiabank Saddledome. (Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports)
The Jets finished third in their division with a 30-23-3 finish, but after sweeping the Edmonton Oilers in the first round, Winnipeg would go on to get swept by the Canadiens in the very next series.
Scoring wasn’t much of a problem for the Jets, so the offseason was dedicated to beefing up the defense and giving Connor Hellebuyck some gritty players in front of the net. Brenden Dillon was traded from the Capitals in exchange for two second–round picks in the next two drafts and should fill that role nicely while Nate Schmidt, who was acquired from the Canucks, brings speed and mobility.
All eyes will be on forward Pierre-Luc Dubois to see if he can rebound from last season’s woes.
Oct 9, 2021; Chicago, Illinois, USA; Chicago Blackhawks center Jonathan Toews (19) sits during a time out during the third period at United Center. Mandatory Credit: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports (David Banks-USA TODAY Sports)
Chicago has been in a slump since winning the Stanley Cup in 2015. Three first-round exits and three more fruitless seasons have defined the Blackhawks over the course of the last six years, but this could be a breakout season amid a rebuild.
For starters, Jonathan Toews returns this season and is expected to play the season opener on Wednesday against the Avalanche after missing all of last year with chronic immune response syndrome. If he can stay healthy, Toews will have an immediate impact in improving Chicago’s odds of making a deeper playoff run.
The Blackhawks have also added some major players across the board. Among the most notable are Vezina Trophy winner Marc-Andre Fleury, two-time Stanley Cup champion Tyler Johnson and defenseman Seth Jones.
Oct 6, 2021; Saint Paul, Minnesota, USA; St. Louis Blues right wing James Neal (81) looks on against the Minnesota Wild in the first period at Xcel Energy Center. (David Berding-USA TODAY Sports)
The Blues have taken some hard hits in the offseason, coupled with lingering injuries that could see them drop to the middle of the pack.
The biggest hit was the departure of Jaden Schwartz after 10 seasons. He helped the Blues earn the franchise’s first Stanley Cup back in 2019, but after his contract ended last season, the veteran winger signed a major five-year, $27.5 million contract with the Kraken. In his place comes Brandon Saad via free agency and former Rangers’ forward Pavel Buchnevich.
Star defenseman Colton Parayko found himself on long-term injured reserve last season with an upper-body injury but returns this season healthy. Last month he signed an eight-year, $52 million contract extension.
There’s a dark cloud lingering over the Blues heading into the season after Vladimir Tarasenko requested a trade back in May over the handling of his shoulder surgeries. His commitment to the team is a legitimate concern, but he told reporters ahead of training camp that he is “100%” in.
Oct 7, 2021; Saint Paul, Minnesota, USA; Chicago Blackhawks center Adam Gaudette (11) steals the puck from Minnesota Wild center Frederick Gaudreau (89) in the third period at Xcel Energy Center. (David Berding-USA TODAY Sports)
The Wild finished third in their division with a 33-16-5 record before being eliminated in the first round by the Golden Knights. There were significant changes on the blue line that could disrupt their memento, but there’s also a good chance that the players coming in could improve upon last season’s progress.
Minnesota bought out the final four years of Zach Parise and Ryan Suter’s contract, the latter being the most surprising, and lost Ian Cole to free agency while Carson Soucy was picked up by the Kraken.
The Wild have made up for Suter’s departure with some free-agent additions, but perhaps the most promising feature of the team is Calder Trophy winner Kirill Kaprizov, who signed a five-year deal last month.
May 27, 2021; Nashville, Tennessee, USA; Nashville Predators center Mikael Granlund (64) reacts after an overtime loss against the Carolina Hurricanes in game six of the first round of the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Bridgestone Arena. (Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports)
The Predators have made the playoffs every year for the past eight seasons, but just how attainable the Cup is, remains a mystery.
After ranking 19th in goals scored, Nashville opted to trade away some of its more veteran players to build a younger squad. They picked up two draft picks in exchange for Viktor Arvidsson and acquired Cody Glass and Philippe Myers from the Flyers after trading off Ryan Ellis.
Juuse Saros adds some stability in the net. He had a 2.28 goals-against average and a .927 save percentage in 36 games in his first season as starter.
May 8, 2021; San Jose, California, USA; Arizona Coyotes right wing Clayton Keller (9) during the second period against the San Jose Sharks at SAP Center at San Jose. (Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports)
The addition of the Kraken as the NHL 32nd franchise has sent the Coyotes packing to the Central Division and with that a major overhaul.
The Coyotes have used some of their bigger names to create draft capital and bring in younger players who can grow with the organization. They traded top defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson to the Vancouver Canucks in July in exchange for Jay Beagle, Loui Eriksson, Antoine Roussel, 2021 first-round pick Dylan Guenther, and a 2022 second-round and 2023 seventh-round pick.
Arizona got two more picks in exchange for goalie Darcy Kuemper and another for Adin Hill, just to name a few.