The upcoming 2021-22 NHL season brings with it a few key changes and the potential for boatloads of excitement. The most obvious change being the debut of a new franchise, the newly minted Seattle Kraken, as well as changes to the divisional format. The previous divisional format arose as a result of circumstances surrounding the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the Canadian border restrictions. This season marks the return of a more traditional divisional in which the NHL finally has the same number of teams across each division.
The Divisions and teams (in alphabetical order)
-Columbus Blue Jackets
-New Jersey Devils
-New York Islanders
-New York Rangers
-Detroit Red Wings
-Tampa Bay Lightning
-Toronto Maple Leafs
-St. Louis Blues
-Los Angeles Kings
-San Jose Sharks
-Vegas Golden Knights
With the return of a traditional divisional format, which teams that benefited from the alignment of the previous season are the most likely to experience a statistical backslide this season?
Ironically, the former North Division was supposed to make it hard for a team like Montreal to even sniff the playoffs as pundits and experts had all but handed the division to the Leafs, but the Canadiens emerged out of the 4th spot and made a valiant run to the finals that came up just short, as they lost to the Lightning 4-1. With Carey Price on the injured list to start the season, Shea Weber likely to never play again, a key departure in Philip Danault leaving for the Kings and the possible exit of Kasperi Kotkaniemi to Carolina via offer sheet, the Canadiens (who finished 18th in the league last season), are as likely a candidate as any to regress in the standings. That said, their roster still boasts a lot of talent that puts them ahead of the dregs of the league, but given the changes that have occurred this off-season in Montreal, it’s not unreasonable to suspect that they won’t contend for another cup anytime soon, and are more likely to be in the hunt for a lottery pick. It’s not unreasonable to suspect that they’ll finish lower than their 18th spot from the 2020-21 season.
The ever-turbulent franchise was within howling distance of the playoffs, finishing nine points back of the 4th place Blues in the West division, missing a playoff invite. This off-season, Coyotes management have publicly declared that they are rebuilding, which all but means that they’ll be in running for a lottery pick and not expected to seriously contend for a championship. Even more distressing news is that the city of Glendale has opted out of the lease for the Gila River Arena (the Coyotes home building) making the situation even more turbulent. The future of the Coyotes in Arizona is in doubt, and the franchise doesn’t look to be a serious contender for a championship and have openly stated their aspirations for a rebuild. It would seem that troubling times are ahead for the Coyotes and their fans in Arizona. Expect to see them fighting it out for the #1 draft pick and, consequently, the #32 spot in the league overall.
San Jose Sharks
From bad to worse is the story here. The San Jose Sharks weren’t much last season, finishing 7th in the West division and 25th in the league, and although they’ve made their intentions to compete for the playoffs known, they should strongly consider a rebuild. Their aging, injury-prone star defenseman Erik Karlsson’s production has fallen off a cliff, Brent Burns’ production isn’t what it once was, and the franchise is stuck with the albatross of a contract that they handed out to notable locker room headache, Evander Kane. In regards to the former, they’ve tried unsuccessfully to trade him, but, unsurprisingly haven’t found a taker for that bloated contract. A good look at the rest of their roster doesn’t inspire hope or make you think that this team is a contender. Despite GM Doug Wilsons’ intention to be a playoff team, perhaps it’s time to admit that it’s better to think about the future and embrace a rebuild. The Sharks are much closer to competing for a spot as the leagues’ worst team, and a far cry from a cup contender. They finished 25th in the league last season, and may very well finish as the #32 team, making them the worst team in the league.
All that said, the 2021-22 NHL season is sure to be one for the history books, bringing a lot of excitement, a new franchise and a bunch of new faces in new places. If you’re a hockey fan, you’re surely in for a treat this upcoming season!