Here's a peek at what storylines, players, and teams to watch for in the 2022-23 NHL season.
Will the Colorado Avalanche repeat?
They certainly could, but I'll say no. Last season everything went right except for a few playoff injuries. The injury to Darcy Kuemper didn't matter too much, and he's gone now. They were deep enough into the playoffs to endure Nazeem Kadri's injury. But they were lucky enough to play an inexperienced Oilers team and then run into a banged-up Lighting team. After coming up short so many times, they had everything go right even when it seemed like it didn't. Unlikely that happens a second time. They've also lost Kadri for good now and some depth players like Andre Burakovsky. They did pick up Evan Rodrigues, who might blossom into a key piece. They have a chance to have a mini-dynasty, but cup number two will probably not be this season.
Are there any Stanley Cup favorites?
Now that the Avalanche finally won, I'm going to go with the Dallas Stars and Toronto Maple Leafs. I know. I'll get to both in a bit. The Edmonton Oilers might progress, but Pacific Division teams tend to go backward before going forward again. But I like their goaltending changes with the addition of Jack Campbell. The New York Rangers might take another step this season. And you can never count out the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Is this the year the Toronto Maple Leafs finally win a Stanley Cup series? (again, again, again, again, again)
This question has become a recurring joke, and it's not funny anymore. The Maple Leafs will inevitably win a playoff series, despite having the worst luck drawing first-round opponents. Of course, playing in that division does not help, but I believe they'll be luckier this season. Their biggest problem is their goaltending. They had fine goalies in Frederik Andersen and Jack Campbell, yet they let both leave. Now they have Ilya Samsonov and Matt Murray, which is not ideal. Since good goaltending didn't help them, this might not matter either. Here's hoping Auston Matthews continues his strong play and has an even better postseason.
Who are the most compelling teams this season?
Assuming everyone stays healthy, the Vegas Golden Knights because it'll be the first time most of these players have played together. They added another piece in Phil Kessel to accompany their new coach Bruce Cassidy. But other than the second line that's been together since their inception, the other lines haven't played many games together. Most people expect them to make the playoffs, so no pressure.
The Vancouver Canucks are at a crossroads. After not making the playoffs for four straight years, they came within a game of the conference finals with their young core but followed it up with two dreadful non-playoff seasons. Bruce Boudreau is now the head coach officially. He's not the guy long-term, but they responded under him, and they should be able to get back to the playoffs.
The Dallas Stars are always compelling and full of drama, and now they look to build on their thrilling Game 7 overtime loss again. New coach Pete DeBoer usually gets the best out of his players. The top line can surprisingly play even better, and they should be top contenders if DeBoer can resurrect Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin's careers. Jake Oettinger said he's just scratching the surface of what he can do, but if he can duplicate last season, that's good enough.
What team changed the most?
The Ottawa Senators had the biggest makeover in some time. They brought in Cam Talbot, Claude Giroux, and Alex DeBrincat. It's rare if it's ever been done before, to bring in a 30-goal scorer, a 40-goal scorer, and an All-Star goalie in one off-season. Assuming they can blend in with the young and improving core, they give off the same vibes the Rangers gave off the last offseason. A conference finals appearance might be on the horizon depending on how they gel, but a more desperate team from Ontario already wants to get there.
What about the Calgary Flames?
It's unusual for a playoff team to go through as many changes as the Flames, especially losing two 100-point scorers (Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk) in succession. It's even rarer to acquire two 100-point players (Jonathan Huberdeau and Nazeem Kadri) in return which rarely happens. To say this was a significant off-season would be an understatement, with one of the top three lines in the NHL now two-thirds gone. Even if Huberdeau and Kadri play like they did last season, they'll never have the chemistry this team had last season.
Are there any bad teams?
For the first time in a long time, there won't be many. The Blackhawks would have been decent if they hadn't chosen to tank. With each of the bottom Eastern Conference teams set to be better, it really only leaves us with the Arizona Coyotes and Seattle Kraken as bad. The latter can't help being bad. I have no idea the former's problem, but it's decades in the making. Assuredly there will be some teams that underperform. Speaking of the Coyotes…
What about that 5,000-capacity arena for the Coyotes?
That experiment in the ASU arena starts this season and will continue for two, possibly three seasons. It'll probably feel like an AHL or college game for many players. The Coyotes better sell out every home game, or it'll be an embarrassment. I can't imagine it'll look good on TV.
Any key player signings?
Besides the ones already mentioned, Johnny Gaudreau is the biggest. But it's unlikely his signing will have much impact. The Columbus Blue Jackets have underperformed since their formation two decades ago, and Gaudreau isn't going to turn that around. Although if anyone could, it would be him. Patrik Laine all but disappeared his first season there but got back to normal last season. I'm surprised he stayed. Here's hoping they can create some magic together.
All the other major signings were touched upon already.
Any questionable signings?
Besides the Maple Leafs' goalie choices and they had several options. I question the Pittsburgh Penguins signing Rickard Rakell over Evan Rodrigues. Although the same age, Rakell seems like he's declining while Rodrigues is improving. Then there's the money. Rakell signed a long-term deal for 5 million a year, while the Avalanche signed Rodrigues for 2 million a year. If Rodrigues plays better, that's one they'll want back. They re-signed Bryan Rust for about the same as Rakell, but that was a good move.
Any key players to watch?
Jack Hughes has probably the most to prove this season, as do most of the New Jersey Devils. There needs to be some progress on the rebuild.
Matthew Beniers will play his first season as the Kraken's top center, and Shane Wright will join him soon and might even leapfrog him.
Alex Ovechkin should pass Gordie Howe this season. But I'm more interested in how quickly he does so. If he's still producing at a high level, he can and will catch Wayne Gretzky.
Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews might be playing to get out of Chicago. The better they play, the more likely they get out. Since they'll be free agents next season, they'll definitely be a trade deadline deal. It'll be an interesting season for them.
Mathew Barzal hasn't had a point-per-game season since his rookie year. He needs to elevate his game, but he needs offensive help, which the Islanders may never address.
Trevor Zegras becomes the Ducks' top center and receives more playing time. If that means more trick plays, count me in.
Here's a stab at predicting the playoff teams.
Tampa Bay Lightning Boston Bruins Toronto Maple Leafs Florida Panthers Ottawa Senators
Carolina Hurricanes New York Rangers Pittsburgh Penguins
I wanted to put the New York Islanders back in, but it might not happen. I've been waiting for the Capitals to drop out, which should finally occur, and I feel the Carolina Hurricanes could go backward and drop out.
Colorado Avalanche Dallas Stars St. Louis Blues Minnesota Wild
Edmonton Oilers Vegas Golden Knights Vancouver Canucks Calgary Flames
The Flames might lose their spot to the Nashville Predators, but that's about it.