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The 2021-22 NHL Season Entrance Survey

With the Lightning raising their Stanley Cup banner on Tuesday night and the Kraken hitting the ice for the first time, the NHL season is about to be underway. So which teams are contenders, which teams will flop, and which team is ultimately going to win it all?

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

With the Tampa Bay Lightning set to raise their Stanley Cup banner on Tuesday night and the Seattle Kraken ready to take the ice for the first time, a new NHL season is officially upon us. Gone are the shortened schedules, makeshift divisions, and largely fanless arenas of last season, and in their place come new contenders, an entirely new franchise, and plenty of excitement. So Ringer staffers gathered to predict how the 2021-22 campaign will unfold.

1. What is your tweet-length preview of the 2021-22 NHL season?

Bridget Geerlings: The world may not have returned to normal, but at least we’re getting 82 games of hockey this year.

Katie Baker: Two parts bookends to the upcoming Olympics; one part EICHELWATCH; one part accumulating stock in Spencer Knight.

Matt James: Hockey is back and you’re going to hate the refs more than ever!

Michael Baumann: Are they going to call cross-checking this year, or will they give up two weeks into the season once everyone starts complaining?

2. Which team are you most excited to watch?

Baker: Gonna be a homer here and say the New York Rangers, even though I already preemptively miss hearing the way Sam Rosen says “Buchnevich.” :( :( :( The past few Rangers seasons have been (by design, and even popular demand!) all about transition and retooling for the future. But the future is now, and—following some of the team’s drastic moves from the offseason—the pressure is on. I’m particularly excited to watch Alexis Lafrenière, because I think he’ll have a breakout sophomore campaign, and I’m particularly anxious to see whether the team really keeps leaning into its misguided belief that brawnier is better. Not to mention I’m weepy thinking about Henrik Lundqvist’s jersey retirement on January 28, one more reminder that this is truly a new era.

Baumann: No team can match the Maple Leafs’ combination of offensive firepower and pervasive anxiety. They’re must-watch under normal circumstances, but coming off last year’s playoff exit and the Amazon docuseries, and coming into the last year of Morgan Rielly’s contract? Yes, please.

James: Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid are once again free to parade their highlight-reel offensive abilities throughout the United States and I can’t wait to watch. But I’m also tuned into the potential drama of the Oilers’ goaltending and defense. Mike Smith and Mikko Koskinen have looked great in net this preseason, but they’re 39 and 33 years old, respectively. The Oilers acquired former Blackhawks mainstay Duncan Keith this offseason despite his terrible analytics, and yet he’s looked good so far this preseason. Will the older Oilers manage to keep up a high level of play? Or will every show-stopping McDavid-Draisaitl play be matched by an uninspired gaffe in the defensive zone?

Geerlings: As a lifelong Islanders fan, I am excited to see my team return with confidence and secure the Stanley Cup.

3. Which team do you think has the biggest chance of flopping?

Geerlings: As a lifelong Islanders fan, I am expecting to be absolutely devastated.

Baker: The most annoying outcome, discourse-wise, is the most likely one: It’s gonna be a team that loses some major player to injury during the Olympics. (The inverse is that some other team will benefit from a player getting to rest an unreported injury during the entire month of February.) I’m gonna go with Brad Marchand being targeted by a retaliatory cheap shot and missing six weeks.

Baumann: I’m praying that this is the year the Penguins finally age into the wrong side of the playoff bubble. On the other hand, Sidney Crosby is a Satanic homunculus who floats above the treacherous vicissitudes of fortune.

James: It wouldn’t be an NHL preview without mentioning that the Leafs have yet to escape the first round of the playoffs in the Auston Matthews era.

4. Who is your early target to win the Hart Trophy?

Baker: My head says Nathan MacKinnon. My heart says Jack Campbell.

Baumann: Connor McDavid? If that changes before the year 2034, I’ll let you know.

Geerlings: Who would I like to see win? Mathew Barzal.

Who will win? Connor McDavid.

Who should win (something)? Gritty.

James: Mimicking their on-ice play, I expect that McDavid and Draisaitl will pass this trophy back and forth every year for the foreseeable future. McDavid won last season, so it’s Draisaitl’s turn this time around.

5. This is a space to talk about your expectations for the Kraken in Season 1.

Baumann: It’s hard not to be disappointed in their expansion draft haul after the precedent Vegas set. But on the other hand, they’ve got a good goalie in a dogshit division and the cap space to trade for a star in midseason, so they’ve got a shot at the playoffs. Making the postseason would be a win—anything better than getting their doors blown off would be acceptable. Also, maybe Vince Dunn will get some down-ballot Norris votes?

Baker: Most importantly: Great logo/merch that I’ve already seen in the wild several times (in California, no less!). That always sparks wholesome hockey conversation.

I do feel preemptively bad for the Kraken for being the following act to the Golden Knights, whose debut season culminated in reaching the Stanley Cup final and whose domination of the expansion draft was so thorough that it ensured the Kraken would have a tougher time wheeling and dealing. That said, the team has more depth than I initially gave it credit for, and the Pacific Division these days doesn’t exactly strike fear into hearts.

Geerlings: I am cheering for them solely because of their uniform. Try to tell me that isn’t a Cool S on their jersey.

James: Kraken merch will outsell Golden Knights merch. Seattle will fully embrace hockey, and it’ll be a really fun year. Also, the team will be terrible, but in a way that’s new and refreshing to Mariners fans.

6. Will you miss the All-Canada division?

James: I won’t miss the All-Canada division in the slightest. Canada will have to go back to the old system of making a conference final based on merit rather than geography. All is well.

Baker: Yes!!!!! The Olympics will scratch some of the itch, but there was nothing better than the knowledge that one Canadian team—BUT ONLY ONE TEAM—would definitely make it to the conference finals. If we had been able to continue that over the course of several seasons, imagine the possibilities.

Baumann: As much as I derided the concept last year, yes. It was kind of monotonous and not particularly competitive, but there was something ineffably charming about the gimmick.

Geerlings: I will not, but that is only because I wish to wipe any association with this pandemic from my memory.

7. And which team will finish with the Stanley Cup?

Baker: Avs over Leafs, in my dreams.

Baumann: If I keep picking the Avalanche every year I’m gonna be right eventually, right?

James: As a Rangers fan, it absolutely pains me to say this, but I believe that this might be the year for the Islanders. They took the Lightning to seven games last year. Anders Lee is now healthy. They added Zdeno Chara and Zach Parise, who are shadows of their former selves but as experienced vets they will be great to have during a playoff run. They have goaltending depth and plenty of roster continuity. And the Isles will have a brand-new arena to play in at some point this season. Everything is aligning. Clearly, the only thing that can stop them is a good old-fashioned reverse jinx.

Geerlings: It’s going to be the Kraken, isn’t it?