With the Tampa Bay Lightning, New York Rangers, Vegas Golden Knights, and Los Angeles Kings all set to take the ice on Tuesday night, a new NHL season is officially upon us. Gone is the mythic regular season of the Florida Panthers, questions of whether the Colorado Avalanche could get it done in the playoffs, and concerns about the Toronto Maple Leafs; in their place comes new contenders, a new arena, and … concerns about the Toronto Maple Leafs. So Ringer staffers gathered to predict how the 2022-23 campaign will unfold.
1. What is your tweet-length preview of the 2022-23 NHL season?
Matt James: Stop whatever you’re doing! Hockey’s back!
Megan Schuster: Holy crap, it’s puck-drop time already?!
Katie Baker: McEichel in the West! ShestyLevskiy in the East! An ongoing drought in the North! Patrick Kane where? ’Tis the season once more for generational comparisons and north-of-the-49th-parallel overreactions, and it sure does feel like it comes earlier every year.
Logan Rhoades: Honestly, I’m just glad Zdeno Chara has retired. Someone that big shouldn’t be on ice skates. It’s unnatural. And now we can get back to watching normal people play hockey—like Connor McDavid.
Cory McConnell: After a 30-year drought, the Cup is going back to Canada (maybe).
2. Which team are you most excited to watch?
McConnell: For a couple of games: The Coyotes (more on that later). For the season, at the risk of jinxing it, I’m excited to see the Oilers finally put it all together and get McDavid his first Cup.
Rhoades: I really enjoyed watching the Rangers’ playoff run last season. And Mika Zibanejad has quickly shot up my list of favorite players. They still have to put the pieces together, but if their young guys can step up, they’re going to be a fun team.
Schuster: “Excited” maybe isn’t the right word here—anxious? Exhilarated? Absolutely shook?—but the Golden Knights. After making the playoffs in each of their first four years of existence, the Knights went through it last season. They suffered plenty of injuries, got hampered by their previous “win-now” approach when it came to the salary cap, and ultimately missed out on the postseason by a measly three points. This season, though, they’ll have a (hopefully) healthy Jack Eichel, a talented core, and no pressure to keep up any playoff streak. They can just have fun out there—and light up the competition along the way.
Baker: The Rangers, but I’m also so nervous! Last season was delightful because everything felt like gravy: Yes, expectations were high, and it was disappointing they couldn’t ride the wave all the way to the Cup final, but it was still a season in which the team overperformed and benefited from the element of surprise. Now, they’re officially not only a contender, but also a team that has one of the league’s best goalies. Which means there are a lot of truly glorious evenings ahead, but also steep expectations.
James: I’ll be watching the Calgary Flames a lot this year. With the loss of Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk this offseason, Flames fans were essentially abandoned by two of their most popular stars of the past decade. Calgary managed to bring in Jonathan Huberdeau and Nazem Kadri to try to fill the void, but it’s going to be an uphill battle whenever two 100-plus-point scorers leave your team. I’m excited to watch the Flames try to reform themselves this year, and I’ll be keeping a close eye on the Calgary fan base when their team plays Gaudreau’s Blue Jackets and Tkachuk’s Panthers.
3. Which preseason favorite has the biggest chance of flopping?
Baker: There’s probably only room in Florida for one team that can manage to follow up a Presidents’ Trophy–winning season that ended in a playoff sweep with a run through the postseason. And the Tampa Bay Lightning already did that. Sorry, Florida Panthers! It’s not personal. Clearly, I’m just trying to avoid reverse-reverse-jinxing the Rangers.
McConnell: The Panthers racked up 122 points last year but got swept in the second round. They also just traded away their leading scorer in Jonathan Huberdeau. They’ve become a trendy preseason pick, but they just don’t pass the eye test for me.
Rhoades: The Lightning. Given what they’ve done the past few seasons, it’s hard to call any sort of a dip “flopping,” but it’s going to happen. Andrei Vasilevskiy has been outstanding, but the team has relied on him being out-of-this-world awesome too many times, and it’s not sustainable.
James: We’ve been waiting for the Lightning’s dominance to taper off for a few years now. Perhaps this is the year? Ryan McDonagh and Ondrej Palat’s roles could be tough to fill and the Lightning have had a rough start to the preseason. Will they stay resilient and end up back in the playoffs? Or will this be the year they actually, finally recede from the NHL’s top tier?
Schuster: I feel like the ultimate Debbie Downer here, but are we sure the Hurricanes are going to be as good as Vegas suggests? They’re currently tied for second in FanDuel’s Stanley Cup odds, at plus-1000, and yes, they made a run to the second round of the playoffs last year and took the Rangers to seven games. But a lot of this hype seems to be around new additions like Brent Burns, who’s 37, and Max Pacioretty, who’ll miss most of the regular season with an Achilles injury before hopefully returning for the playoffs. I genuinely want this team to live up to every expectation! The NHL is more fun with new blood at the top. I just need to see it before I believe it.
4. Who is your early pick to win the Hart Trophy?
James: Igor Shesterkin came in third in Hart voting last season. If he can put up numbers that are similar to or better than last season, there are going to be a lot more voters who will feel comfortable voting for a goalie. Anyway, it’ll probably be McDavid or Auston Matthews.
McConnell: I’m confident it will be someone whose last name starts with an M: McDavid, (Nathan) MacKinnon, or Matthews. I think the Oilers will have the best record in the West this year, the Avalanche will have a bit of a Cup hangover given all their departures this offseason, and the Leafs will keep doing Leafs stuff. So I’m giving it to McDavid.
Rhoades: It’s not a fun pick, but it’s Connor McDavid.
Baker: My head says McDavid or Cale Makar. My heart wants Johnny Hockey.
Schuster: Look, we’re all trying to speak a generational McDavid season into existence here.
5. Do we dare prognosticate about the Maple Leafs?
Schuster: Who? What? Never heard of them. (Please, Auston Matthews, save us.)
Baker: It’s hard to overstate how soothed I felt when I went to check out the preseason analysis from my favorite hockey prognosticator, The Athletic’s Dom Luszczyszyn, and my eyes settled on the perennial line: “On paper, this is Toronto’s year. Time for them to actually prove it.” Yes … ha ha ha … YES!
Rhoades: The Leafs are going to win a playoff series! They can’t keep losing in the first round, right? I mean, that would be crazy. Math doesn’t lie; it has to happen some time.
McConnell: I actually kind of like what the Leafs are doing with their roster, but the Eastern Conference is so tough these days. It feels like the Leafs are primed for another impressive regular season in which Matthews is a Hart contender, and another disappointing early playoff exit.
James: Matt Murray has looked fantastic in the preseason, and if the Leafs are going to make any noise in the playoffs, they’ll need him to be a true no. 1 goalie. That’s a level of play he hasn’t managed to sustain in the past few years. The Leafs have a tremendous amount riding on their Murray gamble, and aside from his hot preseason start, there isn’t a lot of compelling evidence that their bet will pay off.
6. How excited/concerned are you about watching the Coyotes play in Mullett Arena (real name), the 5,000-seat Arizona State venue?
Rhoades: I didn’t know it was named the Mullett Arena until right now. That’s actually very fitting because much like mullets, this situation is only funny for a very brief time and then it just becomes a really bad look. The only way this can shift into something entertaining is if Coyotes fans pack the stadium and convert it into a college basketball atmosphere. That, of course, will never happen, so it is very concerning.
Schuster: I have no words, no frame of reference to describe how I feel about this situation. Maybe the closest thing we’ve seen to it recently was when the Chargers spent a couple of seasons playing in the L.A. Galaxy’s stadium, which sat 30,000 people instead of the NFL’s typical minimum of 50,000. But even that is still 30,000 people compared to the 5,000 that will fit here. This is going to be an all-time weird situation, and I’m so curious to see how it plays out.
James: I’m probably a lot more thrilled about Mullett Arena than the Coyotes players who have to play there. Playing in a small arena can be considered something noteworthy, so that’s a small victory, I suppose. At least the sightlines will be good, unlike some other attempts to place an NHL team in a small arena.
McConnell: It’ll be great for a few games. The college atmosphere will have everyone pumped, the novelty will be fresh, and the Coyotes might even get a boost from an “us vs. everyone” mentality. But after 5-10 games, I think the deep sadness under the whole situation will become tough to ignore.
Baker: On one hand, I don’t want to minimize the way this ongoing Arizona arena/franchise saga has dragged on for ages, ensnaring all sorts of innocent players and fans in its stubborn web. (Seriously, ages: When I wrote this piece nearly a decade ago, the dysfunction had already been going on for so long that I referenced Groundhog Day!) On the other hand, I can’t imagine I’m alone in seriously contemplating a little sports tourism. Seems like it would be pretty sick to go see the Rangers, or McDavid, in such an intimate setting and then go float facedown in a pool for awhile. For this reason I believe the Arizona Coyotes will be the DTC brand of sports: Something’s kinda off about them, but they’ll still be frequently sold out.
7. Which team will win the Stanley Cup?
Rhoades: The Leafs! I know, I know, but hear me out: They have a truly elite offense with one of the best goal-scorers in the league. That’s pretty important. Matthews found magic last season, BUT that just added to the pressure. He won’t put up those numbers again, and that’s a good thing. The team will be more well-rounded and they won’t be in the spotlight as much. If they can find some kind of consistency between the pipes, Toronto will be an extremely good team with less anxiety. The fact that nobody expects them to win is precisely why they will. Or they’ll get swept in the second round after the high of winning their first playoff series.
James: The Carolina Hurricanes have looked like an unstoppable offensive force this preseason. I know that we shouldn’t put too much stock in the preseason, but for a team that seemed to be an extra goal or two per game away from being ferocious last season, it bodes well. Carolina has retained a huge chunk of its core from last year, and although it lost a few key players like Vincent Trocheck and Anthony DeAngelo, they added some useful veterans like Burns, Paul Stastny and Pacioretty (who will hopefully fully bounce back from his Achilles injury). The Hurricanes weren’t far from being elite last year. Another year of development for their young core and a few new players sprinkled into the mix could be all that they need.
Schuster: The Avalanche were so dominant last season that I feel like they’ll come to my house and personally give me a talking-to if I don’t give them the benefit of the doubt this year. So here I am, doing just that.
McConnell: Last year I predicted that the best team in the West would win the Cup, and I’m sticking with that again this year. The East is incredibly deep, but those teams are going to beat up on each other through the playoffs and eventually face an opponent from the West who will have had an easier path to get there. The Avalanche will be superb again, but it’s grueling to go back-to-back and after some key departures, I think they take a small step back this year. Mostly, I’d be surprised if McDavid never got a real shot at the Cup, and I think this year is his best chance yet. I’m going with the Oilers.
Baker: Here’s hoping for the Edmonton Oilers. Come on boys, just do it and be legends!!