Tampa Bay Lightning bid for Stanley Cup three-peat in 2021-22 NHL season

Restored to its full 82-game glory, the NHL regular season starts on 12 October. Read on for details of the new Seattle Kraken franchise, and the stars to watch in ice hockey’s top league.

By Rory Jiwani
Picture by (c)JULIO AGUILAR All RIGHTS RESERVED

Normal service will be resumed in the National Hockey League (NHL) on 12 October when the 2021-22 season gets underway.

On opening night, two-time reigning Stanley Cup champions the Tampa Bay Lightning begin their title defence at home to the Pittsburgh Penguins.

The league’s newest team, the Seattle Kraken, visit Vegas Golden Knights in Tuesday’s other match with the hosts eyeing another post-season appearance having made the playoffs in all four of their previous seasons since joining the NHL.

The league will take a break from 3-22 February for the All-Star Weekend in Las Vegas and the Beijing 2022 Olympic Winter Games after NHL players missed PyeongChang 2018.

Vegas defender Alex Pietrangelo, Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby, and Edmonton Oilers’ Hart Memorial Trophy holder Connor McDavid were the first three men named to Canada’s Beijing 2022 ice hockey squad last week.

Read on to find out more about the new NHL season including the players to watch.

Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman with the Stanley Cup
Picture by 2021 Getty Images

Tampa Bay Lightning begin quest for Stanley Cup hat-trick

Tampa Bay completed a 4-1 series win over the Montreal Canadiens in July to retain their Stanley Cup title at the end of a shortened NHL season.

The pandemic meant a 56-game regular season with the Canadian teams playing against each other in one division due to travel restrictions.

Now the regular season is back to 82 games, with the conferences and divisions reverting to normal, but there is a new team in the Seattle Kraken who will play in the Pacific Division with the Arizona Coyotes switching to the Central.

How the Kraken will fare in their first campaign is anyone’s guess, but they will be led by veteran Mark Giordano who left Calgary after 15 years with the Flames.

On paper, they look strong in defence but the likes of Alex Wennberg, 2012 All-Star Jordan Eberle, and Yanni Gourde, who won two Stanley Cups with Tampa Bay, will have to fire in attack if they are going to make the post-season.

Seattle Kraken's Jorden Eberle plays in pre-season
Picture by 2021 Getty Images

No team has won three consecutive Stanley Cups since the New York Islanders clinched their fourth straight title in 1983, and it will be tough for Tampa Bay to carry it off.

The Lightning’s acquisition of David Savard and Brian Lashoff last season left them with just one pick in the first four rounds of the 2021 NHL Draft and unable to add much strength to their previous roster.

That said, with the likes of Nikita Kucherov, Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman still in place, they remain a force to be reckoned with.

All the talk has been about the Colorado Avalanche who re-signed their Swedish captain Gabriel Landeskog and 2019-20 Rookie of the Year Cale Makar on long-term deals in the off-season.

Nathan MacKinnon was third in last season’s Hart Memorial Trophy - awarded to the league’s most valuable player in the regular season - after scoring 65 points (20 goals, 45 assists) in 48 games.

Much will depend on him and Finnish wing Mikko Rantanen who had 66 points (30 goals, 36 assists) last campaign.

There is a change in goaltending personnel with Darcy Kuemper taking over from Kraken signing Philipp Grubauer.

The Vegas Golden Knights are already being talked of as near-certainties to win the Pacific Division despite trading away Marc-Andre Fleury who won last season’s Vezina Trophy as the league’s best goaltender.

Robin Lehner will take over despite Laurent Brossoit's arrival from the Winnipeg Jets.

Evgeni Dadonov is their main acquisition in the off-season and he will be expected to cover the gap left by Alex Tuch who will be out until the New Year after undergoing shoulder surgery.

Vegas goalie Robin Lehner shakes hands with Montreal's Carey Price
Picture by 2021 Getty Images

The Montreal Canadiens reached last season’s Stanley Cup Finals despite taking the worst regular-season record into the playoffs. That made them the first Canadian side to reach the finals since the Vancouver Canucks went down to the Boston Bruins in 2011.

Their first-round victims, the Toronto Maple Leafs, hold perhaps Canada’s best chance of ending their 29-year drought - the Canadiens won the title in 1993 - with Auston Matthews their star man.

The Leafs have now crashed out in the first round of the playoffs five times in succession and, for one of the biggest names in the sport, another failure could result in big changes inside the organisation.

Montreal Canadiens celebrate Game Seven win over Toronto Maple Leafs in 2021 NHL Playoffs
Picture by 2021 Getty Images

2021-22 NHL season: players to watch

Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers

McDavid cemented his reputation as hockey’s biggest star with his second Hart Memorial Trophy in 2020-21.

He received all 100 first-place votes from hockey writers after a stunning season in which he led the regular season with 105 points (33 goals, 72 assists) for the Oilers.

The only previous unanimous Hart winner was another Oiler, the great Wayne Gretzky, back in 1981-82.

With the scoring power of McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, who won the Hart Trophy the previous season, Edmonton should make the playoffs without too much fuss.

Their defence and goaltending, which has let them down in recent seasons, remains of concern and may stop them making a deep run in the post-season.

Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins

At 34, he has long shed his ‘Sid the Kid’ and ‘The Next One’ nicknames, but Crosby is still one of the finest players in hockey.

Last season, he became the first man to play 1,000 games for the Penguins, and led the side to the playoffs for the 15th year in succession.

The overtime hero of Vancouver 2010 is currently recovering from wrist surgery and will miss the season start, as will Russian star Evgeni Malkin with a knee injury.

The Pens may struggle without them initially, but their return should see them head towards the post-season once more.

Sidney Crosby in action for the Pittsburgh Penguins
Picture by GETTY IMAGES

Auston Matthews, Toronto Maple Leafs

Matthews arrived on the scene with a bang, scoring four times in his NHL debut in October 2016 against the Ottawa Senators.

He netted 40 times that campaign, walking off with the Calder Memorial Trophy as the league’s top rookie, and his tally of 69 points was a new franchise first-season record.

Now 24, the Californian has kept producing and last season won the regular season scoring title, and the Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy that goes with it, for his 41 goals in 52 games. But he was unable to stop the Leafs suffering a fifth consecutive first-round playoff exit.

The centre led the USA to consecutive golds at the 2014 and 2015 World U18 Championship, taking the MVP award at the latter, before winning bronze at the 2016 World Junior Championship.

He’ll no doubt be trying to add to his international medal haul in Beijing in February.

Toronto Maple Leafs' Auston Matthews
Picture by 2021 Getty Images

Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals

Alex Ovechkin may be 36, but he certainly does not play like it. And the Russian intends to be around a good while longer judging by the five-year contract extension his signed in July.

He is currently sixth on the NHL all-time goals list on 730, one behind Marcel Dionne. Fitness permitting, he will surely pass Brett Hull (741) with Jaromir Jagr (766) also in sight this season.

Gordie Howe (801) is within reach in a couple of years although Gretzy’s record of 894 might take some catching.

The man with the hardest shot in hockey is perhaps the greatest goal scorer in history. Whether he can add to his sole Stanley Cup in 2018 is another matter, but the Caps will continue to idolise ‘Ovi’ while he’s there.

David Pastrnak, Boston Bruins

After sharing the 2019-20 Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy with Ovechkin, David Pastrnak’s last campaign was disrupted by a hip injury.

The Czech spoke to the media again for the first time at the end of last month following the tragic passing of his newborn son in June.

After reading a prepared statement about his loss, he spoke about the departure of his friend and countryman David Krejci but said he was “excited to start the season”.

The 25-year-old and Canadian forwards Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand have looked sharp in pre-season.

And the man nicknamed ‘Pasta’, who has just launched a limited edition pasta box to raise money for children’s cancer charities, is sure to be in the goals as the Bruins seek a sixth consecutive playoff berth.

With 2018 Hart Trophy winner Taylor Hall joining from the New Jersey Devils, Boston’s first Stanley Cup since 2011 is a possibility.

Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning

Kucherov showed his worth to the Lightning in emphatic style last season.

Having missed all of the shortened regular season due to a hip operation, the Russian returned for the playoffs and his post-season high 32 points (eight goals, 24 assists) fired Tampa Bay to a second straight Stanley Cup. He was also the highest points scorer in the 2020 playoffs.

His 128 points in the 2018-19 season remains the record for a Russian in the NHL - Ovechkin’s best tally is 112 - and earned him the Hart Memorial Trophy.

At 28, the right wing has already achieved a great deal with the promise of plenty more to come.

Tampa Bay Lightning's Nikita Kucherov lifts the 2021 Stanley Cup
Picture by geGETTY IMAGES

Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche

Hailing from Halifax in Nova Scotia, just a short drive from Sidney Crosby’s childhood home, MacKinnon was always going to be compared to the Penguins superstar.

It has not hindered him in the slightest with MacKinnon breaking records since becoming Colorado’s youngest player at the start of the 2013-2014 season.

He won the Calder Memorial Trophy as the league’s top rookie that season, and made the first of four consecutive All-Star appearances in 2017.

After three straight second-round exits in the playoffs, the last to the Golden Knights 4-2 despite winning the opening game 7-1, the Avalanche look primed to go further this campaign.

Last term, only the Oilers scored more goals on the power play than Colorado who finished with the best record in the league to clinch the President’s Trophy.

Fast and dynamic with great hands and vision, he will surely have the chance to become an Olympic champion in February before bidding for a first Stanley Cup.

Colorado Avalanche's Nathan MacKinnon
Picture by 2021 Getty Images

2021-22 NHL season schedule

12 October 2021

Start of 2021-22 NHL regular season

1 January 2022

NHL Winter Classic: Minnesota Wild v St Louis Blues (Target Field, Minneapolis, MN)

3-22 February 2022

NHL season break

4-5 February 2022

NHL All-Star Weekend, Las Vegas

7-19 February 2022

Beijing 2022 Olympic Winter Games

26 February 2022

NHL Stadium Series: Nashville Predators v Tampa Bay Lightning (Nissan Stadium, Nashville, TN)

13 March 2022

NHL Heritage Classic: Buffalo Sabres v Toronto Maple Leafs (Tim Hortons Field, Hamilton, ON)

April 2022 (TBD)

End of regular season, start of playoffs

June 2022 (TBD)

Stanley Cup Finals