The NHL’s 2021-22 season is almost upon us. There are a multitude of great storylines from the inaugural season of the Seattle Kraken to the Alex Ovechkin’s hunt for immortality in the NHL record books.
Here’s a look at the top five stories all hockey fans will be watching closely this season.
Jack Eichel and the Buffalo Sabres
TSN’s Shawn Simpson reported that Jack Eichel may have surgery “very soon” and his timetable to return would be December. If that’s indeed what is about to go down, that puts any possible trade for Eichel on hold.
Simpson also stated that the Sabres are still asking for somewhere between 4-6 pieces. They continue to demand mostly futures, including any interested team’s top two prospects which no one has remotely been willing to do.
Will a healthy post-surgery Jack Eichel fetch the return the Sabres are looking for? Only time will tell, but prior to his neck injury coming to light one team executive told me that no one is going to give what would essentially be four first picks for anyone.
A trade is inevitable but at least for now this one has cooled off. It will be red-hot again once we get to Christmas.
Seattle Kraken inaugural season
When the Kraken hit the ice on Oct. 12 against the Vegas Golden Knights, it will be more than just their debut game. That clash in Las Vegas will be against the closest thing they have to an expansion cousin, and a team whose first-season exploits will — unfairly or not — be the standard by which the Kraken will be judged.
After all, the Golden Knights boasted the greatest debut season for an expansion team in North American sports history.
En route to reaching the 2018 Stanley Cup Final, which they lost to Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals, the Golden Knights posted the most wins by a NHL expansion team, claimed the Pacific Division title and became the first team to reach the playoffs in their inaugural season since the Edmonton Oilers and Hartford Whalers joined the league in 1979-80 from the defunct World Hockey Association.
Seattle will have a monster of a time scaling those heights. One thing is clear, all eyes will be on the Kraken this season.
Will Vladimir Tarasenko get traded
Tarasenko has two years left on a deal that comes with a $7.5 million AAV and a 10 team no trade clause. It is likely that he’d be willing to expand that in order to get a deal done, but a third team may need to also get involved for cap purposes.
A trade may still not get done and Tarasenko will have to report to camp or be suspended.
“Vladi has to prepare like he’s coming back to St. Louis,” Armstrong said via The Athletic. “He has to get ready to play. He is a 30-year-old (Tarasenko turns 30 in December). I’m sure he wants to play for a number of years in the NHL, and he has to come back and have a great season.”
Could it be possible that a good start for Tarasenko and the Blues might mend some fences? With a lack of suitors, it is not out of the question.
COVID and the Olympics
NHL players are returning to the Winter Olympics in 2022 in Beijing.
The league and the NHL Players’ Association announced a joint agreement Friday with the International Ice Hockey Federation to take a break in the 2021-22 regular-season schedule to accommodate the players’ participation.
This will be the sixth time NHL players have competed in the Winter Games. The first time was at Nagano, Japan, in 1998, and the most recent was at Sochi, Russia, in 2014.
There was some doubt that this would happen but once the COVID insurance hurdle was removed, they went forward. That being said, COVID will play a big role in the NHL this season.
The league released its new COVID protocols for the 2021-22 season which does allow for the suspension of unvaccinated players with some exceptions.
Any players that are unable to participate in club activities due to COVID can be suspended, which would include travel preventing them from playing. Those players would “forfeit the equivalent of one day’s pay for each day”; as the protocol states.
The exceptions for unvaccinated players who contract COVID and are unable to participate in club activities are for medical reasons, religious beliefs, infection occurred as result of employment as a hockey player, quarantine due to exposure, and “balance of probabilities.”
This is going to be a concern as a fourth wave is expected to hit North America.
The Great Goal Chase
Ovechkin collected 42 points (team-leading 24 goals, 18 assists) in 45 games in 2020-21. He resides one goal shy of tying Hall of Famer Marcel Dionne for fifth place all-time in NHL history.
“It’s gonna be tough but you never know,” Ovechkin said about chasing down Wayne Gretzky. I just want to do my best to be in history. I just want to put myself on the top of the list and we will see what’s going to happen.”
“There’s no doubt in my mind he has a great chance to do it,” Wayne Gretzky said back in April. It will take at least an average of 32.8 goals per season over the course of this new 5-year contract to make it happen.
The goal watch is on!
-Field Level Media contributed to this article.