2021-22 NHL Season Preview

2021-22 SEASON OPENS WITH RETURN TO ESPN; FIRST-EVER BROADCAST ON TNT

The 2021-22 regular season, which will see 32 teams compete in a total of 1,312 games, the most in NHL history, will launch on Oct. 12. The opening night doubleheader will be nationally broadcast on ESPN in the U.S. – the first of 103 Exclusive NHL Games Across ESPN, ESPN+, Hulu and ABC this season – as well as in Canada on Sportsnet and TVA.

 

* The first game of 2021-22 will see the Lightning begin their quest for a third straight Stanley Cup with a banner-raising ceremony against the Penguins. In the second contest, the Kraken will look to make waves to start their inaugural season as they face the 2017-18 expansion Golden Knights.

 

* A five-game Wednesday on Day 2 of the 2021-22 campaign will drop the puck on the NHL on TNT’s comprehensive coverage with the first of 25 Wednesday night broadcasts throughout the season – including the first of 15 doubleheaders. The Rangers and Capitals will open the night at Capital One Arena in what could be a historic night as Alex Ovechkin chases Marcel Dionne for fifth place on the NHL’s all-time goals list. The Blackhawks and Avalanche will round out TNT’s doubleheader, with Chicago ready to debut its highly anticipated offseason acquisitions (2020-21 Vezina Trophy winner Marc-Andre Fleury and former Blue Jackets defenseman Seth Jones) and welcome the return of captain Jonathan Toews.

 

SETTING THE STAGE: SEASON OPENERS

For the first time in 104 years, 32 teams will open their season – with each club set to play their first game within the first five days of the campaign. Click here to read a detailed overview of stats for teams, players, head coaches and NHL records in season-opening games, including notes on the Lightning, Kraken, Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin and new Blackhawks addition Marc-Andre Fleury.

 

WHAT WILL BE McDAVID’S ENCORE?

Connor McDavid produced at a torrid pace in 2020-21’s shortened season, tallying 100 points in 53 games and concluding with 33-72—105 (56 GP) – 21 points more than the next-closest player – en route to capturing his third Art Ross Trophy and second Hart Memorial Trophy.

 

* After becoming the ninth player in NHL history to reach the 100-point mark in 53 games or fewer last season, McDavid enters his seventh NHL campaign with his sights set on a fifth 100-point season, a feat achieved by only one active player: Sidney Crosby (6).

 

* McDavid, 24, is already a three-time winner of the Art Ross Trophy (2020-21, 2017-18 & 2016-17) while teammate Leon Draisaitl earned the award in 2019-20. Should either of them capture the award again in 2021-22, it would mark the third straight season an Oilers player captured the scoring title. Only two teams since 1980 have won at least three straight Art Ross Trophies: Pittsburgh (7x; 1994-95 to 2000-01) and Edmonton (7x; 1980-81 to 1986-87).

 

ROOKIE CLASS ALREADY FAMILIAR TO NHL FANS

Among the rookie class for the 2021-22 season are a selection of players who have already made an impact at the NHL level prior to their first full season – including multiple goaltenders set to play big roles:

 

* Canadiens forward Cole Caufield, who skated in 10 games during the 2020-21 regular season (4-1—5 in 10 GP), became the second player in franchise history to score his first NHL goal in overtime. Caufield also became a Canadiens fan-favorite during the playoffs when he led all rookies with 4-8—12 (20 GP) in Montreal’s run to the Stanley Cup Final. Only two rookies in franchise history posted more points than Caufield in a single postseason.

 

* Trevor Zegras (3-10—13) and Jamie Drysdale (3-5—8) each skated in 24 games for Anaheim in 2020-21, netting their first career goals on March 18, with the latter doing so in his NHL debut. They became the second Ducks duo age 19 or younger to score in the same game, joining Oleg Tverdovsky and Chad Kilger who combined for the feat on Nov. 5, 1995. Zegras (2021) and Drysdale (2020) have both won gold medals at the World Junior Championship.

 

* Spencer Knight was named the 2020-21 NCAA Hockey East Goaltender of the Year, Player of the Year, as well as a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award after boasting a 16-4-1 record with Boston College last season. Knight then became the first goaltender born in the 2000s to appear in an NHL game and became the youngest goaltender in League history to start his regular-season career with a 4-0-0 record – an active run he brings into 2021-22.

 

* Kaapo Kahkonen remains rookie eligible for the 2021-22 season after backstopping the Wild to a 16-8-0 record through his 24 games in 2020-21. Kahkonen posted a nine-game win streak from Feb. 18 – March 16 and became one of 10 different rookies in NHL history to post a win streak of nine or more games; Jordan Binnington is the only other to do so in the last 37 seasons (9-0-0 in 2018-19).

 

* Alex Nedeljkovic will be backstopping the Red Wings this season after appearing in 23 games with the Hurricanes in 2020-21, which allows him to maintain his rookie status. Nedeljkovic (1.90 GAA, .932 SV%, 3 SO) was a Calder Trophy finalist last season after setting franchise rookie records for goals-against average and save percentage. His .932 save percentage matched Tony Esposito (1969-70) for the best by an NHL rookie with at least 20 appearances since the statistic was introduced in 1955-56.

 

* Jeremy Swayman appeared in 10 games for the Bruins in 2020-21, posting a 7-3-0 record. Swayman became the seventh-youngest goaltender in Bruins history to earn a win in his debut (22 years, 133 days on April 6) and the fourth with 40 or more saves in his first NHL game (since 1955-56 when shots on goal were officially tracked).

 

VETERAN STARS CAN ADD TO ALREADY STRONG RESUMES

Alex Ovechkin continuing his climb up the NHL’s all-time goals list and Zdeno Chara returning to the team that drafted him 25 years later are just two of the multiple storylines revolving around veteran players leading into the 2021-22 season:

 

* After inking a five-year contract extension, the Capitals captain will continue his quest up the NHL all-time goals list as he enters the 2021-22 season in sixth place. Ovechkin (730) is one goal from tying Marcel Dionne (731) for fifth and will continue his chase towards Wayne Gretzky’s record.

 

* Marc-Andre Fleury, the 2020-21 Vezina Trophy winner, will be donning a Blackhawks jersey after being acquired by Chicago on July 27. The 17-year NHL veteran currently sits third on the League’s all-time wins list behind Martin Brodeur (691) and Patrick Roy (551). Fleury is one 30-win season away from becoming the fourth goaltender in NHL history to collect 30 wins in 10 or more campaigns, a feat only three netminders have accomplished: Brodeur (14x), Roy (13x) and Henrik Lundqvist (11x).

 

* Assuming Chara plays in New York’s season opener Oct. 14 in Carolina, his 20-year, 190-day span between games with one franchise will mark the longest such run in NHL history, besting Brendan Shanahan (17 years, 279 days w/ NJD). Chara (1,608 GP) enters the season 44 contests away from setting the record for the most games played by a defenseman in NHL history.

 

* On March 18, 2022, Chara will celebrate his 45th birthday which will make him the sixth player in League history to skate in a game at age 45 or older. Meanwhile, long-time opponent Joe Thornton, 42, is set for his 24th NHL season and remains in pursuit of his first Stanley Cup, after signing with the Panthers on Aug. 13 – the fourth different team he’s suited up for. Thornton holds the mark for the most assists (1,104), points (1,529) and games played (1,680 GP) among active players.

 

* Keith Yandle will look to continue his “Ironman” streak in a new jersey after signing with the Flyers on July 28. Yandle, who has not missed a game since March 26, 2009 (922 GP), is 42 contests from tying Doug Jarvis (964 GP from Oct. 8, 1975 to Oct. 10, 1987) for the NHL record of most consecutive games played. Phil Kessel, whose “Ironman” streak is 22 games shy of Yandle, is 14 contests from tying Garry Unger (914 GP) for third all-time.

 

2021-22 SEASON QUICK HITS

 

* The NHL will return to its previous divisions this season, with the Atlantic and Metropolitan divisions in the Eastern Conference and the Central and Pacific divisions in the Western Conference. Arizona will shift to the Central Division to make way for Seattle in the Pacific.

 

* The wild card format will be reinstated, in which each division’s top three teams will secure a berth in the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs, while the other clubs compete for two wild card spots per conference.

 

* Major events will return with the 2022 Discover NHL Winter Classic between the Blues and Wild in Minneapolis, Minn., the 2022 Honda NHL All-Star Weekend in Las Vegas, Nev., the 2022 Navy Federal Credit Union NHL Stadium Series between the Predators and Lightning in Nashville, Tenn., and the 2022 Tim Hortons NHL Heritage Classic between the Maple Leafs and Sabres in Hamilton, Ont.

 

* The 2021-22 season is scheduled to pause from Feb. 7-22 to accommodate participation in the 2022 Beijing Olympic games.