5 Things You Need to Know About the 2021-2022 NHL Season
by Aaron Lynn
1. RELEASE THE KRAKEN
That's right, the Seattle Kraken begin their inaugural season and will become the 32nd franchise in the National Hockey League. Across the different sports, expansion teams don't typically contend right away, but that didn't stop the Vegas Golden Knights from reaching the Stanley Cup Finals in their first season (2017-18). The Kraken will face those same Golden Knights in the second game of a doubleheader Tuesday (10:00 PM ET).
Regardless of how well the Kraken fare this season, the Seattle fanbase is excellent (they sold 10,000 season tickets in 12 minutes) and the team has one of the best logos and color schemes of any team around. The Kraken will play their home games at the brand new Climate Pledge Arena.
Atlantic Winner: Toronto
Central Winner: Colorado
Metropolitan Winner: NYI
Pacific Winner: Edmonton
Stanley Cup Champion:
MVP: Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado
2. The 82-Game Grind is Back
The last two seasons were shortened due to Covid. The 2019-2020 season was cut about 10 games short before an expanded postseason eventually concluded the season, and last year's season was shortened to 56 games to allow time between the new season and that expanded postseason that didn't end until September.
Coaches around the league will now need to navigate the tough 82-game slate. Regular travel is back as well (no more 2-game series) as is the Atlantic, Metropolitan, Central, and Pacific divisions. With the addition of the Seattle Kraken, there are now 8 teams in each division.
3. It's a Winter Olympic Season
The NHL made the decision in the offseason to allow their players to compete in the 2022 Winter Olympic Games in Beijing. As a result, there will be a three-week break in February while the Olympics are going on. This is a change from the 2017-18 season where NHL players were not permitted to compete. That means younger stars such as Auston Matthews and Connor McDavid will be among those making their Olympic debut.
4. ESPN and TNT Now Own Media Rights
For the first time since 2004, ESPN will televise the NHL. NBC's media rights expired, which now means ESPN and TNT will have over 60 nationally televised broadcasts this season. ESPN will send some of those broadcasts to ABC. One major change is that ESPN+ now becomes the home of streaming. NHL.TV previously offered streams of all out-of-market games as well as on-demand replays. ESPN+ now takes over those duties, and, considering all of the other content that ESPN+ provides, this is a huge win for sports fans.
I actually think this media transition will be a huge positive for the NHL. Yes, it will be strange not to hear the NBC NHL theme before a game, but Doc Emrick, considered the "voice of hockey" retired before last season, so perhaps it's as good a time as any to make the change. ESPN may not be the powerhouse of sports media it once was but is still capable of reaching millions of sports fans and will advertise upcoming NHL broadcasts during their biggest college football, NFL, NBA, and MLB events.
Meanwhile, TNT will telecast a game on almost every Wednesday and will also host a show called "Inside the NHL". Sound familiar? It's the same concept as the award-winning "Inside the NBA". It's impossible to replicate the cast of Shaq, Charles Barkley, Kenny Smith, and Ernie Johnson. But, initial reviews of the show during preseason broadcasts has been very positive.
5. Tampa Bay Tries To Three-Peat
You have to turn to the New York Islanders of the 1980s to find the last three-peat. Now, the Tampa Bay Lightning have a chance to be the next team to achieve the feat. It will be a difficult task, which probably goes without saying. The Atlantic Division is strong, where the Toronto Maple Leafs are widely considered the favorite. Boston, if healthy, will be a difficult challenger and the Montreal Canadiens, who the Lightning faced in the Stanley Cup Finals, are looking for another deep postseason run.
The Tampa Bay Lightning will host the Pittsburgh Penguins on Tuesday at 7:30 PM on ESPN to begin the season.