It doesn’t seem that long ago that the Colorado Avalanche won the Stanley Cup, and it’s been even more recent that Juraj Slafkovsky was drafted first overall and a wild offseason brought Johnny Gaudreau to the Columbus Blue Jackets, Claude Giroux to the Ottawa Senators, and Matthew Tkachuk to the Florida Panthers.
But now that fall is officially set to begin on Thursday, it’s also time for training camps around the NHL to open, as we look ahead to opening night of the season on Oct. 11.
To help get you ready for the next few weeks — as teams decide on which players make the roster, and how their lines, D pairings and goalie tandems will shake out — here are the biggest lingering questions for each club, courtesy of Ryan S. Clark, Kristen Shilton and Greg Wyshynski.
Big question: How well can Boston weather its early injuries?
The Bruins will start this season with a seriously depleted roster. Brad Marchand had offseason surgery on both hips and will be unavailable until at least late November. Charlie McAvoy is on a similar — and possibly longer — timeline following offseason shoulder surgery. Matt Grzelcyk had a shoulder procedure done, too; he’s out until November.
That leaves the Bruins without two of their best defensemen and one of their best forwards (who led the team with 80 points last season) for a sizable chunk of the schedule.
Will those absences spell disaster in Beantown? Or does the Bruins’ depth hold up? It’ll fall on new coach Jim Montgomery to keep his group on the rails. Veterans like David Pastrnak and Taylor Hall will be relied on more than ever to perform. Having Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci back in the mix helps too. Uncertainty still looms large, though. How Boston navigates those first two months might just determine the outcome of their whole season. It’s a lot of pressure to put on those still healthy — not to mention Montgomery — and all eyes will be on how Boston rises to the occasion. — Shilton
Big question: Has Buffalo finally found consistent goaltending?
The Sabres have some dynamic young players in their midst (hello, Owen Power, Tage Thompson, Dylan Cozens and others) who will make this a fun team to watch. What Buffalo needs to complement those rising studs is better goaltending. The Sabres were abysmal in that department last season, rotating through six different starters and averaging 3.50 goals against (eighth worst in the NHL). Have they found the right goalie tandem now?
Craig Anderson was Buffalo’s best option between the pipes in 2021-22 (17-12-2 record, .897 goals-against average) but missed time early on because of injury. He’s back with the Sabres again, joined now by free agent signee Eric Comrie — who could be on the cusp of a real breakthrough. Comrie went 10-5-1 with Winnipeg last season, producing a .920 save percentage and a 2.58 goals-against average. At 27 years old, he’s poised to take on the most starts of his career alongside Anderson, and based on past performance, that could be great news for the Sabres.
There’s a lot of belief around Buffalo that the team is turning a corner. Dependable goaltending would go a long way in seeing that come to fruition. — Shilton
Detroit Red Wings
Big question: How good will Detroit be with its new additions?
Red Wings’ general manager Steve Yzerman came to slay this offseason. He signed Andrew Copp, Dominik Kubalik and David Perron up front, added Ben Chiarot to the blue line and Ville Husso to complement Alex Nedeljkovic in net. Yzerman also made his first head-coaching hire in Detroit, replacing Jeff Blashill with Derek Lalonde. The new bench boss has plenty of fresh talent to start with. Where will it all take the Red Wings?
Last season, it was Detroit’s defensive deficiencies that stood out. The Red Wings allowed the second-most goals against in the league (3.78 per game) and the fifth-most shots (33.7). Addressing and improving that area will be critical from the outset for Lalonde, and the new guys should be an asset in doing so. Perron and Copp are both solid two-way players who will lead by example on the defensive side. Red Wings captain Dylan Larkin will also want a return to form in that area, after posting a 2.95 expected goals against in 2021-22.
Then there’s Husso. He was a stud in the regular season for St. Louis last season and now has a chance to be Detroit’s No. 1 in a tandem with Nedeljkovic. Detroit had a cumulative save percentage below .900 a year ago (Nedeljkovic was at .901) and Husso should push that number up. If he does, and if those other new players come out firing, Detroit could be flying high. — Shilton
Big question: Has Florida compensated too much for its postseason failure?
Florida won the 2021-22 Presidents’ Trophy on the strength of its 122-point season. General manager Bill Zito was a trade deadline darling with his acquisitions of Claude Giroux and Ben Chiarot. The Panthers looked poised for playoff greatness, but were swept away by Tampa Bay in the second round. That hurt. So much so that Zito turned sharply in another direction.
Gone is interim head coach Andrew Brunette; Paul Maurice is behind the bench now. Giroux, Chiarot and Mason Marchment were all allowed to depart in free agency. Jonathan Huberdeau (who scored 30 goals last season) and MacKenzie Weegar (an underrated offensive defenseman) were swapped to Calgary in July for Matthew Tkachuk. It’s a lot of overhaul in a short period, not unlike the one Florida went through after March’s deadline. Those aggressive moves didn’t pay off for the Panthers then. Will Zito’s changes make a different impact on the team’s trajectory this time? — Shilton
Big question: How will Montreal manage its forward group?
Canadiens coach Martin St. Louis won’t be lacking for options up front. Montreal is brimming with young talents, from recent first overall draft pick Juraj Slafkovsky to newly named captain Nick Suzuki to fresh acquisition Kirby Dach to the still-emerging Cole Caufield. And those are just the guys in their early 20s (or teens, in Slafkovsky’s case). The Canadiens have their veteran incumbents too, and even added Sean Monahan in the offseason.
Monahan is currently on IR (as are Jonathan Drouin and Paul Byron) but once (or if) the entire roster is healthy, who will populate the Canadiens’ primary forward pack? Will there be an emphasis on getting reps for those up-and-coming core players, or will the focus be purely on winning games? Montreal has no reason to rush anyone along — they likely aren’t a playoff team just yet — but this is also the time to start building confidence in the team’s foundation and future.
Speaking of the future, what does that look like for Carey Price? Montreal isn’t betting on Price to play this season as he continues rehabbing a knee injury but he will remain around the club. That’s a good thing for the Canadiens, whose rising stars will especially benefit from Price’s presence throughout the season — even if it’s off the ice. — Shilton
Big question: Is Ottawa a playoff team?
The Senators haven’t appeared in the postseason since reaching the Eastern Conference finals in 2017. They have surpassed the 30-win mark only once in the five seasons since. General manager Pierre Dorion is clearly tired of those results — hence the bold offseason moves. Dorion traded for Alex DeBrincat, signed free agent Claude Giroux, swapped out Matt Murray for Cam Talbot in net and filled around the edges with some veteran adds. On paper, these Senators look fairly formidable.
Ottawa’s red flag is on the back end. If the Senators expect to push for playoffs, they’ll need a defensive effort to match what could be a potent top-six attack. But Dorion didn’t target much turnover for a defensive unit that was 11th in goals against last season (3.22 per game). Was that the wrong decision? It will fall on Ottawa’s forwards to help improve the team defensively too, of course. But standing pat in terms of defensive personnel might spell trouble for Ottawa in its quest to rejoin the playoff field. Time will tell if Dorion put his eggs in the right baskets. — Shilton
Tampa Bay Lightning
Big question: How does Tampa reset after offseason subtractions?
Lightning general manager Julien BriseBois prioritized taking care of his own last summer by signing Nick Paul, Mikhail Sergachev, Anthony Cirelli and Erik Cernak to long-term extensions. In the process, Tampa had to let go of Ondrej Palat (signed now in New Jersey) and Ryan McDonagh (traded to Nashville). Both Palat and McDonagh played major roles in Tampa’s recent run of success. Losing them creates opportunity for others, but also potentially weakens the Lightning roster overall.
Sergachev will have to take on more responsibility. Same for Paul, especially since Cirelli will be out of Tampa’s top-six rotation until at least November. Brandon Hagel and Ross Colton have a chance to step up. Vladislav Namestnikov is a new face in the room this season, too. Tampa won’t be lacking in choices; it’s more a question of chemistry. What has made the Lightning so special is how they’ve come together and played — as the team so often states — for each other. How will the departure of some beloved core players hurt that all-for-one mentality, if at all? And even with the right buy-in, can Tampa continue its spectacular run of success for another year? — Shilton
Toronto Maple Leafs
Big question: Did Toronto make the right wager on its goaltending?
The Maple Leafs’ goalie carousel is galloping into another season of (potential) uncertainty. Two summers ago, Toronto let former incumbent Frederik Andersen go to Carolina as a free agent in order to ride with Jack Campbell and sign Petr Mrazek to back him up. A year later, Campbell too left in free agency (for Edmonton), Mrazek was traded to Chicago and general manager Kyle Dubas replaced them with oft-injured Matt Murray (traded from Ottawa) and free agent Ilya Samsonov. Is that … better? We’ll soon find out.
Goaltending was an overall strength for the Leafs last season. Campbell went 31-9-6 with a .914 save percentage. Murray and Samsonov combined for 28 wins last year (granted Murray was limited by injuries and Samsonov split time with Vitek Vanecek).
Toronto boasting elite scoring talents like Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner doesn’t negate the necessity for reliable goaltending — particularly when it comes to the postseason. Because in case you haven’t heard, Toronto’s lacking in recent playoff success. That hasn’t been primarily because of poor netminding, but Murray and/or Samsonov will need to be in a strong, established position by then. Can they be that tandem the Leafs are looking for to compete — and stay healthy enough to prove it? — Shilton
Big question: Who steps up to replace Vincent Trocheck?
The biggest question the Hurricanes will have to answer is whether the offseason acquisitions of Brent Burns and Max Pacioretty can finally push them through the Eastern Conference bracket and into the Stanley Cup Final again. But since we’re not likely to see Pacioretty until 2023 after tearing an Achilles tendon, let’s instead focus on the gaping void left by center Vincent Trocheck’s departure to the Rangers in free agency.
Trocheck had 51 points in 81 games as the second center on the depth chart behind Sebastian Aho and ahead of Jordan Staal, playing the majority of his time with Andrei Svechnikov and Martin Necas. The common theory is that 22-year-old Jesperi Kotkaniemi will be given the first crack at taking over the second line, given the eight-year commitment the Hurricanes made to him last March. While his totals last season weren’t overwhelming, he was tied with rookie Seth Jarvis for second on the team in goals per 60 minutes at 5-on-5 (1.02). There’s also the potential to move Necas to his natural position at center, although he might not have the defensive chops for that assignment on a Rod Brind’Amour-coached team.
The Canes have versatile veteran Paul Stastny as an insurance policy, but they’d love for a younger player to plant their flag on the second line. — Wyshynski
Columbus Blue Jackets
Big question: How does Johnny Gaudreau reshape the lineup?
Gaudreau’s arrival in Columbus sent shockwaves through the NHL during the summer. Now we’ll get to see what kind of seismic shifts Johnny Hockey has caused within the Blue Jackets’ lineup. It’s expected that Patrik Laine, coming off a resurgent point-per-game season, will play on the opposite wing from Gaudreau on their top line. As great as Gaudreau can be as a playmaker, he can’t do it alone. Please recall that Gaudreau played over 1,000 minutes at 5-on-5 with Matthew Tkachuk last season with the Flames, helping him hit 40 goals and break 100 points for the first time in his career. Could Laine offer the same help?
Boone Jenner could center the Gaudreau line. The 29-year-old had 44 points in 59 games last season before a back injury cut his campaign short. He’s got the size and physicality that could benefit Gaudreau, and played well with Laine last season. But when Jenner was out, Jack Roslovic was elevated to the top line and played well. Don’t count him out of the mix. They’re both likely keeping the seat warm for Cole Sillinger, the 19-year-old coming off a strong rookie season. How long before he earns his shot?
Gaudreau’s arrival means left wing Jakub Voracek gets knocked down the depth chart for Columbus. He tallied 56 assists last season and averaged 17:28 of ice time per game. If doesn’t have Laine on his opposite wing, and with Oliver Bjorkstrand off to Seattle, do those numbers take a tumble? Or does Voracek play hip uncle to Sillinger and Yegor Chinakhov on another scoring line? — Wyshynski
New Jersey Devils
Big question: Is the goaltending finally going to achieve some competency?
The fact that the franchise of Martin Brodeur is now defined by goaltending inefficiency has “wishing on a monkey’s paw” levels of cruel irony. Over the last three seasons, the Devils have the lowest save percentage (.906) of any NHL team at 5-on-5. The strides their young roster has made always turn into stumbles, as they’re tripped up by the Devils’ inability to get a save.
This is the third straight offseason that GM Tom Fitzgerald has attempted to rectify that problem. He signed Corey Crawford in 2020, only to see him retire instead. He acquired Jonathan Bernier in 2021, only to see him play 10 games before undergoing season-ending hip surgery.
Bernier is still under contract and the Devils count him as being in the goaltending mix, but the two primary netminders heading into 2022-23 are former Capitals goalie Vitek Vanecek — acquired via trade as a restricted free agent — and 25-year-old Mackenzie Blackwood, who is entering his fifth NHL season. They hope Vanecek can be the stabilizing force that they hoped Crawford and Bernier would become, allowing Blackwood to find the form he showed during a 2019-2020 breakout campaign. The operative word here is “hope.” — Wyshynski
New York Islanders
Big question: How does Lane Lambert put his stamp on this team?
The most well-known thing about the newest Islanders head coach is his association with the previous one. Lambert worked as the right-hand man for Barry Trotz over the last decade before finally getting his time to shine as a head coach. Are there philosophical differences in Lambert’s approach to the game than his predecessor’s, or is this a case of “same approach, fresh voice?”
What’s really intriguing about Lambert taking over is that the Islanders’ roster is, by and large, the same one that missed the playoffs and got Trotz fired. Does Lambert run it back with some familiar line combinations? Does he do anything to address the diminishing returns on Mathew Barzal; like, for example, giving 22-year-old winger Oliver Wahlstrom the ice time that Trotz was reluctant to give him? What is a Lane Lambert team? — Wyshynski
New York Rangers
Big question: What’s next for The Kid Line?
We ask about The Kid Line in abstract. Filip Chytil, Kaapo Kakko and Alexis Lafreniere were the beating heart of the Rangers during a good portion of their run to the Eastern Conference finals last season until coach Gerard Gallant broke them up. Maybe they ride again some day, but it’s more likely that these three young talents will be sprinkled throughout the Rangers’ lineup instead. It’s just a question of where.
Chytil might be the easiest to predict. He should be the team’s No. 3 center behind Mika Zibanejad and the newly acquired Vincent Trocheck. Lafreniere started to see some time with Zibanejad during the playoffs. One assumes he’ll be given the chance to shine on the top line with Zibanejad and Chris Kreider. Then there’s Kakko, the No. 2 overall pick in 2019 who was last seen getting scratched in Game 6 of the conference finals. They handed him a two-year bridge contract. They’ll continue to challenge him until they know what he is. Does Kakko finally take the next step in his NHL career? If so, it could be on Trocheck’s flank. — Wyshynski
Big question: John Tortorella. Philadelphia Flyers. So, uh, what does that look like?
Torts leaves the ESPN television studio to return to an NHL bench, taking over a Flyers team that finished last in its division and has missed the playoffs for two straight seasons. It didn’t take long for one of hockey’s most combative coaches to make headlines in Philly, telling SiriusXM NHL Network Radio that he has “major concerns” about the Flyers locker room, and that “before we even step onto the ice, situations and standards and accountability in the room is forefront, and you can’t get squat done on the ice until you get your room straightened out.”
We imagine he’s not talking about the room’s feng shui …
There are two things we know about Tortorella as an NHL coach. The first is that everyone will walk into camp with a clean slate, having yet earned nothing on his watch. The second is that he will attempt to turn the Flyers from an easy team to play against, having finished last in the Metro last season, to a Torts-tough group that competes every night. One of the more intriguing subplots: How his system could benefit franchise goalie Carter Hart, who showed some improvement last season after earlier struggles. — Wyshynski
Big question: Does “the band” have the right backup musicians?
Sidney Crosby got his wish; Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang are, somewhat inexplicably, back with the Penguins on multiyear contracts. So is Bryan Rust. The band is back together under coach Mike Sullivan, who received his own contract extension.
But Sid must be feeling even more déjà vu for the Penguins as he glances down the depth chart. Just like back in the days when Ray Shero was the general manager, Pittsburgh’s bottom six and defensive depth could drown out the sweet music the band orchestrates together.
The Penguins have Jeff Carter and Teddy Blueger as potential bottom-six centers. Danton Heinen, Brock McGinn, Kasperi Kapanen. Ryan Poehling, Josh Archibald and Drew O’Connor will be in the mix at wing. What trios emerge from that group to support the top two lines? Then there’s the blue line. The Penguins are set on the right side with Letang, offseason pickup Jeff Petry and former Lightning defenseman Jan Rutta. But Brian Dumoulin and Marcus Pettersson have been inconsistent at best on the left side. Pierre-Olivier Joseph and Ty Smith are young, offensively gifted but defensively deficient. The Penguins have options down the lineup. Which ones do they roll with first? — Wyshynski
Big question: What does life without Nicklas Backstrom and Tom Wilson look like?
On paper, the Capitals enter the season without their top-line right wing and their No. 2 center. But Wilson and Backstrom are so much more than names on a roster. Say what you will about Tom Wilson — and please, try to keep it PG-13 — but he’s the perfect complement to Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov on the Capitals’ top line. He’s out for the first few months of the season after reconstructive surgery to fix a torn ACL in his left knee. Backstrom is a franchise icon who, when healthy, can be one of the NHL’s most effective two-way centers. But “when healthy” is doing a lot of work here, as his offseason hip resurfacing surgery will put him on the shelf for an indefinite period of time.
What does this do for the lineup? Let’s start with Backstrom. The Capitals had limited salary cap flexibility, knowing that both Wilson and Backstrom could return this season, so they added former Blackhawks center Dylan Strome ($3.5 million AAV) as an option to replace Backstrom. Another option: Center Lars Eller, who has held down their third line. As a pending free agent, Eller probably wouldn’t mind a showcase with wingers Anthony Mantha and T.J. Oshie. The wild card: Connor McMichael, the 21-year-old center.
The Capitals might only be without Wilson for the first seven or eight weeks of the season, but they’ll need to fill that role in the short term. Winger Connor Brown, added from the Senators, is an option. But Oshie has played with Ovechkin and Kuznetsov before and that trio has worked decently, too. — Wyshynski
Big question: How competitive can the Coyotes actually be?
There has been more than enough focus on where Arizona is playing this season, and what sort of experience that 5,000-seat facility at Arizona State University is going to provide for players and fans alike. But what about the on-ice product these Coyotes will offer? GM Bill Armstrong has gone all-in on rebuilding this team from the ground up, with the draft capital (31 picks in the next three years) and up-and-comers to prove it. However, the majority of those players just can’t help make the Coyotes better right now. What sort of team will they be?
Arizona has its core foundational players in the likes of Clayton Keller, Nick Schmaltz, Christian Fischer and Lawson Crouse. Karel Vejmelka will enter his second NHL season as the Coyotes’ projected starter. And, at least for now, there are some veteran defenders patrolling the blue line in Jakob Chychrun, Shayne Gostisbehere and Troy Stecher (although who remains post-trade deadline is anyone’s guess). After that, Arizona’s forward depth is too many 30-plus skaters like Andrew Ladd, Zack Kassian and Nick Bjugstad, and their back-end options drop off sharply.
There’s an obvious emphasis on the long game for Arizona, both with its living space and its roster construction. How much that approach is affecting the Coyotes’ present will likely become clear quite quickly this season. — Shilton
Big question: How do Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews fit into the rebuilding Blackhawks?
Kane and Toews don’t necessarily want to leave Chicago. It’s possible neither player will. But the idea of a five-year long rebuild isn’t appealing, either.
It’s become increasingly feasible that at some point this season, one or both could be sporting new sweaters. Because the Blackhawks appear headed for a nosedive so hard into the ground that they earn the right to draft Connor Bedard first overall in June. Does keeping Kane and Toews get in the way of that? Kane put up 92 points last season, albeit alongside Alex DeBrincat, who has since been traded to Ottawa. Toews is still a viable two-way center, even while not producing the same scoring numbers as at his peak. There’s a market for those players’ services, and whether Chicago opts to really explore that will be the Blackhawks’ all-encompassing storyline from now until either a trade happens or the deadline passes.
Kane and Toews have full no-movement clauses, of course, so any deal would have to be approved on their ends. Chicago wouldn’t have been the dynastic club it became in the 2010s without their contributions and a perfect world might allow both to enthusiastically end their careers as Blackhawks. But what if the right offer comes along? An opportunity to chase another championship, rather than plod through more of a multiyear overhaul, could ultimately be too good to let slip. — Shilton
Big question: Who will be the new second-line center?
Go back to when the Avalanche were upstarts en route to becoming the eventual Stanley Cup champions. Finding a second-line center was a problem back then. That is what made getting Nazem Kadri in a trade back in 2019 so crucial. It gave the Avs that legimiate second-line center who could operate in a number of roles, which then allowed the front office the freedom to focus on other areas they needed to strengthen.
Three years and a Stanley Cup later, the Avs are now trying to find Kadri’s replacement. But this time, there appear to be internal candidates who could win the job. Whoever replaces Kadri as the second-line center will have to contend with the expectations he created. It appears the primary challengers could be J.T. Compher, Alex Newhook or Evan Rodrigues, who signed a one-year contract with the Avs on Sept. 12.
Compher was one of the options the team looked to before they eventually traded for Kadri. Since then, he worked to establish himself as a third-line center who scored a career-high 18 goals and 33 points in 70 games last season. Newhook was drafted 16th in 2019 with the expectation he could potentially serve as a top-six, two-way center capable of anchoring a line. He finished with 13 goals and 33 points in 71 games in what was his first full NHL campaign. As for Rodrigues, he scored a career-best 19 goals and 43 points last season with the Penguins, while giving Avs coach Jared Bednar another forward who could either be used down the middle or on the wing. — Clark
Big question: When does Jason Robertson re-sign with the Stars, and what could his next deal look like?
Ideally, the Stars would likely want to re-sign Robertson before September ends or at some point in early October. The challenge, however, appears to lie in finding something that works beyond the 2022-23 season. CapFriendly projects the Stars to have $6.335 million in cap space this season while being projected to have $29.26 million ahead of the 2023-24 season. Anton Khudobin and Joe Pavelski will be pending UFAs who cost a combined $8.83 million in cap space, while Denis Gurianov and Roope Hintz are pending RFAs who will also be in need of new deals.
These are all factors that could be in consideration when it comes to creating a framework for Robertson’s new deal. It amounts to Stars GM Jim Nill and his front-office staff managing cap space in a way that allows the franchise to re-sign a 23-year-old winger who is averaging 0.98 points in 128 games while potentially having the flexibility to retain others.
As for what could happen? It is possible Robertson and the Stars could do a bridge deal as a temporary solution, with the plan of establishing something with more term and money. But that also comes with the possibility Robertson continues his trajectory and potentially raises his asking price, when signing him earlier might have cost slightly less. — Clark
Big question: Who could step up and help strengthen the top-nine forward group?
Kirill Kaprizov went from 51 points to 108 in his sophomore campaign. Marcus Foligno had never scored more than 26 points in a season, yet scored 42. Frederick Gaudreau quadrupled his career high of 10 points to score 44, while Ryan Hartman had more goals in 2021-22 than he had in his last four seasons … combined. Mats Zuccarello did something similar by scoring more points last season than he had in the previous two seasons combined.
Having that particular quintet replicate, if not exceed what they did in 2021-22 would help the Wild. Especially now that Kevin Fiala, along with his 33 goals and 85 points, is with the Los Angeles Kings. This is what makes the Wild so intriguing beyond the five players who set career highs. It is a team that will seek to capitalize off the continued growth Matt Boldy showed during his rookie campaign, when he scored 15 goals and 39 points in 47 games.
But Boldy is not the only player whose contributions could prove crucial. A number of forwards, such as Tyson Jost and Sam Steel, are expected to push for top-nine roles. So is Marco Rossi. The Wild drafted Rossi with the ninth pick in 2020 with the aim he could someday become a top-six option after scoring 39 goals and 120 points for the Ottawa 67’s in the OHL during the 2019-20 season. Rossi was limited to five games in 2020-21 because of COVID-19 complications, but would return to score 18 goals and 53 points in 63 games for the Iowa Wild in the AHL a year later. — Clark
Big question: How does Nashville build on last season — and define its top six?
Retaining Filip Forsberg on a massive eight-year extension was the offseason move Nashville had to make. He’ll rejoin Matt Duchene, Mikael Granlund and Ryan Johansen in the Predators’ top six, and welcome free agent acquisition Nino Niederreiter to that group for this season as well. Forsberg (84 points in 69 games) and Duchene (86 points in 78 games) had career-best seasons in 2021-22, and along with Roman Josi’s career-high 96 point campaign were major factors in the Predators getting back to the playoffs.
The postseason is where Nashville fell apart. Starting goaltender Juuse Saros was injured, and Colorado tidily swept the Predators to an early summer. How does Nashville prevent that sort of outcome again? It starts with its veterans finding similar success, and figuring out who best fits in that vacant top-six slot. Philip Tomasino is entering his sophomore season but may not be ready for a full-time jump up. Tanner Jeannot had a strong rookie showing on Nashville’s third line and will definitely get a look, too. Eeli Tolvanen could be a contender as well.
Bringing Niederreiter in certainly gives coach John Hynes more options to mix and match. Striking the right balance will be key for Nashville to improve on its past accomplishments. — Shilton
St. Louis Blues
Big question: How does life look without Ville Husso?
You may have noticed that there is something of a theme developing when it comes to how the Blues find a solution to replace a goaltender. Kind of like how Carter Hutton and his 17-7-3 record left after the 2017-18 season, only to be replaced by Jordan Binnington. Or how the Blues needed to find a suitable replacement for Jake Allen going into the 2020-21 season. Every time the Blues are faced with this question, they come up with an answer.
Could Thomas Greiss be next? Perhaps that is a question the Blues will be able to answer later in the regular season. For now, the expectation is Griess can work in tandem with Binnington to replace Husso, who is now with the Red Wings. It is just a matter of whether that tandem can find consistency.
Husso went 25-7-6 with a 2.56 goals-against average and a .919 save percentage, while Binnington finished 18-14-4 with a career-worst 3.13 GAA and a. 901 save percentage, another personal low. Griess won a combined 18 games over two seasons for a Red Wings team that was still building toward being more competitive. His time with the Islanders hypothetically offers more insight into how Griess fares in a tandem for a team with playoff aspirations. Griess won more than 10 games in five of his six seasons and was a three-time 20-game winner. — Clark
Big question: Can Rick Bowness get the right buy-in?
When Paul Maurice excused himself from Winnipeg’s head-coaching post last December, the Jets were underperforming and in need of “a new voice,” according to their departing bench boss. Dave Lowry filled in, Winnipeg missed the postseason and visibly frustrated top players like Mark Scheifele publicly questioned what direction the Jets were headed in.
Turns out, they were flying toward veteran coach Rich Bowness. His first big decision was stripping Blake Wheeler of the team’s captaincy, paving the way for a leadership-by-committee approach. On the ice, he’ll aim to steer these Jets into calmer skies by cultivating a hard-to-play-against mentality that leaves room for creativity. Winnipeg struggled defensively last season as well (they were 13th in goals against), and a traditionally defensive-minded coach like Bowness will emphasize a 200-foot game from everyone (star skaters included).
Will that be enough to satisfy a disappointed group in Winnipeg that’s too often falling short of its own expectations? Successful teams are built on good structure. Bowness has 33 years of experience in hockey to lean on. He’ll tap into all of it to design and implement the right plan for Winnipeg, one that he hopes can turn some frowns upside down in the dressing room. — Shilton
Big question: What is the plan with their defense?
This is a rather broad question, resulting from the Ducks’ circumstances. A discussion can be held about how their defensemen will actually perform. Or about how free agent signing John Klingberg changes the dynamic in addition to the expectations facing the Ducks this season. For now? It appears the immediate concern could be determining what decisions Ducks coach Dallas Eakins will make with his pairings while GM Pat Verbeek examines the strongest approach to take when it comes to all the options within his organization.
Eakins has nine defensemen on his roster. Verbeek added more experience in Klingberg and Dmitry Kulikov to go with what they already had in veterans Cam Fowler and Kevin Shattenkirk. Those four provide a contrast to the remaining five defensemen who are all younger than 25 years old, with Jamie Drysdale being a member of that group. They signed another veteran in Nathan Beaulieu to a professional tryout offer while the experienced John Moore also remains in the system.
It all amounts to the Ducks having options — especially when three of their current defensemen are pending UFAs while three more are pending RFAs at season’s end. Even how they manage those future contracts will be influenced by the knowledge that prospects Drew Helleson, Pavel Mintyukov and Owen Zellweger could challenge for roster spots in the coming seasons. — Clark
Big question: How will all the pieces work when it comes to replacing Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk’s production?
Replacing two forwards who combined to score 219 points last season was done by getting two more forwards who combined to score 202 points, and a defenseman who scored an additional 44 points. This might be one of the simpler ways to describe the Flames’ approach when it comes to using Jonathan Huberdeau, MacKenzie Weegar and Nazem Kadri to replace Gaudreau and Tkachuk.
Natural Stat Trick’s metrics reveal Gaudreau and Tkachuk were on the ice last season for a little more than 1,047 minutes of 5-on-5 ice time, while also accounting for 86 goals, 663 scoring chances and 259 high-danger scoring chances in those sequences. It is possible the Flames elect to play Huberdeau and Kadri on the same line. But they could be tempted to split them up. One of the items that made the Panthers successful last season was their ability to have Barkov and Huberdeau operate on seperate lines. They had 204 minutes of 5-on-5 ice time together. But Barkov had 681 minutes in 5-on-5 play without Huberdeau over his 67-game season. Huberdeau had 805 minutes without Barkov, having played 80 games.
One of Kadri’s traits during his three-season stint in Denver was the fact he could anchor a line regardless of who was next to him. There would be times when the Avs would shuffle their second line. Plus, there were also occasions when Kadri filled in on the first line whenever Nathan MacKinnon was injured. Most of Kadri’s 5-on-5 time was spent with Andre Burakovsky (1,281 minutes) and Valeri Nichushkin (645 minutes) over his three campaigns with the Avs, per Natural Stat Trick. Yet Kadri also logged more than 250 minutes of 5-on-5 time with wingers Joonas Donskoi, Gabriel Landeskog, Mikko Rantanen, Brandon Saad and J.T. Compher.
Weegar’s arrival comes with its own set of circumstances. He was on the ice for more scoring chances and high-danger scoring chances in 5-on-5 sequences than any skater on the Panthers roster. Adding a puck mover like Weegar means the Flames have added to a defense that watched Rasmus Andersson and Noah Hanifin each finish with more than 48 points. Altogether, the Flames are returning five defenseman who finished the regular season with more than 20 points. — Clark
Big question: What will the Oilers do to become cap-compliant?
Let’s start here. Pending RFA Ryan McLeod still needs a new contract. Couple that with the fact Oscar Klefbom’s and Mike Smith’s combined $6.367 million cap hit are on injured reserve. Then there is there is also the consideration that the Oilers have $750,000 in dead cap from Milan Lucic’s contract, in addition to a combined $3.416 million that remains on the books from the James Neal and Andrej Sekera buyouts.
Figuring out how to navigate those items, among other details, is what Oilers GM Ken Holland and his front office staff must navigate in their trek to become cap-compliant. CapFriendly projects the Oilers are $6.781 million over the cap. There are numerous avenues the Oilers could pursue in their plan to become compliant. Some of the hypotheticals include electing to move Klefbom and Smith to long term injured reserve, dressing a limited roster or attempting to shed salary through trades, among other options. — Clark
Los Angeles Kings
Big question: Will this be the season Quinton Byfield breaks through?
Rebuilding the franchise around players such as Anze Kopitar was the starting point. Signing free agents such as Phillip Danault was the next step. Together, the pair form a one-two combination down the middle that made the Kings formidable enough to reach the postseason for the first time in three seasons. Yet it is the promise someone like Byfield offers that only adds to what could make the Kings a long-term contender.
He has the size and the ability to make plays, with a 6-foot-5 frame. Those are among the reasons why Byfield went second in the 2020 draft. But is this the season when the 20-year-old can make it all work? Byfield scored 10 points in 40 games last season for the Kings, while also scoring six points in 11 games in the AHL. His physical traits are why he carries high expectations. So does the fact he went second overall.
Enough is in place to suggest the discussion around Byfield is a bit philosophical. He’s only 20, which means there is time. But he’s also 20 in a league that has seen first-round picks become instant contributors. Look no further than Byfield’s draft class. There are eight first-rounders from that draft who have scored more points and played in more games than Byfield to this point. — Clark
San Jose Sharks
Big question: What changes will David Quinn and his staff implement to find more goals?
Creating scoring chances and high-danger scoring chances in 5-on-5 play was not a problem last season for the Sharks. They were near league average in those categories. What was an issue, however, was converting those chances into goals. The Sharks scored the fewest goals in 5-on-5 sequences while having the fifth-fewest shots in those situations. Furthemore, their shot-attempt percentage was 45.59%, which means maintaining possession was an issue for the Sharks. Only the Coyotes were worse at 44%, per Natural Stat Trick.
Nick Bonino, Logan Couture, Tomas Hertl and Timo Meier accounted for 49% of the Sharks’ goals last season. But Jonathan Dahlen, Rudolfs Balcers and Brent Burns? The three players who finished fifth, sixth and seventh in goals are playing elsewhere this season. It’s what makes the need to find supplemental scoring even more important.
Sharks GM Mike Grier and his front-office staff believe free agent signings Luke Kunin and Oskar Lindblom can help in that area. Kunin’s 13 goals last season would have made him the Sharks’ fifth leading scorer while Lindblom’s 12 goals would have placed him in a tie for sixth. Nico Sturm, who also arrived in free agency, had nine goals last season. Those additions along with a fully healthy Kevin Labanc is expected to make a difference. Furthermore, could it be possible Thomas Bordeleau and William Eklund be part of the solution? — Clark
Big question: What impact will new goaltending coach Steve Briere have on the Kraken?
Matty Beniers scoring nine points in 10 games last season has created Calder Trophy buzz in addition to excitement about what he could provide as a top-six center. Seattle unexpectedly drafting Shane Wright with the fourth pick has also led to discussions about whether or not he makes the Kraken’s roster out of training camp. But an argument could be made that what Briere does with Philipp Grubauer and Martin Jones comes with a substantial amount of significance.
Goaltending was a multifaceted issue for the Kraken. They signed Grubauer to a six-year contract worth $5.9 million annually, only to watch him go from being a 30-game winning Vezina Trophy finalist with the Avalanche to losing 31 games in the Kraken’s debut season. Chris Driedger started to find consistency over the final months of the regular season, but he later suffered a torn ACL representing Canada at the World Championships. Driedger is expected to be out of the lineup until January at the earliest.
Those season-long struggles are what eventually led to the Kraken moving on from goalie coach Andrew Allen and hiring Briere from the Maple Leafs. Another way the Kraken sought to address their goalie dilemma was signing Jones in free agency to create a tandem with Grubauer while Driedger continues his recovery. A Grubauer-Jones partnership gives the Kraken an experienced tandem that has played more than 660 NHL games. But it comes with the recognition that Grubauer and Jones also finished last season with a combined 3.30 GAA. — Clark
Big question: So … that Bo Horvat contract?
That particular question has a chance to become a rather familiar one even after training camp and the preseason ends. Unless Horvat and the Canucks can get a deal worked out at some point. Until then? Horvat’s contract has the potential to become a season-long talking point when it comes to the Canucks, their captain and the collective future of all involved.
Horvat is entering the final season of a six-year extension that carries a $5.5 million annual cap hit. The 27-year-old is the longest-serving member of the team’s current core. But he’s also the only one who is not under contract after this season. J.T. Miller just signed a long-term contract in early September. That move comes in the wake of the Canucks re-signing Brock Boeser, Thatcher Demko, Conor Garland, Quinn Hughes and Elias Pettersson going back to March 2021, when Demko was the first within that group to sign an extension. Having those deals in place offers a sense of stability.
How do the Canucks get Horvat to the same place? The Canucks are projected to only have $14.6 million in available cap space next offseason. Re-signing Horvat is only part of the equation. Former SKA St. Petersburg forward Andrei Kuzmenko is on a one-year contract before he becomes a UFA. There is also the dynamic in play with Travis Dermott and Nils Hoglander, who become RFAs at the end of the 2022-23 season. — Clark
Vegas Golden Knights
Big question: Who comes out on top in the goaltending competition?
Place the goalie discussion on pause for a minute. The Golden Knights have quite a few questions going into camp. One is how will Jack Eichel perform in his first full season with the club. Another is: What will Mark Stone look like after having offseason back surgery? Signing Phil Kessel raises questions about the impact he could have. Bruce Cassidy’s arrival comes with questions about what he can do to help the Golden Knights return to the postseason after missing it for the first time in the franchise’s brief history.
OK. Now, for the goalies. Robin Lehner’s offseason hip surgery means he will miss the 2022-23 season. It leaves Cassidy entrusting what happens in net to the trio of Laurent Brossoit, Adin Hill and Logan Thompson filling in for Lehner.
Brossoit and Thompson both won 10 games while playing for the Golden Knights last season. Still, Golden Knights GM Kelly McCrimmon brought in reinforcements by trading for Hill, who also won 10 games while posting a 2.90 GAA and a .906 save percentage while playing for the Sharks. The belief is that Brossoit, Hill and Thompson will challenge to be part of the tandem combination Cassidy is expected to use throughout the regular season. Plus, it is possible the Golden Knights could use Michael Hutchinson at some point in the regular season. Altogether, those four goaltenders have a combined 337 games of NHL experience, which falls just shy of Lehner and his 364 games. — Clark
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