NHL 2022-23 Season Previews: Part 2


With the NHL regular season underway, fans are excited for their favorite teams to return to action. Here, we preview which teams have a legitimate chance at reaching the Stanley Cup:

Part One

Edmonton Oilers

Since 2015, failure was the story of the Oilers. Connor McDavid’s generational ability had muffled in an orange vat of mediocrity, but after an explosive offense buoyed them to the Western Conference Final for the first time in 16 years, Edmonton look primed to compete. Offseason preparation would’ve been intense following their sweep against the champions, and any ego issues surely wiped from the fact that Colorado simply outplayed the Oilers. Losing the series by an aggregate score of 22-15 highlights where the Oilers excel and what needs work.

To steel up their defense, Edmonton signed goalie Jack Campbell away from Toronto on a five-year deal. Last season he put up a save percentage of .914 from 49 games, while the Oilers’ outgoing Mike Smith had a .915 percentage from 28. What that suggests is consistency, which is a lot more reliable for the Oilers than Smith’s Jekyll and Hyde routine where one week he was a Vezina trophy winner and the next he was a Bambi impressionist, fumbling the puck into his own net. Campbell’s game has rustiness about it too, and his hot form for the Maple Leafs has been credited to their strong defensive system under coach Sheldon Keefe, an area where Edmonton have been flaky of late.

It’s not that the Oilers’ defense is poor – though ending last season 16th for goals against (252 ) isn’t enthusing – but that their backline is a mystery box from match to match. In the Battle of Alberta series where they rolled over Calgary, the Oilers shipped in nine goals with the first two sailing past them with just 51 seconds on the clock. The concentration wasn’t there. For the following four matches, Edmonton were fearsome and washed away the supposed pressure of a playoff battle with a local rival, but it is in the microscopic level where issues arise for them. Looking to the bigger picture, there is no reason why Edmonton can’t win the cup with their attacking core, but a long stretch of discipline and focus from defense is necessary if we are to believe they’re any different from last year.

Status: Cup Contenders

Florida Panthers

NHL teams who win the President’s Trophy have a tough time going the distance in the playoffs. It’s one of those traditions nobody asked for, and last season it fell on an almighty Florida team who earned 122 points to bow out in the second round against Tampa. A sweep against a club vying for their third consecutive Stanley Cup isn’t disheartening by itself, but Florida would still have felt whiplash after the high from winning their first playoff series since 1996, only to crash down two weeks later. Lessons were learned, but nobody should blame the Panthers if they allowed room for celebration. It isn’t every season where you set a franchise record of wins (58) and score the most goals seen in the league since the Penguins of ’95 (362).

Breaking records is nice, but the pressure that immediately follows can be deflating. Tampa Bay’s response to when Columbus swept them in 2019 was an exception to the rule, and Florida would do well to follow their path. Overtime is where Florida flourished, boasting a 13-2 record during it in the regular season, but in playoff mode, overtime is not as easily reliable. Another key factor is the difference in the Panthers’ game at home and when on the road. At the BB&T Arena, they outscored opponents 337-242 last year, a much wider margin than the 146-123 away from the Sunshine State. But to still be outscoring teams on their own turf emphasizes the punch that the Panthers can pack.

It’s been a while since the Florida Panthers had this much bite. Perhaps that appetite for success has been nourished after last season’s second round sweep threw their regular season achievements in their face.

Status: Cup Contenders

Los Angeles Kings

A surprise playoff appearance has pushed the LA Kings ahead of schedule. Whether that means more scrutiny for head coach Todd McLellan is up to the GM, but his wisest move is to remain steady. The Kings aren’t expected to be a powerhouse and they’ve never been known for that. Followers of hockey are familiar with their Stanley Cup triumph in 2012 when they were the eighth seed. Nobody is suggesting LA can repeat that feat a decade later, but optimism for the years ahead. There are certainly worse ways to be in a rebuild.

Their squad is a well-blended mix of youth and experience, with the latter set to lead upfront, and it looks to be for a while. Arthur Kaliyev, Quinton Byfield, and Rasmus Kupari, are all aged 22 or under, each posing a threat in offense. Byfield arguably has the most potential of that trio, being picked second in 2020’s draft and has for the first time started his season with a clean bill of health. Throw into the mix a 26-year-old prospect keen to make some noise in homegrown center Adrian Kempe, and you have a Kings team that shouldn’t be taken lightly. Even if things don’t click for the youngsters this year, there is ample time for them to develop into one of the league’s most dangerous frontlines.

When looking at the older guard, one name that sticks out is Drew Doughty, who led LA’s defense in scoring by notching up 31 points, despite suffering a knee contusion and going through the NHL’s COVID protocol. At 33, the defensemen is considered integral enough for the Kings’ success that he takes up 13.65% of their wage space. Jonathan Quick needs no introduction, being with Los Angeles since they drafted him in 2005 and that longevity has paid off for both sides – he paved the way for the cup run with a deserved Conn Smythe trophy, and now Quick is a franchise legend whose eventual retirement will cause raptors at the Staples Center.

LA know they have it good, but the key question is how good?

Status: Potential for Playoffs

Minnesota Wild

Like usual in Minnesota, their hockey year ended with a collective sigh. A 113-point haul stands as the best regular season in the Wild’s 25-year existence, but that means little in the face of the future, where winning the cup is all that matters. There was plenty to feel fuzzy about for Minnesota, as several players stood up to the plate , particularly Calder Trophy winner Kirill Kaprizov, who led the team in goals and assists, with 47 and 61 respectively. Anticipation will be sky high for his third season in the NHL, with coach Bill Guerin stating that Kaprizov “has more” to deliver and calling him a “special player.”

Despite Kaprizov’s heroics, a first round exit to St. Louis continues the trend of the Wild’s recent history, and whether they can get past that hurdle this season will depend on if they can emulate the excitement fans have for the team once playoff time beckons. Minnesota have nothing left to prove in the regular season, but after seven seasons of failing to get out of the first round purgatory, the time for making a statement is now.

The buzzword for the Wild is to compete. Individual talents are important but there is an emphasis on the squad working together and racking up the wins. They should post up a similar record to their 55-22-7 showing from last season. I’m apprehensive to label them a legitimate cup contender, somewhat because they’re a Minnesota franchise and that means reasonable doubt will always play a factor. But if there’s one thing that’s been made clear during the time Kaprizov has lit up the team, the Wild are an exciting side.

Status: Potential for Playoffs

Montreal Canadiens

What a strange few years for the Habs. A fairytale journey to reach the Stanley Cup final in 2021 was abruptly followed by the car crash they just went through, becoming the first NHL team to ever finish 32nd and in the process reset their process. Don’t let the cup run fool you into thinking Montreal have the pieces to put together a competitive side. 55 points is a damning record and one that requires a long-term strategy to ensure the team is never at that low again, making the Canadiens’ 2022/23 season another one dwelling at the lower end of the table.

What should encourage Montreal is that things can’t get any worse for them. With the notion that there’s a small cluster of teams are now in clearly worse states, it means that even if the wins don’t suddenly shoot up to make for respectable reading, the Habs will improve. A big reason for that is the course correction they’ve underwent since Martin St. Louis replaced Dominique Ducharme as coach, joining on February 9. What he showed in the second half of the season justified why the Canadiens made him their permanent coach, despite his relative inexperience. Cole Caufield’s performances improved dramatically under St. Louis and he overall made them an team that’s at least tough to beat. If the momentum keeps stable, then Montreal should be nowhere near the 50 point region this season.

Status: Rebuilding

Nashville Predators

Some teams usher in a rebuild phase with open arms, fully embracing the tank. Then you have Nashville. A veteran core that seen off-season business deals done with a long-term vision in mind, it felt inevitable that the Predators would feel the regression hit them. A playoff appearance nullified all that talk – once you’re in the postseason, you’ve got a shot at the cup, and any team that can have that good a chance is not in a rebuild. But it could be what Nashville needs.

Being swept by the Colorado Avalanche didn’t teach any new lessons. It was obvious the minute their matchup was declared official that Nashville were on the whole the inferior team. Losing their top goalie Saros didn’t help at all, but don’t discredit how Ingram performed in his stead, making himself look formidable amongst a disorganised group. What should concern the Preds from that series was how easily Colorado snuffed out their offence. Roman Josi was cut off from creating any opportunities and neither could his teammates ahead of him handle the Av’s smothering style of pressuring.

With the assumption aren’t yet keen to suffer the decline that a rebuild demands, who can they rely on to ensure this season goes as smoothly as their previous? The forward tandem of Matt Duchene and Filip Forsberg accounted for almost a third of Nashville’s goals, but there’s hope that left-winger Eeli Tolvanen can pull himself out of a fringe role and start providing a similar output he’s done at other franchises, because relying on only two players to hit the puck into the net is a dangerous game that could hurtle Nashville out the playoff race.

Status: Potential for Playoffs

New Jersey Devils

Moving on from a team who were just swept onto one who’ve never been swept since their foundation in 1974, the New Jersey Devils don’t have much to feel jazzed about heading into 2022/23, so neat stats like that might keep fans tiding along until this team finally sorts itself out and seriously pushes for the playoffs. An over-promising offseason preceded by underwhelming results has been the narrative clouding the Devils since their last postseason appearance in 2018. That year was the first time they won a minimum of 40 games, and they’ve only strayed further from that target ever since, having plummeted to a 27-46-9 record last season. Safe to say that New Jersey could do with something worth cheering about.

Jesper Bratt is a top player for them, playing at the right-wing where he’s scored 208 points for the Devils, with the Swede’s performance last year arguably billed him as the team’s MVP. However concerns regarding his contract hanged over their summer. In early August Bratt signed a one-year contract, a move that meant he avoided the court of arbitration, an arduous process which would’ve ruled out any long-term future in New Jersey whatsoever. That detail means this season could be make-or-break for the 24-year-old, and by extension the club as a whole. Lindy Ruff is losing stock as head coach, having entered the position as a reputable NHL level manager, but his two seasons helming them has not been pretty. If New Jersey sharpen up their look then they could be relevant for a while longer this season.

Status: Rebuilding

New York Islanders

It’s hard to determine yet if the Islanders have moved on from the trauma Tampa Bay inflicted them for two years running in the Eastern Conference final, but with coach Barry Trotz forced out the building, Lane Lambert has stepped in to see over the rehabilitation period. To me, there aren’t many worse ways to start than firing the man who led the franchise to those deep playoff runs and generally made the Islanders a threat. Now? They’re an unknown.

If we’re scanning for positives from the offseason in New York, it’s that Matthew Barzal could finally click again. While under Trotz’s coaching his all-around game improved, his efficiency has dialed down since his Calder Trophy win in 2017. GM Lou Lamoriello has backed the connection, calling Lambert a “more offensive minded” coach. We’ve seen at Montreal how a coaching change, regardless of if it’s warranted or not, can completely turn around the form of a top player. Who’s to say Barzal can’t emulate what Caufield achieved?

At the other end of the ice, goaltending remains a problem the Islanders enjoy having. Choosing between Ilya Sorokin or Semyon Varlamov is like deciding between which finely-smithed sword to wield, as both goalies are exceptionally competent, but they need to stay sharp if the Islanders have any hopes of a playoff appearance. But given where they not too long ago, it still seems like a step down. We’ll get to see how far the drop feels now that Lambert has them all to himself, for better or worse.

Status: Potential for Playoffs

New York Rangers

I don’t know what NHL goalies are being fed at the Big Apple, but I’d like to try it. 14 miles from where their rivals play, the Rangers have their own superstar with Igor Shesterkin. In the race for the Vezina Trophy, Igor trumped his competition with 29 of the 32 GMs voting him at top spot. The other three had him second, each to different goalies which suggests they just couldn’t take off their bias goggles. The stats tell you the story, but by just watching how easy he makes goaltending look, Igor Shesterkin can be in a league of his own if last season was any indicator of his ability.

While he’s busy handling the puck, the Rangers are busy handling the lofty expectations that they now face after appearing in the Eastern finals, where they gave a good account of themselves in a 4-2 series defeat to Tampa. A key reason for their slipup in that playoff matchup was that too often were the goalies expected to save the Rangers’ from defeat with near-perfect performances. It’s obviously an effective tactic when you have a living, breathing cheat code between the posts, but to win a cup, a little more emphasis on the team’s overall play and ability to close out games are factors Gerard Gallant should be focusing on for his second season coaching at the Madison Square Garden.

Status: Cup Contenders

Ottawa Senators

After some years tormented by stagnation, the rebuild may pay off for Ottawa this year. A revamped top-six lineup introduces Claude Giroux and Alex DeBrincat into the fold while Tim Stutzle penned down an eight-year contract, showing his commitment to the cause which the Senators are wanting to fast-track to.

While all that excitement is bubbling in the offensive area, questions still surround Ottawa in terms of defense, most notable among them being how Thomas Chabot will be supported. At 25, he’s entering his prime and has bags of talent, but he cannot pull off miracles. At least not by himself. Last season, Chabot’s tally of 38 points was streets ahead of his defenseman peers in the likes of Artem Zub (22) or Nikita Zaitsev (11), more needs to be done by a better variety of players. Only then can the cohesion build, can the confidence and growth nurture, and then at that stage you’re looking at a Senators team you could call a dark horse for the playoffs.

Status: Potential for Playoffs

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