The summer of glory is over for the Colorado Avalanche, and it is time for the Stanley Cup to return home to Toronto. After a storybook season, the Avalanche are again favored to repeat as Stanley Cup Champions after a busy summer. The first task for General Manager Joe Sakic was to sign a starting goalkeeper, and they found their answer by trading for former New York Rangers backup Alexander Georgiev in exchange for a 2022 third and fifth-round 2-23 third-round pick. The organization then signed him to a three-year deal while simultaneously inking a new, two-year contract with defenseman Jacob MacDonald. An enormous part of their success last season, which led to them hoisting the Stanley Cup on home ice, was forward Valero Nichushkin, who received a massive payday. Sakic signed the forward to a gigantic eight-year contract extension worth $49 million. Despite capturing the organization’s first Stanley Cup since 2001 last season and entering 2022 as the Stanley Cup favorites, I have the Avalanche falling short in the Western Conference Final to Calgary Flames. I believe the Avalanche and Flames will be the best two teams in the Western Conference this season, possibly in the entire NHL.
The Calgary Flames will be the most exciting team this season in the NHL. After a Western Conference Semi-Finals defeat to the Edmonton Oilers last season, they gained tremendous talent this offseason. The loss to Edmonton Oilers didn’t sit well with Flames General Manager Brad Treliving. He showed the entire league that the Flames won’t be a laughingstock this season by trading for 24-year-old superstar Matthew Tkachuk to the Florida Panthers. This was the most significant move of the entire NHL offseason, as the Flames received Jonathan Huberdeau, MacKenzie Weegar, Cole Schwindt, and a first-round pick in return. Almost immediately after the trade had been finalized, the Panthers and Tkachuk agreed on an eight-year contract extension, making the newly acquired superstar a central part of their future. The Flames lost another significant piece of their core, as Jonny Gaudreau left the organization less than 24 hours after free agency began. He joined the Columbus Blue Jackets and signed a massive 7-year contract worth $68.25 million. Despite the absence of Tkachuk and Gaudreau, because of the coalition of talent already in Calgary, combined with their new free-agent additions, I predict the Calgary Flames will advance to the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time since 2004.
As we travel from the Western Conference to the Eastern Conference, our season preview takes us to Sunrise, Florida, which is home to the Florida Panthers. In what might have been one of the organization’s best offseason in recent history, they finally look to break through and emerge as the Eastern Conference Champions. As stated above in the preview for the Flames, Matthew Tkachuk was the biggest acquisition for the Panthers this summer. Once the NHL approved the trade, Panthers General Manager Bill Zito pulled out his checkbook and gave Tkachuk an eight-year $76-million contract extension to keep him around for an extended period. However, the Panthers lost some valuable pieces because of the trade, forcing them to spend more money. They signed veteran defensemen Marc Steal, Michael De Zotto, and Anthony Bitetto. The one piece of the puzzle the Panthers need to solve is their starting goalkeeper debate. Currently, the starting netminder is 33-year-old Sergei Bobrovsky, whom 21-year Spencer Knight backs up. I believe Spencer Knight should be the goalkeeper for this organization in the future if they want to hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup shortly. Still, I also think the change will happen this season, allowing the Panthers to make a statement to the league and prove their relevance for years to come. However, the Panthers will need to demonstrate the ability to defeat the always-threatening in-state foe Tampa Bay Lightning in the Playoffs. I believe this is the season when all this comes to fruition, and Gary Bettman will give the Stanley Cup to Panther Captain Aleksander Barkov in the Spring.
Finally, the New York Rangers, the surprise of last season’s playoffs, is where we will complete this preview of the season. After an incredible season in which starting goalie Igor Shesterkin won his first Vezina Trophy, the netminder is poised to do his part again to lead the organization back to the playoffs. It was quite the housecleaning for the Blueshirts this spring as they parted ways with Ryan Strome, Andrew Copp, Frank Vatrano, Tyler Motte, Justin Braun, Patrik Nemeth, Kevin Rooney, and Alexandar Georgie. However, General Manager Chris Drury did his part in signing key players to replace these holes by inking contracts for Vincent Trocheck, Kaapo Kakko, Vitali Kravtsov, Sammy Blais, and goalkeeper Jaroslav Halak. The Rangers already have their core behind Mika Zibanejad, Chris Kreider, Artemi Panarin, and young defensemen Adam Fox and K’Andre Miller. The organization also made a significant leadership decision, announcing that defenseman Jacob Trouba will be the team’s first captain since 2018. As a fan of the New York Rangers, I believe that the team is going in the right direction, and they will once again find themselves in the Eastern Conference Finals before falling just short of the Florida Panthers. The Rangers will have their time to hoist Lord Stanley for the first time since 1994 soon enough; they are still young and genuinely learning how talented they are. Once he truly sees his potential, I wouldn’t be surprised to see several Stanley Cups raised by Jacob Trouba.
The NHL season is finally upon us, and I doubt it will disappoint. With several teams trying to win now, parody within the confines of the NHL has never been more paramount. There are several ways to succeed in this league, and these four featured teams feel like their time is rapidly approaching this season. I can’t wait to see what this season brings for my favorite team, the Rangers, and the rest of the league.