The NHL is back to normal with the regular season stretching from October through the middle of April before the two-month thrill ride that is the chase for the Stanley Cup.
Over that time, teams are scheduled to play a total of 1,312 games over 189 days, starting with Nashville and San Jose facing off Friday in the first of two games in Prague.
Play gets underway in North America on Tuesday when Tampa Bay visits the New York Rangers and Los Angeles hosts Vegas. The Colorado Avalanche begin their title defense and raise the franchise’s third Stanley Cup banner Wednesday before opening against Chicago.
There are two outdoor games: the Winter Classic at Fenway Park on Jan. 2 between Boston and Pittsburgh and the Stadium Series in Raleigh between Carolina and Washington on Feb. 18. The regular season is set to end April 13.
AP Hockey Writers Larry Lage, John Wawrow and Stephen Whyno get you ready for the season with a rundown of what to know:
Ten different teams have a new coach, and eight have a new starting goaltender. There are also ads on some, but not all, jerseys for the first time with the NHL following the NBA in seeking a new revenue stream.
“Just the way things are going in this generation,” Montreal captain Nick Suzuki said.
Games in Europe aren’t new, but they’re back for the first time since 2019. A month after the Predators and Sharks in Czechia, Colorado and Columbus will play two games in Tampere, Finland, as part of the league’s Global Series.
Fans are also back, at least for now, in all 32 arenas across the U.S. and Canada in a welcome sign amid the pandemic.
ON THE HOT SEAT
Nearly a third of the league having a new coach significantly cuts down the list of who might get fired before the end of the season. But a few seats are still getting warmer.
Lage: New Jersey coach Lindy Ruff. He is entering his third season that he may not finish if the team doesn’t show signs of improvement after consecutive seventh-place finishes.
Wawrow: D.J. Smith in Ottawa, following an offseason in which the Senators grabbed Claude Giroux, Alex DeBrincat and Cam Talbot in hopes of making the playoffs. And yes, Ruff’s running out of time in New Jersey.
Whyno: It’s only the Kraken’s second season, but the leash could be short on Dave Hakstol in Seattle. Everyone’s on notice in Toronto, including Sheldon Keefe, but Maple Leafs' shortcomings are more likely to be a result of goaltending than coaching.
Hart Trophy (MVP)
Lage: Edmonton’s Connor McDavid. It’s hard to pick against the 25-year-old superstar, who won the award twice in six years and finished second last year, third once and fifth two times.
Wawrow: This is lining up as being a potentially big year for the New York Rangers, and Artemi Panarin is in position to play a leading role.
Whyno: A defenseman wins it for the first time since 2000 with Cale Makar raising his level even higher following a Norris Trophy season capped by playoff MVP honors for leading Colorado to the Stanley Cup.
Vezina Trophy (top goaltender)
Lage: Carolina’s Frederik Andersen. The former Toronto goalie had a career-best 2.17 goals-against average last season, trailing only Vezina winner Igor Shesterkin, and ranked third in save percentage.
Wawrow: Calgary’s Jacob Markstrom finished second in the voting last year thanks, in part, to playing in the NHL’s weakest division. The Pacific might be a little more competitive this year, but Markstrom should win out.
Whyno: Darcy Kuemper has been statistically one of the best goaltenders in the NHL for several years and will get more credit for keeping that up with Washington than Colorado, playing 60-plus games and backstopping the Capitals to the playoffs.
Norris Trophy (top defenseman)
Lage: Makar becomes the first player to win the Norris consecutively since Detroit’s Nicklas Lidstrom's three in a row from 2006-08.
Wawrow: With so many elite players to choose from, why not stick with the front-runner: Makar edging out the Rangers' Adam Fox.
Whyno: Makar. Enough said.
Calder Trophy (top rookie)
Lage: Buffalo defenseman Owen Power. The No. 1 pick from the 2021 NHL draft will get plenty of ice time to show what he can do, giving him lots of chances to impress voters.
Wawrow: Power and Anaheim forward Mason McTavish both got a head start on their NHL careers to close last season. The slight edge goes to McTavish.
Whyno: Another head-start rookie, Seattle’s Matty Beniers, dazzles in the Pacific Northwest to beat out Power and McTavish.
WHO MAKES THE PLAYOFFS
Lage: Atlantic: Florida, Toronto, Tampa Bay; Metropolitan: Carolina, N.Y. Rangers, Pittsburgh; wild cards: Boston, N.Y. Islanders
Wawrow: Atlantic: Florida, Toronto, Tampa Bay; Metropolitan: N.Y. Rangers, Carolina, Columbus; wild cards: Detroit, Buffalo
Whyno: Atlantic: Tampa Bay, Florida, Boston; Metropolitan: Carolina, Washington, N.Y. Rangers; wild cards: Pittsburgh, Ottawa
Lage: Central: Colorado, Minnesota, St. Louis; Pacific: Calgary, Edmonton, Los Angeles; wild cards: Vegas, Dallas
Wawrow: Central: Colorado, Minnesota, Nashville; Pacific: Edmonton, Calgary, Los Angeles; wild cards: Anaheim, Winnipeg
Whyno: Central: Colorado, St. Louis, Minnesota; Pacific: Edmonton, Vegas, Vancouver; Wild cards: Dallas, Nashville
WHO WINS THE CUP
Lage: Tampa Bay over Colorado, hoisting the Stanley Cup for the third time in four consecutive trips to the final, this one a rematch of last year with the opposite result.
Wawrow: Edmonton beats the Rangers.
Whyno: Thanks in part to new goalie Jack Campbell, Connor McDavid finally gets his championship with Edmonton, winning it all against Carolina in a rematch of the 2006 final.
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