The NHL season is fast approaching, with a season-opening doubleheader on ESPN on Tuesday night: the New York Rangers will host the Tampa Bay Lightning at 7:30 ET, then the Los Angeles Kings will welcome the Vegas Golden Knights at 10 ET.
For those who love analysis -- down to the extremely granular -- we've got you covered there, with our all-32 preview that launched Monday. Me? I boarded a plane to take a 30,000-foot view of the season. These are five things that stuck with me.
Will the Islanders make the playoffs?
2021-22 was a difficult season on the island. After three straight playoff seasons, including back-to-back conference finals berths and losing to the eventual Cup winner by one goal in Game 7 in 2021, the Isles had a rough campaign that saw them on the outside looking in. Last season saw a series of unfortunate events, starting with a terribly long road trip before the new barn opened, then COVID outbreaks and injuries plagued the team.
But the Isles finished strong, going 18-11-3 to end the season. The team has a scoring concern to address, finishing 23rd in the league last season, but they have one of the best goaltending duos: Ilya Sorokin and Semyon Varlamov still inspire hope that a quick return to postseason participation is a very real possibility. Sorokin ended with a .925 save percentage, second in the regular season among goalies with more than 10 games played (to Vezina Trophy winner Igor Shesterkin). That's pretty impressive for a goalie on a team that didn't make the playoffs. Varlamov was a very respectable .911 in 31 games. A team won't get anywhere without strong goaltending, and the Islanders have a great tandem.
On the scoring front, they ensured some stability by signing franchise center Mathew Barzal to an eight-year, $73.2 million extension and will hope the club finds its spark under new bench boss Lane Lambert.
Besides, if the Fisherman sweaters are in fact back in Reverse Retro form this season ... how can they possibly lose?
Will this be the year a Canadian team finally wins the Stanley Cup?
The last time a Canadian team won the Cup? 1993, when Patrick Roy and the Montreal Canadiens defeated Wayne Gretzky and the Kings. Since then, quite a few Canadian teams have made it to the dance, some have even made it to the Stanley Cup Final, but none have lifted the most beautiful trophy in sports. The Habs were the latest team to get to the Final, in 2021, but ran into an overwhelming foe in Tampa Bay.
Last season, the Edmonton Oilers made the final four after triumphing in a spirited Battle of Alberta in the second round, and the Toronto Maple Leafs lost by one goal in Game 7 to the Lightning in the first round.
Heading into this season, you have a Toronto team that is still in "Cup or bust" mode (insert your "first round" joke here) even if goaltending is a question mark. The Ottawa Senators, at least on paper, experienced one of the biggest glow-ups in the offseason, adding key pieces: Alex DeBrincat, Claude Giroux and Tim Stutzle could become one of the best lines in the NHL this season, if that sticks. The Calgary Flames had one of the wildest summers in NHL history, losing two superstars in Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk, but adding Jonathan Huberdeau and MacKenzie Weegar.
Speaking of the Oilers, they padded their goaltending with Jack Campbell, who might benefit from a change in scenery, and still have that dynamite core.
Things are looking good to start the season for Canadian teams, and certainly Canadian hockey fans are asking: Is this (finally) the year?
Are the Rangers a top Stanley Cup contender?
A few questions for the Blueshirts after they arrived as a legit playoff force last season:
Can they keep the momentum going from the long playoff run into this season?
Is the surprise factor gone?
Will teams figure out how to shut down Chris Kreider on the power play, as well as solve Shesterkin?
The addition of Vincent Trocheck is a good one, and based on preseason play, he seems to be fitting right in. The questions on Alexis Lafreniere's and Kaapo Kakko's development will linger, though their respective postseasons were impressive. I'm not convinced that this team gets farther than last season, or if they are a playoff team that bows out in the first round. Of course, it always starts between the pipes, and they've got the reigning Vezina Trophy winner as their backbone.
Goals, goals, goals
The NHL saw a huge jump in scoring in 2021-22, with 6.3 goals scored per game (the highest in 26 years). The regular season ended as the highest-scoring weekend in NHL history, and that momentum continued in the playoffs (including a 9-6 game in the Battle of Alberta that marked the fourth-most combined goals in a playoff game in league history).
League MVP Auston Matthews had the first 60-goal season since 2011-12 (and the first by an American-born player), and many people would bet on him doing it again. It truly feels like last season cemented an era of high scoring in hockey that many fans absolutely loved, and there's no reason to think that will slow down for 2022-23.
There's history being created this season, too. After scoring 50 goals last season, Alex Ovechkin sits at 780 for his career, knocking at the door of the great Gordie Howe (801). Ovechkin could catch him by December at his current rate. Another 50-goal campaign would put him at 830, 64 away from Gretzky's record.
Greg Wyshynski takes fans through the chaos of the NHL offseason, which had everything from blockbuster trades to record extensions.
Venues in February
There are three reasons I specifically chose February: All-Star Weekend is in South Florida, and NHL chief content officer Steve Mayer has talked about skills contests on the beach, and also mentioned something about alligators being involved. Regardless, the All-Star Game is always one of those events where fans get to see the league's most creative ideas on display.
The same goes for the Stadium Series game at Carter Finley Stadium in Raleigh, North Carolina, between the Carolina Hurricanes and Washington Capitals. Fans will be allowed on the field this time around, which will make the visual even more impressive -- think of it as a cross between a college football tailgate and the Preakness Stakes.
Finally, the biggest reason I'm saying venues in February is because I want to see how we as hockey fans feel about the Arizona Coyotes and Mullett Arena at this point in the season. The honeymoon phase will be spectacular -- including the club's home opener against the Winnipeg Jets on ESPN+ (Oct. 28, 10:30 p.m. ET) -- and that excitement will carry over for a while thereafter. But once that new car smell goes away, how will fans react to these games? Will they still think it's a fun novelty and experience? Will they even care? How will the players feel about playing at ASU by then? That's something I'm looking forward to seeing.