NHL season preview: Teams to look out for in 2021-22

Lightning, Maple Leafs and Penguins join Islanders among contenders this season

By Grady Boris, Staff Writer

After one of the most active offseasons in league history, the NHL is back. Several key players  were shuffled around and half a billion dollars were spent on contracts on the first day of free agency.

While the costly contracts are eye-catching, the biggest news the NHL has to offer is the addition of a new team in the Seattle Kraken. This brings professional hockey back to Washington for the first time since the Seattle Metropolitans disbanded in 1924.

The NHL had an expansion draft for the Kraken before the annual free agency period. In the draft, they were able to select one player from every team except for the Las Vegas Golden Knights, who joined the NHL via expansion in 2017. 

A notable selection from the draft is now-former Calgary Flames captain Mark Giordano, who will serve as the first captain for the blue and green. Additionally, the new team drafted Edmonton Oilers defenseman Adam Larssen, New York Islanders forward Jordan Eberle and Dallas Stars defenseman Jamie Oleksiak. 

The Kraken also opted for some smaller options and waited for free agency to begin to sign Colorado Avalanche goalie Philipp Grubauer. Grubauer offers some reliability between the pipes, as he was nominated as a finalist for the Vezina trophy this previous season.

Steven Stamkos and the Tampa Bay Lightning will look to win their third straight Stanley Cup but will face stiff competition from the New York Islanders, Pittsburgh Penguins and Toronto Maple Leafs in the East.

As for big free agency moves, the Vezina winner Marc-Andre Fleury traded hands from the Golden Knights to the Blackhawks, with star Blue Jackets defenseman Seth Jones also heading to Chicago. 

After reaching the Stanley Cup Finals with the Canadians, center Philip Danault headed south of the border to the Los Angeles Kings, a team on the cusp of breaking out of a rebuild. 

While the Avalanche couldn’t retain their goalie, keeping winger Gabriel Landeskog after several teams tried to steal him away should help establish a roster that is ready to make a run for the Stanley Cup.

Most teams that were on top last year are poised to keep their position, with the Lightning retaining most of a roster which has won two consecutive Stanley Cups. 

The Islanders are another impressive Eastern Conference team, coming off a second straight semi-final appearance. The Toronto Maple Leafs also have one of the best forward combinations in Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner. Meanwhile, the Penguins will be a contender for as long as Sidney Crosby is lacing up his skates in Pittsburgh. 

A dark horse in the East could be the return of a familiar face in the Detroit Red Wings. The Red Wings have been developing their own young talent, in addition to trading for budding star goalie Alex Nedeljkovic, making them a more well-rounded squad in comparison to prior years.

As for the Western Conference, the Avalanche and Golden Knights seem to be the teams to beat once again as both were able to keep most of their already Cup-caliber roster intact. 

Other playoff caliber teams include the Minnesota Wild, with young superstar Kirill Kaprizov and the Nashville Predators who were one win shy of advancing to the second round of the playoffs. 

However, the spotlight will be on the Kraken as they progress through their inaugural season. Seattle will try to follow in the footsteps of Vegas, who advanced to the Stanley Cup Final in their first season.