Days until start of 2021-22 NHL Season: 11 days
DEAL OR NO DEAL: Montreal Canadiens owner Geoff Molson offered general manager Marc Bergevin a contract extension in July but the two have yet to come to an agreement. Heading into the final year of his current deal, the Canadiens have made the playoffs in six of the last nine seasons during Bergevin’s tenure.
TEAM PETE: Peter McNab, a television analyst for the Colorado Avalanche, has been diagnosed with cancer. McNab was inducted into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame earlier this year after spending 14 seasons in the NHL with four different teams.
RETURN OF CAPTAIN SERIOUS: Jonathan Toews impressed during his first NHL action in 407 days. Returning after missing all last season with Chronic Immune Response Syndrome, the 33-year-old tallied an assist, three shots on goal, a shootout goal, and most notably 22:48 of ice time.
COLD SHOULDER: Detroit is facing a significant injury setback as Jakub Vrána will undergo shoulder surgery and miss at least four months of action for the Red Wings. After signing a contract with a $5.25 million average annual value (AAV) this offseason, Vrána was expected to jumpstart an offense that ranked 30th in the NHL last season.
OLD STOMPING GROUNDS: Veteran defenseman Mark Giordano lit the lamp in his return to Calgary. A long-time staple on the Scotiabank Saddledome blue line, Giordano played 15 seasons with the Flames before being selected by the Seattle Kraken in the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft.
TOO MANY MEN: Kristen Welsh made history as the first woman to officiate an Ontario Hockey League (OHL) game on Thursday night. Following a successful collegiate career with Robert Morris University, Welsh worked an NHL prospect camp in 2019 and will also serve as a linesman in the ECHL this season.
DONE DEALS?: Late-night reports have the Vancouver Canucks coming to terms with both Quinn Hughes and Elias Pettersson. It is reported that both contracts will be sub-$8 million AAV—with Hughes receiving six years and Pettersson agreeing to three.
Top Shelf Thursday – Top-3 Homecomings
Wednesday night probably didn’t feel much like a preseason game for Mark Giordano, who returned to Calgary as a visiting member of the Seattle Kraken after 15 seasons spent with the Flames. The long-time captain even scored the night’s first goal in what would ultimately be a 4-3 shootout win for the expansion franchise. Giordano’s visit to Calgary, coupled with Tom Brady’s pending return to New England this weekend, brings to mind some memorable homecomings.
3. Ray Bourque
Most hockey fans remember Ray Bourque’s emotional Stanley Cup pursuit in 2001. Earlier that year, the Hall of Fame defenseman had his first spine-tingling journey—this time in his return to Boston, the city where he spent 21 seasons as a Bruin. In a building known to be notoriously hostile to visitors, Bourque got a standing ovation in warm-ups, a touching video tribute, and was cheered as he held the puck to close out a Colorado win.
2. John Tavares
A far cry from the warm reception that greeted Bourque, John Tavares’ return to Long Island after signing with the Toronto Maple Leafs as a free agent was anything but a love-in. The former Islanders captain was booed mercilessly, received vulgar chants during his first game back, and looked visibly shaken by the reception.
1. Wayne Gretzky
Shock from “The Trade” still hadn’t worn off for fans of the Edmonton Oilers when, 10 weeks later, Wayne Gretzky made his return to the city where he delivered four Stanley Cups. After not being sure whether he’d be cheered or booed, the Great One got a raucous applause and a four-minute standing ovation from a fan base still coming to terms with his exit.
The “Next Man Up” Crew
When a team lands a big-name addition, endless discussion ensues over that player’s fit, possible linemates, and how they might impact their new club. Less discussed is what becomes of that player’s former team—now tasked with replacing a significant part of its lineup. Here are three big names with new addresses and the players set to try and fill their sizable shoes.
Philipp Grubauer (Darcy Kuemper)
Moving from a Vezina finalist to a netminder who lost more games than he won last season may seem like a sharp downgrade, but the Colorado Avalanche aren’t sweating the switch from Philipp Grubauer to Darcy Kuemper. With a 2.56 GAA and .907 save percentage with the Arizona Coyotes in 2020-21, the Avs are betting that Kuemper can achieve better numbers with a stronger team in front of him.
Zach Hyman (Michael Bunting)
The cap-crunched Toronto Maple Leafs were never realistically going to be able to afford Zach Hyman, but that didn’t make losing the fan-favorite to Edmonton any easier. Replacing Hyman will be a collective effort, but newcomer Michael Bunting (who will make $4.5 million less) will likely have a prominent role. So far the early returns are promising, as Bunting scored a hat trick against Ottawa in a 4-0 preseason win on Wednesday night.
Shea Weber (David Savard)
As soon as it was announced that Montreal Canadiens captain Shea Weber would miss the 2021-22 season to recover from a litany of injuries, it became obvious that no cure-all replacement would erase his absence. David Savard isn’t expected to be Weber, but his size and physicality offer at least some of what the 35-year-old brought to the Montreal lineup.
MSk8 Debate 💬
As we head into the regular season, our crew at the Morning Skate will give our predictions for the 2021-22 NHL season. Today’s debate: Which team will win the Metropolitan Division?
BF: Man, what a tough division. You could make a pretty compelling argument for at least six of these teams to reign supreme at season’s end. Me, I’ll go with the Carolina Hurricanes to emerge as division champs. Yes, they lost Dougie Hamilton, but few blue lines in the league are as equipped at handling such a departure as the Canes’ depth on the back end. Frederik Andersen and Antti Raanta form a solid new goaltending duo, while Jesperi Kotkaniemi offers lofty potential up front. Plus, let’s not forget that the Canes had a better record than any of their Metro contemporaries last season.
KF: 2021-22 will be the season of the New York Islanders. The Metro Division is the toughest, and it will be a battle to secure the first spot, but Barry Trotz will lead his team to victory. Zach Parise is still looking for his first Stanley Cup and is now a member of the same team his dad played for in the mid-1970s. The Disney moment of the season will be Parise lifting the Stanley Cup in the same uniform his father once donned.
AM: The Metro Division will likely be a tight race, but at this point, the New York Islanders have their noses in front. They lost some key players in Jordan Eberle and Nick Leddy but added Cup-hungry veterans in Zach Parise and Zdeno Chára to fill in the gaps. Motivated by back-to-back conference final losses, head coach Barry Trotz and his boys will be looking to take home much more than a division title this season.
KK: In a division as tight as the Metro will be this year, it will all come down to goaltending in the end. While teams like the Penguins, Devils, Flyers, and Rangers will need their young goalies to have solid seasons just to find their way into the playoffs, the division winner will come down between the Islanders, Capitals, and Hurricanes. Although I’m not sold that any of these teams have a Cup-caliber netminder, the Islanders are built to be the most complete team and boast the coach with the most knowhow to win.
VERDICT: With three of four votes, the New York Islanders are the favorite to win the Metropolitan Division. Agree or disagree with our choices? Sound off on Twitter using #MSk8Debate or join the discussion on Discord.