September 27 — Atop the Atlantic & Building the Blues

Days until start of 2021-22 NHL Season15 days

Friday’s Forecheck

CAPITAL GAINS: Who had money on the Washington Capitals as the first team to announce a multi-year jersey patch sponsorship deal? Beginning with the 2022-23 season, the Capitals’ home and third jerseys will feature the Caesars Sportsbook logo. Winners can collect their earnings at the nearest cashier’s booth.

YOUNG, WILD & THREE: It has been three years since the Philadelphia Flyers introduced their mascot Gritty to the world. To celebrate, the “big orange furball” paraded around town via motorcycle, escorted by some of Philadelphia’s finest.

Saturday’s Snipes

RETIRING A CHAMPION: Goaltender Curtis McElhinney took to social media to announce his retirement, changing his biography to “Retired Pro Athlete.” The 38-year-old played for eight teams during his 13-season career, most recently winning back-to-back Stanley Cup championships with the Tampa Bay Lightning.

BECOMING COMPLIANT: The St. Louis Blues sent forward Zach Sanford to the Ottawa Senators in exchange for forward Logan Brown and a conditional fourth-round pick in the 2022 Draft. Blues general manager Doug Armstrong, fresh off of a contract extension, said the deal was done in part to get back under the salary cap.

INJURY REDUCTION: Starting this season, the NHL will be cracking down on cross-checking, a modification that will benefit player safety and should be good for the future of the sport. Naturally, this change only matters if it is actually enforced by the zebras.

LIKE RIDING A BIKE: Despite being admittedly nervous before the game, Toronto Maple Leafs forward John Tavares scored a goal against the Montreal Canadiens in his return from injury. Tavares has not played since he was stretchered off the ice in the first game of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, which happened to be against the Canadiens.

Sunday’s Cellys

GEEKIE-NG OUT: Riley Sheahan tallied the first goal and Morgan Geekie added the final two in the inaugural preseason game for the Seattle Kraken. After a shaky start to the game, the Kraken walked away with a 5-3 victory over the Vancouver Canucks at Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena.

CREAM OF THE CROP: The NHL Network announced its selections for the top-10 players in the NHL heading into the 2021-22 season. Connor McDavid unsurprisingly took first, while three members of the Lightning made the cut.

Spotted 👀

To quote Andy Williams’ popular song—”It’s the most wonderful time of the year”—and the happiest season of all is hockey season! As temperatures begin to dip, and with training camps in full swing, the boys are trying to sneak in some last-minute family time before the 82-game schedule commences. Let’s check-in:

Take Me Out to the Ball Game

Marc-André Fleury is fully embracing his new home in the Windy City. Chicago’s newest goaltender took his family to Wrigley Field to see the Cubs play the St. Louis Cardinals. Fleury could be preparing for his last season opener, as he stated this may be his final season playing in the NHL.

Back to Boston

Craig Smith was spotted strolling through John Harvard Mall in Boston with his wife and miniature golden retriever, Tula. Smith gets our vote for Dog Dad of the season as—let’s be honest—it’s hard to compete with a man who is drinking his morning coffee with his pup out of a mug that displays an image of both said human and pup.

Ivan the Artist?

A trend during the NHL Media Tour and teams’ respective media days was having the players attempt to sketch their organization’s logo. Some of the Arizona Coyotes players took a shot at drawing the Kachina logo, which has to be the most difficult logo to draw in the NHL. The good news is, if Ivan Prosvetov’s career as a goaltender doesn’t work out, he has a solid backup plan. Did you see that boy’s sketch?!

September Blues

These past summer months weren’t particularly kind to St. Louis Blues fans. Hoping for a strong response by management after a forgettable 2020-21 season, which ended with a fourth-place finish in the Honda West Division and a first-round sweep, fans instead got an underwhelming return of Brandon Saad and Pavel Buchnevich. Meanwhile, Vince Dunn and Jaden Schwartz were both lost to Seattle and Vladimir Tarasenko reportedly asked to be traded.

Since the calendar hit September, however, the Blues have—ahem—hit all the right notes. At a time when most teams have largely wrapped up their offseason work, St. Louis got busy by locking up Colton Parayko, agreeing to terms with Robert Thomas, bringing back Tyler Bozak, trading for Logan Brown, welcoming James Neal and Michael Frolík on PTOs, and extending general manager Doug Armstrong. Whew! Oh, and Tarasenko is still here.

Let’s look at each step of what’s been a whirlwind month in Missouri:

Colton Parayko: Getting Parayko inked was crucial, as the blueliner was heading into a contract year. Now he’s here to stay, with a $6.5 million cap hit that matches fellow rearguards Torey Krug and Justin Faulk.

Colton Parayko, St. Louis Blues (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Robert Thomas: Despite a poor 2020-21 campaign, Thomas remains a key cog of the club’s future at just 22 years old, so getting him under contract was understandably significant.

Robert Thomas, St. Louis Blues (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Tyler Bozak: A St. Louis fan favorite, the Blues got Bozak to return on a team-friendly, $750,000 deal.

Tyler Bozak, St. Louis Blues (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Logan Brown: The 23-year-old is just five years removed from being selected 11th overall, so a change of scenery may benefit the former Ottawa Senator.

Logan Brown with the Ottawa Senators (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

James Neal and Michael Frolík: Neal is already making his PTO invite look wise with a hat trick in the team’s first preseason game, while Frolík could supply additional experience.

Doug Armstrong: “Army” has been the head honcho in the St. Louis front office since 2008 and will now be sticking around for at least five more years.

St. Louis Blues general manager Doug Armstrong. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff Roberson)

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 Atlantic Division?

NHL Atlantic Division (The Hockey Writers)

BF: While not exactly the projection darlings of the moment, I’m buying some Toronto Maple Leafs’ stock while it’s nice and low. I expect an angry group bolstered by some sneaky savvy additions (we see you, Michael Bunting, and Ondrej Kase) and internal growth from the Matthews/Marner/Nylander triumvirate to make a surprise run at the division crown. Remember, the Leafs finished last season ahead of Tampa Bay and just two points shy of Florida in the regular-season standings.

KF: You heard it here first—the Florida Panthers will finish at the top of the Atlantic Division. I have a lot of faith in Joel Quenneville and believe he has what it takes to lead this sometimes forgotten team to success. Last season, they finished second in the division, one point behind the Carolina Hurricanes. After a phenomenal playoff battle against the Tampa Bay Lightning, I’m going all-in on Coach Q this season.

AM: After spending the last two seasons winning more important titles, the Tampa Bay Lightning will win the Atlantic Division for the first time since the 2018-19 season. Sure, they lost their entire third line, but the “next man up” mentality has driven the Lightning’s success for the better part of the last decade. Their elite forward group is still largely intact and their defensive core will be nearly identical, if not improved, with familiar face Zach Bogosian stepping in. Not to mention, it is hard to bet against the team deploying the best netminder on the planet.

KK: Sorry, Canadiens and Leafs fans, but the Atlantic Division is a three-team race between the Bruins, Lightning, and Panthers. Coach Q and the Panthers still have plenty of questions at the goaltending position and didn’t do enough to strengthen their core group, whereas the Lightning lost their whole third line and are truly built for the playoffs, not the regular season. Therefore, I am going with the Bruins to win the Atlantic—a team built for the grind of an 82-game schedule that just never seems to go away!

VERDICT: We have a four-way tie! Agree or disagree with our choices? Sound off on Twitter using #MSk8Debate.