6 NHL Storylines to Watch in Final Week of the 2021-22 Regular Season

Abbey MastraccoApril 25, 2022

TAMPA, FLORIDA - OCTOBER 12: The Stanley Cup is shown before the first period of a game  between the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Pittsburgh Penguins at Amalie Arena on October 12, 2021 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

We've made it to the final week of the 2021-22 NHL regular season. The playoff picture is starting to become clear, and on the other end of the spectrum, the draft lottery odds are starting to come into focus as well. 

But some things are still undecided. The awards race is heating up, and the Colorado Avalanche and Florida Panthers are in a battle for the President's Trophy. Plus, there is still time for teams to battle for playoff positioning.

With that in mind, let's get into some of the questions that still need to be answered over this final week of play. 

KITCHENER, ONTARIO - MARCH 23: Shane Wright #51 of the Team Red poses for a team photo prior to the 2022 CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game at Kitchener Memorial Auditorium on March 23, 2022 in Kitchener, Ontario. (Photo by Chris Tanouye/Getty Images)
Chris Tanouye/Getty Images

Which team has the best odds for the No. 1 overall draft pick?

The rights to draft Shane Wright are on the line. 

The NHL will hold the draft lottery remotely on May 10. The odds were adjusted this season to allow for the addition of a 32nd team, the Seattle Kraken. 

The 16 teams that did not make the Stanley Cup playoffs will be entered into the lottery. The team with the fewest points will have an 18.5 percent chance of winning the top pick, while the second-worst squad will have a 13.5 percent chance.

Currently, the Arizona Coyotes and Montreal Canadiens have the fewest amount of points with 51. The Coyotes kinda sorta openly tanked this season, and the franchise is in a strange state, with the team temporarily relocating to a college arena next season while it attempts to work out a deal for a new arena in Tempe. Winning the lottery and drafting Wright, who is projected to go No. 1 overall, would be a boon to an organization struggling to attract fans. 

However, the Habs are hosting the draft in July, and that city could see a celebration even rowdier than the one we saw when the team advanced to the Stanley Cup Final last year.

The Philadelphia Flyers and Seattle Kraken will likely be the next-worst teams.

The Chicago Blackhawks and New Jersey Devils have point totals in the low 60s. 

There are two new rules this year: A team will be restricted from moving up more than 10 spots if it wins one of the lottery draws, and it cannot win the lottery more than two times in a five-year period. However, wins in lotteries prior to 2022 will not be counted, which is good for the Devils, who won the lottery in 2017 and 2019.

New York Rangers' Igor Shesterkin stands in front of the gaol as time runs out during the third period of an NHL hockey game against the Boston Bruins, Saturday, April 23, 2022, in Boston. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)
AP Photo/Michael Dwyer

Will Igor Shesterkin win the Hart Trophy?

Full disclosure: I'm an awards voter as a member of the Professional Hockey Writers Association. It's a privilege that I take seriously, and I do a lot of research when it comes to my ballot each season. I'm not going to disclose my ballot, especially since I have yet to finish my deep dive on the candidates, but Igor Shesterkin is making my job and the job of other voters interesting. 

It's not often that a goalie makes a case for hockey's version of the MVP award, but the New York Rangers goalie will certainly be a finalist. He would be the eighth goalie to win the award. It would be the ninth time it was given to a goalie (Dominik Hasek won it twice) and the first since Carey Price won it in 2014-15. 

Shesterkin leads the league in save percentage (.936) and goals-against average (2.03). His 36 wins are tied for fifth. But the traditional analytics don't illustrate his full value, in part because sometimes it is difficult to quantify a goalie's full value.

But if fancy stats are more your thing, then consider his 24.46 goals saved above average at five-on-five, which is second behind New York Islanders netminder Ilya Sorokin and his 0.887 high-danger save percentage (also at five-on-five). 

It's tough to compare a goalie to skaters, which is why they're often overlooked in the Hart Trophy race. And there is also the age-old question of what constitutes the most valuable player: Is it the player who make the biggest contribution or the one who does the most for the team without ending up on the scoresheet? 

Shesterkin is also a strong candidate for the Vezina Trophy, the award given to goalies and voted on by NHL general managers. 

Other top candidates for the Hart right now are Jonathan Huberdeau, Auston Matthews and Connor McDavid. If it was up to Huberdeau, who has a career-high 114 points, he would give it to Matthews

And speaking of Matthews…

OTTAWA, ON - APRIL 16: Toronto Maple Leafs Center Auston Matthews (34) after a whistle during second period National Hockey League action between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Ottawa Senators on April 16, 2022, at Canadian Tire Centre in Ottawa, ON, Canada. (Photo by Richard A. Whittaker/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Richard A. Whittaker/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Will he score 60 goals?

Matthews is sitting at 58 with two games left to play against the Detroit Red Wings and the Boston Bruins. The Toronto Maple Leafs have already grabbed a playoff spot, but they cannot win the Atlantic Division. They enter the week five points ahead of the Tampa Bay Lightning, so there isn't much left to play for in these last two games and this is typically where we see some veterans and some top players resting in anticipation of the playoffs. 

But no one has netted 60 goals in a season since Steven Stamkos did a decade ago. The only other active player to have scored 60 or more is Alexander Ovechkin, who really hasn't slowed down much considering he scored 50 this season, marking his ninth season with at least 50. It's a remarkable feat that has only occurred 39 other times and has been done by only 20 players. 

Matthews might have already reached the milestone had he not missed eight games this season, especially three he sat out last week with an injury. But he returned to the lineup Saturday and tallied two assists on Sunday in a win over the Washington Capitals. 

Is the injury nagging him enough that he should sit out and get ready for the postseason? Or should he go for 60? It's a tough call, but he appears to be well enough to play for now. 

CALGARY, AB - APRIL 14: Jack Eichel #9 of the Vegas Golden Knights in action against the Calgary Flames during an NHL game at Scotiabank Saddledome on April 14, 2022 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images)
Derek Leung/Getty Images

Will the Golden Knights make the playoffs?

Things sure have changed in Las Vegas since the club began its inaugural season in 2017-18. The expectation has been to win a Stanley Cup, and they went all-in this season by acquiring star center Jack Eichel, but injuries derailed the 2021-22 season. 

The Golden Knights are currently sitting on the outside looking in, six points behind the Los Angeles Kings in the Pacific Division and three points behind the Dallas Stars in the Western Conference wild-card standings.

Their playoff prospects are nearly dead after a disaster of a game on Sunday night against the San Jose Sharks. San Jose was down by two with two minutes left but came back to tie it with 0.9 seconds left. The Sharks killed off a penalty in overtime and won in a shootout.

They do have a game in hand on the Stars, and they will play in Dallas on Tuesday. However, goalie Robin Lehner has been battling a knee injury since early March, and there seems to be a disconnect between him and the club as to whether he will undergo surgery. He did back up Logan Thompson on Sunday night against the Sharks, but it's been a little bit of a soap opera of late. 

A few weeks ago, I wrote that the Eichel trade needs to be judged for the long-term benefits and that the season shouldn't be considered a disaster if the team fails to make the playoffs. However, it's tough to know what management and ownership make of the situation. 

This team has been known to turn on a dime when it comes to decision-making. They jettisoned former coach Gerard Gallant in January 2018 with the team sitting in fifth place in the Pacific Division and traded goalie Marc-Andre Fleury in a salary-cap maneuver last summer. Both moves were quite unpopular. How will the management and ownership groups view the situation with current coach Peter DeBoer? DeBoer is widely regarded as one of the top coaches in the league, but there could be some heat on his seat as the season winds down. 

SUNRISE, FL - APRIL 23: Florida Panthers fans hold signs up prior to the game against the Toronto Maple Leafs at the FLA Live Arena on April 23, 2022 in Sunrise, Florida. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)
Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

Can anyone beat the Panthers?

The Panthers saw their franchise-best 13-game winning streak come to an end on Sunday night in a loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Avs have been stuck at 116 points for a week. They've lost their last four games, and backup goalie Pavel Francouz has been injured after an errant puck struck him on the bench. 

The schedule for Colorado isn't light this week with games against the St. Louis Blues, Predators and Minnesota Wild. So the attention turns to the Panthers to see whether they can stay hot in the postseason against either the Capitals or the Boston Bruins. 

The good news for Florida is that star defenseman Aaron Ekblad appears to be on the mend. He skated with the team on Long Island last week, so there is hope he can return for the postseason. He's been out since March 18 when he was injured in a game against the Anaheim Ducks. Without him, the Panthers have gone 15-1-0. If that's how they play without one of the best blueliners in the league, imagine what they might look like in the playoffs with him. 

Minnesota Wild left wing Kirill Kaprizov (97) celebrates with teammate left wing Nicolas Deslauriers (44) after defeating the Seattle Kraken in an NHL hockey game, Friday, April 22, 2022, in St. Paul, Minn. (AP Photo/Stacy Bengs)
AP Photo/Stacy Bengs

How will the brackets shake out?

We have one postseason matchup set: The St. Louis Blues and the Minnesota Wild will square off in the first round. The rest of the matchups are still up in the air, but you can probably pencil in the Edmonton Oilers and the Los Angeles Kings. 

The two series I would most like to see in the first round are Rangers-Bruins and Toronto-Tampa Bay. The second one is still in play.

The first round continues to vex a Toronto squad laden with talent and questionable goaltending. However, if the Leafs can get past the two-time defending champs in the first round, then it would make a huge statement that this team is ready to move on from its recent history and finally contend for a Cup once again.

As for the Rangers and Bruins facing one another, it's not quite Yankees-Red Sox, but it could be close. The intensity seems to ratchet up a few notches when Boston and New York teams play one another. Boston vs. New York might be the greatest rivalry in sports, and this is coming from a born-and-raised Californian. 

This scenario would mean the Rangers leapfrog the Carolina Hurricanes in the standings.  The two will play each other on Tuesday at Madison Square Garden, but the Rangers are four points behind the Canes. 

It's a race to the finish for some and a race to the bottom for others. This next week should be high on drama and build up some excitement for the upcoming playoffs.