1 Word for Every NHL Team Headed into the Season
Once upon a time, I thought I was doing NHL personnel everywhere a favor by asking them for one-to-three words to describe Hurricanes captain Jordan Staal.
The resulting story ended up lovely, and everyone loves Staal, but what I thought was going to be an easy and thoughtless task ended up being deceptively difficult for the participants.
Now that I’ve assigned one word to every NHL team headed into the 2022-23 season, I can finally say I understand how hard this is. Here's my best attempt...
Boston Bruins: Underrated
Look, I have a bone to pick with the word “underrated.” Too often, the underrated thing finally gets noticed and becomes overrated. Rating things is a pretty futile endeavor as it is, but we humans love to do it.
Over the summer it felt like many looked at Boston’s first-round exit and put a fork in them. Now training camp is upon us and Patrice Bergeron is back, David Krejci is also back (!) and Pavel Zacha joined the team. The concerning early-season injuries should be resolved in time.
We all know they’ve got some issues to address with stocking up the prospect pipeline, but that’s tomorrow’s problem. The Bruins have at least one more playoff run in them.
Buffalo Sabres: Hopeful
I want this to be the year the Sabres return to the playoffs so badly. The lovely people of Buffalo deserve it. But I’ve been getting my hopes up about this every season for the better part of the decade, then the Pegulas always rip the football out from under me Charlie Brown style.
I’m proceeding with caution, and the East is too stacked to confidently say the Sabres will be back in the playoffs this year, but at least things are looking up with Tage Thompson and Co. It’ll come down to the goaltending.
Detroit Red Wings: Encouraging
We’ve been told year after year to trust the Yzerplan–and for good reason. Doing a rebuild the right way means no shortcuts, and the Red Wings are almost done setting themselves up for another era of long-term success. I’ve loved almost every move they’ve made the past few years, and I can’t wait to see young stars Moritz Seider and Lucas Raymond play. At the very least, Detroit will be fun to watch again this year.
Florida Panthers: Hmm…
Folks, I really don’t know what to do with this team. I hate that they didn’t keep Andrew Brunette as head coach, but I guess I get it. I’m annoyed they couldn’t keep Jonathan Huberdeau on top of adding Matthew Tkachuk, but I guess I get that, too. And what is going on in net with both Sergei Bobrovsky and Spencer Knight on decently expensive deals?
There are so many questions, and I hope the defending Presidents’ Trophy winners are able to answer them without giving Tkachuk way too much responsibility. We’ll see.
Montreal Canadiens: Reconstruire (or Rebuild in Anglais)
Speaking of rebuilds, a significantly less-fun one is occurring in Montreal. That’s how it always starts, though. Hang tight, Habs fans.
Ottawa Senators: Intriguing
As I said in my preseason hot takes, I think the Senators sneak into the playoffs this year. The vibes are even better now that reports of interest in Jakob Chychrun are surfacing. The Senators are my pick for a Cinderella run this season.
Tampa Bay Lightning: Historic
Some say we should mark this Lightning team’s stupendous run with an asterisk as if it was easier to win the Stanley Cup in an unprecedented pandemic. I say we should mark this core with an asterisk because of how hard the whole experience was and how much they’ve accomplished. When I talk to former NHLers who’ve won the Cup, they always mention how special the family and fan connection aspects were. The Lightning managed to succeed without many of the perks of success, and they’re still a perennial threat.
No matter what happens this season, and I think they’re still primed for a relatively deep run, they deserve credit.
Toronto Maple Leafs: Maturing
This core has been through heartbreak after heartbreak in the spotlight for a few seasons now. As painful as it’s all been, it’ll only make a deep playoff run even sweeter, and maybe this is the year.
For whatever it’s worth, Matt Murray looked great in net during the preseason. Maybe this is his comeback story and the Leafs’ come-up story.
Carolina Hurricanes: Champions?
Is this the year the Hurricanes win their second franchise Stanley Cup?
They’ve built a solid core in Raleighwood since returning to the playoffs in 2019, and they’ve built a reputation for knowing which hard decisions to make as it pertains to the supporting cast around the core. Coach Rod Brind’Amour is the best in the league and I promise you he won’t sleep until captain Jordan Staal is raising the Cup like he did captaining the 2006 team.
Freddie Andersen’s health is absolutely crucial, though. Andersen has got to be OK with taking slightly less of the regular season load and taking self-care to a new level if the Canes are to win it all this year.
Columbus Blue Jackets: Confusing
All eyes are on Johnny Gaudreau and Patrik Laine this season. Tkachuk and Gaudreau’s individual successes went hand-in-hand in Calgary last season, and maybe Gaudreau and Laine will find the same magic next season. Regardless, I’m just a bit confused about the direction of the team right now. That said, I love GM Jarmo Kekäläinen’s trademark boldness, I love goaltender Elvis Merzlikins when he’s on, and I’m sure the pieces are falling into place behind the scenes.
New Jersey Devils: Goaltending
The Devils have several pieces in place to attempt a wild card run, like Jack Hughes entering his prime and a healthy Dougie Hamilton. That’s great, but we all know the obstacle the Devils have had to address is in net.
We shouldn’t expect Mackenzie Blackwood and/or Vitek Vanecek to move mountains, but a consistent foundation in net would really help pull everything together for the Devils. According to those around the Devils, Blackwood seems ready to shake off the injury woes and mental blocks from last season and become the goaltender we know he can be. We’ll be looking out for that as the season progresses.
New York Islanders: ?
So, you had a rough 2021-22 after a great 2020-21. What do you do? Apparently, you fire Barry Trotz then you toss yourself into the ring with several big off-season names and ultimately sign none of them.
But you also promote an absolute rising star in new head coach Lane Lambert and you make some crucial in-house signings and extensions.
While it’s true that sometimes it’s better to stay the course and making moves for the sake of making moves is often a result of fixating on optics, I’m not sure what to make of the Islanders right now. The Metro is a bloodbath and staying stagnant after a bad season is troubling.
New York Rangers: It
When I think of a team I want to turn on the TV and watch every night this season, it’s probably the New York Rangers. You’ve got young talent on both ends of the ice, you’ve got several off-season improvements highlighted by Vincent Trocheck, you’ve got Igor dang Shesterkin.
I’m tuning in.
Philadelphia Flyers: Angry
At this point I could Tweet “The sky is so blue today :)” and at least one but usually three Flyers fans will respond like “Try being a Flyers fan! I don’t even get to look at the sky and I keep having this nightmare where I’m sobbing and Gritty is taunting me and laughing in my face.”
Even Columbus forward Jakub Voráček managed to escape the Flyers in his physical form but still can’t stop tweeting about them. You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.
Philly is one of my favorite cities in the world, built on two sturdy pillars: self-awareness and anger. And this is what happens when a place like that actually has every right to be angry.
Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang are entering their 17th season together, and they’ll become the first trio in NHL history to do so. It sure helps that they’re all still great players.
I love that the Penguins were able to keep the band together, and I don’t think any moves they would’ve otherwise made at this point would save them from the current bubble team predicament they’re in.
In my eyes, they’re just as likely to make the playoffs as they are to miss, and they’ve made the playoffs for 16 consecutive seasons! This is a classy franchise continuing to do classy things, and no matter what happens everyone can be proud.
Washington Capitals: Eight
Alexander Ovechkin is 22 goals away from surpassing Gordie Howe for the No. 2 all-time spot. He’s obviously going to do that next season, he’s got a great chance at Wayne Gretzky’s all-time record in the future, and I’m sick of the nonsensical fodder about if his record-chasing is overshadowing the team’s goals.
Ovechkin is still a kid in a candy store, he makes the players around him just as excited, and oh yeah, the Capitals snagged goaltender Darcy Kuemper.
Nicklas Backstrom and Tom Wilson facing serious injuries are obviously huge concerns, but I think Ovechkin’s passionate record-chasing and additions like Kuemper and Dylan Strome will be enough for another playoff run.
Arizona Coyotes: Chaotic
You don’t need an expert to tell you that things are bad in Arizona right now, between the blatantly tanking state of the team and splitting rent with Arizona State. But at least it’s bad in a new and exciting way.
People are going to be watching to see what happens, and if Coyotes fans can stomach the sanctimonious B.S. from up North, they can enjoy the relevancy.
Chicago Blackhawks: Depressing
The Coyotes' situation is bad in a new and exciting way. The Blackhawks' situation is bad in a bad and bad way.
At least new head coach Luke Richardson seems great, and tickets will be cheap for the Patrick Kane farewell tour. I’m sorry.
Colorado Avalanche: Perennial
The Avalanche are here to stay, point blank. I’m predicting another trip to the Stanley Cup Final.
Dallas Stars: Mid
Trying to figure out this team drives me up a wall. I love the Stars' young talent in Miro Heiskanen and Jason Robertson (if they re-sign Robertson). Jake Oettinger could pop off in net this year.
But did this core miss the boat after the bubble Stanley Cup Final appearance? I truly don’t know.
All I know is this will be a telling season for the Stars. If they are once again mid, it might be time to build around the aforementioned young talent.
Minnesota Wild: Balanced
I really like the Wild. I like them less after they let go of Kevin Fiala, but I still like them.
Kirill Kaprizov is becoming a superstar, which should help them fill the void that Fiala left. Matt Boldy and Marco Rossi are so fun. Marc-Andre Fleury is back, and the Wild have a relatively strong defense to work with.
I like this team.
Nashville Predators: Urgent
Filip Forsberg is back. Roman Josi still has it. Nino Niederreiter has arrived to add some necessary secondary goals. Matt Duchene still exists. Juuse Saros is healthy!
It's time for the Predators to take one last swing at the Cup.
St. Louis Blues: Interesting
The Blues didn't have much cooking in free agency, but they’re still a pretty exciting team as it currently stands. This is a huge year for Jordan Binnington, who opened up to The Athletic’s Jeremy Rutherford about some of his antics ahead of the 2022-23 season.
Their playoff run last season was some of the most exciting hockey I’ve watched in a while, and I’m not ready to write them off just yet.
Winnipeg Jets: Communication
The Jets apparently needed a new voice, which is why head coach Paul Maurice stepped down last season. Is new head coach Rick Bowness the right guy to deliver the message?
He’s definitely coming in with a bang, as he stripped Blake Wheeler of his longtime captaincy. This might be the biggest “we’ll see” of them all.
Anaheim Ducks: Fun
Trevor Zegras is making waves on and off the ice, and you can’t understate the way that improves the fan experience. The Ducks also have another player on the rise in Mason McTavish, added Ryan Strome and John Klingberg this offseason, and they have the consistency of John Gibson.
If this isn’t the year the Ducks rise to Gibson’s potential, at least he’ll be entertained while he’s in net.
Calgary Flames: Spicy
What if I told you a team that lost two players who combined for 219 points last season will still be good?
Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk did that for the Flames last year, and now Jonathan Huberdeau, Nazem Kadri and Mackenzie Weegar will be tasked with replacing that point production. It’s scary when there are so many moving parts, but I trust the replacements to bring the Flames back to the playoffs this season.
Edmonton Oilers: Stinky
The Oilers are great on paper. I like Jack Campbell and the birthday parties he throws for his cat. Connor McDavid is already one of the all-time greats, and Leon Draisaitl deserves more individual recognition. Louie DeBrusk and Jack Michaels are one of my favorite broadcasting tandems in the game. Edmonton is an underrated city with a lot of charm.
Thanks for listening to every nice thing I can possibly think of when it comes to the Oilers.
Los Angeles Kings: Vibey
The Kings are on the come up, and if you ask me, it’s officially Quinton Byfield breakout season. Nothing left to it but to do it.
San Jose Sharks: Meh
I like new Sharks head coach David Quinn more than most people do. I covered him a bit when he was the head coach at Boston University, and I saw the impact he had on players like Jordan Greenway. I think he’ll do great with some patience away from the Madison Square Garden spotlight, if Sharks fans are willing to have that patience.
Seattle Kraken: Relevant
The Kraken’s inaugural season was bad, but that’s to be expected with an expansion team–especially after the whole league had an expansion draft refresher a few years prior.
Philipp Grubauer is highly unlikely to underperform like he did in 2021-22. Young talents like Matty Beniers and Shane Wright are expected to stay with the club, too. At the very least, there are going to be some promising moments for the Kraken next season.
Vancouver Canucks: Consistent
The Canucks turned things around last season and went 32-15-10 (I forgot about all those overtimes!) after Bruce Boudreau took over behind the bench. They ended up five points out of a playoff spot, and things finally came together for a team that’s been too talented to be so bad.
This could be the year that the Canucks put everything together and become consistent enough to earn some respect.
Vegas Golden Knights: Karma
You know what they say: Whatever happens in Vegas doesn’t stay in Vegas, it gets fired too soon or traded away because of cap-space shenanigans.
I like the Bruce Cassidy hire, but the vibes are undeniably sour in Vegas after the Golden Knights crashed and burned and missed the playoffs last season. With Robin Lehner out for the season, the goaltending worries me.
Is karma catching up with the Golden Knights?