10 Storylines to Watch at the Start of the 2022-23 NHL Season

Lyle Richardson@@SpectorsHockeyFeatured Columnist IVOctober 12, 2022

10 Storylines to Watch at the Start of the 2022-23 NHL Season

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    TAMPA, FLORIDA - JUNE 26: Nathan MacKinnon #29 of the Colorado Avalanche carries the Stanley Cup following the series winning victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game Six of the 2022 NHL Stanley Cup Final at Amalie Arena on June 26, 2022 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
    Colorado Avalanche win the 2022 Stanley Cup (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

    The NHL's 2022-23 regular season is underway. For the next six months, all 32 teams will have 82 games to secure one of the 16 playoff spots and the opportunity to battle for the Stanley Cup.

    A number of stories will develop as the season unfolds that will affect the direction of the playoff races. Fans will be watching to see if the Colorado Avalanche can repeat as Stanley Cup champions. Those who follow rebuilding teams will hope that this is the year they break through as playoff contenders.

    Some of those stories will determine which players could be in line for individual honors such as the Hart Memorial Trophy as league MVP. Others will involve those expected to reach noteworthy milestones.

    The following is our list of 10 storylines worth following as the 2022-23 season unfolds. Weigh in with your thoughts in the comments section below.

The Connor Bedard Lottery

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    EDMONTON, AB - AUGUST 20: Connor Bedard #16 of Canada skates during the gold medal game against Finland in the IIHF World Junior Championship on August 20, 2022 at Rogers Place in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada (Photo by Andy Devlin/ Getty Images)
    Connor Bedard playing for Canada at the 2022 World Junior Championship (Andy Devlin/ Getty Images).

    Most NHL drafts feature at least one young player with the potential to become a superstar. Connor Bedard, a center with the Regina Pats of the Western Hockey League, is considered the early favorite to be the first overall selection in the 2023 NHL draft.

    Bedard will be the grand prize for the teams eligible for next year's draft lottery. The lower they finish in the standings, the better their odds of winning the right to select the budding young star.

    Several rebuilding teams will find themselves in a good position to win the lottery. If Bedard is as good as early scouting reports suggest, he could become the foundation piece upon which a struggling NHL team builds itself into a future Stanley Cup champion.

    The Arizona Coyotes could be among them, as they've been rebuilding since the fall of 2020 under general manager Bill Armstrong. Another could be the Montreal Canadiens, who won the 2022 lottery and chose winger Juraj Slafkovsky first overall. The Chicago Blackhawks have been in the process of redoing their roster since hiring general manager Kyle Davidson.

    The Philadelphia Flyers, Seattle Kraken, Anaheim Ducks and New Jersey Devils could also find themselves in the Bedard sweepstakes. All four of those teams were in the top 10 of last year's draft and could end up there again.

Calder Memorial Trophy Candidates

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    SEATTLE, WA - OCTOBER 01: Seattle Kraken center Matty Beniers (10) looks on during an NHL pre-season game between the Vancouver Canucks and the Seattle Kraken on October 1, 2022 at Climate Pledge Arena in Seattle, WA.  (Photo by Jeff Halstead/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
    Seattle Kraken center Matty Beniers (Jeff Halstead/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

    Each new NHL season introduces fans to an exciting new crop of promising young players. Some of them have dazzling debut performances that foretell potential greatness to come. The best will be contenders for the Calder Memorial Trophy, awarded "to the player selected as the most proficient in his first year of competition in the National Hockey League."

    Buffalo Sabres defenseman Owen Power could be a leading contender for the Calder. The first overall selection in 2021 is a gifted, big-minute, puck-moving blueliner. He looked good during an eight-game call-up late last season and should provide a significant boost to the rebuilding Sabres defensive corps.

    The Seattle Kraken possess a Calder candidate in Matty Beniers. The 19-year-old center was the second overall pick in the 2021 NHL draft and showed potential with nine points in 10 games during a brief call-up last season.

    Anaheim Ducks center Mason McTavish also showed promise during a nine-game NHL stint with the club last season. The third overall pick in the 2021 draft led the Hamilton Bulldogs to the OHL championship last season and recently led Canada to a gold medal at the 2022 World Junior Championship.

    Other promising youngsters worth watching this season include Minnesota Wild center Marco Rossi, Winnipeg Jets center Cole Perfetti, Ottawa Senators defenseman Jake Sanderson and New Jersey Devils winger Alexander Holtz.

Which NHL Teams Will Rise or Fall?

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    PITTSBURGH, PA - MAY 09: The Pittsburgh Penguins power play unit of center Evgeni Malkin (71), defenseman Kris Letang (58), center Sidney Crosby (87), left wing Jake Guentzel (59) and right wing Bryan Rust (17) get ready for play to resume in Game Four of the First Round in the 2022 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs between the New York Rangers and the Pittsburgh Penguins on May 9, 2022, at PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh, PA. (Photo by Jeanine Leech/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
    Pittsburgh Penguins (Jeanine Leech/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

    During every NHL season, some rebuilding clubs begin to challenge for postseason positions. Meanwhile, a handful of perennial playoff contenders find themselves at risk of falling in the standings.

    In the Eastern Conference, offseason moves could have the Columbus Blue Jackets, Detroit Red Wings and Ottawa Senators poised to make significant strides in the standings. The Jackets added winger Johnny Gaudreau, the Wings brought in David Perron, Andrew Copp and Ben Chiarot, while the Senators acquired Alex DeBrincat and Claude Giroux.

    The Boston Bruins, Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals have regularly made the playoffs in recent years. However, they each now carry aging cores that have proven expensive to maintain. Reaching the postseason is no longer a certainty, and at least one of them could finish outside this season's playoff picture.

    In the Western Conference, the Vegas Golden Knights and Winnipeg Jets will try to rebound from last season's disappointing performances. Led by J.T. Miller and young stars like Elias Pettersson, the rebuilding Vancouver Canucks hope to build upon last season's second-half momentum that brought them within a handful of points of clinching a playoff spot.

    The Dallas Stars, Nashville Predators and St. Louis Blues will be trying to fend them off. The Stars made it to the Stanley Cup Final in 2020 but missed the playoffs the following season. The Predators have declined from their 2017 Stanley Cup Final appearance, while the Blues are trying to regain the form that won them the Cup in 2019.

Stars with New NHL Teams

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    WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 08: Johnny Gaudreau #13 of the Columbus Blue Jackets handles the puck against the Washington Capitals during a preseason game at Capital One Arena on October 08, 2022 in Washington, DC. (Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images)
    Columbus Blue Jackets winger Johnny Gaudreau (G Fiume/Getty Images)

    Notable players change teams through trades or free agency during every NFL offseason. This year was no different. Several stars will now be suiting up with new clubs for the first time in their big-league careers.

    The most notable free-agent signing was Johnny Gaudreau joining the Columbus Blue Jackets after he spent nine seasons with the Calgary Flames. Fresh off a career-best 115-point performance, he will provide a significant boost to the Blue Jackets' hopes of becoming a regular playoff contender.

    Gaudreau wasn't the only Flame on the move, as Calgary traded Matthew Tkachuk to the Florida Panthers. The 24-year-old turned a career-best 42-goal, 104-point season into an eight-year contract extension with the Panthers. They'll look to Tkachuk to provide a physical edge to their pursuit of the Stanley Cup.

    Returning to the Flames in the Tkachuk trade was Jonathan Huberdeau, who is also coming off a career-high 115-point campaign. Like Gaudreau, the 29-year-old Huberdeau is among the league's elite setup men. Signed to his own eight-year extension, he and free-agent addition Nazem Kadri will be expected to help the Flames to a Cup championship.

    The Ottawa Senators signaled their years of rebuilding have come to an end by acquiring Alex DeBrincat from the Chicago Blackhawks in July. A two-time 40-goal scorer, the 24-year-old winger could be a key piece to the playoff puzzle, as he'll bolster the Senators' offensive depth along with free-agent addition Claude Giroux.

Alex Ovechkin Continues To Chase History

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    WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 08: Alex Ovechkin #8 of the Washington Capitals handles the puck against the Columbus Blue Jackets during a preseason game at Capital One Arena on October 08, 2022 in Washington, DC. (Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images)
    Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin (G Fiume/Getty Images)

    Since reaching the 700-goal plateau in 2020, Alex Ovechkin has been steadily moving closer toward Wayne Gretzky's all-time record of 894 career goals. At 780 heading into the year, the Washington Capitals captain won't break Gretzky's record this season, but he could reach two notable milestones.

    Ovechkin needs 22 goals to surpass the legendary Gordie Howe's 801 career tallies and move into second place on the all-time list. If the 37-year-old Capitals captain maintains last season's 50-goal pace, he shouldn't have much difficulty moving past Howe.

    If Ovechkin does reach 50 goals this season, he'll be at 830 on the all-time list. Signed with the Capitals through 2025-26, he'll need only two seasons with 33 or more goals to surpass The Great One.

    There is one goal record Ovechkin can set this season, though. The Capitals star is tied with Gretzky and New York Islanders legend Mike Bossy for the most 50-goal seasons with nine.

    Ovechkin has a good chance of reaching a record-setting 10th career 50-goal season in 2022-23. If he does, that record will be his for a long time. Tampa Bay Lightning captain Steven Stamkos and Edmonton Oilers center Leon Draisaitl are the closest active players with two 50-goal campaigns apiece.

Will The Chicago Blackhawks Trade Patrick Kane?

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    CHICAGO, IL - SEPTEMBER 27: Chicago Blackhawks right wing Patrick Kane (88) skates with the puck in action during a game between the St.Louis Blues and the Chicago Blackhawks on September 27, 2022 at the United Center in Chicago, IL. (Photo by Melissa Tamez/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
    Chicago Blackhawks right wing Patrick Kane (Melissa Tamez/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

    Entering his 16th season with the Chicago Blackhawks, Patrick Kane has established himself as one of the greatest players in franchise history. The 33-year-old winger is a former winner of the Hart Memorial Trophy, Art Ross Trophy and Conn Smythe Trophy, and he helped the Blackhawks win three Stanley Cups between 2010 and 2015.

    Kane is also entering the final season of his contract and is eligible to become an unrestricted free agent next July. With the Blackhawks' glory days well in the past and management intent on rebuilding the roster, Kane has become a frequent topic of trade speculation.

    Despite his age, Kane remains among the NHL's elite forwards. He led the Blackhawks with 92 points in 78 games last season, and he finished 15th among the league's scoring leaders.

    Should Kane maintain that same level of production this season, plenty of playoff contenders will be angling to acquire him if he hits the trade block. His postseason experience will be invaluable for clubs with Stanley Cup aspirations.

    However, Kane won't be easy for the Blackhawks to move. He carries an average annual value of $10.5 million, and he also has a full no-movement clause. He'll have the final decision over whether he gets traded and where he could go.

Contenders or Pretenders?

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    RALEIGH, NORTH CAROLINA - MAY 18: Filip Chytil #72 of the New York Rangers (2nd from right) celebrates his goal against the Carolina Hurricanes at 7:07 of the first period and is joined by (L-R) Alexis Lafreniere #13, Kaapo Kakko #24 and Adam Fox #23 in Game One of the Second Round of the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs  at PNC Arena on May 18, 2022 in Raleigh, North Carolina. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
    New York Rangers (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

    Last season, the Florida Panthers, Carolina Hurricanes, New York Rangers and Toronto Maple Leafs finished among the top four in last season's Eastern Conference standings. The Minnesota Wild, Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers were among the top five in the Western Conference.

    Expectations will be high for those clubs this season. Some could emerge as legitimate Stanley Cup contenders, while others could fall short.

    The Panthers possess a potent offense, but trading away MacKenzie Weegar weakened their blue line. The Hurricanes have struggled to get past the second round, while the Maple Leafs haven't won a playoff round since 2004. The Rangers reached the 2022 Eastern Conference Final but need promising youngsters such as Alexis Lafrenière and Kaapo Kakko to step up.

    Playoff futility has dogged the Wild and Flames in recent years. The Wild traded away 85-point winger Kevin Fiala, while the Flames replaced core players Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk with Jonathan Huberdeau and Nazem Kadri. The Oilers hope the addition of goalie Jack Campbell addresses the goaltending issues that hampered them last season.

    How they use their strengths and adjust to their weaknesses throughout this season will separate the contenders from the pretenders.

The Race for the Hart Memorial Trophy

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    EDMONTON, AB - DECEMBER 14: Connor McDavid #97 of the Edmonton Oilers lines up for a face off against Auston Matthews #34 of the Toronto Maple Leafs on December 14, 2021 at Rogers Place in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images)
    Edmonton Oilers captain Connor McDavid and Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews (Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images)

    The Professional Hockey Writers Association awards the Hart Memorial Trophy to the player "adjudged to be the most valuable to his team." The winner of that award is also typically considered the NHL's Most Valuable Player for that season.

    Since 2016-17, Edmonton Oilers captain Connor McDavid is the only player to win the Hart twice. A four-time winner of the Art Ross Trophy, including in 2020-21 and 2021-22, the 25-year-old McDavid must be considered among the favorites to win MVP honors again.

    Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews should give McDavid a run for his money for the Hart, though. The NHL's best goal scorer won the Maurice Richard Trophy in each of the last two seasons. In 2021-22, he took home the Hart after becoming the first player to score 60 goals in a season since Tampa Bay Lighting captain Steven Stamkos in 2011-12.

    The last defenseman to win the Hart was Hall of Famer Chris Pronger in 1999-2000. Cale Makar of the Colorado Avalanche could have a shot this season, though. The 23-year-old blueliner could also repeat as the winner of the James Norris Memorial Trophy. He won the Conn Smythe Trophy last spring while leading the Avalanche to the Stanley Cup, too.

    Other players who could emerge as Hart candidates include Oilers center (and 2020 Hart winner) Leon Draisaitl, New York Rangers goaltender Igor Shesterkin and Minnesota Wild winger Kirill Kaprizov. All will be crucial to their respective teams' performance in 2022-23.

Tampa Bay Lightning's Quest For Another Cup Run

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    TAMPA, FLORIDA - JUNE 26: The Tampa Bay Lightning watch the Colorado Avalanche celebrate their Stanley Cup win following Game Six of the 2022 NHL Stanley Cup Final at Amalie Arena on June 26, 2022 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
    Tampa Bay Lightning watch the Colorado Avalanche celebrate their Stanley Cup win (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

    The Tampa Bay Lightning won two straight Stanley Cups and reached the Final for the third straight season in 2021-22 before falling to the Colorado Avalanche in six games. Despite that failure, the Lightning hope to make a fourth straight trip to the Final in 2023.

    “Who says we're done?” asked Steven Stamkos following Game 6 of the 2022 Stanley Cup Final. That phrase was echoed by Lightning owner Jeff Vinik during a recent interview with The Athletic's Joe Smith. Expect it to be the club's rallying cry this season.

    Led by Stamkos, the Lightning still possess an impressive core of talent. Andrei Vasilevskiy remains among the NHL's elite goaltenders, Victor Hedman is a perennial finalist for the James Norris Memorial Trophy, and Nikita Kucherov and Brayden Point are two of the league's best forwards.

    However, it could prove more difficult to return to the Final in 2023. The Lightning have been slowly losing key depth players in recent years due to limited salary-cap space. During the summer, winger Ondřej Palát signed with the New Jersey Devils as a free agent, while the Lightning traded defenseman Ryan McDonagh to the Nashville Predators in a cost-cutting move.

    Nevertheless, the Lightning still have supporting talent such as Alex Killorn, Mikhail Sergachev, Erik Cernak and Anthony Cirelli. General manager Julien BriseBois continues to maintain a competitive roster despite his cap restraints. With Jon Cooper still behind the bench as head coach, the Bolts cannot be taken lightly this season.

Colorado Avalanche Attempt to Repeat as Stanley Cup Champions

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    TAMPA, FLORIDA - JUNE 26: Colorado Avalanche coaches and players pose for a photo after defeating the Tampa Bay Lightning 2-1 in Game Six of the 2022 NHL Stanley Cup Final at Amalie Arena on June 26, 2022 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
    Colorado Avalanche pose with Stanley Cup (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

    Winning the Stanley Cup is the hardest thing an NHL player can do. However, the Colorado Avalanche are about to discover that repeating as champions is just as difficult.

    The Avalanche won their two previous Cups in 1996 and 2001 with Hall of Famers such as Patrick Roy, Peter Forsberg and current team president Joe Sakic in the lineup. This year's version will try to accomplish what those greats couldn't do and win two Cups in a row.

    They'll have to pull off that feat without starting goaltender Darcy Kuemper, second-line center Nazem Kadri and 61-point winger André Burakovsky. They signed with other clubs as unrestricted free agents during the offseason, as salary-cap constraints made it impossible for the Avalanche to retain them.

    Former New York Rangers backup Alexandar Georgiev will share the goaltending duties with Pavel Francouz. Alex Newhook earns promotion into Kadri's spot on the second line, while former Pittsburgh Penguins forward Evan Rodrigues replaces Burakovsky.

    Fortunately for Colorado, most of its core talent remains intact. Led by the potent first line of Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen, superstar defenseman Cale Makar and two-way winger Valeri Nichushkin, the Avalanche remain a dangerous hockey team. That group will be expected to lead the way in their championship defense.

    Stats and trophy information via NHL.com. Salary and line combination via Cap Friendly. Additional info via Hockey Reference.