2021-22 Season Goals for Every NHL Team

Franklin Steele@SteeleOnIceFeatured Columnist IIIOctober 16, 2021

2021-22 Season Goals for Every NHL Team

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    Any NHL executive or player worth their weight in cliches will tell you their goal is to win the Stanley Cup. It doesn't matter how likely or unlikely it is for that to happen.

    That's especially true early in the season before the haves and have-nots settle into their respective places in the standings.

    Winning a championship is a realistic expectation for only a small number of teams. Anything can (and will) happen during the playoffs, but hoping for a miracle run will lead to poor decision-making.

    Understanding a team's Stanley Cup window might be the most important part of running an NHL team. For example, could Steve Yzerman trade a trove of the Detroit Red Wings' top prospects and picks to the Buffalo Sabres for Jack Eichel?

    Probably, but it would make zero sense to do so. Detroit is years away from contention and needs several pieces besides a No. 1 center. Yzerman understands that adding Eichel wouldn't fit the Red Wings' trajectory.

    Wise managers shoot their shots when they see them, though. Look at what Max Pacioretty has meant to the Vegas Golden Knights since arriving in 2018. He's scored 80 goals in 187 regular-season contests for the club and has been worth the futures Vegas gave up.

    Every team in the NHL has a big-picture goal: a Stanley Cup banner. Earning that takes a long series of smaller goals, though, and we'll identify important next steps for each team in the league.

Anaheim Ducks: Let the Trevor Zegras Show Begin

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    The Anaheim Ducks were once one of the toughest outs in the Western Conference. Those days feel like ancient history for an organization that hasn't made the playoffs in three consecutive seasons and finished sixth in the Pacific Division in back-to-back campaigns.

    The road back into the postseason picture in the Pacific isn't treacherous, however, and the Ducks have a few key pieces that could help them get there sooner than later.

    Trevor Zegras is poised for a breakout campaign. Anaheim's offense was awful last year. No team in the league scored fewer goals, and its power-play conversion rate of 8.9 percent was putrid.

    Despite that, Zegras scored at a clip that would have seen him finish an 82-game season with more than 40 points. While he wouldn't have challenged for the Calder Trophy, it was a respectable output for a new player skating for a bad team.

    At 20 years old, the 2019 ninth overall pick will make some mistakes in Anaheim this year. Head coach Dallas Eakins has a tough line to walk in getting Zegras to play in all three zones. The forward can't be allowed to ignore defense.

    He does need room to grow, though. The Ducks aren't a threat to make the playoffs, so they have nothing to lose by letting Zegras skate in a top-six role while running the power play.

Arizona Coyotes: Trade Pending UFAs for Futures

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    This is what it looks like when a franchise decides to let the bottom drop out. Forget building a winning culture. The Arizona Coyotes are looking to start from scratch and have been trading as much talent as possible.

    It's hard to blame them. Last year's group didn't get it done, and the Coyotes have made the playoffs once in nine years.

    Heading into 2021-22, only seven skaters are on contracts beyond the season. Two are making less than $1 million, while Andrew Ladd and Shayne Gostisbehere are reclamation projects.

    The Coyotes could get up to a lot of wheeling and dealing. Teams looking for depth scoring as the March 21 deadline approaches could do worse than Phil Kessel. Could a playoff team that wants to add an insurance defenseman be interested in Anton Stralman?

    Arizona's roster is riddled with forwards who make $3 million or less. If any of them outperform expectations, the Coyotes could ship them out for draft picks and lower-end prospects—exactly what this organization should try to do (and has been doing).

Boston Bruins: Don't Expect Jeremy Swayman to Be Tuukka Rask

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    Stepping in for a legendary position player is never an easy task. Trying to do so in a market like Boston, where fandom is measured in generations and not years, is even tougher.

    Yet that's what 22-year-old Jeremy Swayman is taking on in 2021-22. Of course, it isn't his first foray into the NHL's regular season. A year ago, he went 7-3-0 for Boston, tantalizing the team with his high-end skill.

    (He was so good, we can't help but wonder why he's not getting much love as a potential Calder Trophy finalist. But that's neither here nor there.)

    There's no denying what Tuukka Rask has meant to the Bruins. He's their all-time wins leader and has been nothing short of an All-Star talent for a majority of his time in Boston. Offseason hip surgery has him sidelined, however. And while a return to the team isn't entirely out of the question, for now, this team belongs to Swayman.

    Sure, the Bruins inked Linus Ullmark to a four-year deal over the summer. Still, the reality is that Swayman is the goalie most folks in this organization are excited about.

    And they should be stoked. He has all the tools needed to be the next great goalie for Boston. There just shouldn't be pressure on him to be the next Rask right away. There will likely be hiccups in goal as the season unfolds. Swayman may even lose the starting role to Ullmark for a time. That kind of internal competition is healthy, however, and we can see it pushing both netminders to levels of play that we haven't seen before.

    There's a big difference between stepping into an unexpected role and having success and taking on a legit starting goaltender job, though. And Swayman will experience growing pains. They may even last for extended periods of time.

    That won't mean that he's washed. Not by a long shot. It can be tough to have patience as younger goalies establish their footing in the NHL, but Bruins fans would be wise not to turn on Swayman if his season heads south for a bit.

Buffalo Sabres: Move On from Jack Eichel

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    Moving on from a player of Jack Eichel's caliber isn't easy. Yet that's the reality the Buffalo Sabres face. The situation will hang over this club like the raincloud that follows Eeyore until the inevitable trade.

    The Sabres reportedly almost found a new home for their disgruntled all-world center last week. We've heard this song and dance, though, as recently as mid-September and as far back as July when the player's agents thought a deal was close.

    Sabres general manager Kevyn Adams is filibustering Buffalo's 2021-22 campaign by dragging the Eichel situation into the regular season. We don't expect the Sabres to be any good, but this isn't fair to the player or the fans.

    The market for an All-Star center who may never be the same after neck surgery won't change overnight. Adams has already seen the best offer he's going to see.

    Pull the trigger and move on. It's the only ending that makes sense to this doomed relationship.

Calgary Flames: Let Darryl Sutter See This Approach Through

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    The NHL is a copycat league. Every year, well-run teams win the Stanley Cup by executing their visions for their players. And every offseason, not-so-well-run organizations scramble to copy that championship blueprint.

    So first, we offer some kudos for the Calgary Flames for marching to their own drummer. It's refreshing to see an organization buck common sentiment for their idea of what a champion looks like.

    The league is moving toward skill and speed and has been for some time. What's proved most difficult about team building in the NHL is that skill is rewarded during the regular season. But when the referees put their whistles away during the playoffs, the way players are valued dramatically shifts.

    We'd still rather have Connor McDavid than Ryan Reaves, yet size matters more as the games get more important. The Flames took this idea and ran with it, seemingly aware they don't have to be a stellar regular-season team to get to the playoffs out of the Pacific Division.

    Calgary got bigger, stronger and tougher this offseason, and it has the perfect coach for this roster in Darryl Sutter. Will it work? We don't know, but the Flames gave their skilled core plenty of time to get over the hump.

    Johnny Gaudreau and Co. haven't gotten it done. The Flames are trying something else, and how it unfolds in Calgary will be fascinating.

Carolina Hurricanes: Treat Jesperi Kotkaniemi Like He's Making Half as Much

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    Jesperi Kotkaniemi has little chance of living up to the $6.1 million offer sheet he signed with the Carolina Hurricanes. Maybe the 2018 third overall pick morphs into prime Evgeni Malkin, but it's more likely that this will look like a reach by general manager Don Waddell by January.

    That's perfectly fine.

    How many teams in the NHL would move mountains to add a top-six center? The Red Wings need at least one of those before we can call their rebuild a success. One could argue the Columbus Blue Jackets only have one (maybe two) proven NHL-caliber pivots.

    This isn't to take anything away from Columbus or Detroit, but bad teams always need centers, and good teams always have them.

    The Hurricanes saw a player they thought could help them take a run at the Stanley Cup, and they went out and got him. At worst, this is a single-season overpay. It's not like the 'Canes walked down the aisle with Kotkaniemi.

    It's a one-season tryout to see if the 21-year-old has the chops to be a core member. Even after a weird summer, fans have faith in this leadership group. Treat Kotkaniemi like he's making $3 million instead of his actual cap hit and you'll better appreciate what he brings to the ice.

Chicago Blackhawks: Live in a Perfect World

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    When we say the goal for the Chicago Blackhawks is to live in a perfect world, we mean it on the micro level of this organization only. World peace (probably?) doesn't hang in the balance of Chicago's 2021-22 season.

    If the Blackhawks don't make the playoffs, so be it. They haven't won a postseason round since 2014-15. It's clear general manager Stan Bowman aimed to change that this offseason, though.

    He'll need everything to go right for the Blackhawks to make the playoffs and do any damage. That it's a possibility is a testament to Bowman and the work he did over the summer. If things don't work out, though, it could be a nightmare season in the Windy City.

    Keys to this Perfect World scenario:

    Jonathan Toews comes back after a year away and looks like his old self. Asking a 33-year-old with more than 1,000 regular-season and playoff games under his belt to play like he's 26 again is tough enough. After missing a whole season, though, it's fair to wonder what Captain Serious has left.

    Some think Seth Jones will revive his career in Chicago, while others wonder if the ship has sailed on him as an elite No. 1. He's better than Duncan Keith, but that isn't saying much.

    If Jones can't stabilize the defense, that could be the end of the Blackhawks' playoff hopes.

    Then we come to 36-year-old Marc-Andre Fleury. Bowman added him for nothing, and the netminder is a beloved and known commodity. We just aren't sure what was real: his 2021 Vezina Trophy season or the two years prior where he wasn't great.

    The Blackhawks need every bounce to go in their favor in 2021-22, and that'll happen only in a perfect world.

Colorado Avalanche: Win the Stanley Cup

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    Take a big swig of cold water every time you hear "it's Stanley Cup or bust" for the Colorado Avalanche this season.

    It won't be the last opportunity this Avalanche team has to win the Stanley Cup. They've drafted too well, added complementary pieces via trades and free agency and don't have much dead money on their cap sheet.

    This may be the only opportunity Colorado has to win a championship with a team this loaded, though.

    The roster comprises all-world talent at every position. Nathan MacKinnon is entrenched in the "best player in the world" conversation. Cale Makar is involved in the "best defenseman in the world" discussion too. Darcy Kuemper has been listed as a Vezina Trophy challenger. Head coach Jared Bednar knows what this season means to the Avalanche, and general manager Joe Sakic might be the best executive in the NHL.

    Toss in an inspiring comeback story in Jack Johnson and one of the best forward lines in the league, and take a long drink of cool water. It's Stanley Cup or bust for the Avalanche in 2021-22.

Columbus Blue Jackets: Prove Doubters Wrong

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    The Columbus Blue Jackets have to answer the same questions every few years. They've bled talent that didn't want to be there seemingly since they played their first game in 2000.

    That was over two decades ago, yet they can't seem to shake the "no one wants to play there" reputation. We blame Jeff Carter for starting this perception in 2012, but players like Pierre-Luc Dubois, Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky have also wanted out.

    That leaves the Blue Jackets with an Island of Misfit Toys vibe, which the team could build around in 2021-22. The team is chock-full of players with things to prove.

    Zach Werenski is excited about moving out of Seth Jones' shadow. Patrik Laine has a lot to prove after bottoming out last year in Ohio. After missing an entire season and not playing a pro hockey game for more than 400 days, Gustav Nyquist is trying to show he can still be a middle-six contributor.

    Then there's the team's 2021 first-round pick, Cole Sillinger, who is out to prove that starting him in the NHL as a teenager isn't an awful idea. We could go on, but the linchpin of this group's mentality will be proving people wrong.

    The Blue Jackets aren't likely to will themselves into a playoff position, but 2021-22 shouldn't be a write-off. They have an opportunity to rebuild their culture after moving on from much of the veteran leadership group. Their goal should be simple: Play hard, stay in games and prove doubters wrong.

Dallas Stars: Stay Healthy

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    Some of these season goals are abstract. Like we discussed in the opening slide, not every team can compete for the Stanley Cup. Likewise, not every club has a chance to win its division.

    The Dallas Stars' goal is a simple one: Stay healthy.

    No one gets injured on purpose, and no team wants anything besides a clean bill of health. That said, last year was tough for the Stars. According to Man-Games Lost, no team lost more points in the standings thanks to injuries than Dallas with 18.

    All told, their players missed 317 contests. It wasn't fourth-line scrappers who hurt themselves in a fight in October—key contributors like Tyler Seguin, Alexander Radulov and Roope Hintz were either on the shelf or playing hurt.

    Playing 44 games in 78 days to finish the year didn't help.

    A healthy Stars team would have likely made the playoffs, and the same holds true for this iteration. We should see more from Hintz now that he isn't playing on one leg. Seguin will be back; the same goes for Radulov.

    With one of the strongest defensive groups in the NHL, the Stars need to stay healthy and meet expectations to make the postseason.

Detroit Red Wings: Get Some Offense Going...Any Offense

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    Not all ineptitude is created equal. While a team that misses the playoffs by one point goes home as early as a squad that misses the dance by 20, those organizations are in different places.

    The Detroit Red Wings have experienced degrees of inadequacy since last making the playoffs in 2015-16, and a handful of reasons indicate 2021-22 could be the beginning of their push into relevancy.

    This probably isn't a playoff team, but pieces of the rebuild are falling into place. It's time for the Red Wings to take strides forward. Step one should be figuring out how to score goals, both at even strength and on the power play.

    Last year, their offense was horrible. They averaged 2.23 goals per game, and their power play clicked 11.4 percent of the time.

    The good news is there's reason to believe the Red Wings will score more this year. They won't be a wrecking crew like last year's Tampa Bay Lightning or this year's Avalanche, but they should be better.

    A healthy Dylan Larkin is a big plus. He'd be a second-line center on most of the top teams in the NHL, but he's integral to Detroit's success. Lucas Raymond made the team out of camp, which is inspiring, and Moritz Seider has landed in the Motor City.

    Will it be enough to score more than three goals a game? That would have made them a middling offensive team in 2021, so it might be a big ask to tack on a goal every other game. Still, the team needs to see progress in the O-zone.

Edmonton Oilers: Clone Connor McDavid

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    OK, so cloning Connor McDavid is out of the question. There's a lot of variables that we're discussing across this slideshow, but the Edmonton Oilers getting a second copy of their best player is not happening. Leon Draisaitl is what a slightly less talented copy of McDavid would look like anyway.

    (It's a Wolverine and X-23 situation. They're both really good at what they do...but you'd obviously prefer one over the other.)

    So let's take another swing at a goal: It'd be a huge win for the Oilers if they started to at least consider analytics and underlying numbers when making moves. They're not the end-all, be-all. They never have been, and no one worth their salt would suggest that they are.

    But there's no reason to not use every bit of data that is at your disposal. Ken Holland has straight-up failed to adjust to a shifting landscape in terms of how players are evaluated and graded out.

    At The Athletic, longtime Oilers scribe Allan Mitchell summed the team's relationship with statistics up perfectly when discussing the Duncan Keith trade: "There isn't a hockey analytics department on planet earth with a workable computer that would recommend the Keith-[Caleb] Jones deal as it went down."

    Scathing but true. Having the best player in the league doesn't do you any good when you fail to surround him with talent. This isn't the NBA, where one forward can take over a game or a playoff series. McDavid can't do it by himself. Neither can Draisaitl. 

    It's clear that the Oilers don't take analytics seriously right now. If they want to waste another year of McDavid's prime, the team is certainly going about it the right way.   

Florida Panthers: Win the Prince of Wales Trophy

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    This could be the season when the Florida Panthers join the NHL's elite teams. As Eastern Conference powerhouses like the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins age and (presumably) fade, other teams will rise to take those spots.

    Florida is positioned to do just that. It won't be solid for only a year or two before falling back to mediocrity. It has too much talent in place, and the organization has acquired said skill in the right ways.

    Re-signing Aleksander Barkov for eight years was a watershed moment. He's arguably the best homegrown player the Panthers have ever rostered, and he's part of the strongest roster to hit the ice in Sunrise.

    A few things need to happen for the Panthers to represent the Eastern Conference in the Stanley Cup Final, but would it be shocking to see Sergei Bobrovsky rediscover his game? He doesn't have to be the game-stealing All-Star he was in Columbus to put the Panthers over the top. He just needs to be solid.

    It sounds like he's feeling good heading into the campaign, which is good news if you're cheering for this team. If Bob can find even 80 percent of the game he seemingly left in Ohio, this will be a dangerous and difficult out come playoff time.

LA Kings: Get Cal Petersen More Starts Than Jonathan Quick

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    Jonathan Quick was considered one of the best "money goalies" during the Los Angeles Kings' most recent heyday, back in the mid-2000s when that concept was still alive and well among the league's pundits. His career has taken a sharp decline over the last three seasons, however, as he's posted a negative Goals Saved Above Average in each of those campaigns.

    Put another way: There's virtually no defensible reason that Quick should start more games than Cal Petersen in 2021-22. The younger netminder saw more action than the veteran did a year ago, and it should stay that way in Los Angeles this season.

    The Kings gave Petersen a nod of confidence back in September when they signed him to a three-year contract worth $15 million. That's really close to de facto, no-questions-asked starter money, and that's how Los Angeles should handle Petersen moving forward.

    If he has a rough patch and looks like he just needs a night off, then by all means, give Quick the net back for a night. Head coach Todd McLellan shouldn't be treating this like some sort of timeshare, though. And it'd likely be better for Petersen to learn how to take some lumps as he settles in as a legit No. 1.

    This isn't a playoff team. It wasn't before Quinton Byfield was injured in early October and it certainly isn't now. Not even in the wide-open Pacific Division. There's little benefit to rolling Quick out as his illustrious career winds down.

Minnesota Wild: Stay Bold

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    For the better part of a decade, it seemed like the Minnesota Wild were content to be just OK. They were a consistent playoff presence, but not a consistent postseason performer. No one was worried about drawing the Wild in the first round, and it's not too difficult to see why.

    They weren't overly hard to play against, they didn't have enough speed to break games open, and they were generally considered a boring team. They haven't advanced past the second round since the 2002-03 season. 

    General manager Bill Guerin hasn't been satisfied with Minnesota's perceived lot in the NHL and has been incredibly aggressive in trying to fix how the team is viewed. We're here to give him kudos and encourage him to keep it up.

    This past summer, he convinced ownership to buy out the contracts of Zach Parise and Ryan Suter. When those two players were introduced together in 2012, it was supposed to usher in an era of contention for the Wild. Ironically, Guerin buying those two megadeals out in 2021 carries the same feeling for the Wild.

    Minnesota is a younger and possibly more exciting team this season. Guerin doesn't seem the type to make moves just to do it, so here's hoping that he stays bold as he tries to push the Wild to a level they haven't been to before.

Montreal Canadiens: Understand Stanley Cup Run Was a Flash in the Pan

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    This one is no fun because miraculous championship runs are what make the NHL playoffs so special. But usually the better teams prevail.

    Everything fell into place at the perfect time for the Montreal Canadiens in their run to the 2021 Stanley Cup Final, and no one will ever be able to take that magic away from them. However, it'd be remarkably foolish for Montreal to push chips to the center of the table with the belief that this team has what it takes to run it back.

    Sometimes we see teams buy into their own playoff success a bit too much, swapping futures when it isn't appropriate to do so. The Canadiens must avoid this pitfall if they want to get back toward the top of the mountain anytime soon.

    There are a few good young players in place in Montreal—players worth building around. But Nick Suzuki and Cole Caufield are not going to lead this team back to the promised land this season. It could happen again sooner rather than later, so long as management doesn't get too deep into its own Kool-Aid. 

Nashville Predators: Don't Hang onto Filip Forsberg Beyond Trade Deadline

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    Since landing with the Nashville Predators via one of the most lopsided and confounding trade deadline deals of the salary-cap era, Filip Forsberg has evolved into a franchise cornerstone in the Music City.

    He's appeared in nearly 500 games for the club, accumulating almost 400 points along the way. While he's short on personal accolades, being six years removed from his last All-Star Game, Forsberg has been one of Nashville's most consistent producers for coming up on a decade.

    The 27-year-old center would be in line for a monster payday should he decide to test the free-agent market in July. No one could blame him for doing so, and if he won't re-sign with the Predators long-term, general manager David Poile needs to make the tough choice to trade Forsberg.

    This will be an especially simple call to make if Nashville falls out of the playoff picture early as expected. If the Predators surprise and pile up the points, then it would be defensible to keep him. But they should know there are risks involved, even in that.

    Knowing what they know now, would the Columbus Blue Jackets go back in time and trade Artemi Panarin and/or Sergei Bobrovsky in 2018-19? They banked on being able to convince one or both to stay. Both bolted as free agents, setting the Blue Jackets back years.

    Nashville would be wise to observe this cautionary tale. Hanging onto an asset like Forsberg because you're three points inside of a playoff berth at Thanksgiving would be foolish.

New Jersey Devils: Have Fun

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    It'd been almost 10 years since the New Jersey Devils started a season with this much promise. Over the last decade, this franchise has not just flirted with the bottom of the barrel. They've been one of the worst teams in the league.

    Yes, they made the playoffs kind of out of nowhere in 2017-18 and were bounced in the first round by the Tampa Bay Lightning. Besides that, the Devils haven't been a fun team to cheer for since making the Stanley Cup Final in 2012.

    There are reasons to be skeptical about this roster, but there are reasons to be hopeful too. Adding Dougie Hamilton as a free agent this past summer was an important move. He's, at the very worst, a legit top-pairing defenseman on two-thirds of the teams in the league.

    At best, he's a blueliner who just sort of slips through the cracks of analytics, managing to get his job done well every night anyway. 

    Yegor Sharangovich should take a step forward and could lead the team in goals. Jack Hughes is in line for a breakout campaign, while Nico Hischier should also improve.

    Will they make the playoffs? That's a tough ask, but at least they should be fun to watch along the way.

New York Islanders: Win the Metropolitan Division

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    We touched on it earlier when discussing the Panthers, but we'll reiterate for the New York Islanders fans who skipped directly to this portion of the article: Things are a-changin' in the Eastern Conference, with longtime standard-bearers in Washington and Pittsburgh starting their inevitable descents back to the middle.

    That means there's room at the top of the conference—or, in New York's case, its division—for fresh teams. The Islanders have been legit for three years now, winning at least one playoff round every year since 2018. They've been bounced by the Lightning in back-to-back playoffs now, though, and there's no shame in that. 

    Representing the Eastern Conference in the Stanley Cup Final will be a tall order, but winning the Metropolitan Division should very much be within this team's grasp. They filled in along the margins perfectly by adding Zdeno Chara and Zach Parise as free agents.

    Adding Kyle Palmieri at the trade deadline and then re-signing him helped shore up the right side up front, too. There are still a few moves the Islanders could make to get stronger, and they can't sleep on any other organization in the Metro besides maybe the Blue Jackets in 2021-22.

    It wouldn't be the end of the World if New York didn't win a division banner, but it'd represent another step toward being a consistent threat to come out of the Eastern Conference if the Islanders did. 

New York Rangers: Pray to the Hockey Gods That This Works

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    If you're a New York Rangers fan, you already know what this is. 

    General manager Chris Drury made a handful of perplexing moves during the offseason. Ones that were clearly aimed at making New York tougher to play against. Boiling it down to an overreaction to Tom Wilson's antics wouldn't be fair, but there's no denying that the Rangers decidedly turned away from talent and toward toughness.

    Not surprisingly, former members of the team loved the moves. Perhaps the only thing less surprising than hockey players liking toughness and grit is that analysts with a more stats-based approach hated what Drury did with this roster.

    The reality is that neither of the two "sides" will be proved 100 percent right or wrong. The Rangers won't be a disaster just because they traded away Pavel Buchnevich, nor will it be cataclysmic just because they added Ryan Reaves.

    New York did make it harder on itself by going all-in on grit, though. If the Rangers take a step back, it won't be a mystery as to why.

    If the Rangers take a step forward, the explanation will be just as clear. It'll be because the young players on the team improved, propelling New York ahead with skill as the gasoline and toughness as the air freshener dangling from the rear-view mirror, just happy to be along for the ride. 

Ottawa Senators: Walk Back the 'Rebuild Is Done' Narrative

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    Why can't the Ottawa Senators have nice things? Why is it that every time this organization finally appears to be pulling itself up by its skate laces that someone in the upper levels of management/ownership has to ruin it by saying something outlandish?

    When general manager Pierre Dorion told hockey columnist Bruce Garrioch in September that "the rebuild is done," he was very much guilty of putting the cart before the horse.

    Dorion may have meant that the Senators won't be as bad as they've over the last four seasons. That they could buy. There's a strong nucleus of young players calling Ottawa home in 2021-22, and there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic about the future.

    Declaring the rebuild over after finishing five games under .500 might be a bit bullish. Travis Yost does a great job of explaining why here over at TSN.ca, but it boils down to Ottawa's top players not yet being able to score more goals at even strength than are being scored against them.

    And if Matt Murray can't find his game? The bottom may drop out in Ottawa again. The Senators have a bright future; it's just hard to see it coming to fruition in 2021-22.    

Philadelphia Flyers: Figure Out What They Have in Carter Hart

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    If you could go back in time and Google "Carter Hart," you'd be able to read all about how he's one of the best goaltenders not playing in the NHL. About how the Philadelphia Flyers finally appear to have a netminder who can be a steadying presence in the crease. 

    It all sounded cheery back then, but hope doesn't earn teams points in the standings. Wins do, and Philadelphia's disappointing 2021 campaign can at least be partially pinned on Hart.

    His minus-22.6 GSAA across just 27 appearances was eye-wateringly bad, and eight of his 25 starts were of the RBS variety—meaning he posted a save percentage below 85 percent in those contests, giving Philadelphia little chance of winning.

    The Flyers did absolutely everything they could to reshape the defense in front of him this offseason. General manager Chuck Fletcher was aggressive in making moves to his blue line. It's unclear if the shakeup will actually improve the defense, but it seemed like the team was indicating that last season wasn't all on Hart.

    Hart just turned 23, so it's too early to turn the lights off on him. But a big goal in Philadelphia this season should be figuring out exactly what the team has in Hart.

    His limitations appear to be of the physical variety, which might be too much to overcome despite the netminder having superior hockey IQ.   

Pittsburgh Penguins: Make the Playoffs

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    This is the most straightforward goal any team could have. You could apply it safely to at least 20 teams in the NHL this early in the season and get away with it. We decided that it wouldn't be any fun to talk about how teams just want to make the dance in a dozen different ways, though, so we saved it for an organization where it truly matters.

    It's been 15 years since we last saw an NHL playoffs without the Pittsburgh Penguins. That streak is more than twice as long as the second-longest postseason streak in the NHL, and they should do what they can to get back in.

    They aren't in the same situation as a team like the Predators, either. Nashville will eventually come into a player that's similar to Forsberg in skill. Trading him would sting, but it wouldn't exactly be the end of an era. That's what the Penguins are approaching, however.

    Odds are good that they'll never have a better one-two punch down the middle than Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. And Kris Letang isn't nearly as washed as some folks seem to think.

    Pittsburgh has to do all it can to make it back to the playoffs because its opportunities to do so with the current core in place will only dwindle from here. General manager Ron Hextall didn't pull a Chicago and go all-in on a few gambles.

    And you know what? We aren't exactly sure who's going about getting the most out of a declining pair of All-Star players before their time is done. But if the Penguins appear to be a piece or two away from hanging in the competitive Metro, we'd like to see Hextall trade for those reinforcements. 

San Jose Sharks: Just Tank It Already

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    Tony Avelar/Associated Press

    A universe exists where the San Jose Sharks are still a force to be reckoned with in the Western Conference. This squad was in the Western Conference Final in 2018-19, strong off a 46-27-9 regular-season record that saw them finish second in the Pacific Division. 

    That feels like a long time ago for the Sharks, though, and the players who are still left over from that roster have largely fallen off. Which is bad news for San Jose, because most of them are signed through until roughly the end of the world. Give or take a year or two.

    No, seriously. This team might have the worst cap situation in the NHL. Think of where the Red Wings were a half-decade ago when all their stars slowly started to lose their steps en route to a collapse to the bottom of the standings...which is where you can still find them to this day.

    Erik Karlsson's decline has been as rapid as it has been sad. Once one of the most entertaining players in the league, the defenseman carries a full no-movement clause, an $11.5 million cap hit and will be under contract until 2027.

    Then there's Brent Burns. Four more years left at an $8 million cap hit for the 36-year-old veteran. Don't forget about Logan Couture, who also carries an $8 million strike against the cap until 2027. Marc-Edouard Vlasic's contract is slightly less problematic, at least.

    His deal is only good through 2026 and only hits the cap for $7 million.

    Finding a way to shed any of these deals would go a long way toward helping San Jose prepare for the future. The roster is too solid to land a high draft pick but too weak to have a legit chance of making the postseason.

    There aren't enough game-breakers in place or coming down the pipe to make staying the course a sound plan of attack for the Sharks. Embrace a rebuild, starting with a painful Tomas Hertl trade, and just tank it already.

St. Louis Blues: Keep Vladimir Tarasenko

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    Icon Sportswire/Getty Images

    We see trade requests happen somewhat frequently in the NHL. And unless you're Jack Eichel and your team is the Sabres, those demands tend to be met sooner rather than later.

    Hanging on to a player who has made it public that they want out can cause more stress than it's worth. General managers canvas the league, figure out what the best deal is, make the move and then move on.

    It isn't often that we get to see a player and a team make up, though. So we can't help but cheer for some form of reconciliation between the St. Louis Blues and Vladimir Tarasenko. Look, we have no inside scoop here. There are no reports indicating that the star wing and St. Louis have made amends.

    Yet he's still wearing the Blue Note, and his teammates appear to be happy to have him on the ice with them as the season gets underway.

    Center Ryan O'Reilly spoke about the situation during the NHL/NHLPA Player Media Tour in mid-September. 

    "We've had a brief talk, Vladi and I," he said, per Tracey Myers of NHL.com. "He's here, and I think he wants to be here. Yeah, that happened, the trade request happened, and it is what it is. I think we're a better team with him here, and we have such good depth. But there's no hard feelings."

    That comment came nearly a month ago. In July, Jeremy Rutherford of The Athletic reported Tarasenko had asked for a trade out of St. Louis earlier in the offseason. Is it too outlandish to believe that the 29-year-old will rediscover his scoring touch for the Blues and decide to stay?

    We can see the made for Disney+ movie coming now.    

Seattle Kraken: Find Help at Center

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    John Russell/Getty Images

    Just existing should be enough for the Seattle Kraken in 2021-22. The Vegas Golden Knights set expectations that will be impossible for the league's newest team to emulate, and the Kraken landing in Washington has been a long time coming.

    Existing isn't much of a goal, though. This is a team that could contend for a playoff spot (in fact, we'd bet on it), and general manager Ron Francis shouldn't hesitate to bolster his roster.

    It was no accident that the Kraken passed on nearly every big-name star who was exposed during the expansion draft. They snagged captain Mark Giordano, which seemed like a no-brainer, but left players like the aforementioned Tarasenko in place.

    Now Seattle finds itself in an interesting and somewhat rare position: It has seemingly constructed a postseason roster while hanging on to around $6.1 million in cap space. It's evident where the team needs the most help.

    The Kraken should be a defensively sound club, backstopped by what could be one of the best goaltending tandems in the NHL. They need help at center, however, and Francis has a surplus of defensemen.

    Could we see the GM make a move for a pivot if Seattle is in playoff contention around Thanksgiving? It's tough to imagine the Kraken doing much damage in the postseason with Yanni Gourde and Jared McCann as their one-two down the middle.

    Finding a top-six center isn't easy, but Francis has done what he can to at least leave the door open for that possibility.     

Tampa Bay Lightning: Secure the 3-Peat

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    Icon Sportswire/Getty Images

    Winning the Stanley Cup is really, really difficult. One could argue that it's the toughest trophy to win in all of sports, given the physical nature of hockey, the travel involved during the postseason and mostly playing every other night until you win it all or get sent home.

    Hell, 11 of the league's teams have never won it.

    Winning the Stanley Cup twice in a row is even more difficult. But securing a three-peat? As you may have heard by now, this hasn't happened since the New York Islanders did it in the 1980s. (We'll wait here while you double-check that fact on Google).

    There's no other goal for the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2021-22. There's no prized prospect we can pretend will be more important to this team's regular season. No disgruntled star who wants out. No real spot of weakness that needs to be addressed via trade.

    It won't be easy—don't get us wrong. The Lightning are going to miss their vaunted third line, and everyone is going to be bringing their A-game against the back-to-back Cup winners. This is a team that's built to withstand those pressures, though.

    And to be fair, the Lightning already withstood said pressures a year ago during the regular season, without Nikita Kucherov no less.

    There's nothing else for the Lightning to do besides hoist their third straight Stanley Cup or get some much deserved rest after someone finally dethrones them. Either way, it's been a fun, wild ride in Tampa.

Toronto Maple Leafs: Win 2 Playoff Rounds

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    Claus Andersen/Getty Images

    Look, this is a franchise that is aching to win a championship. We all know how long it's been since the Toronto Maple Leafs last won a Stanley Cup (1967), and we all know how embarrassing their playoff exit was last season.

    Expecting them to overcome all of those demons at once might be asking a bit much, no matter how talented of a group general manager Kyle Dubas has pieced together.

    Has this team won anything yet? No, but there are maybe two teams (Colorado and Tampa Bay) that wouldn't swap forward cores with Toronto in a heartbeat. If you don't like what the Rangers did this summer—which we are on record saying that we didn't—then you can't knock Toronto for hanging on to its skilled players.

    It's as simple as that.

    Winning one playoff round just wouldn't be enough for this group moving forward, however. The core has been in place for too long and has come up short too many times. Just ousting some bottom-feeding Eastern Conference foe wouldn't be enough to get a collective sigh of relief out of this fanbase.

    Securing a trip to the Eastern Conference Final might just do the trick, though. That would be a different enough outcome to at least prove that Dubas' top-heavy vision for the Maple Leafs could eventually secure that elusive Stanley Cup banner.    

Vancouver Canucks: Hang Tough in a Winnable Division

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    Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images

    There's reason to believe that the Vancouver Canucks could evolve into a stellar team within the next few seasons. Elias Pettersson is likely underrated by viewers in the United States who don't get the chance to watch him play with regularity.

    He's the real deal, and every contending team needs a No. 1 center. That might actually be the toughest box for any organization on the rise to check, since you mostly have to secure a high draft pick to get one. High-end centers rarely hit the trade market or free agency, but when they do, the price is significant.

    Vancouver also has the services of defenseman Quinn Hughes, who already established himself as an offensively capable blueliner. His IQ is off the charts, and he should be able to take that next step for a breakout season as 2021-22 unfolds in a (new) normal way.

    The Canucks could make the postseason, and no one would be surprised. That shouldn't be the end-all-be-all expectation, though. The Pacific Division squad should want to see continued growth out of its young stars while hoping another defender or two falls into its lap.

    The team is solid up front, but frankly doesn't have the defense needed to safely project into a playoff spot. If the Canucks don't fade down the stretch and remain in the playoff hunt as January turns to February, that ought to be considered a win.

Vegas Golden Knights: Avenge Their Conference Final Losses

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    Juan Ocampo/Getty Images

    At this point, winning the Pacific Division would represent the Vegas Golden Knights playing up to their potential and doing what they're projected to do. No reason to try to galaxy brain this one. What this team is looking to do is simple: Make it back to the playoffs, where it can try to avenge back-to-back conference final losses.

    The fact that the Golden Knights have made it at least that far in three out of their four seasons in existence is a testament to how well built the team is. Trading Marc-Andre Fleury wasn't a popular move, but it was a necessary one. And they continue to try to make adds on the cheap.

    Taking a flier on 2017 second overall pick Nolan Patrick could turn out to be a slick add—especially considering just how starved they are for help at center. This is a team that knows who it is, though, and its approach isn't going to suddenly change in 2021-22.

    The Golden Knights are going to have chips on their shoulders, perhaps now more so than when they entered the league in 2017-18. Back then, they were castoffs that no one had wanted. Now they're seasoned as a group and know that the Stanley Cup is within reach.

    What do you think will fire up a group of professional athletes more? Feeling mildly rejected after being exposed in an expansion draft or a shot at a championship ring? We've never been in either situation, but we have a feeling that it's the latter.    

Washington Capitals: Don't Let Anyone Besides Alex Ovechkin Shoot

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    John McCreary/Getty Images

    The Washington Capitals aren't Stanley Cup favorites. As far as this aging core is concerned, those days are long gone. Other teams are rising as this proud franchise begins to slow down after almost 15 years of triumphs and tribulations.

    All championship teams inevitably experience this comedown. 

    How many teams get to enter their twilight while watching their greatest player chase a record that at one point seemed unbreakable? That's what Capitals fans will be treated to in the coming seasons as Alexander Ovechkin tries to break Wayne Gretzky's scoring record.

    No. 8 can't simply sit back and coast to The Great One's mark of 894 goals. He can see a path to the record, though. We all can. Love him or dislike him, that's an exciting prospect for any hockey fan.

    Not letting anyone else shoot is obviously tongue-in-cheek, but it is a reminder that we're all witnessing a little chunk of history every time Ovechkin rips a shot past some poor goaltender who's only trying to make a living playing the game he loves.

    There are other storylines in Washington. Other goals, to be certain. None of them are as captivating as Ovechkin's chase of No. 99.

Winnipeg Jets: Make Connor Hellebuyck Look Good

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    Jeffrey T. Barnes/Associated Press

    Not that Connor Hellebuyck has needed a whole lot of help looking good over the last few seasons, but it's the least the Winnipeg Jets can do for their goaltender. This team gave up 30.6 shots per game a year ago, which is closer to the league's worst teams than its best.

    Yet their stood Hellebuyck, sturdy despite the so-so defense in front of him. He finished fourth in Vezina Trophy voting, and The Athletic had him as the only goalie in the same stratosphere as Andrei Vasilevskiy.

    That's high praise. The Jets didn't sit back and assume that their goalie would be able to continue to drag them, kicking and screaming, toward playoff contention, though. After working on it for several seasons, general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff finally managed to upgrade his blue line.

    Don't sleep on the additions of Nate Schmidt and Brenden Dillon. They are potentially significant adds and clear upgrades over Derek Forbort and Tucker Poolman in the top four. Getting the underrated Neal Pionk some help on the back end makes Winnipeg a much more formidable defensive team than a year ago.

    The Jets probably don't have an All-Star in that top four, but they probably don't have any duds either. That should be all the help Hellebuyck needs.


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