In recent weeks, I’ve explored the biggest questions surrounding the Seattle Kraken, the significance of Alex Mandrycky’s promotion, and highlighted three Kraken players with the most to prove this season. However, with the start of the NHL season creeping closer, let’s shift our attention to the league as a whole.
The 2021-22 campaign offered plenty of storylines, including the Colorado Avalanche finally reaching the NHL summit again, the league having their first 60-goal player since 2011-12, and Igor Shesterkin submitting one of the most superhuman goalie seasons of the cap era.
The 2022-23 campaign promises to feature plenty of similar storylines and extraordinary performances at both the individual and team level. Now, let’s dive into which teams and players will enjoy productive seasons.
2022-23 NHL Division Winners
Atlantic Division – Toronto Maple Leafs
Metropolitan Division – Carolina Hurricanes
Pacific Division – Calgary Flames
Central Division – Colorado Avalanche
Despite getting .900 goaltending last season (21st in the NHL), the Toronto Maple Leafs were only seven points adrift of the Atlantic Division winners in the Florida Panthers. If newcomers Matt Murray and Ilya Samsonov can improve even slightly on that middling mark, the long-suffering franchise can take a huge step forward.
The Panthers added Matthew Tkachuk this offseason but had to trade away Jonathan Huberdeau (second in points last season) and the underrated MacKenzie Weegar to acquire his services. They may benefit in the long run, but there is no doubt that their short-term Cup odds took a hit.
Otherwise, the Tampa Bay Lightning (Ondrej Palat, Ryan McDonagh) and Boston Bruins (Brad Marchand and Charlie MacAvoy are injured) will be without key pieces this season. Despite being the Atlantic kingpins for the last decade, their unchallenged reign seems to be coming to an end.
The Carolina Hurricanes won the Metropolitan by six points last season and added Max Pacioretty (out for six months, however) and Brent Burns this offseason. The New York Rangers are reaping the rewards of a patient rebuild but need further seasoning to truly be Cup favorites. The Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins will continue their decline as their cores age out of contention, clearing the path for a new generation of Eastern Conference contenders.
In the Central, the Avalanche witnessed an exodus of talent in the offseason (Andre Burakovsky, Darcy Kuemper, Nazem Kadri). Full seasons from Josh Manson and Artturi Lehkonen, as well as developmental leaps from Alex Newhook and Bowen Byram, can help bridge the gap. Regardless, the remaining division hopefuls either saw key pieces leave (the Minnesota Wild traded Kevin Fiala for prospect Brock Faber) or stayed relatively stagnant (St. Louis Blues), keeping the competitive advantage in the Avalanche’s favor.
The Pacific may be the league’s most interesting division this season. The Flames swapped Johnny Gaudreau and Tkachuk for Huberdeau, Weegar, and Kadri while retaining their elite defensive core and net-minding.
The Oilers finally made good on their potential and will look to reach the Western Conference Final again this season after replacing Mike Smith with Jack Campbell as their new starter. They will also have Kane in the fold for the entire season, and his goalscoring prowess (35 goals in 58 regular-season and playoff games) adds another weapon to an already fearsome offense.
The Vegas Golden Knights experienced awful injury luck last season and missed the playoffs, with Alec Martinez (56 games), Mark Stone (45), and Max Pacioretty (43) all missing significant time. Although Pacioretty is gone, having the rest of their key players (and Jack Eichel) healthy all season should see them return to their winning ways. All three division contenders could make a case for winning the title in 2022-23, but the Flames come out on top for now.
2022-23 NHL Award Winners
Hart Trophy (Regular-season MVP) – Connor McDavid
Art Ross Trophy (Most regular-season points) – Connor McDavid
Rocket Richard Trophy (Most regular-season goals) – Auston Matthews
Jack Adams Trophy (Best coach) – Jared Bednar
Selke Trophy (Best defensive forward) – Aleksander Barkov
Norris Trophy (Best defenseman) – Cale Makar
Calder Trophy (Best rookie) – Owen Power
Vezina Trophy (Best goaltender) – Igor Shesterkin
Of the predicted award winners, several could be repeat winners given their relative youth and proximity to their physical and statistical primes.
Auston Matthews (Toronto Maple Leafs) is poised to win his third-consecutive Rocket Richard after scoring the most goals in the league (259) since making his NHL debut in 2016-17. His 60 goals last season represented the first time a player scored that many since Steven Stamkos potted 60 of his own in 2011-12. He figures to play with playmaking winger Mitch Marner again this season which is the dream scenario for a shooter of Matthews’ caliber.
2021-22 Art Ross-winner Connor McDavid finished with an eight-point lead over second-place Huberdeau and will now have the goalscoring Evander Kane riding shotgun for the entire season. If the Edmonton Oilers continue to make progress and McDavid outpaces his competition to a significant degree, it’ll be difficult to keep him from claiming his third Hart Trophy along the way.
After winning his first Norris Trophy last season as well as being named Playoff MVP, Cale Makar is favored to become the first back-to-back winner since Hall-of-Famer Nicklas Lidstrom (2006-08). The Detroit Red Wings legend collected seven Norris Trophies between 2001 and 2011, and it’s not outside the realm of possibility that the Avalanche blueline star starts his own extended run of dominance.
The last of my presumed repeat winners is Shesterkin, who posted arguably the most impressive goalie season of the analytics era (starting with 2007-08). His .935 save percentage (SV%) ranks second among all goalies who played at least 41 games, and his 37.9 goals saved above expected (GSAx) was the sixth-highest total ever recorded. His Rangers were a middling possession team at 5v5, but his performance in the crease dragged them to new heights, coming within two wins of their first Stanley Cup Final appearance since 1994. Simply put, few goaltenders have been as dominant by both traditional and new-age metrics as the Russian netminder.
Elsewhere, it’s about time that Avalanche head coach Jared Bednar gets award recognition for his regular-season work (first in points percentage [PTS%] since 2019-20). He gets penalized for the players at his disposal, but it takes work to implement a strategy that works by playing to a team’s strengths. The Stanley Cup is the ultimate prize, but the Jack Adams would be a nod to his excellence in the craft of coaching.
The Panthers’ Aleksander Barkov is one of only a few players to wrest the Selke Trophy from Patrice Bergeron’s grasp in recent seasons. With the Boston Bruins legend winding down his career, the Russian center is the frontrunner to fill the power vacuum, and that new reign should start this season.
The 2022-23 Calder Trophy field is loaded, and Owen Power headlines a formidable rookie class. He scored three points in an eight-game audition to end last season and leveraged his massive 6-foot-6 frame to manhandle older forwards after a full offseason working with NHL coaches and gaining more confidence. As a result, the gigantic blueliner has the upper hand over his freshman peers.
2022-23 Conference and Stanley Cup Finals
Eastern Conference Final: Carolina Hurricanes beat the Toronto Maple Leafs
Western Conference Final: Colorado Avalanche beat the Calgary Flames
Stanley Cup Final: Colorado Avalanche beat the Carolina Hurricanes
In predicting the four conference finalists, only one of the four are retreads from the 2022 Playoffs. Apart from the reigning champions in the Avalanche, the Flames, Hurricanes, and the Maple Leafs are my picks to be the 2023 Conference Finalists. My Stanley Cup Final features the Avalanche and the Hurricanes, with the current champions successfully defending their title to claim the fourth Stanley Cup in franchise history.
The Hurricanes and Maple Leafs are among the NHL’s most successful regular-season teams in recent years, finishing fourth and sixth in PTS%, respectively. Still, both have been plagued by a lack of postseason success (although Carolina has at least advanced to the Conference Final) which has blemished otherwise stellar organizational processes. This should be the year both deliver on their potential, although the Maple Leafs will again end up frustrated in the playoffs.
The Avalanche should benefit from a relatively weaker Western Conference playoff field and advance unobstructed through their side of the bracket. The Flames have yet to marry strong regular-season showing with similar success in the playoffs, but a new mix of players could prove to be the right recipe for the Stanley Cup hopefuls. Still, the Avalanche’s superstars give them game-breaking talent matched by few other clubs and should take them above a sturdy Flames outfit.
The Hurricanes suffer from a similar malady, lacking true top-end skill to capitalize on their ability to generate shot attempts and dominate possession. The Avalanche can rely on the likes of MacKinnon and Makar to singlehandedly slice open defenses while operating an incendiary power play. It’s difficult to repeat, but Colorado is well-equipped to overcome the field again this season.
2022-23 Season Promises to Be One to Remember
Apart from the next wave of NHL stars staking their claim in the league hierarchy, several other narratives are bubbling under the surface. Alexander Ovechkin continues to grind towards Wayne Gretzky’s all-time goals record, Phil Kessel is less than ten games away from setting the NHL’s new ironman streak, and Marc-Andre Fleury is poised to overtake Patrick Roy on the all-time wins list, among other interesting record chases. Regardless of who you cheer for, this season offers a bevy of interesting storylines designed to keep you hooked all season long. Strap in, everyone. October 7th is coming.