Can The Lightning Three-Peat? How Good Will The Kraken Be? The Storylines To Follow This NHL Season.

fivethirtyeight.com
8 min read
fairly easy
What are the top storylines to follow during the 2021-22 NHL season?
The NHL drops the puck on its 2021-22 regular season on Tuesday, and we couldn't be more excited for a new year of hockey to get underway. We already told you about our brand-new NHL Elo forecast model last week — so check that out if you haven't yet — but now it's time to get into the most important subplots to watch as we head toward opening night. Here are six storylines that will help define the trajectory of the 2021-22 NHL season:

Tampa Bay is going for a three-peat — but there's a three-team race for Cup-favorite status.

The Tampa Bay Lightning have been just about the best team in hockey for the past three seasons (even if they did collapse against the Columbus Blue Jackets in the first round of the 2018-19 playoffs). In that time, the Bolts have finished with the league's best Elo rating at the end of each regular season and won back-to-back Stanley Cups in 2019-20 and 2020-21 — part of an impressive streak of success for Tampa-St. Petersburg across its major sports. In 2021, the Lightning dominated the regular season despite playing much of it without Steven Stamkos (the franchise's all-time leading goal scorer) and all of it without Nikita Kucherov (perhaps the world's current best hockey player). When they got both players back for the playoffs — remember that thing that no one freaked out about at all? — the hockey games almost felt like a formality. If the Bolts were the best team in the league without Stamkos and Kucherov, they might have been the best team of the post-lockout era with them.

Crucially, Tampa returns most of that Stanley Cup winning core this season, including fully fit versions of Stamkos and Kucherov, borderline point-per-game centerman Brayden Point, Norris and Conn Smythe trophy-winning defenseman Victor Hedman and Vezina and Conn Smythe trophy-winning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy. Not bad as far as roster bedrock goes. As such, the Bolts enter the season with the highest Elo rating and sit tied for first in our Stanley Cup odds.…
Terrence Doyle and Neil Paine
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