Thursday 6 October 2022

2022-23 NHL Season Preview - Do the Avs go back to back?

Published October 6, 2022 
It has been almost a decade since this website posted an NHL Preview (When we picked the Penguins to win it all in 2013) and with the 2022-23 NHL Season almost upon us, now seemed a good time to return to our hockey roots.
In 1999, your correspondent lived in Canada and fell even more in love with the game of Ice Hockey, and returning to Australia I kept up my involvement in writing about the NHL for a number of years gaining publication for a few websites (Hockey's Future and the Detroit News) and doing a season guide for McKeen's Hockey.
But as other work took over, the time I needed to devote to following the NHL closely dried up and as you've seen on this website over the last 15 years - Rugby League is the main focus now. 
That said, I still partake in one Fantasy Hockey League every year and as a result of the Pittsburgh Penguins winning a couple of Stanley Cups a few years back - I have found more time to watch the game I came to adore as a teenager, and have reconnected with being across most aspects of it.
The return to normalcy in the Stanley Cup Playoffs last year was a welcome familiarity and there are few things as gripping as watching teams fight and claw their way through four rounds of hockey to lay claim to the Stanley Cup.
Colorado were worthy winners last season, and they will have plenty of challengers in 2022-23.
So let's put some predictions down on paper for the upcoming season.
  • The Colorado Avalanche were ridiculously good in the playoffs last year and despite Tampa Bay's best efforts to make it a three-peat - no one was going to deny Nathan McKinnon and his Avs from their first title as a group.
    The Avs have lost Nazem Kadri which makes the development of Alex Newhook into a bona fide second line centre of huge importance in their quest to repeat but their defence is stacked (Cale Makar is a wonder) and the Pavel Francouz-Alex Georgiev tandem looks good enough to have the Avs not miss Darcy Kuemper too much. Oh, and they still have McKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen up on the top line so they will be okay scoring goals sans Kadri.
  • Tampa Bay will have licked their wounds (and their pride) in the off-season, as for the first time since the horrible Columbus sweep in 2019 - their best simply wasn't good enough to win. They lose Ondrej Palat and Ryan McDonagh but they have some emerging talent up front (Anthony Cirelli/Ross Colton) and still the scariest offensive core in the league with Nikita Kucherov, Steven Stamkos, Brayden Point and Victor Hedman all still on deck and in their primes - albeit with more miles in the legs than you'd like. Andrei Vasilevskiy is still an all-world goalie and Mikhael Sergachev will keep getting better on the backend, so the Bolts have every reason to believe they can make it back to a fourth straight Cup Final.
  • The next two teams who got close but fell short of the Cup Final last year - the New York Rangers in the East and the Edmonton Oilers in the West, both feel like squads who should be in the mix in 2022-23. Artemi Panarin, Mika Zibanejad, Adam Fox and Igor Shesterkin are a scary foursome and they have a bunch of kids who can step up and be counted this year, and although its still the Connor McDavid-Leon Draisaitl show in Edmonton, the Oilers do have a goaltender now in Jack Campbell and a few extra pieces that balance the squad a little better than you initially think when Edmonton comes to mind. Both are going back to the playoffs but are either better than their opponents who vanquished them in the Conference Finals?
As for the rest who deserve consideration for a Stanley Cup challenge?
  • Well my Penguins ran out of goaltenders (and Sidney Crosby got hurt) in a first round series loss against the Rangers that they seemingly had full control over to waste another chance at a Stanley Cup with their core group - but they've opened up the purse strings to keep Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang, Bryan Rust and Richard Rakell together so as a Penguins fan, I do expect them to have another run at the title even with that veteran core in their mid-30s now. I also really like the Jeff Petry acquisition and the swapping out of John Marino for Ty Smith's potential but this team will ultimately get carried by what Tristan Jarry can do in the Playoffs behind the core group up front. (Yes, I'm a Pens fan so naturally I'm open to them being good again).
  • The Calgary Flames swapped out Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk for Johnathan Huberdeau, MacKenzie Weegar and Nazem Kadri and I really like the end result if Jacob Markstrom plays like he did last season. They have a superb defensive group in front of Markstrom and they will be a great team this year.
  • It was the Florida Panthers did the swapping out of Huberdeau and Weegar for Tkachuk but they also lost Claude Giroux to the Senators (the Sens will be fun to watch) so Florida's chances of repeating as President Trophy winners is questionable - but they will be a playoff team with Aleksandar Barkov, good defence and a great goalie tandem in place.
  • Also in the East - 2021-22 regular season beasts the Carolina Hurricanes and Toronto Maple Leafs will contend again - both sides have the roster to make a deep run but I expected this last year until the Hurricanes got stonewalled by Shesterkin in the second round and the Leafs drew the Lightning in the first round. I'm all in on the Toronto regular season juggernaut as President Trophy winners and in turn have invested heavily in Leafs in my Fantasy League (got Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, Morgan Reilly, Michael Bunting and BOTH goalies Matt Murray and Ilya Samsonov, so they better win!) and also think Carolina will be a regular season machine before eventually adding Max Pacioretty to their very talented squad. The Canes just have to hope their goaltending tandem is fit for the playoffs... and the Leafs need to have settled on a number one by then too (but I expect Murray and Samsonov to put up great numbers). Both are capable of getting out of the East ahead of Tampa and Pittsburgh.
  • Finally, the Minnesota Wild had a lot go right for them last season before their playoff disappointment, and if Marc-Andre Fleury can still carry a large workload, they will be a strong regular season team with Kiril Kaprisov getting things done up front. The Boston Bruins might be a threat if they can start winning regularly when Brad Marchand returns from injury in the New Year and their goaltending is still very good. I'm not sold on the St. Louis Blues being as good this year with Jordan Binnington the main man in net (despite his Stanley Cup) but their have a lot of scoring options and a good defence so you can't dismiss them, the same goes for the Nashville Predators who got man-handled by the Avs in the first round last year but actually got career years from their key players - Roman Josi, Juuse Saros, Filip Forsberg and Matt Duchene - yet the Preds were still only 8th in the stacked Western Conference.
Can I make a case for anyone else to really contend? 
Sure Columbus got Gaudreau to go with Patrik Laine so they might surge into a playoff spot and get their coach Brad Larsen into the Jack Adams conversation, and the Detroit Red Wings and Ottawa Senators made big changes to rosters that have been gradually redeveloped, but are they going to beat the big teams for a playoff spot let alone in a playoff series? Two of the three might do the former but not the latter.
The New Jersey Devils and Buffalo Sabres are surely going to be improving too but again, who do they push in the playoffs if they get there? Washington's season will be focused on getting Alex Ovechkin to as many goals as possible but the playoffs look beyond them.
PS. The Vegas Golden Knights need to find some goaltending but Jack Eichel is going to have a big year.
Here are the predicted standings for both conferences:
Eastern Conference - Atlantic Division
  1. Toronto Maple Leafs **
  2. Tampa Bay Lightning *
  3. Florida Panthers *
  4. Ottawa Senators *
  5. Boston Bruins
  6. Buffalo Sabres
  7. Detroit Red Wings
  8. Montreal Canadiens
Eastern Conference - Metropolitan Division
  1. Carolina Hurricanes *
  2. Pittsburgh Penguins *
  3. New York Rangers *
  4. Columbus Blue Jackets *
  5. New York Islanders
  6. Washington Capitals
  7. New Jersey Devils
  8. Philadelphia Flyers
Western Conference - Central Division
  1. Colorado Avalanche **
  2. Minnesota Wild *
  3. Nashville Predators *
  4. St. Louis Blues *
  5. Dallas Stars *
  6. Winnipeg Jets
  7. Arizona Coyotes
  8. Chicago Blackhawks
Western Conference - Pacific Division
  1. Calgary Flames *
  2. Edmonton Oilers *
  3. Vegas Golden Knights *
  4. Los Angeles Kings
  5. Seattle Kraken
  6. Vancouver Canucks
  7. San Jose Sharks
  8. Anaheim Ducks
2022-23 NHL Awards
Hart Trophy - Auston Matthews, Toronto
Art Ross - Connor McDavid, Edmonton
Rocket Richard - Auston Matthews, Toronto
Norris - Cale Makar, Colorado
Vezina - Jacob Markstrom, Calgary
Adams - Brad Larsen, Columbus
Calder - Matty Beniers, Seattle
Jennings - Markstrom-Vladar, Calgary
Selke - Elias Lindholm, Calgary
Byng - Kyle Connor, Winnipeg

The pointy-end of the season:
Eastern Conference Final
Toronto Maple Leafs over Pittsburgh Penguins
Western Conference Final
Colorado Avalanche over Calgary Flames
Stanley Cup Final
Colorado Avalanche over Toronto Maple Leafs
Yep, the Avs go back to back in a six game series, and the suffering continues for the Toronto faithful.
Nathan McKinnon takes out his first Conn Smythe as well and will flirt with 20 goals in the playoffs (but probably has to settle for 15+).
Enjoy the season everyone.
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