What To Expect From The 2021 NHL Season

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Hockey fans, rejoice. The season is back upon us, and there’s much to look forward to in the 103rd NHL season, just as there is every season. After their triumph last time out, the Tampa Bay Lightning will be looking to build on their success and establish themselves as a true dynasty, though they’ll have to overcome some strong teams, especially Colorado Avalanche, if they’re going to complete back-to-back Stanley Cup runs.

But aside from whoever will pick up the Stanley Cup come July, there’s plenty of intriguing aspects to this season, most notable the re-jigged format, which will see teams only playing the sides in their own division.
With all that said, let’s take a look at what fans can expect over the next months.

The Lack of Preseason Games
Unlike all other seasons in recent memory, there were no preseason games. Is this such a crime? It depends on who you ask. Established players will say no. They’re already experienced enough to give it their all on the ice. While a few warm-up games would have been ideal, they won’t be losing too much sleep over the lack of preseason (conversely, the lack of travel required means they’ll have gotten more sleep).

It will, however, impact up-and-coming players, as well as players who have only recently signed for their teams. The preseason typically provides the perfect chance to cement a place on the roster, so this will hinder teams with a lot of rookies. It’s also true that even experienced players benefit from the preseason, as it allows blossoming attack lines to develop before the season begins properly. But at least all sides are in the same boat.

Can the Tampa Bay Lightning Retain Their Crown?
The Tampa Bay Lightning ended a long sixteen-year wait for their second Stanley Cup when they defeated the Dallas Stars 4 – 2 in the 2020 playoffs. The question now is whether they can retain their title, and in the process become the first team since the 2016 and 2017 Pittsburgh Penguins to achieve back-to-back successes.

While the loss of some key players (Shattenkirk, Bogosian, and Verhaeghe) means there are stronger sides in the NHL, the prospect of young talents Callan Foote and Alex Barre-Boulet establishing themselves as deserving starters may be enough to convince people making the most of free bets to back the Lightning for another Stanley Cup.

Who Else Is Looking Good?
So if it won’t be Tampa Bay Lightning, then who could it be? There’s another team that Tampa Bay may fear the most, and that’s the Colorado Avalanche. They’ve received plenty of backing from seasoned NHL experts, and with good reason — they’re a little wiser and more experienced than last season, when they nearly made a run in the Stanley Cup playoffs. They only lost thanks to a sudden death goal from Dallas in the conference finals, a game that, had things gone slightly more in their favor, they would have won.

And let’s not forget that they were without some key players for that play-off final. They’ve added plenty of depth over the off-season, and can also call upon two of the best young players in the league in the shape of Cale Makar and Nathan McKinnon. Unless they have any serious injuries during the campaign, you’d imagine that they’ll have what it takes to secure a third championship in their history.

If it’s not the Avalanche or Tampa Bay Lightning, then it could be one of either the Toronto Maple Leafs or Vegas Golden Knights, both of whom are also looking good.

What Teams Have Improved?
Though all sides will go into the season hoping to lift the Stanley Cup, it’s not as if any campaign that doesn’t result in a trophy is a complete loss. It takes time for things to come together. A strong run in the playoffs, even if it ultimately ends up in defeat before the finals, can be viewed as a stepping stone towards greatness.

So who might have their eyes on making some progress this year? There are certainly some sides that made excellent moves in the off-season. The St. Louis Blues won’t win the Stanley Cup, but they’ll likely have a good season, in large part because of Mike Hoffman, who they got at a bargain price. He’s a player who knows how to score goals — he’s reached 20 or more in the past six seasons — and will make the offense as a whole a more potent force.

Another team that could make a surprising surge towards glory this season are the Calgary Flames. Again, they won’t win the Stanley Cup, but if new goalie Jacob Markstrom improves their defense and Johnny Gaudreau hits the form that we all know he’s capable of hitting, then they might just be a surprise package this season.

Who’s In Danger?
Now that we’ve looked at which teams will be going into the season with optimism, let’s look at those that’ll just be hoping to get through it. Right at the top of this list are the Detroit Red Wings, a team that’s in its worst run of form, playoff-wise, since the early 1980s. They haven’t been in the playoffs for the past four years, and there are no signs that this is going to change in 2021. The Red Wings are still figuring out how to win games and build a dynasty, which means it’ll be another long year for Michiganders.

There’s a New Rule
What gets hockey fans more excited than the introduction of a new rule? OK, many things, but this is one that they’ll probably approve of because it creates an advantage for attacking play, and who doesn’t want to see more goals? The new offside rule means that if the puck and skate cross the blue line at the same time, then it’s onside.

And Advertisements on Helmets
One change that fans will be less happy with: there will now be advertisements on helmets. Does it make a big difference to how the players perform? Probably not. Does it feel wrong for reasons that we can’t fully articulate? Yes.

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