Which playoff team will not be back in the postseason in 2022?
James O’Brien, NHL writer: Make no mistake about it: Juuse Saros dragged the Predators kicking and screaming to the playoffs. That already-fading team lost Ryan Ellis and Viktor Arvidsson for precious little in return, yet didn’t have the courage to go full-fledged with a rebuild. (A four-year, $20 million contract for 29-year-old Mikael Granlund? On this team? OK then.) Honestly, repeating last season feels like their ceiling, and that would be close to a worst-case scenario. You’d have to be naive (or on the payroll?) to believe in the John Hynes – David Poile combination right now.
Adam Gretz, NHL writer: Montreal and Nashville are the easy picks here. The Canadiens will not have the luxury of playing in the North Division where four teams were guaranteed to go, and will instead be back with at least four legitimate contenders (Tampa Bay, Boston, Florida, Toronto) ahead of them. There are a lot of reasons to like the Canadiens and some of their young talent, but they are still a step behind those other teams and I am not sure Carey Price can play a full 82-game season at the level he played at in the playoffs a year ago to lead them to the Stanley Cup Final.
Nashville, meanwhile, just has a lot of problems that were masked by Juuse Saros. They looked like a team that was ready to get torn apart halfway through the 2020-21 season until Saros went into superman mode in goal and carried them to a playoff spot. Now they do not have Ryan Ellis or Viktor Arvidsson on the roster and this just looks like a team that is trending toward a full scale rebuild. Competitive rebuilds never work. Eventually teams have to completely rebuild. Nashville is going that direction.
Sean Leahy, NHL writer: It’s fun to think about the alternate ending of the Predators’ season if Juuse Saros doesn’t post a .939 even strength save percentage over the final 24 games of their season and offense doesn’t post top-10 numbers. Would David Poile still be general manager? How much longer would John Hynes have lasted? As we go back to a normal divisional alignment, save for the Coyotes moving to the Central, Nashville will have a very tough time in possibly the NHL’s toughest division.
Every Central team is improved in some way, whereas the Predators added Cody Glass, Phil Myers, and David Rittich, while losing pieces like Ryan Ellis, Pekka Rinne, Viktor Arvidsson, Calle Jarnkrok and Erik Haula. The team needs an overhaul, but Poile won’t get much assistance from his friends around the league with some anchor-like contracts on his books. Maybe a down year will begin a needed re-tooling.
Jake Abrahams, Managing Editor, NHL content: Montreal. The division re-alignment really favored the Habs last season, and they got into the playoffs despite winning fewer than half of their games. It would be unfair to call their Cup run a fluke, but their roster just does not make them competitive enough this season to get back to the playoffs.
Michael Finewax, NBC Sports Edge Senior Hockey Writer/Editor: The Canadiens have been fortunate the last two seasons to make the playoffs. They were 12 th overall in 2019-20 and snuck into the playoffs, while upsetting Pittsburgh, when the NHL decided to expand the playoff structure when COVID-19 forced the premature end of the regular season. They also snuck into the playoffs last season when the NHL realigned the divisions to allow all the Canadian teams to play each other and not have to cross the border. This season they are in the tough Atlantic and there are four better teams by far in Florida, Tampa Bay, Toronto and Boston. I also think that Ottawa will be better this season.
How does the Jack Eichel situation end?
James O’Brien, NHL writer: In tears? Poorly? The NHL and NHLPA have already reportedly gotten involved; at this point, I wouldn’t be shocked if lawyers did, too. As this drags on, a potential Eichel trade partner is more about what he could bring in the future, rather than next season. When you consider that, and that a no-movement clause begins in 2022-23, I continue to believe that Eichel will one day be a Bruin. Even by Sabres standards, I must admit I thought this would’ve been resolved by now, so don’t be surprised if this zaps his value (one way or another) for this season. What a bummer.
Adam Gretz, NHL writer: It will end poorly for everybody. By the time Jack Eichel gets traded and gets to have the medical procedure he wants he will miss time this season, probably miss the Olympics, and the Sabres will have almost certainly traded their franchise player and core building block from this most recent failed rebuild for pennies on the dollar. Then next season a healthy Eichel comes back for his new team, plays like the superstar that he is, and takes that team to the playoffs while the Sabres’ streak of non-playoff seasons goes to an 11th season.
Jake Abrahams, Managing Editor, NHL content: I don’t know. It’s hard to believe how things have unfolded to this point, and we appear to be in stalemate as far as next steps for Eichel’s career. Assuming neither Eichel nor the Sabres change their opinion on what the proper path forward is medically, then it’s up to Kevyn Adams and the other 31 GMs to strike a deal. The best reason I could give for saying this will be resolved at some point this season is that Eichel’s no-move clause kicks in next offseason, so Adams will want to pull the trigger before he loses a significant amount of leverage.
Sean Leahy, NHL writer: Anaheim has been sneaky quiet this off-season and have the pieces to make an Eichel trade work. Eichel will eventually get the surgery he wants because the Sabres will want to be done with the issue — and not have to cut checks for someone not playing for them.
Michael Finewax, NBC Sports Edge Senior Hockey Writer/Editor: Eichel will have his surgery and then get dealt to the West Coast, either Los Angeles or Anaheim. The Sabres will not trade him to an Eastern based team and face him on numerous occasions, as they would rather see him twice a year. They will get three good prospects for him and perhaps a draft choice or two, but the Sabres need for Eichel to have the surgery and be ready to play before any team should consider trading for him.
Give us one bold prediction for the NHL season
Sean Leahy, NHL writer: Tomas Hertl, not Jack Eichel, is a Ranger at some point this season. The Sharks are going in a different direction and the soon-to-be 28-year-old will want to have a chance to win elsewhere.
James O’Brien, NHL writer: Patrik Laine has a huge rebound year — from a sniping standpoint. On a Blue Jackets largely bereft of scoring talent, Jakub Voracek sets up Laine for a ton of goals. Sure, the underlying numbers tell the same story of a flawed all-around player, but the world is a slightly better place with Laine bombing away, and he’ll shockingly reach 40 goals. (Just ignore the mere 15 assists and uhh all the goals other teams score while he’s on the ice.)
Adam Gretz, NHL writer: The Kings make the Stanley Cup Playoffs in the Pacific Division with Cal Petersen leading the way as their primary goalie. The center depth, the addition of Arvidsson, and a couple of other young players from their farm system will get them into a top-three spot in that weak division.
Jake Abrahams, Managing Editor, NHL content: The league has so much success with its upcoming All-Star Weekend that Las Vegas becomes the permanent home for the event.
Michael Finewax, NBC Sports Edge Senior Hockey Writer/Editor: Pittsburgh will not make the playoffs this season despite having Sidney Crosby. Usually, Crosby is good enough to carry the Penguins, but he will miss the start of the season, along with Evgeni Malkin and the team is aging.