Welcome to the 2021-22 NHL season

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The 2021-22 NHL season begins Tuesday night with a doubleheader. Before they take on the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Tampa Bay Lightning will raise another Stanley Cup banner to the AMALIE Arena rafters. Following that game the expansion Seattle Kraken will make their debut on the road against the Vegas Golden Knights.

As we wait for puck drop, here’s what you might have missed during a short, but busy NHL offseason.

NEW FACES IN NEW PLACES

A whole slew of players changed teams in one night with the Kraken selecting their first roster during the NHL Expansion Draft in July.

When Free Agent Frenzy opened, so too did the wallets of many teams. The Lightning lost their entire third line with Blake Coleman signing in Calgary, Yanni Gourde going to Seattle in the expansion draft, and Barclay Goodrow being dealt and signing with the Rangers. The defending champions also watched defenseman David Savard, who was acquired at the trade deadline, sign in Montreal.

As the Bruins wait for Tuukka Rask to heal up, they’ll go with the goalie tandem of Jeremy Swayman, who got a cameo at the end of last season, and Linus Ullmark, who they lured from Buffalo.

Frederik Andersen and Petr Mrazek swapped places with Andersen heading to Carolina and Mrazek pairing up with Jack Campbell in goal in Toronto. The Hurricanes brought in Tony DeAngelo, who was bought out by the Rangers, and watched as Dougie Hamilton cashed in with a long-term deal in New Jersey.

St. Louis brought in Brandon Saad as a scoring winger, while Mike Hoffman left for greener pastures in Montreal.

Keith Yandle will attempt to set the NHL Ironman record in Philadelphia on a blue line that will also see Ryan Ellis, who spent the last decade in Nashville.

The Wild bit the bullet and bought out the contracts of both Zach Parise and Ryan Suter. Parise landed with the Islanders, where he dad played parts of four seasons in the 1970s, and Suter inked a deal with the Stars.

After losing to the Lightning in the last two Stanley Cup Finals with two different teams, Corey Perry decided to join them on a one-year deal.

Zach Hyman cashed in with a rich deal in Edmonton and will be further rewarded playing on a line with either Connor McDavid or Leon Draisaitl.

Two future Hall of Famers and long-time NHL veterans were on the move this summer. Joe Thornton took his big, scruffy beard south to join the Panthers, while Zdeno Chara signed with the Islanders, the team that drafted him 56th overall in 1996.

Late in August, we had our first successful offer sheet since Dustin Penner in 2007. Two years after the Hurricanes matched the Canadiens’ offer sheet for Sebastian Aho, Montreal let Jesperi Kotkaniemi go to Carolina on a one-year, $6.1 million contract.

Summer time was also trading season for GMs. Rasmus Ristolainen went from Buffalo to Philadelphia; Pavel Buchnevich was dealt from the Rangers to the Blues; Seth Jones joins brother Caleb in Chicago after years in Columbus; Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Conor Garland were shipped to Vancouver from the rebuilding Coyotes for a packae that included Jay Beagle, Loui Eriksson, and Antoine Roussel; Jakub Voracek heads back to Columbus with Cam Atkinson moving on to the Flyers; Robin Lehner is the unquestioned No. 1 in Vegas now that Marc-Andre Fleury is in Chicago; Tyler Johnson is also in Chicago after the Lightning moved him on to take Brent Seabrook’s cap hit; Darcy Kuemper takes over from Phillip Grubauer in the Colorado net; and the Rangers feel they’ve helped their Tom Wilsom problem by adding Ryan Reaves.

2021-22 DIVISIONAL ALIGNMENT

This season will see the return of an 82-game schedule and the divisional alignment we’re used to. There are two small changes, however. The expansion Seattle Kraken will begin their NHL experience in the Pacific Division while the Arizona Coyotes will move to the Central.

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The Stanley Cup Playoffs will go back to its usual format with the top three teams in each of the four divisions qualifying plus two Wild Card spots per conference to fill out the bracket.

RETIREMENTS

There were a number of NHLers who played their final games last season, including Henrik Lundqvist, Pekka Rinne, and Ryan Miller. Joining them in hanging up their skates included Matt Calvert, Andrew Shaw, Niklas Hjalmarsson, David Backes, Carl Gunnarsson, J.T. Brown, and Stephen Johns.

Patrick Marleau, Brayden Coburn, and Eric Staal remain unsigned and may potentially join that list of retired players.

OUTDOOR GAMES, ALL-STAR WEEKEND RETURN

Outdoor hockey is back this season with three games outside once the calendar flips over to 2022.

Winter Classic – Jan. 1, 2022: Blues vs. Wild (Target Field, Minnesota)
Stadium Series – Feb. 26, 2022: Lightning vs. Predators (Nissan Stadium, Tennessee)
Heritage Classic – March 13, 2022: Sabres vs. Maple Leafs (Tim Hortons Field, Hamilton)

When the Maple Leafs and Sabres drop the puck in March the NHL will have played a total of 35 regular-season outdoor games in its history.

Along with outdoor hockey, All-Star Weekend is also coming back. T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas will host this season’s festivities. The weekend will also serve as a send-off for NHL players participating in the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, China.

Feb. 4 – NHL All-Star Skills
Feb. 5 – NHL All-Star Game

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NHL BACK AT THE OLYMPICS

A year after promising the NHLPA that it would try its hardest to broker a deal for Olympic participation in 2022, the NHL finalized an agreement with the IOC and IIHF in September that will see players head to Beijing in February. It will be the first time NHL players take part in the Games since Sochi 2014.

The U.S. will be coached by Mike Sullivan of the Penguins, while Canada will see Jon Cooper of the Lightning behind their bench. Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman is leading the management team of the Americans and Doug Armstrong of the Blues is heading up the Canadian group.

Here is how the 12 teams are grouped:

Group A: United States, Canada, Germany China
Group B: Russian Athletes, Czech Republic, Switzerland, Denmark
Group C: Finland, Sweden, Slovakia, Latvia

You can see the full round-robin schedules here.

There are two parts of the agreement that deals with the current COVID-19 pandemic. The first is all players participating in the Olympic tournament must be fully vaccinated. Also, if conditions worsen as February approaches, the NHL and NHLPA have the ability to opt-out of the tournament without financial penalty by January 10, 2022.

National teams will submit their “long lists” of players by Oct. 15 with final 25-man rosters announced in January. USA Hockey has previously announced its Olympic teams on the day of the NHL Winter Classic.

CRITICAL DATES

Oct. 12: Opening Night doubleheader with the Lightning raising their Stanley Cup banner vs. the Penguins and the Kraken playing their first regular-season game on the road against the Golden Knights.

Oct. 14: Blue Jackets to honor the late Matīss Kivlenieks. Rangers to honor the late Rod Gilbert.

Oct. 23: Kraken play first home game  at Climate Pledge Arena against the Canucks.

Nov. 12-15: Hockey Hall of Fame Induction Weekend (Jarome Iginla, Marian Hossa, Kevin Lowe, Doug Wilson, Kim St-Pierre, Ken Holland)

Nov. 20: Islanders host Flames in first game at UBS Arena

Dec. 7: Lightning vs. Canadiens in 2021 Stanley Cup Final rematch

Dec. 20-27: NHL holiday roster freeze

Dec. 26-Jan. 5: IIHF men’s World Junior Championship

Jan. 8-15: IIHF women’s U-18 World Championship

Jan. 17: Chris Pronger’s No. 44 jersey retired by Blues

Jan. 18: Willie O’Ree’s No. 22 jersey retired by Bruins

Jan. 28: Serge Zubov’s No. 56 jersey retired by Stars and Henrik Lundqvist’s No. 30 retired by Rangers

Feb. 7-22: NHL Olympic break

March 21: 2022 NHL Trade Deadline (3 p.m. ET)

April 29: Last day of 2021-22 NHL regular season

May 2: 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs begin

June 30: Last possible day of 2022 Stanley Cup Final

July 7-8: 2022 NHL Draft in Montreal

July 13: Free agent frenzy begins (12 p.m. ET)

Sidney Crosby
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MILESTONES

• Joel Quenneville: 39 games away from 1,800 for his NHL head coaching career. 38 wins away from reaching 1,000.

• Barry Trotz: 70 games away from 1,800 for his NHL head coaching career. 23 wins away from reaching 900.

• Zdeno Chara, Joe Thornton: 1 game away from becoming seventh and eighth players in NHL history to play at least one game in 24 different regular seasons. The others: Chris Chelios (26), Gordie Howe (26), Mark Messier (25), Tim Horton (24), Alex Delvecchio (24), Jaromir Jagr (24).

• Joe Thornton: 76 games away from passing Mark Messier (1,756) for third all-time

Sidney Crosby: 14 goals away from reaching 500 for his career.

• Keith Yandle: 43 games away from passing Doug Jarvis for the NHL’s Ironman record (964).

• Marc-Andre Fleury: 8 wins away from becoming the third goalie in NHL history to win 500 games.

Alex Ovechkin: 2 goals away from passing Marcel Dionne (5th); 12 goals away from passing Brett Hull (4th); 37 goals away from passing Jaromir Jagr (3rd). He enters this season 164 goals behind Wayne Gretzky’s record.

Ovechkin also needs 6 power play goals to pass Dave Andreychuk for the NHL record (274).

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

NHL waiver wire list includes Barré-Boulet, Hamonic, Turris

NHL waiver wire list includes Barré-Boulet, Hamonic, Turris
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A wave of NHL players hit the waiver wire with the 2021-22 season set to begin on Tuesday, Oct. 12. There were some interesting names, the most noteworthy including: Alex Barré-Boulet (Lightning), Travis Hamonic (Canucks), and Kyle Turris (Oilers).

Let’s run down the most interesting names, including Hamonic, and Turris. For a full list, check out this thread from Chris Johnston.

Barré-Boulet the standout on the NHL waiver wire

Plenty of teams did some juggling to get to the point where they can narrow down their final rosters. With that in mind, it’s crucial to weigh that with any desire for your team to add that mystical waiver wire steal.

Sometimes, the lack of such movement almost feels like an unspoken agreement. Practically speaking, adding an unknown quantity for an unknown boost just isn’t enough for most NHL teams.

That said, Barré-Boulet stands out as someone who could be worth ruffling a feather or two.

Despite already being 24, he doesn’t have a wealth of NHL experience. In the glances we’ve seen, there’s some reason to wonder if Barré-Boulet is the latest hidden Lightning gem.

AHL successes don’t necessarily directly translate to NHL success. Still, when you’re considering investing in a player with limited top-level reps, production at other levels might move the needle.

[2021 NHL Free Agent Tracker]

In that regard, Barré-Boulet shows promise. He generated 12 points in 10 games last season. In 2019-20, he scored 56 points in 60 games, and Barré-Boulet managed 68 points in 74 games for the Syracuse Crunch in 2018-19. There’s also an impressive junior year: he generated 116 points in 65 QMJHL games back in 2017-18.

None of that makes Barré-Boulet a surefire difference-maker in the NHL.

Frankly, a team — especially a troubled one like the Sabres — might as well take a shot, though. If Barré-Boulet has some Jonathan Marchessault/Carter Verhaeghe in him, then you don’t just prosper for 2021-22.

Barré-Boulet is under contract at a mere $758,333 for the next three seasons. Most immediately, a bad team could benefit from Barré-Boulet. A contender might want to mull it over, too, though. If he’s in the realm of being the next small-ish Lightning forward who was sorely overlooked, then you’d get three dirt-cheap seasons out of him.

Why not give it a shot? Well, because most of the time in the NHL, teams just don’t work that way. Maybe someone will surprise us.

Hamonic, Turris, other noteworthy names on the NHL waiver wire

… Because the other choices are a bit less exciting. That said, you could also do worse than scooping up a Josh Leivo.

For every intriguing AHL/NHL tweener, there are a few bummers.

  • Look at how far Kyle Turris has fallen. After buying Turris out last year, the Predators deal with $2M per season in dead salary cap space through 2027-28. (Another reminder that a “proactive” extension can transform into a hasty mistake.)

The Oilers made a relatively low-risk gamble in signing Turris for two years at a $1.65M cap hit. They haven’t really enjoyed the reclamation project they hoped for, however.

Now, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Turris back with the Oilers, possibly soon.

But the Turris signing hasn’t been a smash success for the Oilers.

  • The Canucks placed defenseman Travis Hamonic on waivers. There were rumblings that Hamonic might sit out the 2021-22 season entirely. His NHL future seems unclear, but for now, waivers it is.

In other Canucks maneuverings, they worked out a trade with their frequent swapping partner, the Panthers. The Olli Juolevi era is over for Vancouver.

Again, you can check out the long NHL waiver list here. You can keep track of transactions here and here, while NBC Sports Edge is another great resource for signings, waiver shifts, and other NHL news.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Lapierre, Jarvis among the biggest surprises of NHL camps

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ARLINGTON, Va. — The hole in the middle of the Washington Capitals lineup with Niklas Backstrom out injured looked looked tailor made for 2019 first-round pick Connor McMichael, who impressed last season as a rookie in the American Hockey League.

The spot still might be his. But 2020 first-rounder Hendrix Lapierre, who is a year younger and came in with less fanfare, has been among the biggest training camp surprises around the NHL and could land a spot on the opening night roster.

“If I want to be in that opening lineup, I have to push (myself) every day and make sure I’m ready and do the small things correctly,” Lapierre said. “It’s there, for sure, but right now my goal is to keep improving and learning new stuff each and every day.”

Lapierre, 19, put up four points in his first two preseason games, held his own in drills against Alex Ovechkin and has been put in positions to succeed by the coaching staff. He probably still needs to add more strength to handle a full 82-game season, but Lapierre is a strong skater and has kept pace.

“He’s done well so far with his game: his creativity, his speed,” coach Peter Laviolette said. “Certainly skating hasn’t been an issue.”

Unlike McMichael, who at 20 can return to Hershey of the AHL, Lapierre must go back to juniors if he’s not in the NHL and cannot be recalled except in an emergency basis. He can play up to nine games without burning a year of his entry-level contract, and Lapierre’s vision and way he sees the game might be enough to earn him a tryout while Backstrom is on the shelf.

SETH JARVIS, CAROLINA

Taken nine spots ahead of Lapierre, forward Seth Jarvis has stuck around at Carolina’s camp longer than expected and is a candidate to play right away for the Hurricanes.

Jarvis has skated alongside Andrei Svechnikov, Sebastian Aho and Nino Niederreiter and gotten some power-play looks in practice. He told reporters the team has not told him much about the future, which is either sticking in the NHL or going back to juniors.

“They want me to focus defensively,” Jarvis said. “They know I can play with the puck, and in the offensive zone, it’s just more focused away from the puck and (in the) D zone I have a responsibility, so it’s just learning that way.”

Shane Pinto, OTTAWA

While the biggest story line at Senators camp is the absence of unsigned restricted free agent forward Brady Tkachuk, the emergence of center Shane Pinto is a close second.

Pinto has been skating on Ottawa’s second line between 2020 No. 3 pick Tim Stützle and high-scoring winger Connor Brown. After playing at the University of North Dakota, Pinto got a taste of the NHL by playing in 12 games late last season and put up seven points.

Coach D.J. Smith called Pinto one of the best players so far at camp, and now the 2019 first-rounder looks like a big piece of the Senators’ youth movement.

EVGENY SVECHNIKOV, WINNIPEG

The brother of Carolina star Andrei Svechnikov, Evgeny is at Jets camp on a tryout and inching closer to getting a contract. The 24-year-old wasn’t tendered a qualifying offer by Detroit after putting up eight points in 21 games last season.

Coach Paul Maurice told reporters he likes what he has seen from Svechnikov, who represents untapped potential at what could be a bargain price.

“He doesn’t mind going to the net,” Maurice said. “He’s got some hands on him, and he makes some good plays and I think he understands the game. How he fits with other people will be a really important thing for him going forward, but he’s had a good camp.”

Michael Bunting, TORONTO

Lost in the Maple Leafs’ star power of Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, John Tavares and William Nylander is their trial-and-error process to build around a core that has yet to make it past the first round of the playoffs. Gritty Nick Ritchie and skilled Ondrej Kase are part of the new mix, but so is Bunting, who signed a $1.9 million, two-year contract as a free agent.

No player has more preseason goals than Bunting’s four (through Sunday), and he is projected to start the season alongside Tavares.

“He’s been kind of a late bloomer: someone who’s had to prove a lot of people wrong and just always had that attitude of finding a way,” Tavares told reporters.

Bunting, 26, has 14 points in 26 NHL games with Arizona, but his camp showing is no surprise to Maple Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas, who drafted him in the Ontario Hockey League with Sault Ste. Marie. Bunting could now be one of the missing pieces of Toronto’s Stanley Cup puzzle.

Blackhawks look to return to playoffs after active offseason

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CHICAGO — Seth Jones spent the first few days of training camp trying to stop Chicago Blackhawks star Patrick Kane.

It was just like old times.

“It’s not that fun,” a grinning Jones said.

At least Jones won’t have to chase Kane around during games anymore, not after Chicago acquired the 6-foot-4 defenseman in a blockbuster trade with Columbus in July — part of an active summer for the Blackhawks that ramped up expectations for coach Jeremy Colliton’s fourth season in charge.

Jones, who agreed to a $76 million, eight-year extension after the deal, takes over as Chicago’s No. 1 defenseman.

“Just bring the work ethic every night. I may not be perfect, but I’m going to give it my all,” Jones said, “and hopefully guys can follow that, too.”

With Jones in the fold, general manager Stan Bowman continued to make over the roster. Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury and forward Tyler Johnson were acquired in two more July trades. Jake McCabe, another veteran defenseman, signed with the team in free agency.

Fleury is the reigning Vezina Trophy winner after he went 26-10-0 with a 1.98 goals-against average and .928 save percentage with Vegas last season. Johnson helped Tampa Bay win the Stanley Cup each of the last two years.

“I think, you know, from last year — we’re in a rebuild or whatever it was — coming into this year, I think we have a good team and I think we can do something special with these guys,” said Alex DeBrincat, who scored a team-high 32 goals for Chicago last year. “Definitely fun getting all those big-name players and seeing the team shape up.”

Jonathan Toews also returns after the captain missed last season with what he described as chronic immune response syndrome. The center also had COVID-19 at one point.

Even without Toews, the Blackhawks were in the mix for a playoff spot before fading at the end of the year. This time around, Kane and company want more.

The front office “did a great job,” Kane said. “Obviously made some big moves to make us a relevant team again.”

WHAT’S UP, DACH?

The Blackhawks are looking for a breakthrough season from center Kirby Dach, the No. 3 overall pick in the 2019 NHL draft.

The 20-year-old Dach had eight goals and 15 assists in 64 games in his first season with the team. But he fractured his right wrist while playing for Canada’s world junior team in December 2020.

Dach had surgery and returned in March, but he still had some wrist pain after he started playing again.

“I feel 100%,” Dach said Tuesday. “I haven’t had any problems. Once I got back here in August is kind of when I felt really good.”

A healthy Dach could take over a top-six role, adding depth to the Blackhawks’ group of centers.

WORTH WATCHING

It’s a big season for Dylan Strome, who had just nine goals and eight assists in 40 games last year. The No. 3 pick in the 2015 draft was a healthy scratch for four of the team’s last 10 games.

The 24-year-old Strome has looked more comfortable at center, but that’s a crowded spot for the Blackhawks with Toews’ return and the addition of Johnson.

There also is some intrigue surrounding Alex Nylander after the 23-year-old winger missed last season with a left knee injury. Nylander, who was selected by Buffalo with the No. 8 pick in the 2016 draft, had 10 goals and 16 assists in his first season with Chicago.

THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT

Lukas Reichel might be able to help the Blackhawks this year. The 19-year-old forward is pushing for a spot after he was selected by the team in the first round of the 2020 draft.

Henrik Borgstrom also is hoping to create some tough decisions for Bowman and Colliton. Borgstrom is looking to return to the NHL after spending last season in Finland. A former standout at the University of Denver, the 24-year-old center has nine goals and 10 assists in 58 career NHL games, all with Florida.

IN GOAL

Fleury and Kevin Lankinen could form one of the NHL’s best tandems in goal. The 26-year-old Lankinen is coming off a solid rookie season, going 17-14-5 with 3.01 goals-against average and a .909 save percentage.

Kraken released: Seattle opens preseason topping Vancouver

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SPOKANE, Wash. — The concourses of the Spokane Arena were jammed. The merchandise lines snaked through the crowds, causing bottlenecks as fans filed in for their first glimpse of the Seattle Kraken.

There seems to be little doubt about the popularity and reach of the NHL’s newest franchise, even when playing 300 miles away from home.

“It was unbelievable to be honest. I mean, I’m from the East Coast so I’ve never been out here. It just goes to show how exciting hockey is, how much it’s growing,” Seattle’s Ryan Donato said. “Coming in here and seeing all the Kraken jerseys and how everything’s growing so fast, it’s truly awesome to be a part of.”

Seattle made its debut on Sunday night with a 5-3 win over the Vancouver Canucks in the preseason opener for both teams. With Seattle’s home arena putting the finishing touches on its construction, the Kraken have taken their first preseason on the road to three junior hockey venues in the state.

Spokane was first up, and the 10,208 fans were treated to the Kraken rallying from a 2-0 deficit thanks to three goals in the second period and Morgan Geekie’s two goals in the third period.

Riley Sheahan scored the first preseason goal in Kraken history at 2:32 of the second period off an assist from Nathan Bastian. Jared McCann and Donato added power-play goals in the second period for Seattle.

It wasn’t quite like the preseason debut Vegas had in 2017, when it scored nine goals against Vancouver. But the “home” fans went home happy.

“It’s great to be back in a full building,” Seattle coach Dave Hakstol said. “We’ve all missed that for a long time. To be able to do it here was great.”

There was necessity related to Seattle’s decision to trek across the state for its first game. The home arena for the Kraken — Climate Pledge Arena — is still a couple of weeks from completion and Seattle’s first home game is Oct. 23 against the Canucks.

But there was also a specific outreach behind the decision to play in Spokane rather than keeping all their preseason games in the Puget Sound region. The Kraken envision themselves a brand for the entire Pacific Northwest and their regional broadcasts will have games being shown throughout Washington, but also into slivers of Northern Idaho and Western Montana.

Playing in Spokane was a way to acknowledge that segment of the fan base, and a way to help establish a connection with the area.

“Tonight is validation that our market isn’t just the Seattle DMA. The amount of people wearing Kraken merchandise, the sincere enthusiasm, there couldn’t be a better place to start,” Kraken CEO Tod Leiweke said shortly before puck drop. “This is just magnificent. It’s heartwarming. It’s stirring and I feel emotional just walking that concourse.”

While the Kraken will play their final two home preseason games in the Puget Sound area, there could be opportunities in the future for Seattle to take its product on the road in the preseason. Alaska has been a market the Kraken have specifically focused on — including promoting donations to help reinstate the men’s hockey program at the University of Alaska Anchorage. Kraken games will be broadcast throughout Alaska and landing that territory as part of their broadcasting rights was a big win for the franchise.

“We hope that through these three games that our partners and us raise, targeting the half a million dollars, that’s how you build relationships. Going up to Alaska and supporting the effort to save the Seahawks hockey program that’s how you build support,” Leiweke said. “Easiest way to do it is winning but there’s other things that are also fundamental to the mission.”

For the first night, the focus was on Spokane and giving a jolt to a normally sleepy Sunday night in the Lilac City. At Lord Stanley’s, a recently opened hockey bar downtown, fans packed every table of the restaurant several hours before the game. While there were NFL games on the TVs and a handful of fans in Seahawks jerseys, Kraken logos and gear dominated — with the exception of two fans in Red Wings jerseys. And even in the midst of a Sunday afternoon filled with NFL games, TVs were also tuned to the Boston-Washington NHL preseason game.

“Just kind of crazy seeing people for the first time again,” McCann said. “Some of us haven’t seen them in a long time. So it’s great.”