Washington Capitals 2021-22 NHL Season Preview

The 2021-22 NHL season is coming and it’s time to take a look at all 32 teams. We’ll examine best- and worst-case scenarios, looking at the biggest questions, breakout candidates, and more for each franchise. Today, we preview the Washington Capitals.

2020-21 Season Review

• Record: 36-15-5 (77 points) second place in NHL East Division
• Postseason: Lost in First Round to Boston Bruins in five games
• Offensive leader: Nicklas Backstrom (55 games, 15 goals, 38 assists, 53 points)

• Free Agent Additions: Matt Irwin
• Free Agent Subtractions: Brenden Dillon (trade to Winnipeg), Zdeno Chara, Michael Raffl

Biggest question facing the Washington Capitals?

• Will Ilya Samsonov take a big step forward?

Nicklas Backstrom’s hip is a concern. The overall age of the team is something to keep in mind. Anthony Mantha beinng worth the price they paid is a legitimate discussion. All of those are big questions. But none of them will do more to impact the success or failure of this team more than what happens in goal with the duo of Ilya Samsonov and Vitek Vanecek. It is the same duo the Capitals went with a year ago while getting mixed results.

Vanecek was not even supposed to be a factor on the team last year but had to take over the primary backup role when Henrik Lundqvist had to miss the season.

Then when Samsonov went out of the lineup he had to take over the starting duties. He did okay given the circumstances, but Samsonov is the player the Capitals need to emerge here. He has been their goalie of the future for years, is the most talented player of the two, and still has the most upside. But after a promising rookie campaign his 2020-21 season was a bit all over the map. He was in and out of the lineup due to COVID protocols, only appeared in 19 games, had a disappointing .902 save percentage, and followed that up with a brutal showing in the playoffs.

It is hard to evaluate too much and put too much stock into that performance given how little he played and the COVID factor, but the Capitals definitely need him to be better this season.

What’s the salary cap situation?

Like most long-time Stanley Cup contenders with superstar players they are nearly capped out. They have a little bit of wiggle room at the start of the season, but not much. Most of the team’s core is locked in place long-term, while the only major pending unrestricted free agents after this season are on defense with Justin Schultz, Nick Jensen, and Matt Irwin being eligible.

Both goalies, however, are restricted free agents. Their play this season will go a long way toward determining what their next contracts will look like, and if the salary cap remains flat that could create the need for a move somewhere else on the roster.

Nic Dowd and Daniel Sprong are the only two forwards on the roster not currently under contract for at least the next two seasons.

Breakout Candidate

Connor McMichael

McMichael is one of the Capitals’ top prospects and is in a camp battle with 2020 first-round pick Hendrix Lapierre to make the opening night roster as the team’s third-line center. He is coming off of a strong professional debut in the American Hockey League a year ago, leading the team in scoring as a 19-year-old. If he McMichael is able to secure that spot over Lapierrre he could open the season playing between T.J. Oshie and Conor Sheary, which is a pretty good spot for a rookie center to be put in. He is the one young player ready to make an impact on a roster that is one of the oldest in the league.

Best-Case Scenario

The best-case scenario here is that the Capitals are still a legitimate Stanley Cup contender, even after three consecutive First Round exits. There is a path for that. That path includes Samsonov taking that big step forward, Mantha being the player they hoped he would be when they acquired him (I think he will be), Evgeny Kuznetsov bouncing back, Backstrom being healthy, and a player like McMichael having a breakout season. While the roster is older it is still very talented, and still has a hockey legend (Alex Ovechkin) at the top of it doing his thing. That may seem like a lot of things that have to go right (and it is) but many of them are reasonable.

Worst-Case Scenario

On the opposite side of this, what happens if Samsonov struggles? And Kuznetsov is finished being an elite player? And Backstrom’s hip becomes a season long issue? Well, then you have some problems. Enough problems to keep them out of the playoffs? That might be a stretch, but the Metropolitan Division is looking like one of the most competitive in the league with two Stanley Cup contenders in Carolina and New York at the top, Pittsburgh still lurking around, Philadelphia looking better, and the Rangers ready to make a big jump. Competition for those three automatic playoff spots is going to be fierce between those six teams. Maybe they do not miss the playoffs entirely, but maybe it is another First Round exit.

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NHL Power Rankings: Top storylines for 2021-22 NHL season (Part 2)

In this week’s edition of the NHL Power Rankings we continue counting down the 30 biggest storylines to watch across the league for the 2021-22 season.

We are looking at 10 storylines each Monday until the start of the season. We continue today with storylines 20-11, including looks at the Philadelphia Flyers, Montreal Canadiens, the top rookies, pending free agents, the salary cap, and new Stanley Cup contenders.

[You can read Part 1 here]

What stories make the list this week?

To this week’s NHL Power Rankings!

20. The Philadelphia Flyers offseason. Now this is the type of offseason you expect from the Flyers. Big moves! Bold moves! Maybe even crazy moves! The trades for Ryan Ellis and Cam Atkinson have the potential to be huge additions, but the Rasmus Ristolainen trade is a little difficult to figure. Do they think they can turn his career around? Of course, all of these moves will be rendered pointless if Carter Hart does not play better in goal this season.

19. What do the Montreal Canadiens do for a repeat? The Canadiens shocked the NHL by making a stunning run to the Stanley Cup Final. Carey Price found the fountain of youth and helped lead them to upsets over Toronto, Winnipeg, and Vegas before running into the Tampa Bay Lightning buzzsaw.

They are bringing back a very different roster, however. Phillip Danault and Jesperi Kotkaniemi are gone, Tomas Tatar left in free agency, Shea Weber will not play this season, while Mike Hoffman, Christian Dvorak, and David Savard join the team. They are also getting Jonathan Drouin back after he missed most of the 2020-21 season and all of the playoffs. They also have potential breakout seasons for Nick Suzuki and Cole Caulfield to look forward to. But is this roster good enough to even get back in the playoffs in a tough division?

18. The salary cap situation in the NHL. We are still looking at a situation in the league where salary cap increases are going to be minimal in the coming years. There are obvious ramifications for contending teams close to the cap and with pending free agents to sign. It could also make more players available in trades and allow teams with excess salary cap space to utilize that in trades.

17. Potential unrestricted free agents. A lot of significant players are entering the final year of their contracts this season with Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang, Alexander Barkov, Filip Forsberg, Tomas Hertl, John Klingberg, Johnny Gaudreau, Morgan Rielly, Ryan Pulock, Patrice Bergeron, Claude Giroux, Mattias Ekholm, P.K. Subban, Marc-Andre Fleury, Darcy Kuemper, and Mika Zibanejad leading the way. Many of those players will re-sign with their current teams. Some might even retire (Fleury? Bergeron?). But there are a few players that they could end up changing teams, including Forsberg, Hertl, Gaudreau, and maybe even Rielly.

16. The rookie of the year race. Always one of the more intriguing individual award races because it highlights new stars coming into the league. This year’s favorites have to include Caufield in Montreal, Spencer Knight in Florida, Moritz Seider in Detroit, Quinton Byfield in Los Angeles, and Vasili Podkolzin in Vancouver.

[NHL Power Rankings: Calder Trophy candidates for 2021-22 season]

15. Can Islanders break through to the Stanley Cup Final? It has been three decades since the New York Islanders played in a Cup Final, but they are getting closer every year. They just can not seem to get over the final hurdle that is the Lightning, having lost to them two years in a row in the Eastern Conference Final/Semifinal round. They are bringing back mostly the same roster, but will have a full season of Kyle Palmieri, a returning Anders Lee, and the offseason additions of Zach Parise and Zdeno Chara. Not to mention one of the league’s best coaches and a sensational goalie duo with Semyon Varlamov and Ilya Sorokin.

Their regular season performances never look impressive. But they are probably one of the last teams you want to see in a best-of-seven series in the playoffs.

14. New York Rangers changes. The Rangers’ rebuild was not going fast enough for ownership, so a lot of changes were made this offseason in the front office, coaching staff, and even on the roster. Chris Drury takes over for Jeff Gorton in the GM chair, Gerard Gallant replaces David Quinn behind the bench, and the team attempted to get tougher this offseason by trading Pavel Buchnevich, while also acquiring Ryan Reaves, Patrik Nemeth, and Barclay Goodrow. It is the Tom Wilson impact. The Rangers can say it is not all about Wilson all they want, but it is pretty clear that is what this is about. Is that the right step for a team that has a Hart Trophy candidate (Artemi Panarin), a Norris Trophy-winning defender (Adam Fox), and an impressive collection of young talent? We are about to find out.

In the end, though, the success or failure of this season will depend on the development of Alexis Lafreniere, Kaapo Kakko, Vitali Kravtsov, and Igor Shesterkin. If that quartet becomes impact players, the Rangers will be very good. If they do not, the Rangers’ rebuild will remain stuck in neutral.

13. Panthers becoming a Cup contender. This might be the first time ever that the Florida Panthers are entering a season with real, championship level expectations. This is a really good roster with a couple of All-Stars at the top of it (Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau) coming off the best regular season in franchise history They also added Sam Reinhart to the mix this offseason. If Spencer Knight can take over the goaltending job and play to his potential this could be a sleeper Cup team.

12. Can Avalanche get through Second Round ceiling. On paper the Colorado Avalanche might have the best team in the NHL. They are loaded from top to bottom with a deep, talented group of forwards, an excellent defense with young stars, and a strong goalie with the offseason addition of Kuemper. They have been Cup contenders and favorites for a couple of years now. But they remain stuck in the Second Round, having lost their three years in a row.

When a team like this can’t get through a particular round, or can’t take that next step, it is easy to get frustrated and think that some kind of change needs to happen. We heard it constantly with the Washington Capitals and how they needed to change and who they needed to trade. We heard it all the time with the Lightning. Eventually talent breaks through and wins. The Avalanche have the talent to get there. They just need to be patient and stick with the process and talent they have. It is championship caliber, and still has its best days ahead of it.

11. Can the Oilers finally take advantage of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. McDavid and Draisaitl are the two best offensive players in the world. They are both league MVPs, winning the award in three of the past five seasons. Most teams will go decades, maybe even their entire existence to this point, without getting one player like this, let alone two of them together at the exact same time. You can not waste that luck. The Oilers are wasting it. Badly.

They made some significant changes this offseason with the additions of Zach Hyman, Warren Foegele, Duncan Keith, and Cody Ceci. But even with that depth still looks suspect, as does this defense (largely due to the changes there with an aging Keith and Ceci replacing Ethan Bear and Adam Larsson), and they are counting on a 39-year-old Mike Smith to have another strong year when he has only had one good season in the past three seasons. Still a lot that can go wrong here, even with two megastars at the top of the lineup.

New York Islanders 2021-22 NHL Season Preview

The 2021-22 NHL season is coming and it’s time to take a look at all 32 teams. Over the next month we’ll be examining best- and worst-case scenarios, looking at the biggest questions, breakout candidates, and more for each franchise. Today, we preview the New York Islanders.

2020-21 Season Review

• Record: 32-17-7 (71 points) fourth place in Eastern Division
• Postseason: Lost in Conference Final in seven games to Tampa Bay Lightning
• Offensive leader: Mathew Barzal (55 games, 17 goals, 28 assists, 45 total points)

• Free Agent Additions: Richard Panik (trade with Detroit Red Wings), Zach Parise, Zdeno Chara
• Free Agent Subtractions: Nick Leddy (trade with Detroit Red Wings), Andrew Ladd, Jordan Eberle (Seattle Kraken), Travis Zajac (retirement)

Biggest question facing the New York Islanders?

• Will Zach Parise and Zdeno Chara have enough left to help put them over the top?

The Islanders are bringing back largely the same roster from the past couple of seasons, and it is a roster that has had its share of success. While the regular season results have not always been great, they have been good enough to get in the playoffs, and once they get to the playoffs they have caused havoc for almost every team in the Eastern Conference.

Since the start of the 2019 playoffs they have won five postseason series and 28 total playoff games, the second most in the league behind only the Tampa Bay Lightning.

The Lightning, of course, being the team that has stood between them and the Stanley Cup Final the past two seasons.

This Islanders roster doesn’t have a ton of star power beyond Mathew Barzal, but it also does not really have a weakness. Every line can contribute. There are no true liabilities on defense. Both goalies are sensational when healthy.

But they still just need a little more to get by teams like the Lightning. Their biggest offseason moves saw them bring in Zach Parise and Zdeno Chara. If this was 2016 those additions would seem significant. Now? It is a matter of whether or not they can fit into complementary roles and make an impact. The Islanders do not need them to be superstars. But anything they have left could be potentially significant. Add in a full season of Kyle Palmieri, the return of a healthy Anders Lee and it is a fairly deep roster.

What’s the salary cap situation?

The Islanders are pressed against the upper limits of the salary cap, even after shedding Andrew Ladd’s salary to Arizona.

They do not have any really mega contracts, but they have a lot of significant contracts in the $5-8 million range.

Ryan Pulock is going to need a new deal after this season as a pending unrestricted free agent, while Mathew Barzal only has two years left on his current bridge deal before he is due a mega contract. So there is some work to be done here and not a lot of long-term flexibility under a mostly flat cap.

Breakout Candidate

Oliver Wahlstrom

Wahlstrom did not have a huge role with the Islanders for most of the 2020-21 season, but he did show a ton of promise and make quite an impact when he got an opportunity. Despite playing just 12 minutes per game he still scored 12 goals in 44 games and posted strong possession numbers in his first real taste of NHL action. He is still only 21 years old and is the best young player on the team outside of Barzal and has a real chance to be a top-line scorer given his talent and shot. A breakout season from him could be a game-changer for an Islanders team that needs another impact player.

Best-Case Scenario

At this point we should know what to expect from this Islanders team. They are going to get strong goaltending, they are going to be tough to score against, and they are going to frustrate a lot of teams on their way to 3-2 and 3-1 wins. The best case is that they keep doing what they do, get back in the playoffs, get a breakout from Wahlstrom, Parise and Chara find the fountain of youth, and they finally get the best of Tampa Bay in a seven-game series. This is a Stanley Cup contender. The expectation should be to go far.

Worst-Case Scenario

If anything happens to the goalies, injury or sudden lack of performance, that would be a problem for a team that is fairly dependent on them. They do not score a ton of goals and while they are great at limiting chances, they do have a tendency to give up a fair number of shots. Any slip in goaltending could be the difference between home ice in the playoffs or an earlier than expected playoff loss. It is hard to envision this team missing the playoffs at this point, but it is a competitive division with a lot of really good teams that are not separated by much.

PointsbetNew York Islanders Stanley Cup odds

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Zdeno Chara signs 1-year contract with Islanders

Zdeno Chara is going back to where his NHL career started.

The New York Islanders announced on Saturday morning that they have signed the veteran defenseman to a one-year contract. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Chara, 44, began his career on Long Island back in 1997 and spent four years with the team before he was traded to the Ottawa Senators in the Alexei Yashin trade. Since then he blossomed into one of the most dominant defenders in the league and put together a Hall of Fame career with Ottawa and Boston. He also spent the 2020-21 season as a member of the Washington Capitals.

[Related: Every free agent signing by all 32 NHL teams]

He joins an Islanders team that has been in the semifinals/Eastern Conference Final round in back to back years and is looking to get over that hump and get back to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since the early 1980s.

Chara is no longer a player that you are going to rely for 25 minutes a game, but the Islanders do not really need him to be that. With Adam Pelech and Ryan Pulock they already have their shutdown, top-pairing and are mainly just looking for depth to round out the defense. Chara should be able to provide that.

Along with Chara, the Islanders have also added Zach Parise and Richard Panik to the roster this offseason.