Puck drop for the 2021-2022 season is less than a month away when the defending Stanley Cup Champions, the Tampa Bay Lightning take on the Pittsburgh Penguins on October 12th. For the first time since the 2018-19 season, the NHL will get a full 82 game season. Every season is full of “contenders” when in reality there are more pretenders compared to contenders. Who are this season’s pretenders and contenders?
Tampa Bay Lightning: Contenders
Back-to-back Stanley Cup Champions Tampa Bay Lightning are still a great time. Although they have lost the likes of Blake Coleman, Yanni Gourde, and Barclay Goodrow, while they have added Corey Perry and Zach Bogosian. Although their departures are more significant than their additions, as long as Victor Hedman, Nikita Kucherov, and Andrei Vasilevskiy are playing at the top of their games the Lightning will be contenders for years to come.
Toronto Maple Leafs: Pretenders
Since 2006 the Toronto Maple Leafs have failed to make it out of the first round of the playoffs, but with young stars such as Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, and Morgan Rielly they are not far off from being contenders. After a first-round playoff exit at the hands of the Montreal Canadiens, the Leafs added Petr Mrazek, Nick Ritchie, Michael Bunting, Ondrej Kase, and Nikita Gusev (PTO). Although the Leafs have addressed some needs, they still lack playoff experience, when they have a couple of playoff runs their pretender tag will switch over to a contender tag.
Colorado Avalanche: Conteders
Entering the season the defending President Trophy winners are favorited to not only win the Western Conference but also the Stanley Cup. The Avalanche lost goalie Phillipp Grubauer and forward Brandon Saad, but they added Darren Helm, Ryan Murray, and Darcy Kuemper. The big question mark is how will Kuemper fair compared to Grubauer. Grubauer has a career save percentage of .920 with a goals-against-average of 2.34, while Kuemper’s career save percentage is .917 and his goals-against average is 2.47. The career stats are slightly in Grubauer’s favor, he has played for better times. Considering the Avalanche are a powerhouse and will continue to be with a potential Olympian between the pipes the Avalanche are in fact contenders.
Montreal Canadiens: Pretenders
The Montreal Canadiens are coming off a Cinderella playoff run that saw them knock off the Maple Leafs, Winnipeg Jets, Vegas Golden Knights, before eventually falling to the Lightning in five games. The Canadiens signed Mathieu Perreault, David Savard, and Blake Coleman, but they lost Jesperi Kotkaniemi to the Carolina Hurricanes as well as Shea Weber to injury. On top of the additions and subtractions this offseason franchise goaltender, Carey Price underwent surgery to repair a torn meniscus. With question marks surrounding Price and the players added compared to lost, the Canadiens will be nothing more than pretenders this season.
Canadiens goaltender Carey Price skated for the first time on Thursday since undergoing knee surgery on July 23.@JohnLuTSNMtl & @coryworon on how this step fits in Price’s recovery timeline for the start of the regular season: https://t.co/LAMOaW0gBM#TSNHockey pic.twitter.com/8JBnMwJFTQ
— TSN Hockey (@TSNHockey) September 17, 2021
Las Vegas Golden Knights: Contenders
The Western Conference is a two-horse race. The Vegas Golden Knights and Colorado Avalanche are the clear-cut contenders in the Western Conference. Adding Brett Howden and Nolan Patrick bolstered the already elite offense. Unfourtantly Marc-Andre Fleury was shipped off to the Chicago Blackhawks, but the Golden Knights still have Robin Lehner between the pipes. With few subtractions, this offseason and the additions of Patrick and Howden the Golden Knights remain contenders, as they have for their entire existence.
Boston Bruins: Pretenders
The Boston Bruins have been mainstays in the contender conversation over the past decade, but all good things must come to an end. Although the Bruins still have one of the best first-lines in the NHL comprised of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, and David Pastrnak. The Bruins managed to lock up Taylor Hall, Brandon Carlo, Derek Forbort, Nick Foligno, Linus Ullmark, among others while losing the likes of Nick Ritchie, Ondrej Kase, Jaroslav Halak, Tuukka Rask, and David Krejci. In retrospect, the Bruins managed to get worse and fall further behind the Lightning, Avalanche, Golden Knights, and even Maple Leafs. Even though the Bruins will be a playoff team they are no longer a Stanley Cup contender.
While fans eagerly await the start of the NHL season and players get ready to leave it on the ice there is still room for improvements for all teams listed and on the brink. The fact of the matter is the Lighting, Avalanche, and Golden Knights are unmatched at this time. Although, with many up-and-coming teams, the Tampa Bay dynasty could fall sooner rather than later.
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