The coldest sport in America just got even cooler.
With the Seattle Kraken joining the league as an expansion team, the NHL is back for its biggest season yet. Not only are teams returning to a full 82-game schedule after a pandemic-shortened season, but there are two new places to watch the games. On Tuesday October 12, the NHL returns to ESPN for the first time in 17 years with a double-header between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Tampa Bay Lightning (7:30pm ET) followed by the Kraken taking on the Vegas Golden Knights (10:30pm ET). On Wednesday, Turner Sports kicks off its new seven year agreement with the NHL with a double-header on TNT featuring the New York Rangers versus the Washington Capitals at 7:30pm ET, followed by the Colorado Avalanche hosting the Chicago Blackhawks at 10pm ET.
The NHL on TNT has a star-studded studio team as well. Host Liam McHugh will be joined by hockey legend Wayne Gretzky, longtime vet Anson Carter, Stanley Cup-winning player and coach Rick Tocchet, and Paul “Biznasty” Bissonnette. Meanwhile, Front Office Sports reports that ESPN will be utilizing on-ice cameras, will have select coaches mic'd up during their pregame speeches, and will use brand new “puck tracking” technology “to highlight puck and player movement.” So the NHL will look quite different this season, to say nothing of the sleek new Kraken jerseys.
Check out the national TV schedule for the season's first week below, followed by the storylines we’ll be watching for this season. To watch NHL hockey on ESPN, TNT, and NHL Network with Sling TV, sign up for Sling Orange with Sports Extras using the link at the bottom of this page.
NHL Hockey (National TV)
Tue. Oct. 12-Fri. Oct. 15
|Time (ET)||Matchup||Channel||Sling Package|
|Tuesday, Oct. 12|
|7:30 PM||Pittsburgh at Tampa Bay||ESPN||Sling Orange|
|10:15 PM||Seattle at Vegas||ESPN||Sling Orange|
|Wednesday, Oct. 13|
|7:30 PM||NY Rangers at Washington||TNT||Sling Orange or Blue|
|10:00 PM||Chicago at Colorado||TNT||Sling Orange or Blue|
|Thursday, Oct. 14|
|8:00 PM||Seattle at Nashville||NHL Network||Sports Extras|
|Friday, Oct. 15|
|7:00 PM||Chicago at New Jersey||NHL Network||Sports Extras|
Release the Kraken
They may still be waiting for the NBA to replace their beloved Supersonics, but Emerald City sports fans can at least take comfort in cheering on the newest NHL franchise, the Seattle Kraken. The Vegas Golden Knights were able to put together one of the most competitive rosters in hockey with their expansion draft in 2017, and while it remains to be seen if Seattle can do the same, they've already won the Stanley Cup in our hearts with those gorgeous unis. The new franchise also evens out the NHL by bringing the number of teams to 32. The Kraken will play in the Pacific Division, while the Arizona Coyotes move to the Central Division.
Speaking of divisions, after the league realigned itself along the border last year, the NHL is back to a more balanced schedule for the 2021-22 season. Rather than just intra-divisional play, teams will play divisional opponents three to four times (26 games), the remaining teams in their conference three times (24 games), and home-and-away games against teams in the other conference (32 games). This ensures that every team plays at least one game in every arena every season.
As for the Stanley Cup playoff format, the top three teams in each division will advance, along with the next two teams in each conference for a total of 16 playoff teams. In the regular season, teams will be awarded two points for a win, one point for an overtime or shootout loss, and no points for losing in regulation.
Can the Lightning Strike Thrice?
The Tampa Bay Lightning kicked off the crazy run of what’s become America’s new Title Town by winning back-to-back Stanley Cups over the past two seasons. However, both seasons were affected by the pandemic, a small if not insignificant blight that Tampa Bay would no doubt like to wash away with a third straight championship. The odds are not in their favor: Despite mini-dynasties in Detroit, New Jersey, and elsewhere, no team has won three straight Cups since the New York Islanders did it in 1983 (no team has even made it to the Finals in three straight seasons since the Edmonton Oilers from 82-84). Still, with the core of Victor Hedman, Andrei Vasilevskiy, Nikita Kucherov, Brayden Point and Steven Stamkos all returning, Tampa Bay has the experience and talent to win it all and stake their claim as a captial "D" Dynasty.
Can the Avalanche return to the top of the mountain?
As the betting favorites to win the Stanley Cup, the Colorado Avalanche could be the team that stands in Tampa's way. After winning the President’s Trophy with the best regular season record last year, the Avs were bounced in the second round by Golden Knights, the second time in two years that a promising Avs team has failed to make even the Conference Finals. Star center Nathan McKinnon lost the Hart Award for league MVP to Connor McDavid last year, and if he can continue to perform at a high level, Colorado may live up to this season’s mile-high expectations.
Falling Leaves in Canada?
You could argue that over the last 50 years, no fanbase in any sport has suffered more misery than Toronto Maple Leaves supporters. Last year was one of the most painful, as the team followed their first place finish with a first-round exit, while blowing a 3-1 series lead over their rivals in Montreal. Auston Matthews took home the Rocket Richard Trophy as the NHL’s top goal-scorer last season, so they’re on the right track. But with expectations comes pressure, and it’s not encouraging that Assistant Coach Paul MacLean admitted recently that “the biggest obstacle this team has right now is itself.”
Lastly, the NHL is allowing players to participate in the Winter Olympics for the first time since 2014. Following the NHL All-Star Game in Las Vegas on Feb. 5, the NHL will pause activities through Feb. 22 as players join their home countries in Beijing. After a 50-year drought from 1952-2002, the Canadian team has won three of the last five gold medals, but with a deep talent pool to choose from, the U.S. is in great position to win what would be the team’s first gold since 1980’s Miracle on Ice.