The NHL is finally set to resume its 2021-22 schedule tonight, with six teams currently slated for action and another 14 to resume play tomorrow.
But with all but the dregs of the 2021 portion of the schedule now in the rear-view mirror, it’s time to look back on the biggest stories that were in the past year.
These stories – which took place both on and off the ice – were the biggest attention-grabbers from the time the 2021-22 league year started back on July 28 until this very point in time.
Kyle Beach Comes Out as John Doe
We, unfortunately, must start on a somber note – with one of the ugliest stories in hockey’s history. The space doesn’t exist to give this story its proper respect here, but it still must be mentioned as the unquestioned biggest story of the year. When Kyle Beach came forward as “John Doe 1” in his since-settled lawsuit against the Chicago Blackhawks for their alleged mishandling of his sexual assault claim against then-video coach Brad Aldrich, it shook the hockey world to its core. In the face of unimaginable pain, Beach’s incredible courage will be a beacon of hope for other survivors and will give others the strength to come forward. Kyle Beach is a hero.
COVID’s Continued Impact
Look, I’m not going to get into the “right” way for the NHL to handle the COVID situation. Some feel asymptomatic players ought not to be tested. Others think continued testing is important to contain the spread – regardless of players’ symptoms. I’m not going to tell you how to feel because, honestly, I’m just some hockey blogger; who am I to do that? But still, it’s impossible to pretend COVID hasn’t continued having an outsized impact. Even ignoring the flat salary cap, 70 NHL games have been postponed due to the virus so far. NHLers’ planned participation in the 2022 Olympics has also been scuppered, and taxi squads will make their return.
Young Defensemen Continue to Impress
Fresh off a year where a 22-year-old (Cale Makar) was runner-up to a 23-year-old (Adam Fox) in the Norris Trophy voting, the NHL’s youth movement on the blueline has continued through the first portion of the 2021-22 schedule.
Fox is tied with Tampa Bay’s Victor Hedman for the league lead in points among rearguards, with 31 in 30 games. Makar, who’s only played 23 games, is tied for fourth in that category, with 13 goals and 13 assists for 26 points so far. Fellow 2019-20 rookie Quinn Hughes has 26 points in 30 games for Vancouver, while Boston’s Charlie McAvoy continues to be one of the league’s best all-around D-men.
Makar and Hughes are each signed through 2026-27, while Fox and McAvoy see their contracts expire after 2028-29 and 2029-30, respectively.
The future of league bluelines is bright.
Rookies Making Waves
The first three months of 2021-22 have been incredibly kind to some of the game’s youngest stars. Dynamic Detroit rookies Lucas Raymond and Moritz Seider have shown their other-worldly talents in the Motor City, putting up 28 and 21 points, respectively, through the Wings’ first 31 games.
Despite not even playing last season, Raymond ranks third in scoring among 2020 draftees, just one point behind No. 1 pick Alexis Lafreniere and 16 points behind Ottawa’s Tim Stutzle.
Joining the Detroit duo in the Calder race is Anaheim’s Trevor Zegras, chosen ninth overall in 2019. Zegras has 25 points in 30 games and pulled off one of the highlights of the year with his lacrosse-style assist on a Sonny Milano goal in early December.
A quick look at the NHL’s leading goalies will readily reveal the capricious nature of hockey’s weirdest position. Among goaltenders with more than 10 games played so far, Pittsburgh’s Tristan Jarry and Carolina’s Frederik Andersen are tied for the league lead in goals-against average (1.93), with Calgary’s Jacob Markstrom (1.94) close behind in third. Markstrom ranks fourth in save percentage (.933), with Jarry (.932) fifth and Andersen (.930) seventh. Both Andersen and Jarry are top five in wins, and Markstrom leads the league with five shutouts. All three struggled mightily last year. The best save percentage of the bunch was Jarry’s .909, tied for 26th among goalies who played 17 or more games in 2020-21.
Carey Price/Jonathan Drouin Reveal Struggles With Mental Health
In early October, Canadiens goalie Carey Price shocked the hockey world when he entered the NHL/NHLPA player assistance program, designed to help players and their families with mental health, substance abuse and other matters. In a statement released on his Instagram account, Price later revealed he had entered the program to seek help with “substance use” stemming from years of neglecting his mental health.
All this came just weeks after Canadiens teammate Jonathan Drouin announced his leave of absence from Montreal in 2020-21 stemmed from trouble with anxiety and insomnia.
Price and Drouin are among the handful of NHLers at the forefront of a pro sports environment slowly becoming more adept at acknowledging the importance mental health has on an athlete’s overall well-being, and we must applaud their bravery.
The Evander Kane Saga Continues
It’s been a tough few months for Evander Kane, who’s yet to skate in an NHL game in 2021-22. The 30-year-old San Jose Sharks left winger started the year by being suspended 21 games for violating the league’s COVID protocols. He also variously faced allegations of betting on his own games and of domestic assault by his estranged wife, Anna. The NHL could not substantiate either claim.
Kane was placed on waivers in late November, and after clearing, was assigned to the AHL San Jose Barracuda. He has two goals and eight points in five AHL games while the Sharks ostensibly seek a trade partner. Kane is signed through 2024-25, at $7 million per year.
OK, the Southeast Division may not exist anymore, but it’s hard not to acknowledge how well the division’s former members have done to start 2021-22. Especially given the group used to be looked at as the reason division winners shouldn’t get automatic top-three conference seeding.
At the moment, Tampa Bay, Carolina, Washington and Florida make up four of the top six teams in the NHL by both points percentage and total points. Carolina leads the league in the former category, while Tampa – in search of its third consecutive Stanley Cup – leads the latter.
Someone call Brad Nessler and Gary Danielson.
Race to the Bottom
It’s never fun losing, but sometimes it’s in a team’s best interest. With Kingston Frontenacs star Shane Wright the ultimate prize atop the 2022 draft board, it’s not a bad time to be bad. Matthew Savoie, Logan Cooley, Joakim Kemell and Danila Yurov, among others, aren’t bad consolation prizes, either.
The Arizona Coyotes have pulled things together a bit since starting the season 0-10-1 but still head up the current tank standings, with a .241 points percentage. Montreal, Ottawa, Seattle and Buffalo round out the top five.
A condition in the Christian Dvorak trade whereby the Habs send Arizona the worse pick between Montreal’s own first-rounder and Carolina’s should either – or both – of those picks be in the top 10 saves the Habs from disaster.
Penguins Sold to Fenway Sports Group
Earlier this month, the NHL board of governors unanimously approved the sale of the Pittsburgh Penguins to the Fenway Sports Group – headed up by billionaire American businessman John Henry. The Fenway Group owns MLB’s Boston Red Sox, Liverpool F.C. of the English Premier League and NASCAR’s RFK Racing, among other interests.
Interestingly, readhuddleup.com’s Joe Pompliano recently reported Mario Lemieux made over $350 million in the sale – and that it all stemmed from the Penguins’ ownership collapse in the late 1990s. You can read all about it in the Twitter thread below.
The Fenway Group’s pockets are deep, and its teams have had success under its ownership, so the Pens appear to be in good hands.