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The 2021-22 NHL regular season draws to a close on May 1 when the Seattle Kraken and Winnipeg Jets make up their game from April 13. This marks the first time since 2018-19 that the league was able to complete a full 82-game schedule since COVID-19 derailed the 2019-20 schedule and shortened the 2020-21 campaign.
With the 2022 Stanley Cup playoffs expected to begin on May 2, it’s worthwhile to begin reflecting back on an interesting season.
It was a season that brought a level of scoring not seen since 2005-06, with several players reaching 50 goals or 100 points. Meanwhile, multiple talented rookies began what could become long and successful NHL careers.
On the other hand, teams that finished near the bottom of the standings won’t remember this season with any fondness. For some, their struggles wound up costing their head coaches their jobs.
Here’s a look at the winner and losers of the 2021-22 NHL season. As always, you can weigh in with your thoughts on this topic in the comments section below.
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This year saw several notable NHL records fall by the wayside.
The most noteworthy was the Philadelphia Flyers‘ Keith Yandle becoming the NHL’s Ironman by eclipsing Doug Jarvis’ record of 964 consecutive games. On Jan. 25, the 35-year-old defenseman played his 965th game. He would push it to 989 until he was scratched from a game on April 2. Arizona Coyotes winger Phil Kessel is just eight games behind Yandle and could surpass him next season.
Zdeno Chara of the New York Islanders set a longevity record for an NHL defenseman this season. On Feb. 24, the 44-year-old Chara broke Chris Chelios’ record by skating in his 1,652nd career game. He also moved into seventh place on the all-time list for games played by a skater with 1,678.
Last, and by no means least, Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin set a goal-scoring record in his quest to surpass Wayne Gretzky as the all-time goal leader. The 36-year-old left winger currently sits third on the all-time list with 780. He recently reached the 50-goal plateau for the ninth time, tying Gretzky and the late, great Mike Bossy for the most 50-goal seasons.
Ovechkin, however, also made NHL history this season for the most career power-play goals. He surpassed Hall of Famer Dave Andreychuk’s record of 274 on Dec. 31 and has since expanded it to 285.
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Once a powerhouse franchise with three Stanley Cups in six seasons from 2009-10 to 2014-15, the Chicago Blackhawks have spent the past few years on the decline. Poised to miss the playoffs for the fourth time in five years, this season saw the storied franchise reach rock bottom.
An investigation into the Blackhawks management’s mishandling of sexual-assault allegations against former video coach Bradley Aldrich by former player Kyle Beach resulted in Stan Bowman stepping down as general manager, while the club received a $2 million fine from the league. Former Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville also stepped away from the Florida Panthers.
On the ice, the Blackhawks stumbled from the gate with just one win in their first 12 games. That stumble saw head coach Jeremy Colliton replaced on an interim basis by Derek King. The club subsequently made some improvement, but an ongoing lack of quality roster depth, especially on the blue line, proved costly. It remains to be seen if King will return as head coach next season.
Interim general manager Kyle Davidson was named as Bowman’s full-time replacement on March 1. He indicated a long-overdue rebuild was in order and wasted no time getting started, shipping out goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury and forwards Brandon Hagel and Ryan Carpenter before the March 21 trade deadline.
This has also sparked speculation over the futures of longtime Blackhawks stars Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, who both have a season remaining on their respective contracts. On April 18, The Athletic’s Scott Powers reported Davidson is maintaining communication with the duo and intends to meet with them and their agent following the season. Whether they’re still with the team next season is anyone’s guess.
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Every NHL season sees the big-league debut of a fresh crop of promising talent. This season, several notable youngsters provided a tantalizing first look at what could be the start of long, productive careers.
A handful have made a strong case to win the Calder Memorial Trophy as NHL rookie of the year. Those candidates include the Detroit Red Wings‘ Moritz Seider and Lucas Raymond, Anaheim Ducks center Trevor Zegras, Toronto Maple Leafs winger Michael Bunting, Nashville Predators winger Tanner Jeannot, Florida Panthers center Anton Lundell, Boston Bruins goaltender Jeremy Swayman and New Jersey Devils center Dawson Mercer.
All but Swayman are among the leading rookie scorers. The 23-year-old Bruin leads all rookie goaltenders with 23 wins in 37 games, sporting a 2.37 goals-against average, a .915 save percentage and three shutouts.
Through Thursday’s games, Bunting leads all rookie scorers with 63 points, followed by Zegras with 60 and Raymond with 56. Seider is fourth with 49 points, but his 23:04 of time on ice per game and 21 power-play points lead all rookie skaters. Lundell sits fifth with 44 points, but is the leader in shorthanded points with four. Jeannot is the goalscoring leader with 24 while Mercer sits seventh with 41 points.
Other youngsters worth watching include the Montreal Canadiens‘ Cole Caufield, Minnesota Wild‘s Matt Boldy and Carolina Hurricanes‘ Seth Jarvis. Caufield regained his scoring touch when Martin St. Louis took over as head coach and has 20 goals on the season. Boldy has 39 points in 46 games skating alongside Kevin Fiala on the Wild’s second line. Jarvis also has 40 points and has become a top-six winger for the Hurricanes.
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It’s not unusual for a handful of NHL coaches to lose their jobs. This year, however, seven teams wound up changing head coaches during the regular season.
Some, like Jeremy Colliton of the Chicago Blackhawks, Alain Vigneault of the Philadelphia Flyers and Travis Green of the Vancouver Canucks, were replaced by interim coaches after their clubs struggled through the opening weeks of the season.
Montreal Canadiens coach Dominique Ducharme got the ax when his club failed to show any improvement following a first half in which injuries and COVID-19 depleted the roster. The Edmonton Oilers gave Dave Tippett his walking papers when a midseason slump threatened to derail their playoff hopes.
Two coaches—the Florida Panthers’ Joel Quenneville and the Winnipeg Jets’ Paul Maurice—resigned. Quenneville stepped down because of his role in the Kyle Beach scandal in 2010 with the Blackhawks. Maurice departed because he felt the Jets needed a new voice behind the bench.
Andrew Brunette replaced Quenneville in Florida, Jay Woodcroft took over from Tippett behind the Oilers bench, Bruce Boudreau filled in for Green with the Canucks and Martin St. Louis replaced Ducharme with the Canadiens. Their roles in improving their respective teams could see them return as full-time head coaches next season.
It could be a different story for Blackhawks interim coach Derek King, Flyers interim coach Mike Yeo and Jets interim bench boss Dave Lowry. Those clubs’ ongoing struggles could see all three replaced in the offseason.
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The best measure of regular-season success for any NHL club is its placement in the standings. The higher, the better. Some, like the Florida Panthers, Colorado Avalanche and Calgary Flames, dominated their respective divisions this season.
In the Atlantic Division, the Panthers held sway for most of the season. With 122 points, they won the Presidents’ Trophy on Thursday night by shutting out the Ottawa Senators 4-0. Led by Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau, the Panthers adjusted under interim coach Andrew Brunette following the October resignation of head coach Joel Quenneville.
Over in the Central Division, the Avalanche have been well ahead of the pack throughout this season. A star-studded lineup that includes Nathan MacKinnon, Cale Makar and Mikko Rantanen has led them to 119 points, affording them a comfortable lead atop their division and the Western Conference standings.
After missing the playoffs last season, the Flames rebounded with a strong effort to clinch the Pacific Division crown with 111 points. They’re thriving in their first full season under head coach Darryl Sutter, with scoring leaders Johnny Gaudreau, Matthew Tkachuk, Elias Lindholm and Andrew Mangiapane all enjoying career-best performances.
An honorable mention goes to the Carolina Hurricanes (116 points), who clinched first place in the Metropolitan Division following a 4-3 win over the New York Rangers on Tuesday. The Hurricanes ruled the division for most of this season but faced a stiff challenge down the stretch from the rising Rangers.
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Every team that fails to qualify for the Stanley Cup playoffs feels the dejection and disappointment. For those that finished at the bottom of the standings, there are few positives to draw upon outside of the chance to win the draft lottery.
The Philadelphia Flyers’ hopes of rebounding into playoff contention following last season’s disappointing finish fell apart early in the season. An eight-game losing skid saw head coach Alain Vigneault replaced by Mike Yeo, who soon endured a 13-game losing stretch. They sank to the bottom of the Metropolitan Division soon after trading long-time captain Claude Giroux at the trade deadline.
Not much was expected of the Arizona Coyotes when this season began. General manager Bill Armstrong peddled away veterans such as goaltender Darcy Kuemper, defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson and winger Conor Garland last summer for draft picks and prospects, depleting the talent depth of the roster. As a result, the Coyotes spent the season at the bottom of the Central Division.
Any hopes fans of the expansion Seattle Kraken had of their club replicating the inaugural success of the Vegas Golden Knights were dashed months ago. A lack of scoring punch and injuries limiting winger Jaden Schwartz to just 37 games sent them tumbling to the depths of the Pacific Division.
The biggest loser, however, were the Montreal Canadiens. They went from Stanley Cup finalist last season to the worst team in the Atlantic Division and are in line to finish at the bottom of the overall standings.
Decimated by injuries that sidelined core players such as Carey Price and Shea Weber—not to mention the offseason departures of Phillip Danault and Corey Perry—the Canadiens stumbled early and never recovered. That led to changes in the front office and behind the bench, plus the sell-off of pending free agents like Ben Chiarot, Artturi Lehkonen and Brett Kulak prior to the trade deadline.
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NHL scoring took a big jump in 2021-22. The league’s 3.14 goal percentage as of April 26 is the highest since the salary-cap era began in 2005-06 and the highest since 1993-94 when it reached 3.24. For the first time since ’05-’06, the NHL has at least four 50-goal scorers and seven players with at least 100 points.
Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews leads all goal scorers with 60, becoming the first player since Steven Stamkos in 2011-12 to reach that mark in a single season. Edmonton Oilers center Leon Draisaitl is second with 55, followed by New York Rangers winger Chris Kreider with 52 and ageless Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin has 50.
Thorugh Thursday’s games, Oilers captain Connor McDavid leads all players with 123 points, followed by Florida Panthers winger Jonathan Huberdeau and Calgary Flames winger Johnny Gaudreau with 115 each. Drasaitl is next with 110 points, Matthews and the Minnesota Wild’s Kirill Kaprizov have 106 each, followed by Gaudreau’s teammate Matthew Tkachuk and Stamkos with 103.
Eight other players have at least 90 points. Another 12 have 40-or-more goals.
Why has scoring exploded this season? On April 6, Vancouver Canucks head coach Bruce Boudreau explained it was based on a shift toward a faster-paced, skill-based style which has steadily improved each year. He also cited an increase in power-play production. As of Wednesday, 19 teams had power-play percentages exceeding 20 percent.
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This season saw the Los Angeles Kings and New York Rangers return to the playoffs after several seasons of rebuilding their rosters. Unfortunately for fans of other clubs that have also spent time revamping their rosters, their patience has yet to be rewarded.
It’s been six years since the Detroit Red Wings reached the playoffs. For the past three seasons, general manager Steve Yzerman has restocked his roster depth and his prospect pipeline through shrewd drafting and trades. While his efforts have produced promising stars like Moritz Seider, Lucas Raymond and Alex Nedeljkovic, the Wings are once again outside the postseason picture.
Tom Fitzgerald helped bring in young centers Nico Hischier, Jack Hughes, and Jesper Bratt to the New Jersey Devils as assistant general manager, and he selected Dawson Mercer, Alexander Holtz and Luke Hughes as GM. He also signed defenseman Dougie Hamilton and acquired blueliner Ryan Graves last summer. However, Fitzgerald still has work to do as the Devils missed the playoffs for the fourth straight year.
The Buffalo Sabres set an NHL record by missing the playoffs for the 11th straight season. It was another season of upheaval as unhappy captain Jack Eichel was traded to the Vegas Golden Knights in November. The return brought them Alex Tuch and Peyton Krebs, who quickly fit into their lineup. Tage Thompson’s 37-goal performance and Owen Powers’ debut provide some spark of promise, but the rebuild shows no end in sight.