Here we go!
The 2021-22 NHL regular season kicks off Tuesday with a pair of games and the debut of the league's new partnership with ESPN.
Sportsnet will be carrying the games here in Canada, so you may not be able to see the new U.S. broadcast on this side of the border unless you have the NHL Live package. I'll be checking it out for sure.
The evening begins with the banner raising for the Tampa Bay Lightning, as they host the Pittsburgh Penguins at 4:30 p.m. PT. That's followed by the first battle of the newest expansion team, as Vegas hosts Seattle.
The Canadian teams will get their turn in the spotlight on Wednesday, with a Sportsnet double-header featuring Montreal-Toronto, followed by Vancouver-Edmonton.
On Wednesday, the rubber meets the road, when we start to see whether Jim Benning's big offseason overhaul will get the team back on track to earn a playoff spot — a professional necessity for Benning, in all likelihood, and perhaps also for Travis Green.
Among the many predictions that I've read and listened to, it seems like the feeling is that while the Pacific Division is considered to be quite weak, Vancouver will either sneak into one of the last playoff spots, or else miss out.
For me, the preseason didn't leave me brimming with confidence, so I'm not going to dispute that logic.
What about you?
Further complicating matters for me, Pacific Division-wise — I like L.A. to take a big step forward this year, and grab a playoff spot. There are only so many places to go around, and that'll hurt Vancouver's chances if I'm right.
If the Canucks can get through this opening road trip at .500, that would go a long way toward building confidence for me. Nothing like starting with a 3-in-4 with travel to get your feet wet: after Edmonton on Wednesday, they'll play in Philadelphia on Friday and Detroit on Saturday.
Then, they get two days to catch their breath before visiting Buffalo, Chicago and Seattle, with a day off between each of those games.
On paper, it's pretty beatable competition — the Oilers are the only team that made the playoffs last year. But I think Chicago will be much improved, and I think the schedule will help dictate a loss against the Red Wings.
I write about the Flyers on another platform, Full Press Hockey
. They're in almost the same boat as the Canucks — vastly overhauled after a disastrous season, with some whispers that job security could be on the line if they don't bounce back. Some positive signs for them during preseason — in particular, Carter Hart looked solid. But they are dealing with a bunch of injury issues, and a third-period collapse in their last preseason game against Washington, with basically their full lineup, didn't do a lot to inspire confidence for me.
I am looking forward to seeing how everything plays out for real. And I'm thrilled that we'll be seeing the Canucks face all the teams in the league again this year. Good riddance, North Division!
As far as Vancouver's roster goes, a lot has happened since my last blog.
Sunday's update posted just as the news was emerging about the Olli Juolevi trade, which brought back defenseman Noah Juulsen and forward Juno Lammikko in return.
Juulsen is the higher-profile name, especially because he's a local kid. But the 24-year-old, a first-round draft pick in 2015, has had a tough go of things, injury-wise. And after being picked up by Florida on waivers at the beginning of last season, he got into just nine games in total last year between the AHL and the NHL — never on waivers or the taxi squad, but healthy-scratched with the Panthers and also injured for a few weeks, which led to his five-game AHL conditioning assignment.
His birthplace is listed as Surrey, but the Abbotsfordians will proudly tell you that he's a product of their hockey system.
Juulsen cleared waivers while he was with the Panthers, so he has been assigned directly to the Abbotsford Canucks. I imagine there are some local folks who will be very interested to see him play. And he's a righty, so he brings some additional depth while the Canucks wait to see what happens with Travis Hamonic — and also after offseason acquisition Brady Keeper suffered a broken leg during an innocuous-looking drill early in training camp.
As far as Hamonic goes, he has cleared waivers. Jim Benning told the media on Monday that the roster move was made to give the Canucks more flexibility as they set their opening-day roster. And while he didn't exactly provide clarity on what's keeping Hamonic away from the team, he did offer this nugget:
Much like how Carey Price was supported last week when it was announced that he had entered the NHL's Player Assistance Program, I think we also need to let this Hamonic situation play out with as little judgement as possible. None of us truly know what's at the heart of the matter here.
On Monday, Benning also confirmed that Brandon Sutter's going to be away from the team for the foreseeable future, as he copes with ongoing symptoms following his bout with Covid-19 last spring.
So — with Sutter and Keeper joining Micheal Ferland on long-term injured reserve, the Canucks come in with a roster that was a little less than $300,000 below the $81.5 million cap ceiling, according to CapFriendly, plus another $5 million-ish that they can dip into via the LTIR tool. They're one of 11 teams using LTIR space to start the season.
Monday's moves didn't mean the end of the work for Benning, either. On Tuesday morning, Zack MacEwen was placed on waivers and will join Abbotsford if he clears. That opened up a roster spot for PTO candidate Alex Chiasson, whose signing was also made official on Tuesday — a one-year deal at the league minimum of $750,000.
With all that — and with new addition Lammikko in town and on the ice — here's how the lines shook out at practice on Tuesday morning.
Still no Brock Boeser — and with the Canucks at their 23-man ceiling, another roster move will be needed to make space for him when he's ready to get back into action. Still nothing concrete about what's ailing him, beyond it being a day-to-day thing.
The Canucks will travel to Edmonton on Tuesday afternoon. Game 1 goes Wednesday night at 7 p.m. PT.