The NHL will drop the puck on its 2022-23 season today when the Nashville Predators and San Jose Sharks square off in Prague as part of the 2022 NHL Global Series.1 Playing in the breathtaking Bohemian city to a crowd of hockey-mad Czechs might be the only noteworthy thing each team does all season, however. According to the FiveThirtyEight NHL Elo forecast model, the Preds will likely struggle to sneak into the playoffs’ back door,2 while the Sharks are in danger of finishing the season at the bottom of the Pacific.3 At least they’ll always have Prague.
Other teams have better odds, of course. To help estimate those for all 32 clubs, our NHL predictions are hitting the ice for their second year, giving you the chance to follow the ebbs and flows of your favorite team all season long. But the numbers are just the starting point for this conversation. Here are just a few of the storylines we’ve got our eyes on as the season gets underway.
Colorado is going for a repeat — and they look sorta unstoppable
At the beginning of the 2021-22 season, our model gave the Colorado Avalanche the second-best Elo rating and the joint top odds — along with the Tampa Bay Lightning and Las Vegas Golden Knights — to win the Stanley Cup. As it turns out, we might have still somehow undersold just how good the Avs would be. Colorado went on to break its franchise record for regular-season points,4 and lost just four playoff games en route to its third Stanley Cup championship. This year, our model thinks the Avs are by far the strongest team in the NHL to start the season — their Elo rating eclipses that of their next closest rival, the Tampa Bay Lightning, by a whopping 22 points, and they have an 18 percent chance of lifting the Cup for a second consecutive season — nearly double that of the next most likely team.
|Team||Elo Rating||Make Playoffs||Make Final||Win Cup|
|Tampa Bay Lightning||1571||89||18||10|
|Toronto Maple Leafs||1554||82||12||6|
|New York Rangers||1551||79||12||6|
|St. Louis Blues||1549||78||11||6|
|Vegas Golden Knights||1528||68||8||3|
|New York Islanders||1510||53||4||2|
|Los Angeles Kings||1501||48||3||1|
None of this is shocking, exactly. The Avs return three players who scored 86 points or more last season, including perennial Hart Trophy5 candidate Nathan MacKinnon6 and reigning Norris Trophy7 winner Cale Makar. Still, there’s been some roster turnover in Denver. Losing Nazem Kadri — who scored a career-high 87 points last season while playing a brand of hockey that’s as physically dominant as it is skillful and pleasing on the eyes — and André Burakovsky to free agency will certainly sting, and could have an impact on Colorado’s offensive output. But to combat that, the Avs reinforced their offensive arsenal by signing former Pittsburgh Penguins center Evan Rodrigues. At 29 years old, Rodrigues was something of a late-blooming breakout star last season for a Pittsburgh team that appeared to be at the end of its dynastic run. Jumping ship for a team that could be the NHL’s next dynasty makes a lot of sense for the centerman, especially given that he might already be in the later stages of his prime.8
More than anything, the Avs may go the way of their goalies. Colorado lost goaltender Darcy Kuemper to the Washington Capitals over the offseason, leaving the team with Alexandar Georgiev and Pavel Francouz in net. While both have experience in goalie timeshares, neither Georgiev nor Francouz have ever been the guy before — neither has started more than 32 games in a season — which leaves Colorado in a strange position entering the 2022-23 season: favorites to repeat as Stanley Cup champs without a clear No. 1 goaltender. But if MacKinnon and Makar play like gods again, maybe it won’t matter.
The Lightning are (probably) the only team that will challenge the Avs
The Lightning have been just about the most dominant team in hockey for the past half-decade — it helps to have one of the best goaltenders in NHL history between the pipes, in the form of Andrei Vasilevskiy — and there’s probably an alternate universe where they’re challenging for a fifth consecutive Stanley Cup this season.9 Alas, we all live in this universe — for better or worse — and this Tampa team occupies a position in NHL lore that is merely extremely impressive, not historically outrageous. Still, three Cups in five seasons would be quite the achievement, and our model gives the Bolts pretty good odds to pull it off.
With an 18 percent chance of making the Cup final and a 10 percent chance of winning the whole thing, Tampa Bay is more likely than anyone else to scuttle Colorado’s repeat bid. But maybe the biggest question is whether they can tilt things back in their direction if the Bolts find themselves facing the Avs again. Colorado outscored Tampa 20-15 in the Cup final, getting to Vasilevskiy for a shocking seven goals in Game 2 and later suffocating the Lightning offense in the clincher. Re-tooling with mostly the same group, Tampa Bay will doubtless use the season to build a strategy for a better showing against Colorado in the background, in case the two teams meet again.
What’s happening in Canada?
Our model is pretty confident that the Toronto Maple Leafs, Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames will make the playoffs. It is decidedly less sure about the Vancouver Canucks, Winnipeg Jets, Ottawa Senators10 and Montreal Canadiens.
|Team||Elo Rating||Make Playoffs||Make Final||Win Cup|
|Toronto Maple Leafs||1554||82%||12%||6%|
If it seems like we write some version of “Will a Canadian team ever win the Stanley Cup again?” every year, it’s because we do.11 Since the Canadiens last won the Stanley Cup in the spring of 1993, no other Canadian team has managed to do the same. Twenty-eight seasons;12 zero cups. In fact, only six Canadian teams have advanced to the finals in that span. Four of them got close, losing devastating Game 7s. The other two got steamrolled. Not a great three decades for the Great White North, eh? So will this season be any different?
According to the model, the Leafs are the Canadian team most equipped to make a run. Talent-wise, it makes sense: They employ the league’s current MVP and world’s best goal scorer in Auston Matthews; Mitch Marner is coming off of a career-best 97-point season; Morgan Rielly remains a constant threat from the blueline; and team captain John Tavares, who grew up dreaming of winning a title in Toronto, is still doing John Tavares things. (Read: sorta quietly scoring lots of points.) That said, this is Toronto we’re talking about here, a team that hasn’t won a playoff series since 2004. (Remember their epic choke job against the Boston Bruins in 2013?) We’re not holding our breath.
If the hockey gods care about legacy, perhaps this is the season they finally let Connor McDavid — the perennial best hockey player on the planet — enter the promised land. Up until now, the gods haven’t been kind to the McDavid iteration of the Oilers — they’ve made the playoffs in three consecutive seasons, even making the conference final last season, but so far haven’t reached a Cup final. (The Avs unceremoniously swept them in the Western Conference finals last season.) Will this finally be the year for something more? Or will Edmonton continue to squander the career of one of the most special players in league history?
Finally, there’s Edmonton’s neighbor to the south: the Calgary Flames. Calgary had one of the most disruptive offseasons of any NHL team. Its star left winger Johnny Gaudreau surprised the hockey world by signing with the Blue Jackets in free agency after popping off for career highs in goals (40) and points (115) a season ago. Ten days later, the Flames dealt their second-best player, Matthew Tkachuk — who was tied for the team lead in goals scored (42) and was second in points (115) — to the Florida Panthers.
That’s a lot of firepower to lose in fewer than two weeks, but in return for Tkachuk, the Flames received Jonathan Huberdeau — also coming off of a career-best season in goals (30), assists (an absurd 85), and points (115) — and top-four defenseman MacKenzie Weegar. Oh, and they also signed that Kadri guy (remember him?) to a lucrative free agent deal. Calgary will look a lot different than they did last season, but they may have gotten better despite losing two players that most thought would be franchise cornerstones for the better part of the next decade.
Hockey is weird like that sometimes. It’s what keeps the sport interesting, and keeps us coming back as fans and journalists season after season. It’s also what makes the NHL unpredictable, even by forecast models — so pull on the sweater, lace up the skates and feel free to check us into the boards later in the season when your favorite team outperforms its initial projection.
Check out our latest NHL predictions.