Blackburn’s Big Board: What to watch in 2022-23 NHL season
Well, well, well ... if it isn’t another hockey season. The NHL regular season schedule technically kicked off last weekend with two games between the Nashville Predators and San Jose Sharks in Prague, but that was more or less a soft launch. The rest of the league will begin the season this week, and, once again, I’ll be with you from now to the end of the playoffs to cover the best (and stupidest) sport in the world.
Instead of the usual Power Rankings that I’ve been doing for the past couple years, we’re going to try something new this season and probably a little more unhinged: Blackburn’s Big Board.
It will be a weekly check-in on the hockey things that I currently care about — teams that are earning my attention, players of note, storylines generating buzz and any other topics that my weird brain finds compelling.
We’ll keep things pretty basic and straightforward for this inaugural Big Board. But be sure to stop by next Monday after almost a week’s worth of meaningful action and every Monday for the rest of the season. The Big Board will be fun and occasionally all over the place. See you then.
What to watch entering 2022-23 season
1. Colorado Avalanche
Winning a Stanley Cup? Very hard. Repeating as Stanley Cup champions? Good luck. Only two teams have been able to pull it off in the last 20 years, but the reigning champs enter this season as the odds-on favorites to win it all again. And for pretty good reason, I’d say. The Avs are returning most of the Cup-winning roster that put together one of the most impressive playoff runs in recent memory, and I’m very interested in seeing what kind of follow-up campaign they put together in Denver.
Normally, I hate it when people ask "Who do you like to win the Stanley Cup?” so early in the season, but it feels like the easy (and correct) response is to just ride with Colorado until some other squad puts together a compelling case as a worthy counterpart to the Avalanche's dynamic and explosive roster.
2. New faces in new places
It’s always fun to start an NHL season and keep tabs on guys who are beginning a new chapter in a new place. There are plenty of intriguing names on that list this year, but there are a few I’m going to keep a close eye on.
Johnny Gaudreau shocked the world by choosing Columbus in free agency, and I’ll be interested to see how he fits in and how much better he makes that team in Year One. Jonathan Huberdeau has a huge chip on his shoulder after the Panthers traded him to Calgary, and I’m wondering if a pissed-off Huby can find another gear with the Flames.
On the other side of that deal, Matthew Tkachuk has some big shoes to fill in Florida. Also, he’s technically not “new," but I’m willing to list Jack Eichel here because it’s his first full season in Vegas. I’m curious to see if he can get back to being an elite top-line center this season after a pretty modest debut with the Golden Knights following surgery last year.
I’m also very excited to remember how many transactions I forgot about. It was a long summer.
3. NHL 23
The latest installment of the video game franchise is officially out on Friday, but I got my hands on an early copy and will be grinding away between actual, real-life hockey games this week. I’ve been pretty critical of the series and its lack of innovation over the past handful of years. However, I always end up logging an ungodly amount of time on the game because 1) I love hockey, 2) I love video games, and 3) I’m a sucker.
I haven’t been super impressed by anything I’ve seen in the rollout stage, but I’ll be back with some initial impressions here next week.
4. An exciting rookie crop
Just as it’s exciting to see new faces in new places, it’s also exciting to keep tabs on first-year players looking to make a name for themselves and establish a foundation in the NHL. There’s plenty to like in that department this season, including 2022 No. 1 overall pick Juraj Slafkovksy in Montreal. How’s the 18-year-old going to handle the pressure and attention that comes with going first overall?
I also want to see what the Kraken have down the middle in Matty Beniers (my Rookie of the Year pick) and Shane Wright, who could make some teams look foolish for letting him slip to Seattle at No. 4 this summer. And there are Owen Power in Buffalo, Mason McTavish in Anaheim, Cole Perfetti in Winnipeg and Marco Rossi in Minnesota, among others.
It’s shaping up to be a fun year in the Calder Trophy race.
5. Arizona Coyotes
We don’t only have to care about the good teams. As a fan of chaos, I am unreasonably invested in the Coyotes this season. Some people seem to believe this could be the worst NHL roster ever assembled. And Arizona is playing on a college campus in a building that holds about 5,000 people.
There’s a very good chance that the Coyotes are going to be must-see TV for all the wrong reasons.
6. TV board advertisements
Last week, the NHL announced it is going to start implementing digital board advertising on broadcasts this season, meaning fans watching at home will see superimposed advertisements different from the ones actually seen at the arena.
I was initially concerned. Animated ads can be a distraction for viewers and hockey can be difficult enough to track for newcomers watching at home, but from what I’ve seen so far, it’s been barely noticeable. Hopefully it stays that way.
It’s back. Like, for real.
We can only be saddled with (relatively) meaningless preseason hockey and preview material for so long before we start to lose our minds a little bit. If I had to take in another week of roster projections and training camp storylines, I may have just run away. But good things come to those who wait. We've survived another preseason, and now it’s time for the really good stuff.
Good luck and god bless to all. Let’s have some fun out there.